Monday, October 9, 2017

Psalm 65 -- A Message for Canadian Thanksgiving

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,

Psalm 65 is an expression of praise and thanks by the church to God. In the first verse, worshippers respond with David to God’s goodness by telling him that we’re ready to praise him and give him thanks.

Thanks and praise are important features of worship for all Christians and every Christian community. God appreciate thanks from the people he blesses. God’s people behave courteously to him. We make sure to say thank you, just as we do when friends and relatives help us. Not everyone thanks God, but there will always be thankful people. Observation has shown me that the folks at Trinity are thankful people. The church and individual Christians are constantly thanking the Lord, for along with faith and good works, our thanks and praise please him.

Psalm 65 is a good guide for our thanks this morning. It gives us many reasons for thanking our maker and redeemer. As we examine this psalm, let’s keep in mind that it’s our thanks now that matters to God. We won’t fret about past failures to give thanks or be concerned about the state of our hearts tomorrow. What matters now is the praise and thanks we offer the Lord at the present moment.
So we listen carefully as God speaks to us in this old psalm of King David’s. We let it fill our hearts with a spirit of thanksgiving. The most profound reasons for giving thanks appear in the first verses of our psalm. First, David wrote that God hears prayer. Prayer is a sign of trust in him. When we talk to God about our joys and needs and sorrows, we confess to him our conviction that he is our only reliable resource.

Our trust delights him, and so he hears our prayers. Sometimes in our prayers, as in our speech, we can’t find the words to express everything that’s in our minds and hearts. This difficulty needn’t trouble us, though, because God hears the words we’re searching for as well as the ones we speak. The Lord’s willingness to hear prayer moves us to seek him. We thank him for his openness to us. The important thing is to spend time with him in prayer. A good Thanksgiving resolution would be to spend a few more minutes a day at prayer than we normally do.

We trust that many people will turn to him and that he will accept them. David says that all men and women will come to the Lord. We can find the same prophesy in Psalm 86. “All the nation you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your Name.”  This is different from other messages in the Bible and what may be our own observation that many people and nations reject the God of the Bible. Those who reject God now with stubborn hearts will be condemned on the Day of Judgment. This verse reminds us that judgment is in God’s hands. It holds out the hope willingness to receive and the hope for the world that’s part of his promise. His disposition is to save, not to condemn. We thank him that he includes us among the people who come to him.

David wrote about forgiveness in the next verse. Sin has the power to overwhelm, but God’s mercy is greater than sin. His forgiveness washes us clean every day. He accepted Jesus’ death as payment in full for all the debts we owe him, and so he keeps no record of our sins. He declares us to be righteous in his sight and calls us his daughters and sons. His forgiveness builds up our confidence so that we feel inferior to no one and it awakens hope that life will go well for us. God’s forgiveness guarantees our salvation. Our part is to take hold if it. We thank him for reaching out to us in love and compassion.

David wrote in verse 4 about the blessedness of those whom God has chosen. He doesn’t mean especially priests or professional church workers. He means all Christians, whom he blesses with sturdy love and loyalty to him. He draws us to his church so that he may bless us with right understanding about ourselves and him and so that he may guide us through the perils of a troubling world. We thank him, then, for the opportunity to live close to him and the hope that he will keep us with him.

David says as well that God speaks with awesome deeds of righteousness. Evil doesn’t stand forever. Nations are strong and powerful, but God removes their power if they grow arrogant. No empire is permanent. Jesus was born when the ancient Romans were at the height of their power, when the Emperor Augustus established a reign international peace after a period of terrible civil wars. Many people were grateful to the empire for creating order and stability. Many put their hopes in the efficiency of the Roman bureaucracy. But where is the Roman Empire now? And what’s become of all other empires before or since? In our own day, even the mighty Soviet empire crumbled. God wishes people everywhere to put their hope in him, and only in him, for he is trustworthy, almighty, and full of love and mercy. We thank him that he is the hope of every corner of the earth and that he has given us the opportunity for sturdy hope.

David then goes on to praise and thank God for the strength that created mountains and for the power that quiets roaring seas and ends turmoil among nations. Storms come and some highly memorable ones, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Strife among nations also occurs. We sometimes hear people say that the violence of our times has caused some folks to lose their faith. At the same time, the stress of modern living has caused others to seek safety and consolation in the God of Scripture. It’s human beings who cause turmoil, not the Lord. Jesus calls us away from violence to peace and rest in him. He quiets the ambitions of rulers and nations. We thank him that Canada is at peace this Thanksgiving. We ask him to bring peace to those parts of the world where fighting is now taking place. We’re grateful for his steadying hand. Without him, the turbulence of the world would be much greater than it is.

David praises God as well for the care he gives to the land and the abundance he brings from the earth – a traditional reason for thanks at this time of the year. We thank the Lord for the riches with which he has blessed Canada. I suspect we all marvel at times that Canada is prosperous while other nations endure never-ending poverty and instability. We thank God for making Canada strong and for the hope that the country’s prosperity will continue.

Besides all this, David finds still another reason to praise God.  David describes the prosperity of his own nation – an abundance of rain, plentiful harvests, plenty of grazing land for livestock. The meadows are covered with flocks, he writes, and the valleys with grain. Then he makes a remarkable statement – that these speechless parts of creation shout for joy and sing. The same occurs in other places in the Psalms. Psalm 96, for example: “Let the sea resound…let the fields be jubilant...then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.” Psalm 148 invites the sun and moon and shining stars to praise God   “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds…let them praise the name of the Lord.”

If David were to write a psalm like that for Toronto, he might include trees and parks, rivers and streams, Lake Ontario, our four seasons, fascinating cloud formations that I like to study sometimes, our variety of people, and the nearby resources of the rest of Ontario. To the eyes of faith, all God’s creatures praise him and give a witness to his creative power.

You see, although the world is fractured and full of sin, God sees it as unified under his rule. The whole earth exists because of his wonderful power to create and sustain, and God sees in the unity he’s made a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to him. All creation joins God’s faithful people in a chorus of thanksgiving. There is joy at the center of creation, and the Lord invites you and me, all Christians everywhere, to take part in it.

Think of it, we may find fault with ourselves for not thanking God enough, but God hears the thanks we offer him as a lusty heavenly chorus. He delights in our praise and worship of him. Because of Jesus, he is pleased with us. He delights in our faith, in our obedience, in the joy we take in the world he’s given us. We thank him for including Trinity Lutheran in the heavenly chorus and for letting us see glimpses of the unity of his creation. We thank him for claiming us as his daughters and sons and for taking delight in us, and for giving us the opportunity to thank and praise him.

Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, set aside by the government for all people to count their blessings. You and I and other Christians may not have much impact on the society around us but we have a deeper insight than others into the meaning of this holiday, for we know why we give thanks – for the gifts God has given us and we know to whom thanks are given to God our Savior.   

Christian people have many different reasons for giving thanks. We remember, too, that life is more than what we can count or see, so we especially thank God for the gifts he sends us that we can’t measure – the love of Jesus that gives us many reasons for wanting to live and divine protection that preserves us from evil now and from the coldness of the grave later on. In other words, we thank God for salvation in Christ. Like King David, we thank him for including us in his kingdom and for allowing us to taste the joys of life in a Christian community and for the hope that these blessings will continue and grow until we reach our rest in eternity. In Jesus. Name we give thanks. AMEN

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mark 10:45 - 52 Jesus and Bartimaeus

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from god the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,

Estafanos suggested a while ago that on one Sunday when he was taking time off I preach about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which takes place this year.  I dug through my papers and found an old sermon that I adapted for today. It’s based on Mark 10:46-52. which I’ll read now, and other gospel texts..

So we’ll continue in Jericho, It was a city about 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem, prosperous and fertile because two springs watered the soil. It was known for its palm trees  and sycamores, its balsam and cypress and flowering plants that yielded precious oils. Aside from being a garden spot, it was also on the trade route from Damascus in Syria to Arabia so it was an important commercial and military center. A member of the royal family built a handsome palace there, so it was a worldly city, like most others.

Because it was so close to Jerusalem, some of the 20,000 priests who served at the temple made their home in Jericho. When Jesus arrived there, he was on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover, where this year he would be tried and crucified. The Israelites had a rule that every male over 12 years old who lived near Jerusalem must attend the yearly celebration of the Passover, but this law wasn’t practical to enforce, so many stayed at home. It was the custom for these folks to line the roads and honor the ones who were making the trip to the capital city. There were as well, this time, people who wanted a glimpse of the famous rabbi around whom, a lot of controversy was swirling. The tax collector Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to see the Lord. Luke tells us he was among the crowds of bystanders in Jericho. He’s a new believer the Lord had dinner with.

Mark writes about another man in the crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, who was determined to ask the Lord for healing. Now, nearly everyone who tries to make his or her way in the world discovers that the world usually isn’t interested in our weaknesses. If we look for employment or wish to have a few friends or get the good things of life for ourselves, we reach out for them with strength and vitality. We don’t parade our shortcomings or our urgent needs. We speak up about what we’ve done and what we hope  to contribute, because we know what we need to do to please the world. Some folks will even tell us that God himself has a preference for strong and well-adjusted people. Bartimaeus knew better, however. His great need gave him a powerful insight – that the Lord would help him ig he could only get to him, and so he summoned up all his strength and shouted as loud as he could – some translations actually say that he yelled – for God to have mercy on him. It was his best chance for healing from the hands of the Lord, and so he cried out with a very specific request, “Rabbi, I want to see!!”

Jesus healed him, of course. Perhaps each one of us can tell about a time when the Lord has healed us, whether from a physical or spiritual infirmity. Perhaps he has rescued you from calamity or taken you out of a bad situation or slowly healed you from the pain of loss, a gradual coming back to life through which you gained immense and valuable wisdom.  Perhaps you’re hoping now for God to heal you or deliver you from a difficulty. The case of Bartimaeus should give us hope. When our own resources are limited and when the world around us, going its merry way, refuses to help us or simply can’t , we have a refuge, a strong hope in the Lord. The trick is, though, as we learn from Bartimaues, not to bring him a half-hearted, off-handed, tentative desire, so with his help we gather together all the stirrings of our hearts into one firm purpose and then set our requests before the King of Heaven as if our entire well-being depended on our request, and then see what happens.  James wrote in his letter that we are to ask in faith especially for wisdom, with no doubting, “for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord. “Lord, help me,” we cry with the concentration of a needy ;person, “Make me strong, give me wisdom, comfort sick folks I’m concerned about, give me faith and hope and the ability to love.”  We pray and wait on the Lord, who will show that he hears us.

We aren’t yet done with Bartimeaus, to whom the Lord granted sight and presumably the ability to earn his living, to take part in society’s activities, and to obtain a share of the good things he’d lacked. Oce he was healed, the Lord invited him to go his way, but instead of returning to the gardens and markets and balsam groves of Jericho, instead of taking up with well-to-do travellers who passed through the city, Bartimaeus decided to follow the Lord in hopes of receiving even greater blessings. If we’re going to disobey God, this is the way to do it: when he appears to let us go – which is likely a test of our staying power – to say instead, “”No, Lord, I prefer to follow you.”

This is what Bartimaeus did with a heart full of gratitude and a desire to serve. But how shocked he must have been when he got to Jerusalem, savoring the sights of God’s varied and wonderful world for the first time, only to discover that his benefactor was scorned, abused, brought to trial on false charges, and then crucified like a common criminal. What a surprise to find that following the Lord brought him up against the worst of life. The worst passed quickly, however, and if he continued to watch with the eyes of faith, he would have rejoiced at the news of the resurrection , and he would have understood the meaning of Christ’s priestly sacrifice – that his death meant that all sins, including his own, were forgiven and that no sacrifice would ever again be required except the sacrifice of repentance and thanksgiving and faith. It’s pleasant to think of Bartimaeus as one of the unknown disciples who spread the gospel of salvation throughout Israel after the first Christian Pentecost. We won’t know the real outcome till we get to heaven, but we do know that Jesus gave Bartimaeus the chance to lead a full life of discipleship, the same chance he gives to us.

Now we’ll switch our focus to the Reformation.  Without going into technical details, we can say that the Reformation was and is this – a movement to sweep dust away from the Christian faith so that frail, erring mortals like ourselves may follow the Lord with confidence and hope. We don’t depend on a bureaucracy of priests or elaborate church traditions. We meet the Lord directly. He enters into a personal relationship with each one of us, just as he did with Bartimaeus. Under God’s guidance, the reformers wished to restore for the church the vitality and openness before God that the believers of the first century enjoyed. We Lutheran Christians are the heirs of this heritage. Nothing but our own indifference can keep us from full lives in Christ, and he works even to overcome this disability, for his voice calls to us above the din of big city living in the 21st century.

