Thursday, December 21, 2017

"Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid!" A Meditation on the Message of Angels

“Be Afraid.  Be Very Afraid!” 
A Meditation on the Message of Angels
Brent J Eelman

The title of this essay is drawn from the 1980’s movie “The Fly,” but it could very well be a paraphrase of much of the contemporary social and political rhetoric that dominates our landscape.  Be afraid of refugees.  Be afraid of terrorism. Be afraid of crime.  Be afraid of the future.  The emotion of fear is a useful response that protects us against real dangers.  But fear is often stoked by principalities and powers to manipulate, abuse, and control humanity.  Fear is contagious.  We sense it in others and it raises our own anxiety and worries.  We talk about our fears and it multiplies not only in our own soul but in the collective soul of our community. 

Fear is also addictive and the visual media, by means of its news and entertainment outlets, feeds this addiction through exaggeration and misrepresentation supported by visual stimuli.   Consequently, we believe that the murder rate is the highest it’s been in 47 years. (PolitiFact reports that the murder rate is down 42 percent during this period in spite of a 25% uptick in population.  There has been a slight increase from 2014-15).   We are afraid of international terrorists.  (PolitiFact reports that between 2005 and 2015 there were 71 deaths caused by international terrorists in the United States while there were 301,797 gun deaths during that same period.)  

Out of fear we build walls, whether around our property or our nation.  Out of fear we buy guns; handguns, assault guns, and stun guns. Out of fear, we vote. 

“People react to fear, not love,” Richard Nixon once said.  He continued, “They don’t teach that in Sunday school. But it’s true.”

But our concern should be what we teach in Sunday School.  The heart of the Christmas message addresses the reality of fear.  The words, “Do not be afraid” appear throughout the Christmas narrative.  The angel speaks to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist who was overcome with fear, “Do not be afraid…” (Luke 1:13).  The angel speaks to Mary, the mother of Jesus, “Do not be afraid…” (Luke 1:30).  The angel speaks to Joseph, afraid of the public scandal that might entail from Mary’s pregnancy, “do not be afraid…”  (Matthew 1:20).  The angel speaks to shepherds, Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy…” (Luke 2:10). 

The announcement of the birth of Jesus is accompanied by the angelic message, “Do not be afraid.”  We echo these words in our Christmas Carols:  “No more let fears and sorrows grow…”  “Now, you need not fear the grave…”   “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” declares that this message is proclaimed against a backdrop of fear, naming it “Babel.”  “And ever o’er its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing.”   The Christmas story and the carols we sing are an invitation to respond, not to the fears that enslave and control, but to the hope of the world that frees, restores, heals, and loves. 

But there is a dark side to the Christmas story that we encounter in Matthew.  It is the story of the Magi. In that story we encounter the politician, Herod, who responds not to this hope, but rather to his fears.  “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened…” (Matthew 2:3).  Matthew exposes Herod as a duplicitous ruler who feigns religious devotion to achieve political ends that enhance his power.  “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”  (Matthew 2: 8).  His true nature is revealed in the massacre of infants. “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.”  The end product of fear is violence and death.  This was the outcome of Herod’s politics of fear: violence and death visited upon the innocents. 

In the ancient Christmas story, we encounter a carpenter, Joseph, a teenage mother, Mary, shepherds in the fields and Magi (astrologers) in the east, responding to their hopes: the prophetic hope of peace on earth, the hope that peace can exist in a diverse community, (Isaiah 11:1-9), and the hope of justice for the poor, the outcast, and the weak (Isaiah 61:1-4). 

Does this message, the negation of fear, still ring out during our Christmas celebration?  Do we respond to the Gospel message of hope or to our modern Herods and their political message of fear?  I believe this is the choice that is before us this Christmas.    Rick Wilson, a political ad creator stated:  Fear is easy.  Fear is the simplest emotion to tweak in a campaign ad. You associate your opponent with terror, with fear, with crime, with causing pain and uncertainty.”  He continued, “ When people are under stress, the hind brain takes over.”  In other words, we lose our God given rational selves, the ability to use good judgment.  In short, we abandon the gift and calling of being creatures made in the image of God.   We can journey down this road of fear and follow it to its destination of violence, war, destruction and death.

