A Dependable Foundation

Introduction

St. Mark’s on the Campus Episcopal Church, Lincoln, Neb., celebrates the Holy Eucharist on Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m. The parish’s rector, Father Jerry Thompson, asked me to lead worship on Tuesday, October 30, 2012. The liturgy featured the feast of Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles, transferred from October 28.

Readings

Deuteronomy 32:1–4
Psalm 119:89–96
Ephesians 2:13–22
John 15:17–27

Homily

Saints Simon and Jude appear in the gospels in the lists of Jesus’s disciples. Sometimes Simon is called Simon the Less or Simon the Canaanæan or Simon the Zealot. This helps us to remember he is not Simon Peter. Jude appears sometimes as Judas not Iscariot or Judas of James or Thaddæus so that Christians will know he is not Judas who betrayed Jesus.

That’s really all we know about these two apostles, their names and that they labored to lay the foundations of the Church. The foundations of a house, when it is ready for habitation, are hidden behind the interior finish and the earth graded back into place around the house. A solid foundation gets no attention; no one who visits our home ever remarks, “What solid footers; what sturdy basement walls.”

This is a good reminder for us as we celebrate the work of Saints Simon and Jude, because their unheralded labors to spread the Good News rest dependably and invisibly beneath us as the footings upon which our lives of faith stand solid.

In the reading from Ephesians, we heard, “… you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19b–20, NRSV). That is a powerful and encouraging word of promise.

It might seem some days—or maybe even most of them—as if our lives are shaky and precarious. Perhaps violent storms threaten to blow off or wash away all we own, while we watch impotently. A devastating diagnosis comes and casts into grave doubt the health we just assumed was ours. The phone does not ring, the letter does not come, and the days turn to weeks and to years since we heard last from a loved one, making the gift of family feel hollow. Controversies arise in the community of the church and division splits the family of God, leading us to wonder what has become of the unity we thought we shared.

These challenges test both us and our faith, but beneath us—always—sits “… the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”

“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less,” a beloved hymn, written by Edward Mote in the 1800s, offers us a reminder of Christ’s utter dependability:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’s blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’s name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Come, let us prepare for the feast of Christ’s body and blood, the solid Rock, the foundation of our faith, passed on to us by the apostles. Amen.

Mystical “Friends of God”

Introduction

St. Mark’s on the Campus Episcopal Church, Lincoln, Neb., celebrates the Holy Eucharist on Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m. The parish’s rector, Father Jerry Thompson, asked me to lead worship on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. The liturgy features the memorial of Evelyn Underhill, Anglican teacher.

Readings

Wisdom 7:24–8:1
Psalm 96:7–13
John 4:19–24

Homily

Evelyn Underhill, an Englishwoman, lived from 1875 to 1941. Her adult life was rich with her study, writing, and teaching about the rich traditions of the mystics in the Church. While she felt drawn to the Catholic Church, in the end, she found her home in the Anglican Church.

A hundred and one years ago, she published Mysticism, the fruit of her research into the depths of the Church’s wealth of experience and insight invested in her mystics. The book explores the ways that some of God’s people find themselves strangely and powerfully attuned to His presence in human life. It shares how they struggle, at times, to express those experiences and to share their visions of God and their passions for His presence.

A verse from today’s first reading reminds us of the powerful and mystical ties that bind God and people together: “And passing into holy souls from age to age, [Wisdom] produces friends of God and prophets” (Wisdom 7:27b, NAB).

Friends of God. That strikes me as a good way to define a mystic. A friend of God wants to spend time with Him, to hear about His life, to learn His history, to grow closer to Him, and to bring others to Him. The friends of God our Father find their holy souls alive with His Wisdom—Jesus Christ—and moved by His Spirit, so that they cannot help but be attuned and consumed by that life-changing friendship.

In her work, The Light of Christ, Evelyn Underhill writes these words about Julian of Norwich, a mystic: “Julian says at the end of her Revelations that what she received from her vision of Christ was ‘Light, Life, and Love’; everything was gathered in that; an energy to show us the Truth, quicken us to fresh vitality and fill us with adoring devotion.”

