"Being Thankful for the Right Reasons"
Adams United Methodist Church Sulphur Springs United Methodist Church
Pastor Missy McCarthy, Rev. Marty Bovee Music: Mike Tyo, Marty Bovee, Sharon DelSignore
November22, 2020 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: COLOSSIANS 1: 11-20
Reflection: "Being Thankful for the Right Reasons" I want to begin with a Thanksgiving riddle. What do you get when you cross a centipede with a turkey? The answer: Drumsticks for everybody! When you get a hungry family around the table Thanksgiving Day, you might wish that you could cross a centipede with a turkey. A group of Moms got together and composed a list of things they are thankful for. They wrote that they were especially thankful: “For automatic dishwashers because they make it possible for us to get out of the kitchen before the family comes back in for their after dinner snacks. “For husbands who attack small repair jobs around the house because they usually make them big enough to call in the professionals. “For children who put away their things and clean up after themselves. They’re such a joy you hate to see them go home to their own parents “For teenagers because they give parents an opportunity to learn a second language.” And finally, “For Smoke alarms because they let you know when the turkey’s done.” Each of us would have our own list of the things for which we are thankful. Most of us are mature enough in our faith to recognize that Thanksgiving is a most dangerous holiday. When we give thanks for our good health, what does that say to people who do not have a healthy body? Does that say that we are more deserving than they, or that somehow God loves us more? When we thank God for our nice homes or our families or our freedom as Americans, what does this say about good, decent God-loving people around the world who do not share these blessings?
I have no ready answers for such questions and neither does anyone else. I would prefer, however, as we give thanks this Thanksgiving and all the rest of the year, that we do it for the right reasons. What are some of the things that every Christian, regardless of his or her circumstance, in every corner of the globe can be thankful for this Thanksgiving season? Let’s explore a few of them. In our lesson from Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, he begins by giving thanks for the members of this church. He prays that they might be strengthened “with all power, according to [God’s] glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father . . .” And Paul gives the church at Colossae some very specific things for which they ought to be thankful. These are things every one of us, regardless of our circumstances can be thankful for, too. The first thing for which we should be thankful, according to Paul is our inheritance. He writes, “. . . giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light . . .” Paul chose his words very carefully. An inheritance is not an award for outstanding merit, is it? An inheritance is not pay for a job well done. It is not something one earns or deserves or creates by his or her own devotion. An inheritance is a gift--a gift that is dependent on someone else’s efforts. You may receive a large inheritance not because you are that smart or energetic, but because, perhaps, you had grandparents who were smart and energetic. Or in some cases you had a grandfather who was never caught. Just saying . . . Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said he spent a large sum of money to trace his family tree and then spent twice as much trying to keep his ancestry a secret? A little baby can come into a large inheritance simply by accident of birth. One of the consequences of the New Birth in Christ Jesus is that we automatically, immediately, at that moment become heirs of all that God has in store for his beloved children. That is a staggering fact that many of us who have been in the church all our lives have difficulty accepting. There is a wonderful old story that makes this point painfully clear. There was a believer who was not everything he ought to be and he knew it! In fact, when he finally passed from this life to the next one he was deeply concerned that St. Peter wouldn’t let him through the Pearly Gates. When he got to his destination, however, he was welcomed with open arms. “Are you certain that you didn’t make a mistake?” he asked St. Peter. “You see, there are certain parts of my life of which I’m sort of ashamed.” St Peter answered, “No, we didn’t make a mistake. You see, we don’t keep any records up here.” The man was greatly relieved and overjoyed. Then he saw a group of men over in a corner beating their heads against a celestial wall and clinching their fists and stomping their feet in disgust. “What is the matter with them?” the man asked St. Peter. “Oh,” said St. Peter with a smile. “They also thought we kept records.” Obviously those men kept the law even though they would have liked to have lived a little more freely. I am not suggesting that what we do is unimportant. Nevertheless at the top of our list for which we need to be thankful this day is that salvation is the free gift of God. It is an inheritance that is bestowed upon us the moment we become children of God. Father John Powell in his book, Unconditional Love tells about when he was serving as a chaplain in Germany. A dear little sister, 87 years young, was assigned to care for his room. He says that every time he left the room, even for a moment, the good sister cleaned it. She would wax the floors, polish the furniture and so forth. On one occasion when he left the room for a short walk, he came back to find her on her knees putting a final sheen on her waxing