Or we can choose the other road.  It is one of moral courage, economic justice, and healing.  This is the journey, marked by a star that leads to Bethlehem.  It is the fearless journey of hope. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dickens' Christmas Carol and the Challenge of the Christmas Proclamation

Dickens' Christmas Carol and the Challenge of the Christmas Proclamation

The movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, is an enjoyable, albeit different, Christmas movie.  It is the story of Charles Dickens inner struggle to create the beloved A Christmas Carol.  I had a number of different reactions to this movie and thought that I would collect them in this short essay. 

1.     This is essentially a Christmas movie about the creation of the story, A Christmas Carol, which ultimately became the archetype for all Christmas stories and movies. It tells us that a core of goodness still exists in the heart of humanity and that the heart of even the most miserable human beings can be changed.  This story is one of the triumph of hope over despair, of goodness over evil, and of purpose over meaninglessness.  It is the essential story of most Christmas movies from The Bishop’s Wife to It’s a Wonderful Life.

What makes these movies “Christmas stories” as opposed to ordinary happy tales, is the intervention of an external power or force, be it angels or ghosts.   Human despair and misery cannot be reversed by humanity alone, a power from beyond is needed. 

2.    A Christmas Carol is a Christmas story without a Christ.  Dickens’ delightful story is about human transformation without a religious dimension.  There is no mention of the Jesus, no crèche, and no Mary and Joseph.  The story is entirely secular.  In this respect, the title The Man Who Invented Christmas is spot on.  This story provides the foundation for the modern celebration of Christmas as a secular holiday.  The “Christmas Spirit” is the spirit of generosity and hope, not the Holy Spirit that comes upon Mary in the Magnificat, (Luke 1:46-55).  Dickens distilled the hope of the biblical story of the incarnation in a form that enables all to celebrate the “season” apart from the theological dogma surrounding the incarnation.  Ironically, Dickens, “the man who invented Christmas” removed Christ from Christmas. 

3.    I was struck by the coincidental timing of this story, given what is happening in the halls of Congress.  A driving sentiment in A Christmas Carol is the hope that Tiny Tim will live.  He is ill, probably with rickets from the poor nutrition that results from poverty.  He needs medical care.  Our country is filled with “Tiny Tims” suffering from all types of childhood diseases, but the Children’s Health Insurance Program, (CHIP), has been unfunded since September 30, 2017.  Tiny Tim survives because of the generosity of the transformed Scrooge.  How many children will die in the richest nation in the world because of the hardened hearts of the representatives who are sitting on this bill? 

We should not forget that Dickens’ novels were critical of the disparities of wealth that existed in Great Britain during his day.  This included the exploitation of children to the benefit of the wealthy.  His character, Scrooge, is the archetype of the greed that allows those in power to continue to exploit workers, deny healthcare, and justify poverty using arguments of economic expediency.   The modern reader of A Christmas Carol cannot help but hear echoes of Scrooge’s rhetoric in the pseudo-philosophy of Ayn Rand, social Darwinism and its modern political proponents.  

As a pastor, Christmas was always a difficult season for me.  Part of it was due to the “busy-ness” and the tyranny of minutia that are so much of a clergy’s experience of Christmas.  But there was a deeper, theological, and existential issue for me.  It is the fact that Christmas is a very minor part of the Biblical story.  It occupies 2 chapters of the Gospel of Luke, (really only the 2nd chapter).  Matthew devotes 30 verses of his Gospel to the story of the incarnation.  Neither Mark nor John mention it.  The Apostle Paul does not write about it in any of his letters, with the exception of Galatians 4:4-5, (with no mention of Mary and Joseph).  The focus of the New Testament is on the Resurrection of Jesus and the victory ushered into the world by this event.  I felt as though contemporary Christianity had been overtaken by the secular celebration of Christmas.  From my conversations with colleagues, I knew that I was not alone in this sentiment.