We might not think of ourselves as mystics; they seem to be spiritual sprinters and marathoners, while we are amblers and mosiers at best. But God our Father has made us His children by water and the Spirit, baptizing us into the death and life of His Son. That means we are the “holy souls” in this age, the ones into whom God passes His Wisdom. This gift makes us friends of God. As God’s friends, we are invited into the mystery, to abide in the Light, to find strength in the Life, and to share the Love of God with others.

Amen.

Testifying to the Light

Introduction

St. Mark’s on the Campus Episcopal Church, Lincoln, Neb., celebrates the Holy Eucharist on Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m. The parish’s rector, Father Jerry Thompson, asked me to lead worship on Tuesday, December 27, 2011. This is the third day in the Octave of Christmas and the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist.

Readings

1 John 1:1–9
Psalm 92
John 21:19b–24

Homily

In Advent, we heard the cries of John the Baptist calling to us from the wilderness, baptizing and saying, “Repent” (Matthew 3:2) and “Behold, here is the Lamb of God” (John 1:36b). As John’s Gospel reminds us, “[The Baptist] came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light” (John 1:6–8).

Today, we celebrate the feast of the other John, the saint and apostle and evangelist. In his letter, he reminds us that the apostles say, “… this [word of] life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it” (1 John 1:2a). Their testimony is simple and pure, like the clear ringing of a bell that cuts through the noise of our lives and calls us to silence, to reverie and prayer.

John’s testimony is this: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Right there is the Good News in a simple sentence. Jesus Christ, who is the Word in the flesh, is the light that shines in the darkness and overcomes it.

Even when we may feel that darkness presses in upon us like a wall of unbreakable stone, like a wave of irresistible force, the light—who is Christ—shines in our lives. He breaks that wall; he repels that wave. Darkness may seem unstoppable when Christians die in bombings in their churches on the Feast of the Nativity, when families lose loved ones in tragic house fires, when relatives do not speak to one another, when congregations face division and disintegration, and when we know that “we lie and do not do what is true” (1 John 1:6).

Darkness may look victorious. But John tells us: stick to the light; walk in it; live in Christ. As he says in his letter, “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

And so, here we are, coming into the light, gathering around the table, offering our gifts in sacrifice, praising God our Father, receiving the body of God the Son—the bread of heaven—and the blood of the Word—the cup of salvation.

Soon we will leave, heading back into the darkness. But we will bear the light that shines unstoppably. We will testify to the light—Jesus Christ—who overcomes all darkness. Amen.

What One Sentence?

Introduction

St. Mark’s on the Campus Episcopal Church, Lincoln, Neb., celebrates the Holy Eucharist on Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m. The parish’s rector, Father Jerry Thompson, asked me to lead worship on Tuesday, October 25, 2011. This is Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time. The Feast of Saints Simon and Jude was transferred from October 28 for this mid-week Eucharist.

Readings

Deuteronomy 32:1–4
Psalm 119:89–96
John 14:21–27

Homily

This Friday is the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude. Jesus chose them to be his apostles. And that’s really all we know about them. Beyond that, Tradition tells us that they preached the Gospel in Mesopotamia and Persia—present-day Iraq. Their shared ministry eventually led to their martyrdom in that land on the same day.

It’s helpful to be reminded by these apostles what most lives of service look like. Few of us can expect to be remembered for the details of our discipleship. We’re not Peters or Pauls. Instead, we are much more like Simons and Judes.
Jesus Christ has called us, like Simon and Jude, to be his disciples. He gives us faith in him, leads us to praise his Father, and empowers us by their Holy Spirit to witness and to serve.

One time my wife, Anne, and I were visiting with one of her cousins who had become the family genealogist. As she was flipping through these large binders of family history, she would stop on a page, point at a picture, and say one sentence about that person’s life. I don’t remember what she said, but each sentence was something like this: Harry lived in a white-frame house and collected old phonograph records.
What has stuck with me ever since that day is a haunting question: What one sentence will some future family genealogist use to describe my life? What sentence would you write to describe your life? Simon and Jude were called by Jesus to be his disciples and apostles. It’s only one sentence, but it really does say all that we need to know about them.