Now, in order to understand God’s call to us, we ought to review briefly the guidelines that the reformers gave to the church. First, Scripture alone. God is everywhere, but we don’t look for him from signs in the sky or the workings of coincidence or the learning of self-appointed wise people or the requirements of our minds. He speaks to us through the Bible, which not only gives us information about life with God but puts this new life into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is our companion if we want to walk with God.

The second principle is grace alone. We receive life with God as a gift. It’s not something we earn through goo deeds. It’s the result of God’s gracious disposition toward us. He took on our flesh and passed through life just as we do. That’s whyn he deals gently with our ignorance and our straying. He holds out pardon and mercy to all and salvation to those who trust him and love him. We can’t possibly earn these blessings; we receive them by grace.

So we come to the third Reformation principle – faith. We perceive the actions of grace with the eyes of faith. Bartimaeus is an example. Faith told him that a man walking through the crowd was also God with the power to heal him. He understood the work of Christ through faith. The faith that saves isn’t simply knowledge of history or the Bible but the confident trust and assurance that God in Christ is for us.  Faith takes hold of God’s grace; it grasps his promises; it receives the blessing of forgiveness through Christ’s blood, together with the hope of happiness in eternity.

The three Reformation insights – Scripture, grace, and faith – prompt us to believe confidently in Jesus’ call to us. They help us understand what God does for us and what he expects in return. The wicked world loves to stand between us and God; the devil delights in weakening us so that we go back on ourselves and muffle our cries to the Lord, whether pleas for mercy of shouts of thanksgiving. But the Lord’s call comes to us with power through his Word, so we receive his grace no less than Bartimaeus did, and we can hope for a faith that’s every bit as sturdy and stable as his. In fact, since we know the outcome of Christ’s trip to Jerusalem, his death and resurrection, his ascension into heaven and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, we can claim a deeper and better informed faith than Bartimaeus had when he cried out tom the Lord. We ask God, then, to open our hearts to receive the blessings that he intends for us.     

The heritage of the Reformation is a vital, unshakable confidence. We Lutherans are known among Christians for our sturdy faith. It’s true that many minds nowadays are filled with doubts and questions; many folks claim to be satisfied with a watered-down version of Christianity; some boast that they can maintain life with God even though they don’t read the Bible or come near the church. God has better things than this in mind for the people of St. John’s. His will is to heal us through his Word, to lift us up by his grace, and to have us follow him in faith. He has wonderful things in store for us, and if we stick with him, as we presume Bartimaeus did, we’ll be like the faithful people the prophet Jeremiah wrote about, sturdy believers who sing with joy and make their praises heard, though as Lutheran Christians, we’ll no doubt find ways to make this holy rumpus quietly, while drawing attention to the Lord and not ourselves. In Jesus’ name we give thanks. AMEN.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Matthew 13:44-52 Parables of the Kingdom

– July 30,  2017 – Matthew 13:44-52
Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come,
Jesus’ parables get us to think about God and our relationship with him. They keep us awake and encourage us to look for insights we haven’t had before in words that may be familiar to us.
Depending on how you count, this morning’s reading from Matthew contains four or five parables about the kingdom of Heaven. We’ll talk about some of them.  First, a few general comments. The kingdom of Heaven means Jesus himself, for the blessings of the kingdom come through faith in him. These blessings begin with the forgiveness of our sins, peace with God, the conviction that we’re righteous in his sight, and the hope of rest in eternity. All citizens of the kingdom, which means you and me, receive these benefits. They come through Jesus. He is the king.
The kingdom is separate from the world. We can’t touch it and we can’t see it, because God is spirit. We cannot measure his love and his mercy. Only believers like you and me, God’s people, sense the presence and the power of the kingdom. We find the truth about the kingdom in the Bible and the sacraments. That’s why Jesus calls the kingdom hidden or buried treasure. A story from history illustrates this point. Centuries ago, the ancient Roman empire became so weak that less civilized people from northern Europe were able to move in and take over the empire by force. Christians who lived near Rome were crushed or depressed. They believed that not only was the order of the Roman empire destroyed but also the kingdom of God. They would have told us that God’s kingdom was tied to earthly peace and harmony and earthly greatness. But a profound Christian thinker from North Africa argued that the kingdom of heaven is spiritual. It concerns our hearts and our souls. God and not emperors builds his kingdom and nothing can destroy it because it is separate from the world and hidden. The joy of hope, the comfort of forgiveness, and the satisfactions of peace with God will always be available to believers, because they are safely hidden from God’s enemies and earthly decay. We take hold of them by the hand of faith.  
Jesus also compares the kingdom of heaven with the most valuable pearl imaginable. Life brings us many pearls – art, music, sports, friendship, family life, the opportunity to work for justice, and so on. Jesus doesn’t deny that these are pearls nor does he take them away from us. He simply wants us to trust that his kingdom is the greatest pearl of all. His love, his pardon and peace, and his friendship are the most valuable things we have – even more valuable than we imagine. As our Lord says in the first commandment, we are to have no other gods before him. He is number one for us. We strive to love and serve him. He is the most valuable pearl, the one we are called to give everything to obtain.
As well, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to an enormous net that fishermen let down into the sea to collect all kinds of fish. The net is the church. It has all kinds of members. No believer is an outsider or second class or a stranger to God. Of course, some members of the kingdom have a stronger faith than others and judgment will take place one day, but this judgment belongs to God, not other humans. His grace and mercy are available to everyone.  All people have a chance to grow and flourish in his kingdom, so Jesus compares it with a wide and ample dragnet.
Yeast, a mustard seed, buried treasure, a pearl, a fishnet – Jesus uses everyday pictures to describe his kingdom. He brings the kingdom right into our daily lives so that we may approach him and feel comfortable with him. He compares his kingdom with things most people want so that we’ll come to want him most of all and put everything else in second or third or fourth place for his sake.
Now, the first three parables in this morning’s gospel all have one thing in common. They describe people at the beginning of their walk with God, full of enthusiasm, direction, and a spirit of sacrifice, but a question comes to mind. What will the man who bought the field do with his buried treasure? Will the man who sold everything to buy the pearl put it to good use or will it sit on his shelf in a glass case? Will the fish in the net be useful kingdom-fish or will they just flop around waiting to be brought to shore?
Jesus does not want this to happen. He wants enthusiasm to continue and knowledge to grow and widen into wisdom. He accomplishes his purpose by using two methods. The first is a warning. People who move away from his love, mercy, and forgiveness will be cast into a burning fiery furnace. Folks who reject the benefits of the crucifixion and the resurrection and the kingdom that grows out of them will be rejected themselves. This stands to reason. If we fail to see the worth of something, it won’t be available to us anymore. So Jesus issues a warning.
His second method of winning loyalty to the kingdom is different. He expresses it in another parable. He says that a person who has received instruction in the kingdom is like the master of a household, or in some translations, the  owner of a house. Citizens of the kingdom aren’t tourists or wayfarers or aliens before God. We are owners. We have privileges and responsibilities. Nobody owns forgiveness or mercy, of course, for these are spiritual qualities.  What Jesus means is that his people have a secure place in the kingdom that nobody can take away from us. God doesn’t waver in the high esteem in which he holds his people and the delight he takes in us. We may not own a business or property or even have enough money to buy a pearl, but our place in the kingdom is certain. “In my father’s house are many mansions,” Jesus says and one of those spiritual mansions belongs to us. No landlord may evict us. No one can force us out. By God’s grace, we have a clear title to our place in the kingdom.        
The fact that we own a piece of the kingdom makes us responsible. People who own property, even if it’s only an automobile, like to see that it’s well-kept, put to good use, and available for the benefit of others. This works for kingdom principles, too. Since we are grateful for God’s forgiveness, we hold onto it and the confidence it gives us. We don’t squander God’s grace by acting foolishly or otherwise tempting God. We’re prudent and sensible about our relationship with God, just like people who own property. Moreover, we like to see the kingdom qualities God has given us at work in the lives of others. As we are forgiven, so do we eagerly forgive others and so God’s kingdom spreads.
Many Christian people are good at reaching out to others. We absorb what today’s parables tell us about keeping priorities straight and then putting Christian guidelines to work for the benefit of others. Despite great temptations to stray from God, Lutheran people stick with the kingdom, not because we fear God’s punishment, but because by God’s grace we know the value of the pearl of great price and the treasure buried in a field, hidden from general view.
Each of us has experienced enthusiasm for our lives with God. We have willingly sacrificed earthly comforts for Jesus' sake. The purpose of the parables for us today is to rekindle our enthusiasm. Our Lord’s stories about people devoted to him with mind heart and will suggest to us that our times of greatest commitment to him are not in the past but in the future. He provides the ground of enthusiasm for us. Our part is to stay tuned, so to speak, to his station. As part owners of the kingdom, we listen faithfully to his word knowing that in him we have found a treasure beyond price. In Jesus’ Name we rejoice. AMEN. The peace of God…

