Sermon: Thanksgiving Change

26 November 2006

Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield
Thanksgiving Change
Psalm 119:73-80
Philippians 4:4-9

            If there was one word I just could not stand growing up it was the word “mature.”  I was one of those weird kids who was in ways old before my time, after all I worried about words and their meaning.  And in other ways I was seemingly still just a little kid. For instance I wanted to be sure that I was on track to head to college sometime around the fifth or sixth grade, and yet my favorite game always was (and remains to this day) Candy Land.  I wanted to make sure that I tried to save money for my future when I was in high school, and yet, some of our youth fellowship members can attest to the fact that, I still fall prey to the machines in the supermarket that give you a plastic bubble full of fake jewelry or candy.  I guess I always have just believed that the term “maturity” was first and foremost subjective, one that could not be explained in numbers or by science. 

            So as I was working on my preaching plans and the words “mature” and “maturity” popped into my mind you might imagine I was less than happy.  What exactly was God doing?  And why would I want to preach about maturity the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a day when I enjoy the fact that my family tends to regress a bit, to play games and tell silly stories, to literally throw the roll when someone asks for one to be passed to them.

            Now Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “mature” in the following ways.   (1) Up for payment; (2) fully grown or developed; and (3) carefully considered.  “Ah ha!” I thought as I looked at that last definition.  Is that the way it is with our faith?  Is it carefully considered?  Is my faith just something I take for granted?  Do I take as gospel everything I hear or read about faith from the radio, from TV, or on the internet?  Or is my faith something that I have carefully considered?  Is it something that has spent time developing and growing?  Is it something that continues to “mature”?

            The first thing I tell the Confirmands when they come to their first meeting with me is that if they are looking for the easy way out Confirmation Class is not the place where they will be given all the answers.  Rather it is a place where they will be asked to think about the questions of their faith and to reach their own answers.  It is an opportunity for them to intentionally take time along their own journeys to stop and ask what it is that they believe and if the United Church of Christ is the right place for them.  But not everyone goes through Confirmation Class and takes that intentional time to think about their faith.  So how is it with the rest of us?  How does our faith grow and evolve and develop?

             In his book Wishful Thinking: a Seeker’s ABC theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process rather than as a possession.  It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all.  Faith is not being sure of where you are going, but going anyway.”  Our faith is dynamic.  Around its core, which a belief in a God who loves us and cares so deeply to send his only son to be given over for us, our faith has the ability to change, to grow stronger.  For the apostle Paul faith was an activity that shows itself in love for others.  Faith involves progress, is not something static, but involves striving and increases. It is an energy that is at work in believers.  As we experience more, as we ask more questions, we learn more about ourselves and about God, about what we believe and about how we share what we believe with others as well.

             The Psalmist writes, “As for me, I will meditate on your precepts.” Meditating on God’s word, on the life lessons we are taught through our faith, means taking the time to put something into our own faith growth, our own faith maturity.  God can’t do all the work for us.  Rather it is important that we are willing to put the time in.  We need to be willing to talk, to pray, to read, to carry out acts of kindness, of love and mercy.  We pray to God that God might make us the best we can be…that God might help us to grow in our faith so that we might be blameless in God’s sight, so that we might live the kind of lives that foster justice, mercy, kindness and peace.  We pray to God that we might be people who are true bearers of the Good News in this world.

             So why did this sermon come out the Sunday after Thanksgiving?  I believe it is because that with thanksgiving we are reminded each year of the blessings God has brought into our lives.  And when we are reminded and when we give thanks to God for those things there is a part of us that is changed.  Thanksgiving Change is not the $1.27 you receive back from the cashier in the grocery line after paying for the turkey and fixings.  Rather it is the opportunity for newfound growth and maturity of our faith that comes with intentionally taking time to realize that God has provided for us, that God cares, that we are afforded the opportunity to grow and strengthen our faith when we get honest with God and in all our prayers offer God not only our petitions but our thanksgiving as well.    

