November 26, 2017
Sunday next before Advent
This Sunday, I decided I wanted to do a sermon on being thankful, instead of using the scripture readings for today as inspiration. It was a tough Thanksgiving for me this year, given all that I have lost with a future that seems bleak without a course change. I even stumbled giving grace at the Thanksgiving meal this year, because of my inner emotions of seemingly more troubles than blessings lately. However, even I can find reasons to be thankful.
It was Thanksgiving week, last week. Time to count your blessings.
If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep ... you are richer than 75 percent of this world of ours.
If you have money in the bank, cash in your wallet and spare change in a dish someplace ... you are among the top 8 percent of the Earth's wealthiest people.
If you woke up this morning with more health than illness ... you are more fortunate than the million who will not survive this week.
If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation ... you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
If you can attend this worship service, or any other religion-related meeting, without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death ... you are fortunate. Billions of people in the world cannot.
It's not hard for us to count our blessings, is it? Most of us could quickly and easily jot down a rather lengthy list, including thanks for family, for friends, for food, for clothing, for cars, for a home, for a job, for health, for freedom, for opportunity, and so on.
But think about this. If we follow this logic, then it means that if we lack these things, we cannot give thanks. We can count our blessings only if we have stuff to count. However, the apostle Paul encourages us to give thanks for nothing. In fact, he offers us the example of his own thanksgiving for nothing at all - not one physical, material, tangible thing.
Instead, Paul gives constant thanks for things which are not things: Faith in the Lord Jesus, love toward the saints, a spirit of wisdom and revelation, the riches of God's glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of God's power (Ephesians 1:15-19). None of these blessings can be seen, touched, purchased or possessed - like food, clothing, cars, boats or homes. And yet, they are the very greatest gifts we could ever receive. To give thanks for the nontangibles, or in the vortex of violence, despair and suffering is what Scripture calls praise. To give praise. Praise is the recognition that it is all about God and not about me.
In the classic book The Little Prince, the fox character is saying goodbye to the little prince, and as he leaves he says, "And now here's my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeats, so that he will be sure to remember. This fox's insight is right in line with what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
It is the unseen that is eternal. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
This approach to Thanksgiving runs counter to conventional wisdom, and it refuses to fall into step with the swarm of shoppers who surged into shopping malls this past Friday to begin the Christmas buying binge. "Black Friday," they call it - the biggest shopping day of the year. It's not black because it's bad, according to merchants, but because they count on it to turn the red in their books to black. They should call it "Green Friday," the color of money. Actually, I prefer Hell Friday. I guess I am just grumpy not wanting to go into that madness type shopper.
But ponder the perspective of the apostle Paul. He doesn't give thanks for gold jewelry, Game Cubes, leather jackets, personal care products, computer games and Blu-ray movies. He refuses to focus his gaze on the things that can be seen, because he knows that these things are temporary.
Instead, he looks only at the essential and eternal things that are invisible to the eye. When he counts his blessings, he lists absolutely nothing you can buy, and nothing you can own - only faith, love, a spirit of wisdom, a spirit of revelation, God's inheritance, God's power.
Paul first gives thanks for faith and love. "I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints," he reports, "and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you" (Ephesians 1:15). Paul knows that the sign of true success is not a Lexus, or a house in the Hamptons, or a job with a six-figure salary. Instead, success is being a person who trusts Christ completely, and who loves neighbors consistently. We must be living crosses. We should live out of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of life - a vertical relationship with Jesus, combined with a horizontal relationship with neighbor - is the key to a perfectly balanced and fulfilling life.
Paul also gives thanks for a spirit of wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17), which he prays will come out of our ever-expanding relationship with God through Christ. This spirit of wisdom opens our eyes to what God is planning for us, and it helps us to see that there is nothing richer or more valuable than a life in communion with God, both today and in the life to come. It is with this spirit of wisdom and revelation that we can finally grasp the riches of God's glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18), a heavenly inheritance far more valuable than stocks or bonds or savings accounts or real estate.
The final invisible item that Paul wants us to appreciate is the immeasurable greatness of God's power, a power that has raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated him in the heavenly places. This power has put Jesus in a place of ultimate authority, far above every earthly ruler, not only in this age but also in the age to come, so that everything on earth is now under the soles of his sandals (Ephesians 1:19-22).
In short, Jesus rules.
But the best part is this: God's amazing power is at work in those of us who believe, and this power is experienced as we take part in the life of the body of Christ, that body of believers known as the Christian church (Ephesians 1:19, 23). It doesn't really matter how much wealth or power or prestige or personnel or inventory or square footage we control in this world, because our greatest influence comes through our work as disciples of Christ.
So, what can we all be thankful for – myself included? It is as followers of Jesus that we experience the divine life and power of God that fills all things.
It is as followers of Jesus that we are able to endure incredible hardship and overcome enormous personal obstacles. If this were not true, I would not have made it this year. It is as followers of Jesus that we are able to share the love and grace and hope and peace and forgiveness of our Lord. It is as followers of Jesus that we are able to step out in mission and share the Gospel in both our words and our deeds.
None of these is a "thing," in a material sense. But whether we are rich or poor, homeowners or homeless, working or unemployed, we have access to an amazing set of essential, eternal, unseen treasures.
I can also say, that I am thankful for a great congregation of members who are not only my flock, but are my friends; who have traded roles somewhat this year, and been there for me as I am supposed to be for them!
However, as Christians, we can honestly say to God: Thanks for everything.
Let us pray.
That the Church will always be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone is encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
That our president and his administration will abide by the Gospel of life in every act of governance. We pray to the Lord.
For world leaders; that they will see their power as a sharing in the authority of God, and that it will be reflected in the way they govern. We pray to the Lord.
For those caught in addictions; that our Lord Christ will liberate them. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to all intolerance and prejudice, so that we may truly become one nation under God. We pray to the Lord
For victims of tyranny, persecution, oppression or racism; that the justice of Christ will rid the world of every trace of hatred. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to surrender ourselves in obedience to the Kingdom of God. We pray to the Lord.
That the wealth of our nation will be used to care for the poorest in our midst. We pray to the Lord.
For our families and friends; that their celebration of Thanksgiving this past week will be put into continuance and also an occasion of reunion, renewed love, and lasting grace amongst all. We pray to the Lord.
That all families torn apart by divorce, greed, grudges, or abuse will find reconciliation and peace in Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
And as always, O Lord, that you be with our family and friends who suffer from illness. We pray to the Lord.
Heavenly Father, fill our hearts with gratitude today as we recall all that You have given us. Keep us ever thankful and generous in your holy service. Renew our obedience and faithfulness and be pleased with the prayers that we offer. Dispel the ignorance that we have to the many peoples in our cities, states, nations, and the entire world who suffer in some form and seek help while many of us simply walk on by. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA