25 November 2009

Thanksgiving Eve 2009

I probably won't post many of my sermons to this blog, but this sermon that I preached this evening for Thanksgiving Eve was one that came out of a lot of my own faith and life experiences related to my reasons for running again.  It seemed to have an impact on a lot of people in my congregation, so I hope you find something in it, too. 

Thanksgiving Eve 2009
Matthew 6:25-33

When I was growing up, my family had a tradition that perhaps many of yours share.  When we sat down at the table for our Thanksgiving dinner, my mom insisted that we go around the table and say at least one thing that we were thankful for.  When I was younger, I didn't always realize why that was so important, so I didn't put much thought into my answers.  That's the question, though, that sticks out in my mind when I think of Thanksgiving: What are you thankful for?

And we'll get to that in a minute, but as I read these words from Jesus in Matthew 6, I couldn't help but feel a little disconnect between that question and what Jesus is talking about: not worrying.  Do not worry!  Yeah, right, Jesus, have you seen my life lately?  Not worry?  No one can live a worry free life.  But as I thought more about it, I thought maybe I should ask myself a different question this Thanksgiving: What are you worried about?

To help us think about these questions, I'm going to ask you to participate in the sermon with me.  I know that might be tough for some of you.  Maybe some of you wouldn't have shown up tonight if you had known you were going to have to do this, but oh well, you're stuck now.  I'm going to hand out these sheets of paper that I want you to fill out.  It has two columns, one that says, "Things I'm Worried About" and another that says, "Things I'm Thankful For."

I want you to start first with the things you're worried about, and I want you to write real worries.  You can write things like "terrorism" or "the economy" I suppose, but I really want you to think about specific things that worry you.  What keeps you up at night?  What's really weighing heavy on your heart, soul, and mind?  (I read some of my answers while they filled theirs out.  When they seemed to be done, I asked for them to share a few from their lists.)

Then I want you to write the things you're thankful for.  Again, you can write general things like "family" or "faith," but I want you to also be as specific as possible.  What are the blessings in your life that you're truly thankful for?  What things are given to you daily by God? (Again, I shared some of my own as they thought and wrote, then asked them to share some of theirs.)

Now look at your two lists.  Here's what mine ended up looking like:

You'll notice I included Jesus because my Sunday School teachers would have a fit if they found out I didn't include Jesus as one of my answers.  But look at your lists.  Which list is longer?  Which one means more to you?  Which one contains the most important things in your life?  Which one do you think about more? 

When I first did this exercise for myself, I started out thinking that the lists probably weren't going to be very closely related.  I thought maybe there might be some connections, but nothing profound.  Then, as I looked at my completed lists, I realized that my worries suddenly looked a lot less daunting.  I found that what I was really stressed out over and what was really bothering me in my life were pretty insignificant compared to the immense blessings God gives me every day.

I realized that these things I'm thankful for, they're not just blessings to cover up or shield me from my worries.  They're not just given to me to make me happy.  Instead, when I saw them right next to all my worries, I realized that they're the things God has given me to deal with the challenges and struggles I face in my life.  Look at the things you're thankful for.  Those things are your allies, your tools, your armor, your treasure, your storehouse of riches that God has given you to share with others and to see you through whatever worries are threatening to consume your life.

When you look at everything God has blessed you with in that light, Jesus' words start to make more sense.  Do not worry?  At first it's, yeah right!  All I do is worry sometimes!  Jesus can't be serious!  But then I look at this list of things I'm thankful for and I realize that I have more than enough to face whatever life might throw at me.  And you do too!  All of those things God has blessed you with are there for a reason!  They're not just randomly dumped into your life haphazardly.  They are signs of God's promise to always be with you, to guide you and to care for you.

I know that there are times when it feels like the cares of the world around you are winning, when your worries are going to swallow you whole, but that's just an illusion.  It's a trick to distract you from the truth of God's mercy, love, and grace in your life.  It's evil's way of isolating you in your own grave of worries.  It's the devil's way of burying you in loneliness.  But it's NOT the truth!  It's only a shadow of your true life.  These worries on this side of the page, they don't define you!  They don't control you!  They don't own you!  Do not worry!  These blessings here, these things you're thankful for, these things that God graciously sends into your life every day to sustain you, these blessings that you are to share with your neighbors, they point you back to your true self: a baptized, claimed, redeemed child of God.  They remind you that God has not and will never abandon you, but has sent Jesus Christ into this world to take those things that would defeat you onto himself and to carry you back to life.  THAT is what defeats all worry and fear!  THAT is the greatest gift and blessing of all.  THAT is something to be thankful for.