Thanks And Giving

Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family and friends. The pastor at my church was able to do just that, but it prevented her from being in the pulpit this Sunday. So yours truly stepped in. And here's what I had to say:

Psalm 95:1-7a

O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed. O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

New Testament Reading:  Matthew 25:  31-45

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.   Then the king will say to those at his right
hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a sranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

Thanks and Giving

Welcome to the end of the year! Seriously, did you realize that this is the last Sunday of the church year?   If you did, then you are better schooled than I am.  Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is celebrated on the last Sunday of Ordinary time (which I might call the “regular” church time), before the beginning of Advent (that’s next week; mark your calendars) which
starts the new Church Year.  According to some research that I did on the internet (and I’ll leave it up to decide whether that makes it true or not),  the last Sunday of the Christian Church Year, Christ the King Sunday is the climax and conclusion of the Church’s liturgical journey through the life of Christ and the Gospel message. Its purpose is to celebrate the coming reign of Christ as King of the Earth and his completion of the renewed creation that marks the fullness of the Kingdom of God. That hope is born from the entire life of Christ and his teachings that have been celebrated in the seasons of the Church Year during the past twelve months. In celebrating the Reign of Christ the King, this Sunday also provides
an appropriate bridge to the new Church Year that begins the following Sunday on the first Sunday of Advent with an emphasis on hope and expectation, the longing for the coming of the Kingdom of God amid the darkness of a sinful world.

That’s quite a mouthful isn’t it?  But time wise it makes sense; that Christ the King Sunday falls right after Thanksgiving; a time for celebration for us.  And after Thanksgiving isn’t it time for most of us to start preparing for Christmas?  Even though it is not yet Advent,
aren’t we already preparing?

I am not a big lectionary fan.  Maybe it’s because I’m a somewhat unschooled layperson, but when I am tasked to speak, inspiration or guidance comes to me via what’s going on in my life or in the community.  Usually when I look at the readings given by the lectionary it doesn’t tie in to my thoughts.  But because I didn’t have any ready thoughts when asked to fill in this Sunday and as the Pastor asked me to look at the lectionary passages for Advent this year so as to create a weekly reflection, I decided to “go back” one week; to this week and surprise!  Two of the passages leapt out at me and they seemed perfect for this Sunday; Christ the King Sunday:  the Sunday before Advent and the Sunday right after Thanksgiving.
 As we celebrate and give thanks for the church year that is ending and prepare for a new one, it is the perfect time to speak about Thanks and Giving.
As a church family, I think those two words sum us up quite well.  We are a thankful people and we are a giving people.  In this place, the two go hand in hand.  We give because we ARE thankful for all that we have and we are thankful for all that we have been given.

Looking back on this past year; there have been so many blessings bestowed upon us.  Our "new" Pastor has lead us for over a year, and as a member of the pastoral search committee, I cannot tell you how thankful I am that we found one another and how grateful I am for her
leadership and guidance. As our minister she has not only gifted us with her pastoral skills but also with her musical talent.

When our Christian Education Facilitator and Church Secretary retired from their posts, instead of being gloomy we rejoiced and thanked them for their leadership.  We knew that it wasn’t an end, but a new beginning for both of them.  Christina is now able to sing in the choir and Joyce has more time to dedicate to the Thrift Shop. We thanked them for the service they gave and are grateful for the guidance that they provided.  If it weren’t for their giving how we would ever have found the right people to fill their roles?  And I use the word “role” purposely, as no one can replace Christina and Joyce, BUT Liz and Amanda can take on their job titles and use their own special gifts to bless this church.  Just as we are grateful to Christina and Joyce for sharing their gifts in the past, we are thankful for Liz and Amanda as they lead us into the future.  It is because the four women gave their gifts, shared their talents, that we are thankful today.

This year also gave us some incredible musical gifts.  There have been community concerts, a cantata, a choral workshop to name but a few. How thankful are we to have Diane leading our music ministry?  You may think her gifts to the church are obvious, but she is not just a talented musician and director of music, she also is a skilled administrator.  This along with her dedication resulted in our receiving a very generous grant.  If it weren’t for Diane’s giving of her time and talents, we would not have a new sound system in our sanctuary, a choral workshop, an anthem written for our 125th anniversary or a choir that sings as beautifully.

For all the blessings that I have mentioned, there are hundreds, if not thousands more that have happened over this past year that have gone without notice.  For these seemingly simple gifts of God we should, as it says in Psalm 95:   sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Let me move on to the giving part.  We have given thanks, because of so many who have given.  How do we give?  Why do we give?

I’d like to think we DON’T give because we are Presbyterians or that it is expected of us.  Although that might be part of it, as I see it, most of us give because there is a deep need within us TO give.  That as a church family AND as individuals, there is something inside us, planted by God and nurtured by this church that compels us to give.  

Of course giving financially is important.  We do so not just to keep these church doors open, but to care for our friends and family who are employed here and also to care for those we don’t know.  When we put our offerings in the collection plate, we are acting in faith.  By giving our monetary offerings we may be feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.  We don’t know if our food vouchers are going to a stranger in our town, or to the person who is sitting next to you in the pew.  And what’s beautiful about our giving is that it doesn’t matter.

But our giving is NOT solely defined our wallets.  And I love what Donna L said a few weeks back:  “If you are unable to pledge for personal reasons, please know that we completely understand….Stewardship includes all gifts of talent and time as well.”  I think it is so important that she said this because our giving is not just a money thing and I love that we, as a church, recognize that not everyone has the ability at this time, to give as much financially as they might like.  This is not to say that we don’t need everyone’s financial commitment, but Donna very clearly stated that no one is excluded because of their financial situation.  Everyone is welcome and no one should feel lesser because they cannot give as much financially as perhaps the person next to them in pew can give.  Giving of our time and talents is just as important.  If we received a million dollars tomorrow, but as a result lost every single choir member and musician, I think we would have lost more than we had gained.  (Although if anyone has a million dollars that they’d like to share, I’m sure Donna or Kathy D would be happy to talk to you!)

As a congregation our faith is expressed through our giving.  We LIVE our giving.  We literally feed the hungry with the Sunday Suppers program, with collecting for the local Food Pantry, with Friendly Neighbors providing grocery store vouchers and of course with coffee hour every Sunday.  The thrift shop does not just cloth the naked, but also provides other necessities.  We feed souls with music and Christian education programs.  We give in ways that are tangible and not.  We give and we don’t even realize that we are; which is what makes us true disciples of God.

To each and every one of you, let me give thanks for your giving.  Thanks and giving that makes us the unique community that we are. Embracing both, we are the people that Christ teaches us to be.

Let us pray:  May the light of our gratitude burn brightly in our hearts and in our world. In the silence of our hearts, let each of us give thanks for all the many gifts that are ours. Let us also be mindful of those today who are without food, family, or home. Let us remember all whom we love who are not now present with us here: those who have gone before us, those in the present time, and those to be born whom we will love. God of all good gifts, from your holy heart has come a flood of gifts upon us. With uplifted hearts, we gather together to thank you with prayer. We are grateful not only for the gift of life itself, but for all the gifts of friendship, love, devotion, and forgiveness that we have shared.  May we give our thanks by lives of service, by deeds of hospitality, by kindness to strangers and by concern for one another? We bless you oh God, for the blessings of our lives; and let us thank the Lord today and all days. Amen.

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