It was only in the latter years of my ministry that I began to change my feelings about Christmas and its religious and secular dimensions.  It began to dawn on me that Christmas stories, particularly A Christmas Carol provided a “point of contact” for me to address my congregation with the message of the incarnation.  The words of the Advent hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” were embodied in these secular Christmas stories and movies.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art’
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

The Christ-less Christmas stories expressed this longing, this desire; this hope to hope again.  Preaching, indeed ministry, during the Christmas season needed to speak to this ancient longing.  There is indeed a hole, an emptiness in our collective soul that cannot be filled by kings and leaders from Herod to Trump.  There is a longing and thirst for a better world where generosity, love, justice, and healing prevail.  There is also a cynicism, a wound of the spirit that tells us that we, of our own volition, cannot usher in this era.  Our Christmas proclamation needs to speak to this wound that will not heal; this wound that is articulated in the Christmas stories we read and watch. 

Dickens also had a social conscience.  His novels, from Bleak House to Oliver Twist do not ignore the plight of the underclass and the poor.  He brings their story to light and tells of their struggles and their shortcomings.  They are not the “noble poor” but rather human beings with hopes that are mired in the mud of despair.   Our proclamation needs to embody the realism of Dickens.  In the words of Isaiah, (and later Jesus) we need to declare “good news to the poor.”  If our Christmas message does not include this, then we too are captives to consumerist Christmas. 

The existential question for the preacher is: Can a world that is captivated and charmed by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, be touched by the spirit of Christ?   

Karl Barth wrote that the preacher should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  He believed that preaching, if it was to be a “living Word” would have to be proclaimed in the living world.  It needed to address the context of its listener.  I fully concur with this sentiment and would extend it to say that during Christmas, we preachers should have the Bible in one hand and A Christmas Carol in the other. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

With Us: An Advent Sermon by Brent J Eelman

With Us
An Advent Sermon by Brent J. Eelman

Isaiah 7: 10-16
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Matthew 1:18-23
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."

A parent says to her child, “I will be there.”  What do those words mean and how does the child respond to those words?  It depends on the context, does it not?  The words could be a promise and an assurance.  “Don’t worry, I will be there and will help you.”  But the words can also be construed as a warning.  “Listen, you better behave this afternoon, because I will be there.”  

“I will be there.”  It can be a warning or a promise.  The same is true with the name Immanuel.  Whether it is spelled in the Hebrew manner with an I or the Greek with an E. It means, “God with us.”   Depending on its context it can be either a warning or promise.

Today I want to look at three different contexts for Immanuel.  The first is the story of Isaiah. In that story, “God with us”, or Immanuel was a warning.  The second context is the story from Matthew. This is part of the Christmas story, and Emmanuel, “God with us”, was a promise.  The third story is our story: our desire and hope to experience “God with us” in our lives.  Our experience of the presence of God in our lives is both a promise as in gospels and a warning as in the prophet Isaiah. 
The name Immanuel originated in an encounter that the Prophet Isaiah had with King Ahaz of Judah. This occurred 700 years before the birth of Jesus. The Hebrew bible was not kind in its judgment of King Ahaz.  It stated that he was not a good king, nor did he walk in the light of the Lord.  Isaiah was sent by God to Ahaz to warn him about his behavior and tell him to change his ways. 

It was a sticky situation.  The nation of Judah was caught in a Middle East power grab, and the future did not look hopeful.  Ahaz, in order to save his kingdom, made a deal with the Assyrians for protection against his enemies.  To sweeten the deal, Ahaz robbed the Temple of some of its wealth and sent it to Assyria.  This was an affront to the prophetic concern for faithfulness and so God sent Isaiah to Ahaz to offer him a sign from God that he needed to change. 

Ahaz refused any type of sign and this angered God. Isaiah then told Ahaz that regardless of what he wanted or thought, God would give him a sign. 

Then Isaiah pointed to his young wife, (who was also a prophetess), and said, “Here is your sign.  The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”   Isaiah’s child, Immanuel, was a warning to Ahaz that he made the wrong choices.  The kings in which he placed his hopes would be gone before this child was mature. 

