11/02/14 Sermon (November 2, 2014)

posted Nov 6, 2014, 12:12 PM by David Hawkins

“Thanksgiving for Our Friends”

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 (Liturgist)

You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

Sermon: "Thanksgiving for our Friends"             Rev. David Hawkins

For this last year, we’ve explored the theme of discipleship, in our scriptures, in our worship, in our church life together. We’ve spend a great deal of this year looking the ethics of being a Christian through the parables about the kingdom of heaven in the Gospel of Matthew. We’ve thought about all areas of church life in terms our journey as followers of Christ. Not just education, but also in terms of worship, fellowship, ministry, and mission.

As part of that process we’ve remembered some of the historic words of our faith from the Heidelberg Catechism. We’ve tried to find ways to be disciplined in all areas of our own lives as well, to think about the way we eat and exercise and treat our bodies, and currently, we are offering a class on the discipline of financial stewardship.

For most of us, the idea of discipline is an uncomfortable subject. It calls up in our minds images of either punishment, or self-denial, or a sort of joyless drab existence, devoid of any extravagance or fun. For me, however, these last few months of studying the idea of discipline has opened up a whole new understanding of what being a disciple of Christ means.

The first thing that comes to mind, is that we don’t lead disciplined lives in order to earn the love of God. You would think that this is common sense, but I know that I have the tendency to think that if I just deny myself enough, God will reward me with good things. That if put on my hairshirt and my sackcloth and ashes, that God can’t help but see how good and humble and pious I really am, and will definitely bless me for it.

But of course, that’s not how discipleship works. That’s not what discipleship is. Throughout this year-long look at this topic, I’ve come to realize that discipleship isn’t something that we do in order to get something else. Discipleship is the process of deciding what’s important in our lives, and giving those things our energy, time, and attention.

Discipleship is the realization that we have already been given everything we need, everything we’ve hoped for. Discipleship is not a means to an end. Discipleship is not the key to happiness. Discipleship is not a guarantee of salvation. Discipleship is our expression of gratitude for what we already have. Living a life of discipline means living a life of joyful thanksgiving.

And so, as we close out this church year, this year of discipleship, and as we move through the month of November, this month we traditionally set aside to remember our blessings, I thought it would be appropriate to finish the year with some reflections on the the theme of thanksgiving.

A couple of weeks ago, we first opened up and began reading a letter from the apostle Paul to the church in Thessalonica. You may remember that I mentioned that most scholars think that this letter is probably the oldest document in the New Testament, the first words written about Jesus Christ, written down even before the Gospels were put together. If the New Testament was arranged chronologically, it would begin with 1st Thessalonians. When we read this letter, we are witnessing the birth of the Church.

And even this early in Paul’s writings, we see the seeds of his overall theology. And today, it’s all about thanksgiving.

Paul is thankful for his friends in Thessalonica. He’s thankful for their ministry, he’s thankful for their faith, he’s thankful for their friendship. And he let’s them know it. Apparently, his time in his previous church in Philippi didn’t go all that smoothly. And even in Thessalonica, Paul has had some problems with the locals. But his congregation has been there for him, and he is grateful for their support.

Friendship is a blessing. We need our friends, more than we want to admit. Friends are able to tell you things that acquaintances are afraid to say. Friends will pick up when you fall on your face, even after they told you to watch out, you’re about to trip. Friends are the ones that you reach out to when you have good news, or bad news, or when you need someone to sit next to you and wait, because you have no news at all.

When I was in college the first time around, right after High School and before I joined the Army, I attended Western State in Gunnison, Colorado. I was friends with someone I had gotten to know in high school, a percussionist named Rodney Ritthaler. I was the drum major of our marching band in Hotchkiss, and he was the drum major of the marching band from Montezuma-Cortez down in Durango. There really was no comparison between our two bands. We were a 1A school, and he was 4A, which was the biggest classification in Colorado. We’re talking the difference between South Plains College and Texas A&M.

But we knew each other from Drum Major camps and that sort of thing, and we were friends. We ended up at the same college, and he jumped into his studies, and after a year or so got married to his high school sweetheart who had become a nurse. I jumped into the college scene as well, but my track didn’t really involve that much studying. I had, shall we say, different priorities.

Rodney tried to talk to me a little bit about some of my choices, but I was having way too much fun to pay attention. And by the end of my third semester at college, sometime around December, I was living in a tiny apartment off campus. I had run out out of money to pay the utilities. And for those of you who know anything about Gunnison, it was a bad time of year to not pay the utilities. The average low temperature in December is two below zero.

I had unfortunately also had run out of food, and I wasn’t welcome at the college cafeteria. I had no money for heat, no money for electricity, no money for food, no money to pay for my next semester.  It turns out that you actually can overspend on wine, women and song. It’s hard to describe my state of mind back then. I felt paralyzed, I couldn’t think. It sounds strange to me now, as though it was all happening to a different person. I have never felt so alone in my life. All I remember is sitting in a chair in my freezing apartment, wrapped up in a blanket, staring at the wall, shivering, wishing I had something to eat.

Now, I don’t remember how many days I sat there in the dark, or how my friend Rodney heard about it, but out of the blue there was a knock at my door, and when I answered, he said, “Let’s go.” There was no discussion. He took me to his warm little trailer house, with his wonderful wife Jamie, and they gave me something to eat, and then put me to sleep, and I slept for two solid days. When I woke up, I was able to start putting together a plan. One part of the plan was to leave college, at least for a season. The other part was to join the military.

I have had other friends, of course. Friends who laughed with me, cried with me, fought with me. But Rodney was a special friend, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that he saved me from myself. I will always be grateful to him for that.

And this is what friendship is. Being there for each other. Even when our friends make stupid decisions. Even when our friends go off the rails. Sometime friendship means picking them up, dusting them off, and putting them back in the game, and cheering them on from the sidelines.

But friendship also means sharing the good times. When you have good news, you call your friend and tell them. When you’ve had some success, when you’ve finished a hard project, when you’ve beaten the odds, you want to tell someone. When you share your life with a friend, your sorrows are cut in half, and your joys are doubled.

It’s too easy to take our friends for granted. We forget how rare and precious they are. Sometimes, when we’re lucky, we marry our best friends, sometimes we bury them, sometimes we lose track of them, sometimes we walk away from them. But they are, and always will be a part of who we are. A friend leaves a mark on our soul that can never be erased.

During this month of November, I encourage you to remember and give thanks for your friends. Call up an old friend, let them know you’re thinking of them. Write a card or letter, or an email or whatever social media communication works for you. But let them know that you value your friendship, and that you’re grateful for it.

Today we remember and celebrate the ultimate gesture of friendship, the gift of friendship that God has given us in Jesus Christ. Jesus laid down his life for us, experienced the worst that this world could throw at him in order that we might know that we are never alone, even in our lowest moments. But Jesus didn’t just die for us. He lives again, and in this meal, he knocks on our door, he takes our hand, and leads us to a never ending feast next to a blazing fire, where we know we will never be cold or hungry, or tired, or lonely ever again.
    And for this, we can be truly thankful.

Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honor

and power and might

be to our God forever and ever. Amen