Sermon: Thanksliving – Living Every Day With Gratitude

Scripture: Philippians 4: 4-9

Date: November 8, 2015

 

How would your life change if you lived every day with nothing but thanksgiving in your heart? No worries. No animosity. No jealousy. No anger. No hatred. No anxiety. No prejudice. No suspicion. No nagging feelings of inadequacy. No judgement. Just thanksgiving. Would it make a difference in the way you lived every moment of every day? And if we all began to live every day with gratitude – everyday with nothing but thanksgiving in our hearts, how would it transform our church, our community, even our world. That’s what this series is about. For the next 3 Sundays we’re going to focus on living with thankful hearts in all things and all circumstances. I call it Thanksliving. That’s impossible, you say. No one can live in total thanksgiving and gratitude. Well, the Apostle Paul, the great preacher, evangelist, communicator said it was possible when he called on the dear saints of the Philippian church to “Rejoice in the Lord Always. Don’t be anxious about anything but in EVERYTHING, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will transform your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That’s Thanksliving.

For some years now, I have been disturbed by what has become of Thanksgiving. I have grumbled about it, mostly to myself, but this year as I thought about these Sundays leading up to Thanksgiving, and how more and more we rush from Halloween to Christmas without much regard for Thanksgiving, God challenged me to do something about it. But, I argued with God, after all this is usually when I preach that miraculous sermon that turns the financial tide for the year, and we begin to crawl back from a major deficit towards financial solvency by the end of the year. I recently read that the average church receives 30-50 % of it’s income in the last two months of the year. And I’ll be honest, we need that kind of miracle this year. So isn’t that what I need to be preaching about. But God countered with: “A thankful heart is a generous heart.” If everyone in the church lived their thankfulness, there would be no need for miraculous sermons or desperate pleas. Ok Lord. Thanksliving it is. Now I wish I could tell you that Thanksliving was a concept that I had come up with. But I first heard about Thanksliving more than thirty years ago. Some of you might remember Grady Nutt, a Baptist preacher who moonlighted as a comedian. He made his name on the old Hee Haw TV Show where He was dubbed the Prime Minister of Humor. Well in 1977 he published a book of Poetry and one of the poems was entitled “Thanksliving”. Some of the imagery is now a bit dated, but the concept is not. He wrote:

 

There I sat-

6:30 A.M.

on a jet

unprepared for insight

 

There he came-

insight on the move

 

I smiled just looking at him.

“That seat taken?”

He pointed to the window seat

two over from me.

“Help yourself.”

He climbed over.

“My first flight!”

 

I fly a lot

and have

for ten years.

I’ve noticed that

most first-timers

tell you with tight knuckles …

not with words.

He was excited enough

to make my ten thousandth

seem like my first

takeoff all over again.

 

I had my camera along

decided to shoot

some shots of him

on his first flight

get his address

and send them to him.

“You a photographer?”

“No, just a hobby.”

okay with him

to shoot some…

shot five…

got his address

talked some more…

high school senior

on spring vacation

wants to be a psychiatrist

“help people’s minds…”

 

My next question brought one of life’s great answers

“You have any hobbies?”

“just doin’ it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know…

just bein’.”

 

Just being …

his hobby!

Thank you, Wesley Alexander!

Thank you, God!

JUST BEING

I haven’t had such a sneaky blessing

in a long,

long time.

A blessing that spoke to me

of a special attitude:

THANKSLIVING

 

an attitude

that finds treasure

in the plowed field

of routine…

that sees daily bread

as a provision

of the Bread of life …

that holds a cup

to the water of life

and drinks the mystery of being

with zest.

 

THANKSLIVING

an eye for perspective

for color

for harmony

for balance…

that sees how

“all things

work together for good

to them who love God…”

who find in life

that God

loves them.

 

THANKSLIVING

an ear for the cry of pain

the laugh of joy…

the dirge of woe

the lyric of delight…

the hollow echo of lonely

the vibes of together…

the whisper of help

the shout of love.

 

THANKSLIVING

a touch for appropriate

for right

for compassion

for care

for sympatico

for grief

for anger

for all

meaningful

deep

feeling.

 

THANKSLIVING

seeing

hearing

feeling the “God-with-us”

in simple truth

in complexity:

an umbrella in rain/a convertible in sun

wool for a sheep in winter/shears in spring

salt on meat/sugar in tea

coping/hoping

 

THANKSLIVING

Seeing that the beauty of life

is in its pace

direction

movement

ebb/now …

falling in line with its current…

conquering in adversity…

rejoicing in joyful splendor.

 

THANKSLIVING

to live and give…

to “do it…”

to make a “hobby of being .. .”

 

THANKSWESLEYALEXANDER …

 

And so when Paul says Rejoice always, He is defining Thanksliving. Thanksliving is living a life of rejoicing always. But how do we do that?