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Matthew 25:1 - 13 Ready for Christ's Return?

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
       The word “parable” comes from a Greek word that means “putting things side by side”. Somebody said that a parable is a heavenly story with an earthly meaning. Somebody else said this: “a parable is one of those stories in the Bible that sounds like a pleasant yarn but keeps something up its sleeve that pops up and leaves you flat.” In other words, Jesus’ parables are meant to wake us up from complacency and get us to think.
       When I was a seminary student, I learned that although our Lord’s parables have many details, most of them have one central point of comparison and one basic message they want to get across. I’ve never been very good at figuring out these central points, so if I want to get to the heart of Jesus’ stories, I need to consult the writings of experts. This morning’s parable is the same as the others: we need to do some thinking to get to the main points.  
       Jesus uses the parable of the wise and foolish virgins to be ready for his return. That’s its basic meaning. A day is coming when he will return in glory to claim his beloved people with all the love and joy with which a new husband claims his bride. He will bring his faithful children into eternal happiness. He will wipe away sin and death and every evil to such an extent that we won’t even remember the things that may trouble and vex us today. Instead, there will be gladness and rejoicing forever. The love God has for his people, which we now experience by faith, will be clear to us and visible and unmistakable.
       The Lord commands us, meanwhile, to be ready. The word “readiness” suggests certain things to us. We get ready for winter by getting our heavy clothes in order and making sure the care is shipshape, if you have one. A student gets ready for exams by studying faithfully.
       We get ready for the Lord’s second coming in a different way, not by taking external measures, but by trusting in Christ now, in his friendship, his goodness toward us, his promise that we are saved by God’s love through our faith in him. Somebody explained the details of the parable this way: the oil we need is God’s grace and the power of Christ and the flame the oil produces is faith together with the good works we perform today and tomorrow and the inner changes we undergo as the Holy Spirit works to transform us.
       Faith in Jesus means more than agreement with certain facts, such as the ones we’ll recite in the Apostle’s Creed. It isn’t just carrying out the forms of religion or being active in the church. Faith is a living trust that Jesus is our friend and savior – that he died on the cross to win the forgiveness of sins for each one of us. Faith in Jesus means a profound certainty in our hearts, which only God can give, that Christ hears our prayers, that he’s present in our worship and in the sacraments, and that he has prepared a place for us in heaven. Faith in Jesus means assurance, confidence, that we ourselves are saved. If when we read the Bible or hear God’s Word spoken, we are convinced of Jesus’ friendship for us, then we have a good supply of oil and the flame of faith is burning. We’re ready for the second coming of Our Lord.
       Let’s think about how this readiness works by imagining a few people in everyday situations. Nelson is an intelligent and searching person. He wants to know about salvation. He reads a wide assortment of material and talks to many people. He often hears the idea that he doesn’t need God for salvation because he can earn it on his own through good works and pushing himself to live by a strict code. But because he knows very well he isn’t perfect and is likely to make mistakes, he doesn’t take these ideas seriously. He knows that he needs help. He turns to the Bible where he learns that Jesus is his help and he comes to trust what Scripture says about the Lord. Nelson is ready for the second coming.
       Mary Beth is a young lady from a strong Christian background. She goes to school and then to work, where she meets a variety of people whose faith isn’t so strong. They tease her and tell her she ought to get more fun out of life. Going to church every Sunday won’t do anything for her, because there is no evidence that Jesus will come back. Mary Beth says that it isn’t just a matter of going to church. It’s true that for some people turn religion into a routine, but she herself has a strong personal trust that Jesus is her savior. He refreshes her and gives her energy. He removes her sins and fills her with confidence. Her lamp is filled with oil. She’s ready for the second coming of our Lord.  
       Warren is an older man. He’s had a wide experience of life and contact with hundreds of people. Many have done better than he in a worldly sense, and he has endured more than one heavy disappointment. Without his faith in God, he would be tempted to sink into despair and give up on life. He’d be inclined to blame himself for everything he thinks has gone wrong. But Warren is a Christian. He brings his troubles to the foot of the cross and he feeds on our Savior. Even while he knows the heaviness of life, he trusts in the mercies of Christ. He is ready for the second coming.
       Hilda has had a long life. She knows what it means to be active and she’s had many joys. She’s also experienced a lot of sadness and frustration in recent years together with physical pain. People she loves have moved away or passed on to eternity. She’s tempted to wonder if life has meaning and purpose, but only tempted because she believes in her heart that Jesus walked the earth before her and that he passed through every sorrow that she’s now experiencing. She leans on Jesus’ companionship and his compassion for the wounded. She trusts that he died for her and that in his rising to new life again she herself gains new life. As she turns to Jesus, she discovers that her joy revives and she’s ready for the second coming.
       We’ll take one more example. Priscilla is a new Christian. She has many questions and she isn’t sure that other Christians accept her. But she knows that Jesus is her savior and she has experienced his power to renew. She knows that Jesus’ blood washes away her sins and that she has a never-failing friend in our Lord. She is ready for his return.
       These five people of faith are prepared for the second coming because by God’s grace they trust in Jesus now. They know he is their savior; their lives are safe in his hands. It would be easy to imagine five people of a different sort, who thought they were ready for Jesus’ return but actually were not because although they had the right lamps, they lacked the oil that brings faith. They went to church; they did good works, but their souls were elsewhere, focused on themselves and on the world rather than God’s will for them.
       The Savior’s parable teaches several lessons. First, that automatic religion doesn’t do much for us. It’s possible to know all the teachings and to do good works and practice all the rituals, but to be dead inside. True religion comes from personal contact with our Savior, who makes alive and who brings joy. People who look for a lively, strengthening faith will find it. They will be ready for Christ when he returns.
       Similarly, borrowed faith doesn’t help. The foolish virgins believed that when the time came they could get oil from their friends. But their neighbors had none to give. They had just enough for themselves and nothing left over. It isn’t enough to say, as some might, though no one here this morning, I’m sure, “Well, my grandparents had lots of faith and I will attach myself to theirs.” We need our own relationship with the Savior.
       Thirdly, God’s grace is abundant. He is very patient, slow to anger and quick to forgive. He continues to reach out his hand. But a time is coming when it will be too late. There will be no chances for sinners to repent and faith to be renewed. The Lord has included us among the wise. We ask him to keep us there and to build up our understanding of what it means to be ready for his return.
       In the fourth place, Jesus points out that we do not know exactly when he will come back. It could be next month. There could very well be a long delay. We do not know. this is not a case, however, where ignorance is bliss. We are not to use our lack of knowledge as an excuse for laziness. We should regard each day as if that were the day of Christ’s return. When we think this way, we find that the Lord is bringing out the best in us. He motivates us to do good works – to spread the gospel, to help the needy, to visit the sick, to pray for ourselves and our neighbors, to read the Bible every day. We find then that we are not living by automatic religion or leaning on the prestige that previous generations built up. We are living by our own faith with plentiful supply of oil to fill the lamp when our Savior returns. What opportunities he has given us! What ways to be active as we get ready to receive him on the day of his second coming. In his name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Revelation 7 -- The Lives of Saints