            There is a story called “The Flyer and the Catcher.”  In the story a Flyer and a Catcher enter the circus ring and greet the audience with smiles and movements that cause their wide silver capes to swirl about them. They pull themselves up into the large net and start to climb the rope ladders to their trapeze positions high up in the big tent. As the Flyer swings away from the pedestal board, she somersaults and turns freely in the air, only to be safely grasped by the Catcher.  As I read this story I am reminded of the faith I have in a great Catcher too.  I am also reminded that thanksgiving has three tenses – the past, present, and future.  When we remember what God has done for us in the past and think about who God is for us in the present we are able to express those things with thanksgiving and hope.  Our prayers begin to express that we truly do trust God.  The provisions that God offers us allow us to spread our own wings and to take leaps of faith.  And they also challenge us to spread our faith and our knowledge about God to others as well.

In Psalm 119 there is talk of sharing and showing our faith to others – not with worry or anxiety about how others will react, but rather with faith in a God who has fashioned us, made us each uniquely who we are.  When we realize that God fashioned us as a potter fashions clay, then we begin to understand that we are God’s art – the work of God’s hands. That God cares for each and every one of us.  In that way we will hopefully inspire others to rejoice with us in faith, to ask about it, and to grow in curiosity and longing themselves. 

Imagine it this way, perhaps.  Imagine you are invited to a party.  When you walk in the door you see buffet tables full of wonderful food, everything from pizza bagels and spinach artichoke dip to shrimp cocktail…everything from chocolate chip cookies to decadent cheesecake.  You quickly notice your favorite foods and dessert.  You rush over to the tables to fill your plate up with your favorite things, in order to get them before anyone else does.   Just as you have finished your feast, with whipped cream still on your face, the hostess comes over to you and says, “Oh, I am so happy to see you and to have you here with me.  And I know that you absolutely love pizza bagels, shrimp cocktail, and that Snickers Cheesecake, so I saved plates of each of them for you in the kitchen.  You will have more than enough to last you.  Be sure to stop by and see me before you go in order to pick them up.”  If you had thought that might happen perhaps you would have spent a little less time trying to fill your plate and a little more time helping others to fill theirs…talking to them about your favorite foods, sharing yourself with them, and in turn helping everyone to have a wonderful time at the party. 

Now you and I have all been the people who rush in and fill up the plate as if we will never see our favorite foods ever again.  But God is like the hostess of the party, assuring us that our needs will be taken care of.  We want to talk to the hostess to be assured of these things and to thank her for the hospitality, but the knowledge we have means that instead we do not have to worry but rather can go out and share our faith and the things we have with others…helping them to have a better go of things in this world.  Helping to do God’s work each day.

            We are invited by the Apostle Paul to carry out another thanksgiving change in our lives as well.  Paul invites us to think on all the things that are “honorable, true, pure, pleasing, commendable, and just”// as a regular part of our everyday lives. This is a tall order of things to think about, but the hope is that we have been taught these precepts as some of the bases that our faith stands upon.  The hope is that we have grown and continue to grow in our faith in ways that these things, the things that are honorable and true and just, might be the point of reference for all our decisions, with which we compare all the things we need to decide to do or not to do.  We carry out actions based on these things in our community living, in all our relationships – both with those who we are close to as well as with the people we encounter each and every day out in our lives.  Paul was in prison when he wrote these words to the Philippians.  He had a choice to make, and he chose to focus on the positive experiences that his faith had brought into his life.  He wrote from prison the words, “Rejoice in the Lord always…and with Thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.”  Paul’s goal, despite the persecution he faced and his imprisonment, was to strive to be the best example of faith to everyone he met.     

             My prayer for all of us today is that we take the time to carefully consider our own faith.  That we will take the time to look at what is inside us, to realize the blessings with which we have been gifted, to take part in a little thanksgiving change ourselves and share all of these things with others in bringing about God’s new age here on earth.  Amen.

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