"The Responsibility of Thanks"

ERAC Community Thanksgiving Service

26 November 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester United Methodist Church

 

John 6:24-35

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

 

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

 

Prayer.

 

Welcome to our East Rochester Community Thanksgiving service.

 

This past week

I posted on the Facebook group page, ER Communicates, the following question:

“What are you thankful for, East Rochester?”

It got a few likes,

but the thread was slow to take off.

I primed the pump with my own:

“I’m thankful my doctor called this evening to check out how I’m doing.”

Before I knew it, others chimed in:

{C}      “I am thankful that my father is getting stronger and hopefully able to come home in a few weeks.”

{C}      “Thankful for family...both in Rochester and here with me. My husband and I couldn’t do what we do without our Rochester family...and I couldn’t do what I do without him.”

{C}      “I am thankful for my job”

{C}       “Thankful that I've never had to go without, always had a roof over my head and people to love and support me.”

{C}      “Thankful for improving health and LiveStrong at the YMCA.”

 

This is the season for thankfulness, no doubt;

but I can’t help but wonder

to whom, or what, are we thankful?

Are we thankful to the turkey for giving his life that we might eat?

I’m certain the turkey had no voice in the decision.

And, the turkey is dead;

and probably doesn’t need any more thanks.

Are we thankful to our mother or father for giving birth to us and raising us in our family?

I’m sure they had little say in what baby would be given them.

Yes, they gave us their culture and values,

but, let’s face it,

some are better than others.

For every warm, glowing Thanksgiving table surrounded by loving family,

there is a Clark Griswald inspired food fight somewhere that acts out family dysfunction.

Are we thankful to our boss for benefits that put a roof over our head?

Perhaps we were chosen to be hired by someone who only had the company’s needs to fill,

and we were just another means to satisfy an end.

Are we thankful to Dear Abby for the advice she gave when we were young and in love?

Don’t bother.

Abby died in January at age 94.

 

To whom, or what, are we thankful?

 

As people of faith,

of course we are thankful to the God

of our experience,

to the God

of our belief,

to the God

of our redemption and salvation.

It was a life changing moment for me 30 years ago,

a young preacher’s kid in my first semester of seminary,

when I asked the professor

an elementary question about our identity:

“why do we attend church?”

His answer was stunningly simple:

“Mr. Goddard, we attend church

to give God praise and thanks.”

Be it a wedding, a funeral, or a garden variety weekend service or mass,

we attend as a community

to return to God our thanks

for all that God has blessed us.

 

God gives us blessings.

 

In many Christian circles these blessings are known as grace.

Some of God’s grace comes to us before

we had a need or the ability to ask.

Some of God’s grace comes to us as gifts,

pure and simple.

Some of God’s grace comes to each of us as

support for the living of our days,

enduring the trials and temptations we face,

and for the ability to overcome

everything life throws at us

to enjoy one additional sunrise.

God’s grace comes unmerited;

in other words, there isn’t a thing we can do to earn it.

It just is.

Take it or leave it.

That’s the way God rolls.

I choose to say “thank you” to God,

and invite you to do the same

for God’s abundant grace.

 

God gives us blessings.

God supports us when we are cursed.

Yes, the antonym of blessing is curse.

 

There is a meme that recently circulated

of a man sitting on a park bench with Jesus.

Above the man is a bubble,

“So why do you allow things like famine, war, suffering, disease, crime, homelessness, despair etc. exist in our world?”

Above Jesus in a bubble,

“Interesting that you should bring that up as I was about to ask you the exact same question.”

(signed by William DeBurgh)

 

Indeed, there are many

who point to the curse of life,

are quick to point blame at God,

and remain content to stew

a lifetime

in a boiling pot of their own anger.

I’ve been there.

I suspect many of you have, too.

I also suspect you know and love others who are stuck in their rage against God.

 

Like the psychological process of grief,

so, too, our anger against God can be allowed to be lanced,

to let loose, and let free,

and carry us forward to healing and wholeness.

Parents of children with special needs have taught me much on this topic.

For many,

there comes a time when curse is transformed into blessings.

They’ll say,

“We’re so blessed to have such wonderful friends and families in our lives” or

“We’re so blessed to be surrounded by such loving professionals” or

“We’re so blessed the teacher loves our child so much!” and

“We are the most wonderfully blessed family on the planet!”

 

Indeed,

it is my experience

that in the midst of curse,

God is present and supporting us

even though, at the time, we felt like we were completely abandoned and alone.

In hindsight, it is possible to see the hand of God at work.

It is possible to see the angels God sends our way.

It is possible to witness the miracle of laughs, giggles, hugs,

and the healing words that can only come from “the mouths of babes.”

 

God gives us blessings.

God supports us when we are cursed.

God gives us the responsibilities to pay His grace forward.

 

Ah, yes.

We have gathered this evening to express our thanks to God.

But where does this leave us walking out the door?

Do we go home content to

cut up the bread for the stuffing,

check the inventory in our garage refrigerator,

and count and polish the silverware?

Oh, that would be pretty selfish, wouldn’t it?

In an age that celebrates pride,

instantaneous self satisfaction,

self promotion, and

self centeredness,

I would suggest that

at the heart of thanksgiving

is the responsibility

to forward God’s blessing to another.

The heart of thanksgiving

is the responsibility

to forward God’s blessing to another.

 

“The bread of God,” Jesus explains

“is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:33)

Bread doesn’t just come to us alone,

but through us,

giving life to the world.

Jesus assures his followers,

““I am the bread of life.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,

and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

 

An essential characteristic of God’s grace

is that it is unlimited.

When it splashes into our lives,

it quickly fills and overflows our soul.

God’s grace splashes beyond us

into the lives of others

quenching the thirst of all

who seek to drink God in.

It is our responsibility to work cooperatively with God,

as God’s own earthly angels,

to direct divine blessings

into the lives of those most in need.

 

Has there ever been a Thanksgiving table that has run out of food?

Of course not.

So, as you break out the food storage containers and plastic wrap,

may that excess turkey, squash and stuffing remind you

of the excess of God’s blessings

and your responsibility

to be God’s blessing to another.

 

What is it this evening that brought you here?

What is it this evening for which you are thankful?

Give thanks to God for every gift of grace.

Watch, wait, listen for God’s blessing to be made known,

especially in the midst of pain, trials, and temptations.

Lastly, pass on the blessing that God has given you

that, through you,

God may be a blessing to others.

Amen.