job. He laughingly teased her, “Sister, you work too much.” The dear, devoted little sister straightened up (though still kneeling) and looked at him with a seriousness that bordered on severity. She said firmly, “Heaven isn’t cheap, you know.” No, heaven isn’t cheap. It cost Jesus his life. Eternal life, however, is part of our inheritance as children of God. Christ earned it, we simply receive it. You see, it troubles us that no records are kept in heaven because we are afraid that a few scoundrels will slip in. We forget that if heaven was based on merit, each of us would be in great difficulty as well. Think of it this way. Most of us had the privilege of being born an American. It is nothing that we earned or deserved. We could just as easily have been born to a starving family in the Sudan. Freedom is part of our inheritance as children of this nation. Of course, the parallel is not exact. Most of us were born in this country. It was not something we chose. However, we must choose to accept the inheritance that Christ bestows upon us. That is the only requirement. We must accept it. Nevertheless, it is free. Every believer can give thanks for that this morning. That is the first thing for which we can be thankful according to our text. Here is the second--everyone of us can be thankful for the incarnation of Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . ." (John 1:14). In our lesson Paul writes, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation . . .” A little farther he writes, “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Of whom is Paul speaking? There is no doubt. He is speaking of the risen Christ. Without the incarnation--God becoming flesh and reconciling the world unto himself--there would be no inheritance. For that all of us can be thankful. Many people were awe-struck back in the 1960s and 70s by the work of zoologist Dian Fossey who left her home in California to travel to Africa to conduct an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups in the forests of Rwanda. Dian Fossey left her home in California to live for 18 years among those fierce creatures studying them closely. Gradually the gorillas accepted her and trusted her. Tragically, in 1985 Dian Fossey was murdered still seeking to protect the gorillas among whom she had made her home. The case has never been solved. It is much farther from the throne of God to a stable in Bethlehem than it is from California to Rwanda. Yet Christ made that journey in our behalf. The Word became flesh. And, of course, he, too, was murdered and as a result provided us with access to his Father. “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, what wondrous love is this . . . Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul . . . Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul.” When Robert Louis Stevenson retired to the Samoan Islands for his health he became to the natives of that island a kind and generous friend. Stevenson was concerned that there was only a path leading from the harbor of his island over which his new friends must walk in order to bring provisions to the interior. With his own money and personal efforts, Stevenson had a good road constructed for his people. In gratitude the Samoans called it, “the road of a loving heart.” I know of another road of a loving heart, don’t you? Crucial to everything we believe as Christians is this truth--that God so loved the world that He made that long walk to come from where He was to where we are. When it was impossible for us to reach out to Him, He reached out to us. There may be differences among Christians on a host of other things. We may be divided by theologies, how we baptize people, who we allow around the Lord’s table and even which political party with which we feel most comfortable. But on one point we all agree; God became flesh and dwelt among us. Do you see how important that is? There was no other way that God could have possibly revealed His nature to us. Suppose, instead, He had chosen one of us and taken us to be with Him and then sent us back to tell others. Do you think we would listen? Years ago in The American Magazine, Merle Crowell told a true story from Alaska. It was about an Eskimo from Greenland who was taken on one of the American North Polar expeditions. Later, as a reward for his faithfulness, he was brought to New York City for a short visit. He was amazed at the sights and sounds he beheld there. When he returned to his native village, he told stories of buildings that rose into the very face of the sky; of streetcars, which he described as houses that moved along the trail, with people living in them as they moved; of mammoth bridges, artificial lights, and all the other dazzling aspects of being in a metropolis. After he described the wonders he had seen, his people looked at him coldly. They did not believe him. Indeed, they gave him a new name. The name was Sagdluk--which means The Liar. He kept that name all the rest of his days until his old name was entirely forgotten. Do you see that there was no other way God could have done it then come to us Himself? It was essential that the God of all creation take upon himself the flesh and frailty of humanity. We are thankful for our inheritance, for the incarnation that makes it possible, and finally, we are thankful for our inclusion in the family of God. Paul writes, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Dr. Claude H. Barlow was a missionary to China and one of the most revered foreigners to work in that land. A strange disease for which Dr. Barlow knew no remedy was killing people. There was no research laboratory for this disease, so Dr. Barlow conducted his own research. He studied t