Immanuel was a reminder that God was with Ahaz, whether he wanted him around or not.  God would not ignore the evil that Ahaz would do….a warning.
The name Emmanuel in the Gospels contained a promise. When Matthew quoted Isaiah, he used a similar phrase, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”   We get awfully hung up on whether Matthew translated the Hebrew word for young woman correctly into Greek, but that is not the issue.  The issue is Matthew’s belief that an ancient prophecy would be fulfilled again.  Matthew was familiar with the prophet Isaiah, and when he told the story of the birth of Jesus, he remembered the words of Isaiah.  The light bulb went off and he said, “Yes, the birth of Jesus is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.”  Here is the difference: for Matthew, it was not a warning.  It was a hopeful promise!

 Matthew believed that Jesus, the child born of Mary and Joseph, was a child of hope.  He was an assurance to people that God was, indeed, with them and would not abandon them.  This is the essential message of Christmas: God became a human being and lived among us. This same Christ is present in our lives today.  This is the promise that is the foundation of our faith.   This is the promise that Matthew proclaimed in his Christmas story.  “They shall name him Emmanuel – God with us.” 
The prophecy of Immanuel, God with us, is also fulfilled again in our lives. We want God in our lives.  This is the third story; your story and mine.  It is also the story of this season.  We know that this world is messed up, and so we look to the heavens and pray that God will come in some way and restore creation.  During this season of longing and expectation, we sing the ancient carol:  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” We long for God in our lives. 

Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the birth of his own child, and the events of subsequent years.  His prophecy was fulfilled again in the birth of Jesus to Mary and Joseph.  I believe it is also fulfilled again and again in our lives.  God enters our lives and is with us.  In the words of the Fanny Crosby hymn, “He walks with me, and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own.” 

Whenever we experience a moment of grace; an act of forgiveness, an expression of love and acceptance, we experience “God with us.”  

When our prayers are answered, our bodies healed, the poor fed, and the lonely visited, we experience “God with us.” 

But is this the only way we experience God?

None of us would argue that we want God in our lives, but which one?  The warning of Isaiah or the promise of Matthew?  

When I was a child, one of our treats was Oreo cookies.  There are a number of ways to eat an Oreo.  I would just take a big bite and eat it.  My brother would split them open, and only eat the filling on the inside.  He only wanted one part of the Oreo. 

Is it the same with God?  We just want the part we like? 

One of the problems with our contemporary culture is how we view God.  We don’t want God to warn us, to challenge us, or tell us to change.    We want God to fix what we’ve messed up and then leave us alone.   We only want one part of God in our lives:
·      a God who is there when we need him; 
·      a God who will fix the things we mess up;
·      a God who will leave us alone and not make any demands upon our life;
·      a God who will not challenge us to change. 

We love this season with all its pageantry. Mary and Joseph, shepherds and magi, angels and stables.  We adore the baby in the manger.  I, too, love this season.  But I also know that this baby Jesus, (the one we call Emmanuel), grew up and became a man. 
·      This baby was the one who later confronted the powers of this world with the truth. 
·      This baby was the one who told the strong and the mighty to turn the other cheek.
·      This baby was the one who came face to face with the Roman authorities, the temple authorities, the legal authorities… the devil himself, and spoke the truth. 
·      This child grew up to trouble and challenge those whom he was with. 

Should we not expect him to challenge us, to trouble us, and to speak the truth to us?   Isn’t this also part of being loved?   The baby in the manger grew up and become the Christ of the cross… and he calls us to take up our cross and follow.  

And so we sing, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”  longing for God’s presence in our lives.  “God with us” is the God of Isaiah. God challenges us, warns us and calls us to a higher standard of faithfulness. 

“God with us” is the God of the Gospels, who also loves us, assures us, comforts us, heals us, dies for us.   The modern martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

So long as there are men and women, Christ walks the earth
as your neighbor,
as the one through home God calls on you, speaks to you,
and makes demands on you.
That is the most serious and
most blessed thing about the Advent message.
Christ lives in the shape of the person in our midst.