 

Well, first Thanksliving begins when we understand that our blessings from God are unlimited. In fact, I would go so far, as to say that we were created to be blessed by God. Scripture tells us that God is love and that love is not complete unless it is given away. And so that His love might be complete, God created humanity to love. And because His love is without limits, so to are His blessings for those whom He loves. Now I’m not sure how many of us believe that. In fact, I would be so bold to say that most of us approach our lives as a mixture of blessings and curses, and we view faith as our insurance policy that on the tally sheet of life, the blessings outweigh (maybe not even out number), but outweigh, the curses. Of course, that kind of approach to life implies that there is always the possibility that the curses can outweigh the blessings. I’m sure we have all known persons who are what I call clenched teeth Christians. They speak of God and faith out of their pain rather than their blessings. And so their witness becomes one of how they have overcome the curses and managed to move on, rather than a testimony to a God of unlimited blessings. Thanksliving is living a life where in the words of the Apostle Paul we consider the trials of life not worth mentioning in comparison to the blessings we receive in Christ Jesus. Faith in a God of unlimited blessings is not a life lived in denial but rather it is a life lived in sweet release. Thanksliving invites us to let go of the burdens of this world so that God can bless us without limit because when we dwell on the burdens we are limiting God’s ability to bless us. Consider your life as a pitcher. God’s desire is to fill you up to overflowing with His blessings but He cannot do that if our pitcher is already half full of the things of this world. Perhaps this is what Paul has in mind when He says:

 

Even when I am poured out as a drink offering as a sacrifice for the faith, I will rejoice. You do the same and share your joy with me.

 

In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter says that God will “pour out my Spirit on all people.” Thanksliving reflects a life that is filled to overflowing with the Spirit of God. His unlimited blessings. And yet so many of us – dare I say all of us – reflect more of an impoverished faith because we impose human limits on God’s unlimited blessings. More and more we place other priorities ahead of God, ahead of our faith and in doing so we limit God’s blessings on our lives. For instance, God gives us the church as a source of His blessings, but more and more we find every reason to not be in worship and Sunday School. To not work in the Pantry or other areas of ministry. God’s unlimited blessings become limited by the priorities that we set. The same is true of our resources. We place limits on God’s blessings by the way we give our resources. Now stay with me here. But we say that God’s blessings are unlimited, that everything we have – life itself – comes from God. But yet our giving does not reflect the unlimited nature of God’s blessings. Down through many years of ministry, I have been involved with a lot of meetings on both a local church level and a Conference level concerning the limited resources that the church has to operate with. And inevitably the point will be made that “if our people would just Tithe, give 10%, then the church wouldn’t have any money problems”. And while that is true, I can’t help but think that God didn’t establish the Tithe as an economic principal, but rather as a spiritual one. As an economic principal, the question that underlies the tithe.is what can I afford to give. And so we sit down and project our potential income for the coming year, calculate external factors like bills, tuition, entertainment, health needs, food, housing, and then figure where the 10% might fit in and determine then what we can afford to give. It is not unlike a business calculating what it would take for them to make a 10% profit. Or being in the 10% tax bracket on God’s blessings. I believe that when we apply a Business understanding to the tithe, we are in essence trying to place limit on God’s blessings on our lives But as a spiritual principal I think tithing is something very different. I think we give our tithe in gratitude for God’s unlimited blessings on us and that God’s expectation is not that we return those blessings in a limited way but that we live a life that reflects the unlimited blessings of God. Thanksliving. God fills us up to overflowing and we pour ourselves out as a cup of blessing to others. And God continues to pour His Spirit into us and we continue to pour ourselves into others, through His church. Thanksliving means that the desire of our hearts is to empty ourselves completely, though because God continues to pour His spirit into us, we are always full, never empty. We can never outbless, outgive God, because His blessings are without limit. So let me challenge you and myself, that in the days leading up to Thanksgiving that you begin every day at the altar pouring your earthly life out in sacrifice and allow God to pour His Spirit, His blessings into you without earthly limitations. And so the question that underlies the tithe from a Spiritual standpoint is not what can I afford to give. No the question that should guide us in response to the unlimited blessings of God, is what can I afford to not give. Thanksliving.

 

