08-19-18 GIVE THANKS

GIVE THANKS

Colossians 3: 12-17

 

Wedding these days are often very carefully planned and very expensive. They are productions! I’ve had beautiful young women spend as many as 8 hours before a wedding ceremony with make-up and hair specialists! The groom? Well, he gets fitted for a tux and shows up! Countless photos are taken of the new couple. And that is appropriate. What I hope is that couples spend plenty of time planning for their marriage instead of just planning for the ceremony! I counsel them and encourage them to think about their lives together. We have people in this congregation married over 70 years!  Even though their looks have changed, (as mine have over my 40 years of marriage) interviewing those kinds of couples might be most helpful; how have they supported each other in every stage of their lives?

 

But beyond Christian marriage, throughout the ages people have written books on how to live the Christian life. In monastic times,
The Rule of St. Benedict was counted on as guide for living.  Chapter 40, for example, is titled: “The Proper Amount to Drink” and is loosely based, it says, on 1 Corinthians 7:7: “Everyone has his own gift from God, and another that.” I told you it was loosely based on that text! I goes on to say: “It is with some uneasiness that we specify the amount of food and drink for others. However, with due regard for the infirmities of the sick, we believe that a half a bottle of wine a day is sufficient for each. But those to whom God gives the strength to abstain must know that they will earn their own reward.” [The Rule of St. Benedict in English, the Liturgical Press, 1982, p. 62]  So now you have your guidance on wine, if you dare to follow it! Through the ages there were other guide journals. In the late 19th century a Scotsman–Oswald Chambers–was born, and in the early 20th century he published a masterpiece of Christian guidance called My Utmost for His Highest. I got a small new translation of it as a gift from a colleague in 1994; and an expanded edition was given to me 10 years ago: it is 1500 pages long based on books of the New Testament that only take up less than a quarter of the Bible! Goodness. But there is much food for thought in those pages. In 1988 Richard J. Foster made a splash in spiritual circles with the publication of his book Celebration of Discipline. In it he addressed the inward Christian disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study; and the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service. It has been republished just this past February. Then in 2002 who could forget the publishing splash when Rick Warren published the Christian guidebook called The Purpose Driven Life?  Millions of copies were published, unabashedly described by the author on the dust jacket: “It is the blueprint for living in the 21st century.” Well we can go to the translations and interpretations of the Bible that all these people have published, or we can go to the source ourselves!  When I was in seminary, word of the publication of a new commentary spread across campus liked wildfire! We all wanted to read what some great Biblical scholar had to say about the Bible! My Old Testament professor, Dr. Bernard Anderson, said this to us one day in class: “It is amazing how much light the Bible can shed on those commentaries.”

We all felt sheepish. We wanted the read the commentaries more than the Bible itself! So you, see, we are all guilty of wanting to ready what someone says about the Bible more than going to the source. Today, let’s go to the source. God’s Spirit can speak to our own souls as we read our Bibles again and again.

 

In two of his letters, Paul puts down the qualities needed to live a Christian life. . In both Ephesians, and today in Colossians, Paul has wonderful instructions about how we should live.  I often read it to married couples, but its original intention is to teach Christians how to follow Jesus! He says in chapter 3 beginning in verse 12:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.”  That’s the intro. It says you are not an accident; not a happenstance. You are selected by God; chosen, and have a purpose in your life, part of which is to glorify God. That is our “Chief End” according to the Westminster Confession of Faith. But then, Paul calls followers of Jesus “Holy.” That means set apart, especially for God’s purposes.  So God watches what we do with the gifts and instructions we receive, and the challenges we face. And we are never left alone. We are called “beloved,” a fancy word that says you are deeply and irretrievably loved. Let that sink in.  I have talked to several people up in their years who have felt incomplete because they never heard their father tell them he loved them. But the Heavenly Father of Jesus not only loved him, he loves you and me too! God can complete what human beings sometimes leave incomplete.

“Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, weakness, and patience.” Every day it is helpful to think about wearing these qualities even as you wear your clothes.  “Compassion” means “a willingness to suffer with.” It’s a quality you might find in your parents, your partner, with church friends or nurses or caregivers.  It’s a willingness to suffer with someone else. Kindness is just what you think it is: showing love in gentle and thoughtful ways. But are you practicing it? Humility is different from humiliation. Humility is thinking of others first. Weakness is not being physically out of shape. It is a spiritual guideline to always remember that you can “do all things through Him who strengthens me.” That person, for Christians, is Jesus. And patience, well you know what that is right? Do you pray “Lord, give me more patience and give it to me now”? Patience is often in short supply in our fast-moving world, especially in traffic!

Bear with one another and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

This is huge. We are called to bear with one another. Did you see the Disney film “Zootopia?” In it Judy Hopps becomes the first rabbit to become a police officer. In one scene she needs information from the Department of Motor Vehicles. She arrives and is waited on by a s-l-o-w–t-a-l-k-i-n-g sloth! I felt her pain as I visited with my mother in her retirement home- everyone moved so slowly! But because I love my mother, I learned to move slowly too.  Forgiving is included in the Lord’s Prayer, so I know it was important to both Jesus and the human race. We will spend a series of Wednesday evenings in October all on the subject of forgiveness! The bottom line is: if we want forgiveness from God, it is offered only when we forgive others. I wonder how many of us have Divine forgiveness offered, but not yet delivered, because we have not yet forgiven someone else?

Paul then says to be clothed in love– that is, Christian love; agape; unconditional love. That’s the empowering kind; not conditional love that is manipulative. And let peace rule in your hearts. If you can move toward peace, you are moving closer to God.

 

At the bottom of this piece of instruction, Paul tells his readers that Whatever we do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

So with all the volumes of Christian help books that have been published, these 5 verses might just hold the key to them all. If you consult God before you do anything, or say anything, and you pray in Jesus’ name, it lines up the pieces of our lives. Like having a limp rubber band pulled taught, going to God in prayer at the beginning of a day can line up your purpose and lead you to honor God and others with words and deeds.

 

At the bottom of that section is the little reminder that is often forgotten. Give thanks. That’s it.  Give thanks.  Giving thanks changes the world. People feel appreciated when they are thanked for what they have given: a present, a financial gift, or whatever. Giving thanks changes the giver because he or she is acknowledged; and giving thanks changes the recipient because it develops a sense of gratitude instead of entitlement. And you know who we dare not forget to thank: G-O-D; for our lives; for being loved so perfectly; and for our salvation through Jesus Christ. For giving us creation with all of its wonders! These are reasons to give thanks to God. We could write a thank you note on paper or in a blog and address it to God; or we could include it thoughtfully, rather than offhandedly, in our prayers. A giver can tell if a thank you if perfunctory or genuine.

 

Giving thanks. Paul saved it for last, perhaps because it should be first in our hearts!  To parents, spouses, teachers, coaches, and to God: give thanks.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          August 19, 2018