Some families have a little Thanksgiving ritual when they get together. Everyone goes around the table and shares something for which they’re thankful. Now, this can be a rather uncomfortable ritual for some, since they’re not really sure how to answer the question. Unfortunately, you usually can’t pass, so you have to make something up. Since it looks like the Lions won’t be going to the Super Bowl this year, you might say – “I’m thankful that the Lions will get a good draft pick.” That would be a safer answer than saying that I’m thankful that a certain team that can’t be named won the World Series.
If we were to extend this ritual to this morning’s worship service, and went around the room, asking each of us to stand up and give an answer to the question of what we’re thank for, what would you say? Don’t worry, we don’t have time to go around the room, so you’re safe. But, what would you say?
This year’s stewardship theme – “Abundant Joy, Overflowing Generosity” – suggests that there is reason to give thanks. If we live with an abundance of joy that flows from the heart of God, then it makes sense that we would have reason to give thanks. And of course, what better way to show thanks than to let our generosity overflow onto others.
Last Sunday we considered the story of the widow who gave her last two copper coins to the Temple. According to Jesus, her small gift was greater in value than the great sums given by the wealthy, because her gift was costly, while theirs wasn’t. From Mark’s description, it appears that the wealthy put on a show, but their gifts didn’t represent their heart’s desire.
When we began this stewardship season on the last Sunday of October, we read Paul’s word to the Corinthian church, where he told them about the generosity of the Macedonian churches. The hearts of these communities of believers overflowed with an abundance of joy, in spite of their poverty. Pointing out how generous the Macedonians had been, he challenges the Corinthians to excel in their own generosity (2 Cor. 8:1-8).
Our text for this morning speaks of Christ’s great sacrifice, which the author of Hebrews says, takes away our sins. This text also appears in the readings for Good Friday, because it speaks to Christ’s death on a cross. This death is seen in Scripture as the greatest of all gifts, because it changes our relationship with God and with neighbors. Through this act of love on the part of Jesus, we are made holy so that we might enter the holy of holies with boldness and confidence. Through his death, Jesus has opened up for us a “new and living way” so that we can draw near to God with a sense of certainty.
Now, if you’re like me, and you’re uncomfortable with absolute certainty, this statement can be a problem. After all, no one likes a know-it-all who isn’t willing to listen to anyone else – you know a Cliff Claven who has all the answers.
But here’s the key statement in this passage – in verse 23 we hear these words:
Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. (Vs. 23).
This is the word that rings out this Sunday before Thanksgiving as we consider the things for which we’re thankful. If nothing else, we have hope because God is reliable. God fulfills God’s promises.
And it’s this confidence, this confession of our hope, that enables us to give our lives to the service of God. We talk a lot in church about the ways in which we can give of ourselves. It might involve visiting the home bound, cleaning the church building, raking leaves, changing light bulbs, or advocating for the rights of those facing foreclosure. We can give of ourselves to God by dedicating our days to God’s service in prayer, by coming to worship and joining together with our brothers and sisters in praise of God, by sharing our spiritual gifts with one another so that the fullness of God’s ministry can be experienced in the church, and yes, by sharing our gifts of money through our tithes and offerings.
In each of these expressions of giving we declare our faith in God. With these gifts we declare that we believe that God is faithful.
Do you remember the story that Eugene James shared with us four weeks ago about the church in the Congo. Remember how they gathered up an offering of $800 to give to Eugene to take back to the States. You might say – well, don’t they need the money? Well yes, they need the money, but they offered this gift as an act of trust that God is true to God’s promises. They made this offering because they believe that even in the midst of their own poverty, God is reliable.
So here’s the question: Do you believe that God is reliable? Are you willing to entrust your future to the care of God?
And are you willing to go further and provoke each other to love and good works. I love this word provoke. The Common English Bible uses the word motivate, and that’s also a good word, but it’s not nearly as good as provoke. That’s because the word provoke usually has a negative connotation, but not this time.
In the movie The Magic of Belle Isle, which stars Morgan Freeman as a rather unsuccessful author turned drunk, Freeman’s character has his life turned around when a young eleven year-old girl provokes him to rekindle his imagination and begin to write once again. He’d let his gift atrophy after the death of his wife, but this young girl who wanted to learn from him how to tell stories, opened up us heart to a new source of abundant joy, and in the end his heart overflows with a generous spirit.
Is your heart overflowing with abundant joy and a spirit of generosity? Are you ready to go forward in life, with a confession of faith in God that’s unwavering because you have found God to be reliable? If so, how will you demonstrate this bold confession of faith? Are you willing to give of yourself to God through the church, including giving financially through the church?
This morning we’re going to bring in the harvest of pledges. Most of us received a packet of information that included an estimate of giving card. We’d like to invite you to share this commitment, this statement of faith, by placing that card into the basket during the time of stewardship. We do this, not because we have dues to be paid, but because we believe that God is faithful, and these gifts are the way in which we hold fast to God’s faithfulness.
Maybe you’re ready to go even further and increase your pledge for the coming year, testing the waters, so to speak, letting God’s abundance overflow with generosity. As a family, we have tried to increase our pledge each year as a sign of our own attempt to be more trusting of God’s faithfulness.
And if you’ve never given on a regular basis, perhaps this is the time to start letting God’s abundance overflow with generosity in response to God’s faithfulness.
As we offer our words of Thanksgiving, let’s stand on the promises of God. And just like that old gospel song puts it, perhaps we can sing heartily:
Standing on the promises of Christ my king,
through eternal ages let our praises ring;
glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
standing on the promises of God.
Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my savior;
standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
November 18, 2012