And then secondly I would say that Thanksliving requires that we recognize every person as a part of the unlimited blessings of God. Now here’s the thing we need to see to understand this part of Thanksliving. When Paul writes to the Philippian church, He is telling them to not only rejoice in God’s blessings, but also to rejoice in God’s children. And this point is given even more strength when we understand that when Paul writes this letter to the Philippians, He is in the midst of two years of imprisonment brought on him by his enemies. Where ever Paul traveled there were those who followed him, seeking to turn the people against him and occasionally succeeding in convincing the authorities that he was a dangerous man and needed to be imprisoned. He was a threat to the established order, to their economic wellbeing and ultimately the peace. And yet Paul from prison was able to rejoice even in those who were responsible for his plight. Thanksliving is a way of life but it is also our witness to our life in Christ. Paul rejoiced in his enemies. To the Romans Paul wrote that he was once an enemy of God. He persecuted the early church. He held the cloaks for those who were stoning Stephen to death for his belief in Christ and yet He wrote: For if when we were God’s enemies we were reconciled, let us rejoice in God through Jesus, through whom we have been reconciled. And Jesus said, in the sermon on the mount that our enemies are part of the unlimited blessings of God. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you. Rejoice and be glad. Jesus tells us that we are turn the other cheek to our enemies. Now somehow that statement has been perverted to mean that if our enemy slaps us on one cheek, or hurts us in some way, that the loving thing to do is turn the other cheek, in other words let the enemy slap you again. But in Jesus day, the custom, as it is in many places in our world today, is to kiss on the cheek when greeting someone, no matter who it is. Unless the person is your master. Then you kiss them on their hand. When Judas betrayed Jesus remember it was with a kiss. But the way it would have unfolded was that Judas when He came into the Garden with the soldiers, He would have kissed Peter and the other Disciples with a Kiss on the cheek, but Jesus He would have kissed on the hand. So when Jesus said, turn the other cheek to your enemies, he had reconciliation in mind. We give thanks for the blessing of family and friends, loved ones that God places in our lives – but we truly live our thanks when we bless the lives of those who hate us and hurt us. Is there someone in your life right now with whom you are at odds with. Perhaps they have hurt you in some way.

 

In our world today we tend to demonize those we disagree with. Who treat us badly. We are quick to judge those who don’t live the same way we do. Don’t believe the same way we do. Our political system is broken because we turn opponents, those we disagree with, into enemies. In one of the presidential debates one of the candidates was asked who they thought considered them to be an enemy, and the candidate replied the members of the other political party.

 

What would happen if instead of holding things against one another, rehashing the things that divide whenever we are with them or cross paths with them, that instead we went to them and told them that we are so thankful that God has blessed your life with them. What kind of a difference would thanksliving make in our churches, our communities, our nation and our world. What kind of a difference would it make in our families. When thanksliving is our way, then we get out of bed in the morning asking ourselves whose life can I bless today. When we rejoice in all people, no matter what, Thanksliving becomes our witness. And so, let me challenge you that in these days leading up to Thanksgiving, that when you get up in the morning you ask God to place at least one person in your path, that you can bless that very day. Thanksliving.

 

And then finally I would say that Thanksliving means rejoicing in every circumstance of life. Now this does not mean that we won’t face some very difficult situations in life. Don’t misinterpret Paul’s admonition to rejoice in all things as a naïve understanding that for Christians there are no times of strife, no times of sorrow, no times of fear and discouragement. Paul certainly knew all of those in his life. Shipwrecked, beaten, run out of town after town, and now imprisoned and awaiting a sentence of death by the Emperor Nero, the great persecutor of the Early Church, Paul is able to say rejoice in all things, not out of sense of denial but out of a realization that even the trials of this life can be blessings from God. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote: in all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds. It’s unlimited. Always rejoice. Thanksliving.

 

In her song entitled Blessings, contemporary Christian Artist Laura Story caught the spirit of Thanksliving when she wrote these lyrics:

 

What if your blessings come through raindrops

What if your healing comes through tears?

And what if a thousand sleepless nights

Are what it takes to know you’re near?

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life

Is the revealing of a great thirst this world can’t satisfy?

What if the trials of this life

The rain, the storms, the hardest nights

Are your mercies in disguise?

 

Thanksliving. Rejoicing in all things.

 

I am challenging us to live out our thanks in these next few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving day. For many of us there will be some difficult moments in these weeks. Bad doctor’s appointments. Unexpected bills. Arguments at home. Strife at work or in school. Problems in a relationship. Perhaps a bad grade for those who are in school. Our faith does not insulate us from any of that. But thanksliving rejoices in it all and trusts in God to turn that which seems so terrible into a blessing. The Apostle James wrote: Count it all as joy. Rejoice in the Lord always.

 

I challenge us as we approach Thanksgiving this year, to really focus on what it means to be thankful, but not just be thankful but to live thankfully. Thanksliving.

 

We are going to close our service today with this wonderful hymn of Thanksgiving, but before we sing it, we need to know the story behind it.

 

Lutheran pastor Martin Reinkard wrote this hymn in 1637 at the time of the Thirty Years War in Germany. A wall fortified the city of Eilenburg in which he was a pastor, so it became a haven for refugees seeking safety from the fighting. But soon, the city became too crowded, food supplies dwindled, a famine hit and then a terrible plague and Eilenburg became a giant morgue. In that single year, over 6000 persons in Reinkard’s German village, including his wife and all of his children, died from the plague. He alone conducted 4,500 funerals in that year including his own wife’s. Remarkably, it was in the midst of that catastrophic personal and social loss that Reinkard wrote: “Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices.”

Rejoice in the Lord Always. Again I say rejoice. Thanksliving.

 

Join me in 19 days of Thanksliving in preparation for a great Thanksgiving day celebration. It just might change your life.

© 2020 St. Luke UMC
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