Grace and Peace to you from him who is and who was and who is to come,
       All Saints’ Day gives us a chance to do something a bit unusual – we dip into the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, which wraps up a story that began in Genesis. You’ll remember that in the 3rd chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve fell from grace and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. Not only that, they passed on the guilt of their sin to every succeeding generation, so that even God’s chosen people had their share of bad moments as well as good ones. Christ came to earth centuries after the Fall and gave his life as a payment for sin. He rescued all believes from the clutches of the serpent and from bondage to sin. The Book of Revelation foretells the final outcome of Jesus’ work. A multitude of people from all over the earth will sing God’s praises in heaven. Although evil is powerful, God is even more powerful, and Revelation looks ahead to his triumph over everything bad and hurtful and worrisome, including death itself. The last book of the Bible has quite a few dramatic moments, but its main point is the victory of God. So the Bible has a happy ending. It begins with Creation and the Fall and ends with rejoicing in heaven, through the grace of God in Christ.
       This victory will take place through the church. This morning’s reading from Revelation shows the church in two phases – the church on earth and the church in heaven. The earthly church exists in the middle of the trouble and turmoil of the world; the church in heaven will praise God in endless rejoicing. God protects the earthly church so that there will be a loud and joyful chorus in the heavenly church. As John the evangelist wrote, in heaven there will be no hunger or thirst or penetrating heat. Jesus will lead his people to springs of living water; he will wipe away every tear. All evils will pass away.
       Now, in order to appreciate the happy ending that God is preparing, we celebrate All Saints’ Day once a year, and also take a moment to define the word “saint”. When people speak of “saint” in every day conversation, they sometimes do so in a mocking way. According to popular definition, a saint is a superior person who lives a rigorous life and performs wonderful deeds for God day after day, someone who hardly ever commits a sin. But the Lord has another understanding of sainthood. A saint is a person who is aware of his or her capacity for sin, who accepts God’s pardon through the death of Christ, and welcomes his guidance. A saint is a person whom God is gradually changing so as to become more and more like Christ – in virtue and godliness of life. A saint holds onto the Lord by faith no matter what trials he or she may be passing through. In other words, you and I are saints, even though the word might embarrass us because of the uses to which it’s put in daily life; we are saints because of our faith in Christ. The Lord sees us as saints; he looks on us as his chosen people; he sees us as brothers and sisters of Christ. All because of our trust in our Lord. He includes us in the long line of saints that has existed since biblical times. He has a high opinion of us. We are his constant delight. As someone once said to me, we are twinkles in the eye of eternity.
       Now, the Lord wants to keep it that way, and so he brings us and all his other saints into his church on earth where he can protect us and feed us and watch out for us.
You probably know that John wrote Revelation during a time when the church suffered heavy persecutions. Many Christians feared that they would crumble under the pressure the Roman government placed on them. John reassures his readers that God protects his church. He keeps faith alive in the hearts of his people. He puts a seal on their foreheads – a brand, a special mark – that only he can see. This invisible seal identifies them in God’s eyes as one of his chosen people. What a terrific reassurance. Even on bad days when nothing went right and they felt like closing in on themselves, the Lord still saw the early Christians as his saints.
       Nothing can prevent him from completing the work of bringing saints into his kingdom – not wars or plagues or the forces of nature can keep him from drawing saints into his church and keeping us there. To take a present-day example, we know there has been a resurgence of faith in areas where the former Soviet communists held sway. I came upon these words of a 21 year old Russian: “I believe in God now. Lenin and Marx said there wasn’t a God...but I thought, that can’t be. It’s too primitive to look at humans as pieces of fat and molecules. A person can’t live if he or she doesn’t have a soul.” What a powerful witness! It’s happening all over the world. God draws people to him out of the cesspool of materialism and makes them saints. We should pray that people now turning to God stay in the faith and treasure their place in the Lord’s kingdom.
       Closer to home, we don’t have to look far to find the ills of materialism at work in our own society. We sometimes hear it said that our neighbors are hungry for God, that folks want the guidance and consolation of his Word. That may be so, but the loudest voices they hear urge them to seek comforts and pleasure, to live for status and achievement. Government and the schools, business and the media – all ignore God. Everything is tolerated, it seems, except the good news of salvation in Christ. Society overlooks the golden rule and the Sermon on the Mount, not to speak of the good news of forgiveness and new life in Christ. Outside Christian circles, we don’t hear the message that a day of judgment is coming. And people who don’t hear about sin and wrath never see their need for a Savior.
Even with a spiritual climate like ours, however, the Lord calls people to him and raises up saints, like you and me, who don’t think of ourselves as anything special. He equips us to witness to others about their needs and God’s mercy and love. He calls us to work with his help against the trends of the day. He encourages us to speak the truth in love, even words of reproach, and to reach out to the spiritually hungry with his offer of love and friendship; he urges us to ease aching hearts with the message of the gospel; he invites us to comfort the fearful with his offer of hope.
       In other words, we do Jesus’ work while we have the chance. We point others to the kingdom – whether children or neighbors or people who have fallen away – so that they, too, may live as God’s blessed saints.
       Our lives now are a curious mixture of ups and downs. We have great joys and deep sorrows. Things we look forward to are rarely as fulfilling as we had hoped. We enjoy beautiful things, but moments of beauty never last very long. We turn away after the sunset or when a favorite song is finished only to find that we must go back to our familiar routine. Worse things than that happen to us. What are we to make of this strange mixture, earthly life?
       We bring our concerns to God. His Word tells us that life has a purpose that will be revealed to us in heaven. Meanwhile, painful moments refine us and bring us closer to Jesus in faith. We learn to see the best moments of earthly life, which for Christians are likely to occur at church during worship, as a foretaste of what is to come.
       Ups and downs will end. We will join the multitude of saints in heaven, where there will be no grief or hunger or tears or war. We’ll emerge from our present tribulations, whatever they may be, and we’ll stand before the Lord in white robes of righteousness. If you like conversations, there’ll be plenty to talk about. If you like singing, there will be plenty of music. If you like sports, there will be physical activity. Most of all we’ll be in the presence of Christ. As John wrote, he will feed us and lead us to fountains of living water and he’ll wipe away every tear.
       So – you and I will be included in the happy ending that concludes the Book of Revelation. The ups and downs won’t get the best of us, because God has put his mark on us. He knows exactly where to find us, and in his own good time, he’ll deliver us from every evil. Our task now is to give him thanks and praise as we will do when we reach the church in heaven. In Jesus name. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.

