11/23/14 Sermon (November 23, 2014)

posted Dec 17, 2014, 11:22 AM by David Hawkins

11/23/14 Sermon (November 23, 2014)

"Thanksgiving for the Gift of Jesus"


Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.


Sermon: "Thanksgiving for the Gift of Jesus"  Rev. David Hawkins

Nearly a year ago, on the first Sunday of January, we as a church began a year of looking at our life together through the lens of discipleship. A new year is always a good time to consider our where we are, and where we would like to be, and it seemed appropriate to think about what it really means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. You know how we pastors are about these things.

As part of this journey, we explored the theme of discipleship in our worship by remembering the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the oldest confessions of the Reformed tradition. This document has been the topic of a lot of debate over the last few years, and our denomination, the PC(USA), after a bitter debate, voted to approve a new translation of it, one that more closely follows the language of the original German. For me, and I hope for you, it was helpful to actually see and experience the actual words of the catechism as a part of worship, rather than simply hear about what it says from other people in the context of an argument.

In our sermons, we looked at the ethics of being a Christian, the encouragement to let our light shine, to keep our saltiness, even when doing so is hard. We looked at what it means to be a part of the kingdom of heaven, and we discovered that the kingdom is immense. Jesus compares it to a mustard tree, big enough for all the birds of the air, not just some of them. He compares it to an ocean, with room for all the fish, not just some of them.

We looked at what it means to hold the keys of heaven, and we realized that we are not the gate-keepers of heaven -- Jesus is. We are not the sheepfold -- Jesus is. We have the keys to heaven, but those keys are to invite, to forgive, and to welcome. This is our power, and we are promised that this is all the power we will ever need.

It doesn’t matter how sure we are of our doctrine, of our theology or our own sense of what is right and wrong. We don’t have the power to exclude people from the kingdom, or from God. And thank God that we don’t. There wouldn’t be very many of us in heaven if we did.  

We also looked at the ways we think about discipleship in areas of own physical lives, including the way we eat and drink and exercise. We realized that it is easy to think of our faith as being something purely spiritual, purely theological. But our faith involves every part of our being. It’s not just about our souls. We worship God, not just with our heads, not just with our hearts, but with our bodies as well.

For some of us, this realization has led to dramatic changes in the way we think about food and exercise and health. It has even affected the way we, as a church think about fellowship meals and potlucks. It introduced us to new kinds of food, like quinoa and coconut water.

And even though I have to confess I’m not sure that I’m a big fan of kale chips, I realized that God loved the human body so much that he became one. And the means things. I can’t just dismiss this body as something disconnected from my faith. It is a critical part of who I am as a person beloved by God.

But the most important thing I learned on this year long exploration of discipleship, the thing that scripture kept coming back to, over and over again, is that we don’t live disciplined lives in order to earn God’s love, or to get brownie points, or even to satisfy some sort of code that Christians are required to follow in order to be Christians.

We follow Jesus, not in order to get something out of it, but because we have already received everything that we will ever need. Discipline is not a matter of sacrifice, or limits, or denial in order to get something.

Discipline is what naturally flows from a life of gratitude for what God has already done, is already doing and will always do, not just for me, not just for you, but for us, and for them, and for the world.

...

We began our journey of discipleship last January with words from the Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus, in fact, with the words that immediately precede the words we read today, words reminding them, and us, that we are given this life as an inheritance, that we might live for Christ’s glory.

This is a heavy charge, an almost unbearable thought, that we are called to lived in such a way as to bring glory to the one who died for us, the one who died for the whole world. But in the same breath that Paul lays this charge on us, he reminds us that we are promised grace, and that our best successes and worst failures are redeemed and forgiven.

Today, a year after beginning this exploration of discipleship, we hear the Apostle Paul again addressing the church in Ephesus, with words that follow up on the scripture we heard in January. And this time, rather than words of exhortation calling us to live lives worthy of the Gospel, he offers words of thanksgiving. Paul is grateful to the church for their ministry, for their work, and for their faith.

And so, as we close this year of discipleship, this year bracketed by words of encouragement and thanksgiving from the Apostle, I want to offer to you my own words of encouragement and thanksgiving as well. Thank you for your ministry. Thank for your time. Thank you for your faith. Thank you for your love and sacrifice.

It has been a difficult year for the church. We live in an economically depressed part of the world, under less than ideal climatic conditions. Industry and jobs and opportunities for our young people seem to be scarcer every year. Our town has experienced some tough times.

And while most of us are doing OK financially, more and more of us are experiencing something called, “Time Poverty” that feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. We are spending more hours on the road commuting to our work, we are finding less time to spend with our families, and it is hard to balance all the expectations that are placed on us, and those we place on ourselves.

We are busy, and we are tired. And we feel guilty, because we didn’t get everything done. Something always seems to slip through the cracks.

And yet, busy, tired, guilty, you still find the time to come to to church, to fellowship, to pray, to worship, to learn, to minister. You are still being the hands and feet of Christ in a world that needs Jesus more and more every day. Feeding the hungry, comforting those who grieve, providing a safe place for those who are afraid, offering benevolence and hope to the desperate, giving out your limited resources to those who have even less, and praying for those who cannot pray for themselves.

Even in the midst of your own difficulties, you still follow the call of God to pour yourselves into the needs of the world around you and there are no words that can convey the sense of my pride and appreciation for what you all do, every day, in every part of your lives.

And, unlike Paul, who has only heard of the ministry of the church in Ephesus, I know first hand the work that you all are doing here and in this community. I see it every day. But like Paul, I want you to know that I do not cease to give thanks for you every day. You have been a gift to me and to my family, as well as to our town. Thank you.

You know, it’s really appropriate that this season of thanksgiving moves us into Advent. It makes sense that as we offer our thanksgiving for the blessings in our lives, we also offer thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for us, in coming to us as a baby in a feeding trough, vulnerable to our hate, exposing himself to our anger. Thanksgiving that he would die for our sins. Thanksgiving that he would rise again to take those sins from us.

When Jesus came, God became human. When Jesus died, our sin died, and when God raised up Jesus, he raised up all of us, and takes us into his arms. And so during this season, for this, and so much more, we give thanks.

But that’s not all there is to thanksgiving. Because the story didn’t end with resurrection, and it doesn’t begin again with the return of Jesus Christ. Advent is a wonderful part of the Church year, but the story and ministry of Jesus doesn’t start and stop and start again. In fact, the story of Jesus is one that never ends.

Because the work of your hands, the work of this church, is the visible and tangible sign of the kingdom of heaven breaking into the world around us. The ministry you do, the work you have always done, and will continue to do, is the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus to always be with us.  

And this is not my opinion, or my particular spin. The Bible tells us over and over that when we as the hands of Christ offer a glass of cold water to the thirsty, we are offering salvation. When we feed the poor, we are feeding Jesus, and they are being fed by Jesus. Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus that the church is Christ’s body in this world.

You are, right now, whether you like it or not, whether you want to accept it or not, bringing the kingdom of God into the kingdom of this world. It is the work and ministry of people like you that reminds us that God is still present, and God is still active today.

This thanksgiving, we will gather with our loved ones and give thanks for what God has done for us. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that. God has done great things. We owe everything we have, our homes, our families, our breath, our very lives, to the grace of God. But our thanksgiving extends to more than just what God has done for us in the past.

Paul’s words to the church Ephesus reminds us that God is not done with us yet. God is still at work with us and in us This thanksgiving, I encourage you all to give thanks not just for what God has done, but for what God is doing, and will do -- for us and for the world.  

Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honor

and power and might

be to our God forever and ever! Amen.


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