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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tangible Thanksgiving

This post is based on notes for my sermon on Thanksgiving, delivered at Peoria Church on Sun., Nov. 20, 2011.

We commemorate Thanksgiving by paying honor to the Pilgrims who came to the New World in 1620.

We honor their faith, even though we don’t necessarily share it. The Pilgrims were a Christian separatist group, who probably wouldn’t have worshiped with us anyhow. They wouldn’t have celebrated Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter or other ‘manmade’ holidays. They were largely Unitarians, five-point Calvinists who believed in original sin.

We honor their heroism though we are not heroes. At least I’m not a hero. I don’t think I would have taken a trip like theirs, with a large possibility of death and disaster. Some 47% of the passengers and crew died by then end of their first winter in New England.

We honor their vision for freedom, though we usually take freedom for granted. Before they disembarked from the Mayflower, the crew and Pilgrims created the Mayflower Compact, a document which set the pattern for democracy and voting that we have to this day in America. Yet in our last election, fewer than a third of eligible voters did so.

The Pilgrims were thankful for their earthly, tangible blessings.

* They built their first homes here from nothing. There were no homes waiting here for them upon their arrival. They built shelters from mud, logs, branches, straw from the ship, and stone. And they were thankful.

* They grew crops the following Spring from nothing. They brought seed with them in their cache of supplies, but they landed in New England on Nov. 9, 1620 – not a good time to plant anything in New England. Yet, they were thankful.

* They knew no one when they got here, other than themselves. In their two months at sea, crowded into the Mayflower, conflicts, scrapes, and the Pilgrims’ separatist attitude strained relationships aboard ship. (I don’t know about you, but we could barely make it half an hour in the car with our kids without some kind of scuttle.) But they were thankful for the people they were with.

Sometimes it takes getting to nothing to make us thankful for what we have. As the song says, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

In 2011 we have the luxury of being thankful for the “intanglibles of life.” We speak vaguely: “I’m thankful for friends and family,” “I’m thankful for all my blessings,” “I’m thankful for food and shelter.”

What would it be like to go through your home this Thanksgiving and thank God for everything in it, item by item?

More often, we find ourselves saying, “I don’t have enough, God!” I don’t have enough clothing! I don’t have enough food! I don’t have enough house! Not enough money! Just not enough!

And I’m certainly not thankful about it.

The thing is, God knows this about us. He knows how attached we become to tangible things, how we try to find satisfaction in life through what we can touch, see, taste, and smell. In I Corinthians 10, St. Paul writes about this as a warning to the Corinthians:

- Verse 7, he warns them about materialism that turns into idolatry.

- Verse 8, he cautions about relationships that turn into sexual immorality.

- Verse 9, he reminds that trust in God can turn into testing God.

- Verse 10, he notes how prayer can turn to grumbling.

No one is totally free of this. In I Cor. 10:12, Paul states plainly: “let anyone who thinks he stand take heed, lest he fall.”

This weakness we have for tangible things (as the saint calls it, ‘the flesh’), is why our intangible God put us in a tangible world to begin with. We are tangible, touchable, sensate beings. God made us this way in order to foster thanksgiving in us. Our relationship with God is nurtured through gratitude. Moreover, our tangible selves understand our need and dependence on God, because He is the One Who provides.

Because He understands our tangible weakness, God was Incarnate – He became tangible – in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ ate with people, He drank with them, worked with them, talked with them and was heard by them. He held their children, touched their sick, and helped carry their load. As we head into Advent next week, we need to remember that this is what Christmas is all about: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1)

Since we are tangible beings, God has given a tangible remembrance of Himself in the eucharist. It is so appropriate to remember this at Thanksgiving, because eucharist means “thanksgiving.” Both the Lord and St. Paul use the word in the establishment of the Sacrament. In Luke 22, Jesus Christ uses eucharist three times. First with the Passover Cup of Blessing. (Remember, the setting was within the Passover meal.) Next, He “gave thanks” and blessed the bread, saying “This is my Body.” And thirdly, in the same manner, He gave thanks for the Cup, saying “This is my Blood.” Matthew and Mark are identical on the last two points and St. Paul restates is verbatim in I Cor. 11:23-26.

In the Eucharist, we find that our tangible connection with bread and wine becomes the spiritual expression of faith, through this simple act of thanksgiving. The Apostle puts it this way: “This Cup which we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ?… This Bread which we bless, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?” (I Cor. 10:16)

You and I are asked to take this tangible thanksgiving, this “eucharist,” with us after the supper. Our souls are fed, “with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are nourished with the grace of thanksgiving.

And maybe we are more ready to be thankful for all those blessings you have around your home, naming them one by one.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Got Plans for Saturday?

The weather promises to be grim, again. May or may not rain, but cloudy, a little sun poking through here and there, and unseasonably chilly.

This Saturday, I mean.

I plan to finish some work in the garden, probably mow again, begin working on a couple projects.

And, if things go well, the Lord will return and we won't have any more weather forecasts to worry about.

There's been a lot of hubbub about the Second Coming this weekend. ( There's even a billboard outside North Manchester affirming the fact. There's no name or attribution to it, but it seems to be fairly authoritative.

I like basing my faith on billboards.

I've been asked by a number of people whether or not I think it's going to happen this Saturday. My answer is usually the same: "I'm ready for it either way."

The point of the Second Coming, whether or not it's this weekend or in another thousand years, is not to scare people into a repentance frenzy. The point is to be ready. This readiness means to live for God the way you're supposed to all the time.

It's like working a day or two without the boss around. Are you tempted to nap or take something or have a longer lunch without clocking out? Maybe. Probably. But would you do it? Hopefully not. The boss has confidence in you to leave his business knowing that what needs to be done can be done while he's gone.

There is no doubt that Christ will return. The New Testament affirms this repeatedly and both the Apostles and Nicene Creeds teach it. However, the Lord Himself is very reluctant to say when - He says that "wars and rumors of wars" are only the beginnings of the "birthpangs."

Will He come this Saturday? Could be. Could not be.

If He does, I'll be happy. I've been looking forward to going to Heaven for a long time and I'll be able to avoid a heart attack, cancer, fatal accident, or other tragedy. I'm ready.

If He doesn't, well, I'll be happy, too. I love my life here. I have a wonderful wife and great kids, I love my job and my Church. I have good friends and a great place to live. I have so many blessings, that I'll be glad to live with them for as long as it takes. I'm ready to stay, too.

To repeat: the point is readiness. How do you get ready for something like the Second Coming? It's simply an act of faith.
- St. Peter told the crowds in Acts 2 that they should "Repent, believe, and be baptized."
- St. Paul told the Romans to confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead and they would be 'saved'.
- St. John wrote the inimitable words: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Okay. So it's not that simple. Repentance, believing, confessing, accepting love from God (or anyone else, for that matter). These are difficult things. But they are the kernel of the Christian faith. They are life-long actions that prepare us of Christ's coming, either at death or denouement.

So, this Saturday, I'm ready. And if my current plans for the yard and garden happen to change because of the Second Coming, so much the better.

(Obviously, I hope those who read this are ready, too!)