Friday, October 18, 2013

2 Timothy -- St. Paul, the Master Teacher

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,
       It was during the last years of his ministry that Paul wrote to Timothy. Paul had a lot of experience and wanted to pass on his wisdom about life as a servant of the gospel so that Timothy could carry on with the work that he was about to leave behind. The two letters he wrote to Timothy give us an example of an older Christian training a younger one and also a picture of one Christian writing to a friend. Some of the details are quite down-to-earth. “When you come,” Paul wrote near the end of the second letter, “bring the cloak I left with Carpus..., also the books and above all the parchments.” We’re used to seeing important documents expressed in official language without ordinary feelings or homespun details. If private letters become public, they usually have to do with scandal or tragedy. As a general rule, nobody cares about the prime minister’s winter coat, but for 2000 years readers have known about Paul’s cloak. The public side of our way of life is often cold and rushed and unfeeling, while the genius of the Christian faith is partly our appreciation for down-to-earth, ordinary, homespun things. Our Lord had the common touch. So did Paul. As an apostle, he lived a public life, but he cherished everyday contacts and close friendships. This love for the personal is part of the church’s witness today. The Lord keeps us close to the earth, in touch with basic things and relationships. Perhaps the cold world will get the message. “I am reminded of your sincere faith,” Paul wrote to Timothy, “a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.”  Paul cared about the private life of his student. Public life is built on the private. There shouldn’t be a disconnect between them.
       The letters also bring out Timothy’s humanness. He had many fine qualities: loyalty, a warm nature, stamina, and faith, but he had weaknesses, too. He was timid and fearful at times and no stranger to youthful lusts, possibly reluctant to take on important work. Paul admonished him, and the two letters are filled with instructions. “O Timothy,” Paul wrote, “guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by possessing it, some have missed the mark as regards the faith.” Timothy must have lived a busy life in the world, familiar with many of its twists and turns. Paul needed to caution him about what to stay away from.
       Timothy’s humanness is another hallmark of life in the church that goes along with our Lord’s emphasis on the personal. The Spirit gathers the church from ordinary, frail human nature. Secular society encourages the so-called best and brightest; the Savior calls sinners into his kingdom. He washes us clean in His blood; he declares us to be righteous and whole – just as if we had never sinned; he gradually strengthens us and transforms us. He calls unlikely people to be his servants, folks who are aware of their unworthiness. His love breaks down the greatest barriers of timidity and shyness. He chooses as his servants people whom the world would never pick. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Not in virtue of our works, but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” God has his own way of doing things. His actions – like the manger and the cross – astonish human ways of thinking. We rejoice that he includes us in his kingdom, along with Paul and Timothy.
       Now, as we all know, once he saves us through our faith in Christ’s blood and brings us into his kingdom, he teaches us. We are lifetime learners. Every teacher will tell us that there are different kinds of learning. One kind of learning takes place when we absorb new facts and information. Another kind is the development of skills. Both kinds of learning – facts and skills – are important. Our culture excels in passing knowledge and techniques on to us. But in Timothy’s case, Paul was interested in still another kind of learning –the shaping of his soul. Timothy had had experience working with the church; Paul assumes that he knows the doctrines and how to express them. Now, he puts Christian teaching to work to help the Spirit transform Timothy, slowly, patiently, maybe even invisibly, into a new person, aiming not at externals but things deep inside Timothy’s heart.
       Now, we’ll look at some of the highlights of Second Timothy to watch Paul, the master teacher, at work, bringing the Christian best out of Timothy.
       Another of Paul’s letters reports that Timothy passed through a spell of disappointment when he worked in Corinth. He may have wanted to lie low for a while to give emotional scars a chance to heal. Paul urged him, however, to rekindle or stir up the gift of God within him. “God did not give us a spirit of timidity,” Paul wrote, “but of power and love and self-control.” Discouragement is part of life, no question. Even young folks with fresh minds, unacquainted with life’s severe rough spots, can be cast down in spirits. Paul tells Timothy to lift up his heart.
       We find encouragement ourselves in Paul’s admonition. For one thing, Paul offers the hope that burned-out spirits can be revived. God’s Spirit gives new life to tired souls. The point is to ask him for renewal, to stick with him, to seek his help. The Savior promises through Isaiah to renew the spirits of God’s people so that we soar like eagles. You see, while God likes fresh blood in his kingdom, he also relies on experienced folks who know the gospel and who have received God’s comfort so many times that it’s second nature to offer it to others. Just when we think we can’t take another step, God zooms in and refreshes us. This must be what Timothy felt when he read Paul’s letter – uplifting from the hand of God for continued, even enlarged service. Because he had passed through a dark valley, he knew what others go through. Because God had revived him, he knew that help was available. He knew just what to say to point them to God. What a fruitful servant the renewed Timothy must have been.
       In the second place, Paul advised Timothy not to be ashamed of testifying to our Lord. Paul doesn’t mean that Timothy has actually ever been ashamed of the Savior. He is simply encouraging him never to be so. He gives him the strongest of reasons to speak up for the Lord, for Christ abolished death, he wrote, and brought life and immortality to light. Timothy should concentrate on the main point. He should trust that God will protect until the last day the truth about Christ he has given to Timothy. Then he will never find a reason to be ashamed of the Lord.
       The same is true for every other Christian. The world tempts us; we hear lots of different opinions; human beings are by nature proud and love to do things on our own. But one thing even the proudest person knows he can’t do is abolish death and create everlasting life. Only God can do that, and because of his grace and his love toward us, he put his power to work on our behalf. He shares his immortality with us. He died so that we might live forever. When we keep this in mind, the problem of being ashamed of the Lord doesn’t come up. Even the most reticent of believers, equipped with the truth about Christ and the hope of immortality can be an effective witness for the Lord.
       Paul then encourages Timothy to accept his share of suffering for the gospel like a good sodier, to be strong in the grace that is in Christ. Christian living brings challenges to the flesh. These challenges involve sacrifice and sometimes public disfavor. Paul was in prison when he wrote his second letter to Timothy. Nevertheless, he advised his assistant to persevere.
       The church has a lot of wisdom about suffering. We never enjoy the dark days that come our way, but the Lord brings good out of them. He carries us through. He sees to it that we derive benefits from stormy days. Accepting hardship for the Lord chastens us; it refines our faith. Welcoming adversity for the sake of the gospel allows us to experience a small portion of what our Lord passed through for us.  It weakens our hold on earthly things and encourages us to look for the better life that is coming.
Paul didn’t promise Timothy that his days would flow along smoothly without bumps, but he did invite him to look ahead to receiving a reward from the Savior for his faithful service. A successful athlete who competes according to the rules wins a prize, Paul said. A farmer has the first share of his crops. A good student gets good marks and the hope of advancing to another level. Part of our reward for keeping faith with the Lord comes in the present life – inner strength, increased understanding, the habit of hope and joy in all seasons. But a greater reward is to come. The Lord broke the bonds of death and brought in the hope of everlasting happiness for all believers, a kind of happiness we can’t really understand right now, but that God encourages us to look ahead to. Paul encouraged Timothy to hold onto God’s promise of blessedness in eternity as the younger man prepared to take up where the apostle would leave off. The same applies to us. It’s easy to let the troubles of each day obscure our vision, but this is not what our Lord intends for us. He instructs us to hold onto the big picture – the rewards of faith now and the great reward that is to come.
       Someone summed up all of Paul’s admonitions to Timothy under one theme – endurance, which is one of the great Christian qualities, the ability to persevere in spite of hardships. God creates new people by giving frail humans a surprising capacity to bear up. The point is this – endurance is not our own doing, but a gift from God. For believers, it’s another word for faith. From time to time, we all ask how we can possibly stand such and such a thing. God puts us into situations where we know that on our own we would crumble. He teaches us to rely on him. Without our knowing it, he is shaping our souls along good solid lines so that we will be worthy of the reward on the great day to come. The Lord answers our questions about endurance. Yes, we will be able to bear up, he teaches us. We will survive and endure and give a strong testimony to him. We will be good servants and faithful witnesses, because this is his will for us – the direction in which he leads us. We will thrive in the faith now and sing his praises on the last day. In His name we rejoice. AMEN.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Psalm 65 -- On Giving Thanks