This is the good news.  Amen.   

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Turkey is Burnt: A Meditation on Giving Thanks

The Turkey Is Burnt: A Meditation on Giving Thanks
A Sermon by Brent J Eelman 
Preached Nov. 19,2017, Hickory Street Presbyterian, Scranton, PA
Imagine this scene.  A dozen and a half relatives were invited for thanksgiving and the turkey was burnt to a crisp.  Eighteen hungry people were gathered around the table as the burnt turkey was placed before them and the head of the household, trying to rescue the moment, challenged them to come up with some reasons that they should be thankful for the burnt turkey.  They were quite creative:
  We won’t worry about salmonella
  No one will overeat.
  Everyone will think it's Cajun Blackened.
  The cheese broccoli lima bean casserole will gain newly found appreciation.
  The smoke alarm was due for a test.
  We won't have to face three weeks of turkey sandwiches.

This household was indeed creative in the face of holiday disaster.  The tragedy of a burnt Turkey and ruined feast became the opportunity for comic responses and shared joy.  At the root of those humorous responses was, I believe, a genuine sense of thanksgiving.  It wasn’t “Woe are we!” and “The day is ruined!” Rather the family responded with a sense of proportion and, I believe, thanksgiving.   More often than not, the difference between a tragedy and comedy is how we respond.  

The reality of life is that the turkey is often burnt.  I am not merely referring to Thanksgiving meals.  I am talking about the day to day realities with which all of us live. 
·      Relationships become strained and sometimes broken. 
·      The job we counted on no longer exists. 
·      The toy we bought, no longer gives us a thrill. 
·      The car doesn’t start. 
·      The computer screen turns blue. 
·      The body aches. 
·      The soul wearies.

 The reality of life is that the turkey is often burnt.  Then we encounter the words Paul, “Rejoice in all things.  Rejoice in the Lord.  Again, I will say it. Rejoice.”   Three points:  1. The thankful heart is a joyous heart.  2. The thankful heart is defiant and resilient in the face of adversity.  3.  The thankful heart does good.

The thankful heart is a joyous heart.  Joy is the misunderstood emotion of our day.  Ask what it means and the standard reply is, “It means happy.”  But happiness is like the weather.  It comes and it goes.  It is fickle and we have little control over it.  Joy is like soil.  It is rich, often dark, not very neat and tidy, and most importantly, it must be nurtured and cultivated.  Often it is cultivated during the storms of life. 

Every religion, except Judaism and Christianity, (which are religions of the book) insists that the end and the beginning of all things is an eternal calm.  But biblical faith believes and declares that the peace of God… indeed the “shalom” of God is beyond our understanding, precisely because it is often a peace that contains pain.  

Reinhold Niebuhr described happiness as a “neat harmony of life.”  And we are thankful for those neat harmonies, when things actually go as planned.  Those moments when the body feels good, when relationships are in sync, when the checkbook balances in the black, the house warm and the meal is good.  The trouble is there are not many long sweet harmonies in life.  The turkey is burned. 

This is where Biblical faith speaks with a reality that is often forgotten.  The New Testament points to the cross, a symbol suffering.  The Old Testament tells the story of the  suffering of God’s people and God’s intimate involvement in their suffering.  Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote in his classic book, The Prophets, “The predicament of man is a predicament of God, who has a stake in the human situation. Sin, guilt, suffering, cannot be separated from the divine situation.”    He went on to conclude, “… God is involved in history, as intimately affected by events in history, as living care.”  The turkey is burnt. 

The experience of joy is rooted in the covenant relationship with God, and experiencing with God the plethora of emotions that are endemic to human existence.  The experience of genuine joy is the knowledge that God is present, not merely in the happy moments of neat harmony, but also in the discordant moments of suffering, loss, confusion and death.  Abraham Lincoln’s well known letter to the mother who lost five sons in the civil war, captures this spirit of biblical joy, when he wrote of “the solemn joy that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”  Solemn joy… not happiness.

