- STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH SEPTEMBER 10, 2021
Rev. Sabrina Ingram THANKSGIVING SUNDAY
Call to Worship: based on Psalm 27
With all of God’s people, I bless you, Lord.
We join hands in a great circle,
dancing around your sanctuary, God,
Singing God-songs of thanksgiving at the top of our lungs,
telling God-stories of your goodness.
God, I love living with you;
your house glows with your glory.
I bless you every chance I get.
Lighting of the Christ Candle (The light of the world is Jesus)
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Praise to you, O Lord of all creation,
In this season of thanksgiving for the harvests of the earth,
we are struck by the beauties of autumn,
leaves in bright colours, birds flying south in formation, fields ripe with produce.
Such beauty speaks of your goodness, and your desire to provide for each beloved creature according to their needs.
As we gather this day,
renew our sense of thanksgiving for what you give to us
in the fruitfulness of creation,
and in Christ Jesus who is our Saviour.
For all your good gifts we honour you with thanks and praise,
now and always.
God of our lives,
when we give thanks for your good gifts around us,
we know that we enjoy an abundance many cannot even imagine.
Yet we confess we do not always see the abundance you give to us.
Sometimes we feel cheated,
Sometimes we worry about the future.
We know that we do not share our wealth in equitable ways or consider the needs of those with less.
We do not always appreciate the gifts of creation and the miraculous bounty Earth gives.
We do not care for our planet or treat it as the precious gift it is.
Most of all, we fail to see your providence and goodness behind everything. We do not trust you or thank you enough.
Forgive us and make us grateful.
We are grateful today for family, for friends who share our faith and worship with us and for the great cloud of witnesses who live in your presence.
Fill us to overflowing with thankfulness and may our thankfulness pour out in praise to you, our Triune God. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 107: 1, 9 & 32
Oh, thank God—he’s so good!
His love never runs out.
He satisfies the thirsty,
and the hungry he fills with good things.
All of you set free by God, tell the world!
Lift high your praises, shout Hallelujah!
Hymn All things bright and beautiful
Prayer for Illumination
Holy God, everything we have comes from your hands. You have given us your word to nourish our spirits. Feed us now so that we our thankfulness will increase. Amen.
Acts 27: 13 – 44
Ephesians 5: 15 – 20
Luke 17: 11 – 19
Hymn: Come, ye thankful people come
Being the Church: Thanking
When I was in junior high, we had a teacher named Mr. Rose. One day someone brought a pair of glasses with rose-coloured lenses to class. The plan was to tease Mr. Rose, who, when seen through the glasses would be literally rose-coloured. Before class began, we passed the glasses around the room, each one of us peering through them to behold a very pink world. When Mr. Rose came into the room the class was wired. When he discovered the source of our energy, he wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as the instigator had hoped. Instead, he told us to write an essay entitled, “The world through rose-coloured glasses”. I was 12 and didn’t know what that meant, so I with great eloquence I described the physical transformation of various things in the room when they were tinted pink. I don’t know if the others caught the meaning. In the end we were the ones who ended up tormented, not Mr. Rose (although he did have to read 35 uninspiring papers). Like you, I now know that the expression “to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses” means that one sees everything that happens in an unrealistically positive light.
The lens through which we view reality makes an enormous difference to how we experience life. A couple I know bought their daughter a new Chevrolet Spark so she could get to school. At $14,500 it’s the cheapest car on the market. They also paid for repairs and insurance. A few months later, Dad came home with a new Lexus that had so many bells and whistles it practically drove itself. As family and neighbours stood admiring the car, the daughter said, “Well, isn’t that nice for you. You get to drive that, and I have to drive this crappy thing”. But before we condemn her, we must admit we have all done what she did. Who hasn’t stood in a long checkout line annoyed that it’s so slow instead of being grateful for every item in the cart? Some people complain they hate their job, or the roof of the house is leaking, or bad weather ruined their wedding. Yet, seen from another angle, they could just as easily be thankful they have a job, a house, or a loving life partner. At times, the more serious circumstances of life cause us to lose perspective. Some people face challenges from illness, an accident, a disability, prejudice, poverty, or bereavement. They may be victims of crime, domestic violence, war, persecution, or wrongful imprisonment. These are not things we can minimize. If for some, the world seems bleak, life is unfair, or they are angry, those who haven’t shared their experiences, cannot fairly judge them. I do marvel, however, that in the midst of tragic situations some remarkable people are able to give thanks – not for the misfortunes themselves, although some do even that, but for the blessings in life they can identify.