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
       “Praise waits for you, O God, in Zion.” King David, the psalm writer, describes the position of God’s people before him. Because we are saved, we wait silently for him to come to us. We are ready to offer him praise. We give him thanks. Thanksgiving is part of every Christian’s life. Someone said that our thanks rise up automatically from the spirit of joy that distinguishes God’s people. Our Heavenly Father created us to rejoice in his works and to receive his gifts with humble and hearty thanks. We thank him every day as well as on the special day that comes once a year. It’s not hard to think of reasons to give thanks that we all have in common – physical blessings such as a place to live, enough food to eat, the benefits we receive from living in Canada. We give thanks for loving friends and family and the support of a stable community. We thank God, too, for his word, our faith, and the church. We thank him for his Son, who died for our sins, and for the hope of eternal happiness in heaven. We thank him for the willingness to hear our prayers and for the promise that he will sustain our faith so that we don’t fear that we’ll lose hope tomorrow or fall into despair. His blessings to us will continue and for this we give him thanks.
       A wiser Christian than I said that our thanks are echoes of the praise and thanks that the heavenly choirs place before the throne of heaven. Our thanks come from our close fellowship with the Lord. Thanksgiving completes our enjoyment of God. When he commands us to thank him, the Father invites us to enjoy him.
       Let’s have a look for a moment at Psalm 65, which draws us into an atmosphere of thanksgiving, for we have many of the same reasons for giving thanks as King David. He praises God for the strength that created the mountains and the power that quiets roaring seas and ends turmoil among nations. Storms come, but they are the exception rather than the rule. God calls us away from harmful violence to peace and rest in him; he quiets the ambitions of rulers and nations. We ask him to bring peace where conflict and fighting are taking place. We’re grateful for the Lord’s steadying hand. Without him, the turbulence of the world would be much worse than it is.
       David thanked God for the care he gives to the land and the bounty he brings from the earth. He described the prosperity of his own nation, Israel – an abundance of rain, plentiful harvests, and enough grazing land for livestock. He said that the meadows were covered with flocks and the valleys with grain. Then he tells us that God thinks differently from the way we do.
       Jesus sees the parts of creation that seem speechless to us as shouting and singing for joy. We can find the same picture in Psalm 96, “Let the seas resound...let the fields be jubilant...then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.” The author of Psalm 148 invites the sun and moon and shining stars to praise God. “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals, cattle, small creatures and flying birds...let them praise the name of the Lord.”
We could find quite a bit in the Toronto area to include in the list of thankful, rejoicing nature – trees and parklands, rivers, one of the Great Lakes, a wonderful zoo, sun and stars, clouds and rain, the four seasons, and lovely twilights typical of northern places. To the eyes of God, all his creatures praise and thank him and testify to his great power.
       We know from our own experience as well as the news that the world is fractured and full of sin, but God sees all creation as unified under his rule through the restoring work of Christ. The whole world exists because of his gracious willingness to restore and renew. He sees in the unity he created a wonderful hymn of praise and thanksgiving to him. God’s faithful people join all creation in a chorus of thanksgiving. There is joy at the center of the universe, and Jesus invites you and me, all people everywhere, to take part in it. He delights in our praise and worship; the joy of his people pleases him. He is happy with the gratitude that rises up to him even though we may be passing through a time of trouble and testing. Paul once wrote that he was glad and rejoiced even though he might be poured out as a sacrificial offering. The thanksgiving of God’s Christian people that takes place every day soars above trials and tribulations like fragrant smoke that rises above a pile of burning leaves. We rejoice that God has given us the habit of thanks and praise. We praise him for his plentiful supply. We thank him for Christ’s death and resurrection, which brings hope and meaning to every moment of our lives.
The thanksgiving of Christians expresses our faith that God is good and that he brings plenty of good things and that he turns every evil into good in his own way, not just in general but for ourselves, each one of us. The parable in this morning’s gospel, however, gives an example of the opposite of faith and thanksgiving. Some guests invited to a certain king’s wedding were too busy to attend. They were absorbed in their own private affairs. Some even had murder on their minds. They didn’t care that their king had honored them. The parable draws a picture of the selfish world, with people wrapped up in comfort and material gain, even to the point of committing a crime. Anyone who lives only for material things builds a house on quicksand. No one can say when earthly things will be taken away.           Materialism dishonors God. It shrivels souls and cheats neighbors and cancels the blessings of salvation, but God’s justice will prevail. The parable reminds us that the Lord will reverse all wickedness on the last day. Those who repent of their sins and keep the faith and live in thanksgiving will receive an eternal reward. The rest will not, because it will be too late. We are thankful that God sees things differently from worldly minds. Faith toward him and love for our neighbors is what counts with him. He sees deeply into every heart and rejoices when one of his own recognizes his or her need and reaches out in faith to take hold of his promises.
       What a witness to God’s love his people make as we live day by day in faith.  We are not perfect. We always need the forgiveness he provides. At the same time, he uses our lives to make a statement. Material things don’t shape us. Jesus does. He uses us to show that even in a tarnished world it is possible to live for him and to be generous to him even before we are generous to ourselves. He molds us so that materialism doesn’t capture our souls. We don’t fret about nice things we may lack. Though temptations abound, we don’t envy the rich or covet their worldly success. Jesus teaches us how to be content with what we have. He forms us so that we don’t respond to material things with greed for more, but with joy and thanksgiving.
       How easy it is to be caught in a conflict between desire for worldly goods and the repose of spirit that brings thanksgiving. Jesus uses his thankful people to help folks who are still struggling find the trust in God to let go of the world. Without your knowing it, your spirit of praise and rejoicing may give someone close to you just the environment he or she needs to seek God. We testify that Jesus works miracles of contentment and thanksgiving even in today’s world.
       Jesus once met a rich young man who wanted heaven but not at the expense of his good life on earth. His soul was caught in a terrific tug of war. He needed God, but it seemed impossible that he could ever live with him. Impossible for him, that is, but not impossible for Christ. All things are possible with God. His people give a witness to our neighbors that Jesus can solve all human dilemmas – including those of the rich young man – by giving us faith in the value of his life and death and resurrection.
       It’s not that we’re better than others but that we live in the assurance of our Lord’s forgiveness. “Praise is due you, O God in Zion,” David wrote, “you who hear prayer. To you shall all flesh come on account of sins. When our transgressions prevail over us, you do forgive them.”
       Heaven’s pardon washes us clean every day: it renews us. The heavenly Father declares us to be righteous in his sight because of Jesus’ death on the cross. He has adopted us as his sons and daughters. David affirms that the people whom God brings near him are blessed, and we are chiefly blessed because the good Lord has brought us full and abundant lives through the gift of his forgiveness.
So, to conclude, we remember that Thanksgiving as a holiday in North America began among native people, and early Christian settlers adopted their custom. Our thanks delight the Heavenly Father. Giving thanks helps to clear our brains and free us from the vice of tunnel vision. The spirit of thanks lifts us up. It works to strengthen our relationship with the Lord. The more we thank him, the easier it becomes to give thanks. We find, like St. Paul, that we can thank him in every situation. With the assurance that he will hear us, we ask the Lord Jesus to lift us up and keep us his thankful people every after day, now and always. In his Name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.