A few days before we got married, my wife said to me, “I look forward to all the good times that we will share together.”  She then continued, “I also look forward to the hard times because we will share them together.”  She is, of course, a realist. Christian faith is also realistic. We experience the good times and the hard times in a covenantal relationship with God… and we offer thanks for both.  The thankful heart is one that is intimate with this solemn joy.  In all things, it rejoices.  In all things, it gives thanks. In the words of the book of James, we “count it all as joy!”
The thankful heart is defiant in the face of adversity.  In our current age, when we have raised whining, complaining, and critiquing to an art form, a genuine Thanksgiving is an act of defiance and forms the foundation of resilience.  It is certainly counter-cultural.  It requires moral courage and a spirit that is not of this world: certainly not common to our experience. 

The first settlers in America landed in December of 1620 in Massachusetts. They understood their perilous journey in terms of the exodus from Egypt.  They were on “an errand in the wilderness.”  That wilderness was harsh.  One month after landing, 10 of the 17 fathers and husbands who were on that ship, the Mayflower, died.  Within 3 months of landing, only four of the mothers and wives were alive out of the first 17 couples.  By springtime almost half of the pilgrims were dead.  Today we would blame it all on poor planning, landing in a strange world in the middle of winter, without provisions and without shelter. We would blame the loss on the leadership and would demand their heads.  Yet in 1621, 11 months later, the few who were left celebrated and gave thanks to God.  Giving thanks is an act of defiance.  

In Europe, just 26 years later, there was a Lutheran pastor named Martin Rinkart.  He lived in Eilenberg, Saxony during the siege of the Thirty Years War.  Eilenberg was a walled city, besieged by Swedes.  800 homes were burned and the people within the city walls suffered from plague and starvation.  The clergy in that community were burying 12 people a day.  Soon the clergy themselves started to die and Rinckart was the only pastor left.  He was conducting 40-50 funerals a day!  In the coming year he would bury 4,480 people including in May of that year, his own wife.  In 1648, when the conflict ended, Rinkart sat down and penned these words in a prayer poem for his children;
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 

Giving thanks is an act of defiance.  
·      It is the defiance of the human spirit in the face of oppression, war, the elements, and the principalities and powers that hurt, threaten, and destroy. 
·      It is the defiance of the human spirit in the face of the merchants of death who are empowered by the ungrateful voices demanding more. 
·      It is the defiance of the human spirit that hopes against hope; clinging to the sanctity of life, and affirms the reality that life and creation are good. 
·      It is the defiance of the human spirit that, even when we are lost in the wilderness of despair, we can raise our voices in thanksgiving for the manna and quail in the morning and the water that springs from the rocks in our cultural wasteland.   
Thanksgiving requires a defiant spirit.  Gratitude is counter-cultural at its core.  But the defiant spirit that gives thanks is also one that is resilient. It not merely survivies.. It gains strength in adversity and thrives! 

The thankful heart does good.  Paul wrote that we should focus our minds on “whatever is pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.”  But he went a step further and said… don’t just think about them. “Keep on doing these things.”   The prophet Micah, calling Judah back to the covenant, declared:  “He has told you, O mortal, what is good:  and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God! “ 

How do we offer our thanks to God?  With prayer, song and worship, of course, but also the way we live our lives.   Thanksgiving embodies kindness, justice, humility, and purity of purpose.  We act in ways that are pleasing, excellent and praiseworthy.  We keep the Law, we honor the Prophets, not because we want credit with God,  but because we are thankful, and we reflect this gratitude in our lives and our behavior.  The joyous thanksgiving of this worship service does not end with the final blessing; it begins with the cup cider and cookie following the service.  It begins with the smile and greeting to friend and stranger.  It continues through the turkey and the football game.  It continues in the job on Monday and the routine of the week.  This joyous thanksgiving continues in the moments of hurt and suffering. It continues because it is the essence of our gratitude to God

The turkey is often burnt,
         life is not fair,
                  evil exists,
                           pain occurs..
         indeed the turkey is often burnt…
 but we still rejoice,
         give thanks, and
                  do good…  Amen.