There’s a surprising scene in the book of Acts. Paul has appealed his sentence and is going to be tried in Rome. As a prisoner, he is guarded. The ship sets sail from Caesarea and is fighting the wind all the way to Myra. They transfer to another ship and stop in Fair Havens (on Crete), where Paul has a Spirit-inspired premonition that they should stay. He predicts shipwreck and loss of lives. Given Paul isn’t a sailor, the others chose to ignore his warning. Now picture this: The sky is dark and churning, cracks of lightening illumine the sky, the wind is whipping against you, rain is pouring down, the waves swell to 20 feet (6 metres). Everything is wet, roiling, dark and threatening. You sit in the hold with other prisoners and the crew. Your back pressed to the wall, your legs pushing back, a rope around you to keep you from sliding. People are being tossed around like confetti. Others are seasick. Someone gets hysterical as the boat lurches sideways. Unable to eat, you’re feeling weak. Crew members are sent to the deck to unload what they can. The deck is drenched, and slippery. The waves crash over the rails and threaten to suck you out to sea. You can barely stand. Blinded by rain it seems the ship’s fate will be to smash to pieces against a rock. During this time, Paul has a dream in which an angel assures him that it is God’s will for him to get to Rome and everyone onboard will live. You are doubtful. The storm rages for days. This guy Paul is getting on your nerves telling everyone it’s going to be okay. You want to believe him, but reality tells you otherwise. After 2 weeks Paul decides to eat. And what does he do? He gives thanks to God for his small chunk of bread. And there is something about that act which encourages everyone. You feel peaceful. You eat. You trust. You make survival plans. The boat is shipwrecked against the rocks of Malta, but not one person is lost. Even when reality signified doom, even when all he signs heralded death, Paul perceived something no one else could. While everyone else looked at the power of the storm, Paul kept his focus on the God of power.
When the storms of life rage around you, what do you see? Where do you find or hear God? What anchors you? Can you only see the circumstances around you, or can you focus on God who is beyond all circumstances? It is when we recognize the blessings and gifts of God behind all of life, that thanksgiving pours out of us. Like Paul, the early Celtic Christians looked at all of life, both stormy and calm times, through a filter of faith. Praise and thanks were woven throughout their days. They began the day joining with creation for the gift of life and a new beginning. As they left the house, they would uncover their heads and remember the eye of God watching to pour blessings upon them “gently and generously”. They would kindle their fire in the presence of angels and saints. Walking down a road, they’d pray, “the path I walk, Christ walks”. Before crossing the threshold of a home, they’d recite a trinitarian blessing on those living there. On the first day of harvest, the whole family would go the field, dressed in their best clothes to hail God who gives the harvest. Thanksgiving wasn’t a day to eat a turkey and see their friends. Thanksgiving was their response to God who gives us our daily bread. Whatever they did – whether eating or planting or working or sleeping they saw life through the lens of faith. Not only did they acknowledge their Creator, they realized their Creator acknowledged them. They lived every moment of every day in the presence of God.
There are four things about the lifestyle of the Christian Celts that encourage an inner depth of gratitude.
- First, they were mindful at every moment, every day that God was present, giving them everything, gently and graciously. If we want to develop deeply thankful lives, we need to see God dwelling behind and beyond the flimsy curtain of our reality.
- Secondly, while they perceived God behind everything in the material world, they were very much in touch with what is physical and touchable. All tangible matter, all labour, and all the patterns of life were icons through which they looked to see Christ.
- Thirdly, they relied on God. Every good gift came from the hand of God, whether a breath of life in the morning, or the opportunity to plant a crop, make a wagon, feed a baby, or clean the latrine. Living and working were seen as gifts. They knew that without God they would not live. God is the giver of life and God gives what’s necessary for life to be sustained. Life was in God’s hands, and they relied on him. Unlike us, the prayers of the Celtic Christians rarely begged or asked God for anything. Instead, they recognized what was already there, already given, waiting to be seen, taken up and enjoyed. What a waste to go through life surrounded by all the good gifts God showers on us “gently and generously” yet unaware of his presence and his power hidden in all things.
