Give Thanks for God's Bounty -- A Sermon
We began our journey through the Stewardship Season on Halloween, and we end it today on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The first holiday suggested that stewardship might be a bit spooky! But, we haven’t let this spooky feeling keep us from hearing testimonies about the importance of stewardship. Each voice challenged us to consider the blessings God has poured out on us and they called on us to respond through the sharing of our lives and resources with others through the church. The Stewardship team led by Felicia sent out letters that invited members and friends to consider how they might give to the congregation’s ministries during the coming year. And, now it’s time to bring in the harvest!
A month ago, in that “spooky sermon,” I talked about God’s abundance that has touched our lives. I pointed out that this year’s stewardship theme is “More than Enough.” Of course, in these difficult economic times, not everyone feels like there’s “more than enough.” There’s a lot of anxiety out there, even if the stock market is up, the economy is growing again, and Michigan can expect to add more jobs than it loses for the first time in a decade. For many among us these continue to be lean times, and so it’s difficult to affirm the idea that there is really “More than Enough.”
Despite this sense of anxiety, this congregation has maintained a strong giving record. We’re holding our own, in part because we’re careful about what we spend, but also because you are faithful givers. And even as the pledges remain fairly steady, the amount of unpledged income has grown. That may mean that there are new people in the house who are contributing to the church’s ongoing ministry. All of this means that not only can we continue to maintain our ministries, but we can even expand them. We’re able to do this, not only because you believe in this ministry of this place, but because you also believe that God has blessed you and you want to offer a sign of your gratitude to God.
Yes, there is a practical reason for our annual stewardship “campaign.” We all know that there are bills to pay and that the Council needs to know how much income to depend on in the coming year. So, because you are faithful in your giving and others had the foresight to remember the church in their estates, we can pay salaries, maintain the building, offer programming for all ages, and engage in missional outreach, here in Troy, in Metro-Detroit, in Michigan, in the United States, and around the World. That’s the practical side of things, but that’s not the whole story. We take up the offering in the context of worship, because giving is an act of worship.
We bring this stewardship season to a close on the eve of a national day of Thanksgiving, but we also gather to bring closure to a liturgical year that begins anew every year with the first Sunday of Advent. Therefore, next Sunday, we’ll turn the page, and restart our journey with an Advent celebration that includes decorating the church in preparation for Christmas. But, before we do all of this, we need to first celebrate what is often known as Christ the King Sunday. We started this celebration of the reign of Christ with our opening hymn – “Rejoice the Lord Is King!” Listen again to the first stanza:
Rejoice, the Lord is King! The Risen Christ adore!Rejoice, give thanks, and sing, and triumph evermore:lift up your heart, lift up your voiceRejoice, again I say, rejoice! (Chalice Hymnal, 699)
This message of thanksgiving comes through clearly in Psalm 145. The verbs are clearly stated: Extol, Bless, Praise, Laud, and declare. These are strong, active, verbs, but there is another verb that may not seem so active, but it’s the foundation for our ability to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. That word is “meditate.” As we meditate on the things of God, we’re able to discern God’s blessings, which in turn leads to praise and thanksgiving. Let us, therefore, look at three important verbs that emerge from this Psalm: Extol, Meditate, and Bless.
The Psalm begins: “I will extol you, my God and King” The verb “extol” carries the meaning: “to praise highly.” That is, when we extol someone or something, we’re not just offering half-hearted praise. No we’re offering the highest forms of praise, worship, and thanksgiving that is possible for us. Some of the synonyms for this word include to bless, to glorify, and to laud. Think of that Palm Sunday Hymn: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.”
All glory, laud, and honor, to you, Redeemer king,to whom the lips of children made sweet hosanna’s ring!You are a child of Israel, Great David’s greater son;you ride in lowly triumph, Messiah, blessed one! (Chalice Hymnal 192)
When we come to the 3rd verse in this Psalm, we get a sense of what the psalmist is after in extolling his God and King:
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, his greatness is unsearchable.
And that declaration leads to this one:
One generation will laud your works to another, and declare your mighty acts.
Each of these sentences gets at the heart of worship. We come into this place, not primarily to fellowship, or learn, or enjoy good music, though we do all of that. No, we come to this place to declare before the world that our God is great and wonderful, and we promise to pass this on from one generation to the next. Everything we do “in church” and “in life,” is caught up in this call to extol our God and King who provides us with “More than Enough!”
We make this declaration – that the Lord our God is Great and that God’s acts are mighty -- because we have first meditated upon God’s “glorious splendor,” majesty, and wondrous works. If you go back and read the verses that we omitted from this Psalm in today’s reading you’ll find other reasons for giving thanks to God. These include Grace and mercy, God’s slowness to anger and steadfast love, as well as God’s goodness and compassion for all.
“All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, . . . They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power.” (Vs. 10-11).
We offer thanks to God, because God’s dominion endures forever and God is faithful, even lifting up those who are falling and those who are bowed down. Yes, “the eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season” (vs. 15). We give thanks to God, because we have meditated on the bounty that is God’s gift to us.
As you begin reading this psalm, your mind may drift off to a throne room scene. There, with the people singing out “All Glory, Laud and honor,” sits the King, high and lifted up. Every knee is bent and every head is bowed, for great is the Lord and greatly is God to be praised. And yet, we’ve also been asked to meditate upon this: “The Lord is near to all who call on him.”
If we were to use theological terms to describe these two very different visions of God, we would use the words transcendence and immanence. More often than not, our theologies ask us to choose between these understandings, but here in this Psalm we’re reminded that the great and wonderful Lord of all Creation, the one who sits upon the throne of heaven, is also present in our midst, sharing with us the bounty of creation, and if truth be told, this God is also sharing in our times of grief and suffering. Therefore, if we’re willing to attend to this message, if we’re willing to meditate on it, to chew on it, as some might say, then we’ll begin to recognize that not only is there “more than enough” to go around, but we’re also in a position to share our bounty with others. We can do this because God in Christ has already shared with us the abundance of heaven, providing us with the opportunity to share freely this abundance with our neighbors. Upon these things, do we meditate, day and night, so that our hearts might be transformed.
We started by extolling God because of God’s many great works, then we meditated upon God’s blessings, and now at the end, we stop to offer God a word of blessing. To bless is similar to extol. But, just maybe, the act of blessing someone or something, carries with it not just a sense of words expressed, but also actions directed toward the other.
In both word and deed, which includes our giving through the church, we offer a blessing, a word of thanksgiving, that extols God’s greatness. And we don’t do this alone. As the closing verse makes clear:
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name for ever and ever!
Stewardship is an act of worship that brings blessing not just to God nor just to the individual, but it also brings a blessing to all flesh. Yes, we gather together in the presence of the living God, the God who is our creator, our provider, our protector, and yes, even our fellow traveler, to offer a blessing and in doing so offer praise to the Lord forever and ever.
May we meditate upon these things and then act in accordance with the leading of God. For as Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver!” Yes, “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:7-8).
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Thanksgiving Sunday/Christ the King Sunday
November 21, 2010