Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Sermon

It has been quite a while since I posted a sermon. I am thinking I may need to be more intentional about sharing them with you! Here is the sermon I will be preaching tonight at the community Thanksgiving service. I think it still needs some tweaking, but here you go!

Two years ago, our family celebrated a miracle. It was a thanksgiving unlike any we had or probably will ever experience again. We celebrated a day which we were told would never happen. Statistics showed we had a mere 10% chance of ever reaching it. It was a miracle; he is a miracle.

Two years, six months, and 1 week ago, my twin nephews were born. They arrived 15 weeks, 4 days early and were around 1lb 5 oz each. Doctors shared over and over again with their parents the grim statistics. If Jacob and Asher did survive, according to some medical professionals, their lives would be miserable and without quality. They would face complication after complication, without the ability to function in normal society. That was the language used by the doctors; their parents let it go in one ear and out the other.

From the moment they were born, we celebrated the miracle of their lives. We prayed, we journaled their milestones and the heartaches on their online journal. We knew the boys were God’s creation and desired to share their story with the world. As Jacob’s kidney function began to cease, we prayed. We prayed and we asked others to do the same. We cried when his urine output stopped, we rejoiced when it would start again. On June 29th of that year, we weeped as this 7 week 2 day old little boy took his last breaths. And we remembered with pride the life that was lived, and the literally thousands of people throughout the world touched by his story.

Asher continued to battle hard for his life. On the day of Jacob’s funeral he almost died. We were told we were just going in circles and he wouldn’t live. And yet, he continued to fight. At 5 months Asher came off the ventilator for the first time. At 5 ½ months he went onto nasal cannula. And, at 6 months 1week old, little Asher came home with an oxygen tank, ostomy bag, and his saturation monitor. It was a lot of equipment for such a tiny person; yet he was home. Two years later, we are still celebrating and giving thanks to God for this incredible miracle that is Asher.

This Sunday evening, we hear the story of the ten lepers. It is a story which demonstrates to us God’s unyielding grace and mercy towards all people. In the time in which this was written, an encounter with ten lepers would not have been an unusual site. The difference with this group, however, was one was a foreign, a Samaritan. It was a mixed group, nine being Jews and one being a Gentile.

When Jesus sent the group to the Jewish priests, the Samaritan must have felt Jesus was a bit crazy. The likelihood of him being accepted was slim, and yet he went. In his unyielding desire to be healed from this horrible disease, he went and demonstrated faith. And now he was cleansed; he was healed. Something he had hoped for for so long was now coming to pass. He could now imagine life from a whole new point of view. After being despised and considered unclean for so long, he could see himself having a future. A future filled with hope, a future with work, friends, a family. What else could he do but give thanksgiving to his healer, his savior, his God?

This Samaritan, this social outcast, who had two things going against him as a Gentile and a leper, returned to prostrate himself and praise Jesus. While the other lepers certainly could have been praising God on their way to and from the Temple, the Samaritan is the only one who makes the connection. He connects praising God and thanking Jesus. He saw the human Jesus is the power of God.

Faith is found in the response of Thanksgiving. It is the ability to see what can’t be seen- to believe the unbelievable. Faith is to praise God at the feet of Jesus, to see the power of God at the foot of the cross.

There are many times in our lives where we do not desire to offer our thanks and praise to God. When sweet little Jacob passed from his mother’s arms, it was difficult, nearly impossible, to see the good in his death. While we were thankful to God for the life that had been lived, the heartache and despair clouded any goodness that could be found. Jacob had died, and his mother was left with empty arms.

In both verses 14 and 15 of this text, we hear the word “seeing”. Jesus saw the lepers and in response sent them to the priests. Then, the Samaritan saw that he had been made well. The word “seeing”’ in this context means more than simply physical sight. It means to both recognize the opportunity to be merciful to another, and to recognize that God’s mercy has touched one’s life.

This text calls us to see the opportunities before us. Jesus calls us to recognize those in need of God’s mercy. To surround people like Jacob’s mother with the love and mercy that can only come from the Holy Spirit dwelling in the body of Christ. It calls us out of our comfort to be God’s hands and feet to all people, even those society would label as the unclean.

Jesus also calls us to see God’s mercy in our own lives. In the midst of our sorrow and despair, in the midst of the stressors in our lives and the depression that can cloud our judgment. God is there with us, extending the mercy and healing that only Christ can bring. It is the healing and grace that may not always come in the way we would like it to, but yet it still comes.

Our sweet little Jacob was not healed in the way we desired. We wanted so badly for that amazing little boy to stay with us, to grow up alongside his brother. We wanted to cuddle with him, to hear his little voice, to watch his first steps, to see him grow. Our hearts longed for that miracle. And yet, we know God’s mercy was there. We know Jacob was healed. And so we do thank God. We thank God for the life that was lived, and we thank God for the healing that took place. Hearts are still broken but we know that God is good.

The question for us, on this Thanksgiving celebration, is how do we see Christ’s mercy, and how do we respond? In the midst of the craziness of this world, when do we stop to recognize the love and grace that Jesus has to offer us? What do we do when we see? Truly, gratitude, thanksgiving, is the purest measure of our character and spiritual condition. It is the ability to see beyond ourselves and to recognize Christ living in our midst.

I personally never fully understood the point of Thanksgiving Day. While I understood the story of the pilgrims, why we eat turkey, and so forth, it lacked that spiritual dimension. It wasn’t until two years ago when Asher came home that I understood. I realized that indeed, Thanksgiving is an opportunity for us to intentionally set aside and give thanks and praise to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for having mercy upon us. It is a time for us to acknowledge that while we were still yet sinners, God made us saints through Christ’s death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit is active and alive in this Christian body, and God’s mercy continues to reach out to us in awesome and unexpected ways.

Martin Luther, the German Reformer, shares his thoughts on God’s provision in his explanation of the 1st article of the creed in the small catechism. He states:
I believe that God has created me and all that exists.God has given me and still preserves my body and soulwith all their powers.God provides me with food and clothing, home and family,daily work, and all I need from day to day.God also protects me in time of danger and guards me from every evil.All this God does out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy,though I do not deserve it.Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey God.This is most certainly true.

This Thanksgiving, we can give thanks and praise to our Lord and Savior, as he is indeed merciful and will continue to provide. While we will continue to face the hardships that come with our journeys through life, God is present, God is merciful, and we will have opportunity after opportunity to give thanks. And for this we can say, thanks be to God. Amen.


Sue said...

Once again you amaze me and make me reflect on my blessings. Often during the beginning of the holiday season I miss my dad more than anyone can imagine and I miss my family that is miles away. However, your sermon reminds me to be thankful for all that I do have and reminds me it will not be long before I am with my family. So many people have lost little ones, so many people have family fighting in far away lands, so many people are without jobs and homes. Thank you for reminding us to be be thankful. Certainly your nephew on earth and in heaven are a good reminder. Love to you and yours this Thanksgiving Holiday.

Brown Family said...

I am grateful for Thanksgiving so I actually remember to express my gratitude once a year! I'm so bad at it, but this makes me do it.

I also think our perspective changes and we get a bit more wise about things like Thanksgiving as we get older. Yes, you're older and wiser now. :) Thanks for sharing the sermon.