- Fourthly, they were grateful. God is a God who saves. The act of God’s redemption through Christ’s sacrificial death was always remembered. In light of that, they concluded, “It is not too great toil to praise the Trinity.” In fact, being thankful and offering praise is the least we can do.
In the story of the 10 lepers, the diseased men approached Jesus asking to be healed. Jesus told them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17: 14). Off they went. These were obedient lepers. The Law required them to show themselves to the priests so their healing could be verified, and they could undergo a ritual cleansing before returning to society. They were also obedient to Jesus; they did exactly what he said. Their obedience paid off. As they made their way to the priests, they were healed. I’m sure they were excited about their healing, but they took Jesus for granted. Maybe, they were afraid if they turned around, the illness would return. That Jesus wasn’t that powerful. Maybe they saw no need to say thank you. After all, it’s God’s job to heal and forgive. But one of the 10 had a different perspective. He saw beyond obedience and ritual. He had no room for fear or second-guessing. Filled with gratitude and taking nothing for granted, he “…turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough” (vs. 15 & 16). The others had done nothing wrong, but only one acknowledged Jesus and gave thanks. In fact, he went beyond being thankful. He worshipped. He couldn’t hold his joy and praise inside. He had to glorify God and kneel at the feet of his healer.
Just as 90% of the lepers did not came back to give thanks, I probably spend 90% of my life, oblivious to God’s life-giving, saving presence. Unlike the Celtic Christians, I’m not always awake to God, I don’t see God behind everything, I don’t rely on God (especially in the storm), and I’m not as grateful as I could be. But every now and then, I return to give thanks. Once, when I was on the Island of Iona, I turned to a friend and said, “If this is all there is, even if heaven didn’t exist and there was no afterlife, this would be enough.” She responded, “That’s thanksgiving”. When we are mindful enough to perceive God, sovereign in the storms of life, present in everything that is, caring for us throughout our days, saving and healing us, thanksgiving is inevitable. And true thanksgiving always leads to praise. On this Thanksgiving Day and in all our days of thanksgiving, let’s “Drink the Spirit of God, huge drafts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5: 18 – 20).
Silent Prayer and Reflection
Holy God, with grateful hearts we return here today to thank you for our many blessings. Use these gifts to bless others so that they too may give you the praise that only you deserve. Amen.
Hymn Let all things now living
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Kind and Generous God,
on this Thanksgiving weekend,
we pause to give you thanks for the world we live in which is a window through which we can see your love, grace and life-giving presence.
We praise you for being wonderful and generous beyond anything we can imagine.
We praise you for your presence in the midst of life’s storms and in the stillness.
We praise you that all we need to do is ask and you are ready to give us what we need.
We praise you for accepting our gifts of praise, however erratic they may be.
For all things, wise and wonderful, great and small, bright and beautiful we sing your praises.
For moments of wonder and ordinary exchanges
which fill our lives with meaning and offer us a sense of well-being, we thank you.
Merciful and Generous God,
as we give thanks for the harvests of the earth and its goodness,
show us how to live respectfully in creation
and protect all that is precious to you.
Show us how to share so that no one goes hungry:
Just and Generous God,
we pray for the good of your world and the common good in our community.
Where there is hostility between peoples or nations,
inspire leaders to show wisdom and courage in decision making.
We pray for areas hard hit by flood, storm, fire or earthquake,
and for all those struggling with the impact of the pandemic.
May neighbours with resources maintain generosity and compassion
for the long work of reconstructing lives and livelihoods
Healing and Generous God,
we pray for all those facing health challenges or difficult times for any reason,
and we pray for family and friends under stress or in sorrow
whom we name in silence before you…
Give us patience and understanding as we draw near to them
and help us reach out with compassion.
O God, in Jesus Christ we have met your generous love and mercy.
Through our lives and by our prayers,
reveal his love and grace in this generation,
for it is in his name we offer the prayer he taught us, saying:
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn Count your blessings
Invitation to mission
We go from here with thankful hearts,
Expressing our gratitude to God,
For his provision of our physical needs,
The Spirit’s presence in our lives,
Christ’s death and glorious resurrection
and for making us his own.
Benediction: May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.