The First Reading appointed for today from Deuteronomy contains a verse that captures the voice of the faithful—the people of Israel, Simon and Jude and the other apostles, along with the great crowd of unnamed disciples who have labored for the Lord over the centuries. It’s a thought we can hold in our hearts and speak with our lips. It’s only one sentence, but it says all that we to say about our lives of faith:

For I will proclaim the name of the LORD;
ascribe greatness to our God
(Deuteronomy 32:3, New Revised Standard Version). Amen.

Listening to Our Master

“Listen, O my son, to the teachings of your master, and turn to them with the ear of your heart” (Prologue 1, Benedict’s Rule, Terrence G. Kardong, trans., The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn., 1996).

St. Benedict begins his rule in simplicity by calling us to listen. When we put down what burdens our hands, when we set aside what concerns our hearts, when we stop moving for movement’s sake, and listen, then we have begun to follow his rule. In truth, though, listening to God is as much a part of the Christian life as it is the Oblate life.

While we typically read the Scriptures with our eyes, we can hear in “the ear of our heart” the times that God Himself, our Master, speaks to us and to all His people. Our world comes into being when God says, “Let there be …” (Gen. 1:3, New American Bible). St. John’s Christology tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NAB). Then the Invitatory that ushers in the daily divine office begins with a simple reminder that we respond to what we have heard, answering, “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise” (Psalm 51:15).

As we awake each morning, we can use our moments of silence to remind us to listen for the voice of our Master and to turn to Him, offering our attentive, listening hearts as an oblation to His glory.

David M. Frye, OblSB
Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus

For His Purpose

Introduction

The people of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Hickman, Neb., have organized a Spirit-Driven Task Force, bringing together almost forty members who have committed to a year of study, prayer, reflection, and deliberation to discern how God is calling the congregation to renewal for the sake of his mission.

This is the eighth of a series of weekly meditations with the aim to inspire reflection and encourage conversation among the members of the task force as we journey together in obedience to our Lord’s calling to serve him.

Susan Hansen, a member of the Spirit Driven Task Force Steering Committee, wrote this meditation.

Scripture

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’” —John 20: 21–23

Meditation

Some time ago, I came across the following quotation: “Although they are only breath, my words are immortal.” I gave pause to consider that the very words I might speak to my son might become my legacy that he leaves to his children and grandchildren. I made a point to be more mindful of the thoughts and words I chose to speak to my son.

In the passage from John, we learn of a very profound communication between God’s Incarnate Word and his disciples. Jesus breathes his Holy Spirit into his disciples and sends them into the world to speak God’s eternal message. Much is revealed in Jesus’s heavenly name of the Word. It is a reminder to us of that God intends communication to be for his divine purpose.

Through the Holy Spirit we are privileged to commune (communicate) with God. He reveals his eternal purpose to us personally and we are charged with sharing God’s divine peace and reconciliation with others.

Are our words to one another spoken in God’s love and grace?

Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, please let your love and glory be revealed in our words and conversations with others. Amen.

Calm Between the Times

Introduction

The Landing at Williamsburg, a senior living facility of Immanuel Communities, holds worship on Sunday mornings. This is the homily from June 3, 2011, the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

Readings

Acts 1:6–14
Psalm 68:1–10, 32–35
1 Peter 4:12–14, 5:6–11
John 17:1–11

Homily

This past Monday was a windy day. As I spent time working in the yard at home, I gradually grew acclimated to the gusting breezes, making sure I kept my cap pulled down on my head so the wind didn’t catch the brim and blow it away. The sound of the leaves in the trees was a rustle that drowned out the calling of the birds.

But every now and then, the steady winds would cease, and the woods would grow quiet. The sound of silence felt almost palpable, like a presence, in its contrast with the wind. And then, after a break, the breezes would blow again.

That eerie silence—that calm between the gusts—was like the place in which we find ourselves this morning in the Church’s year. This past Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, the day when we mark the departure of the risen Christ after his forty days of appearances among his followers. And next Sunday, we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church, a gift which comes down upon us like flames of fire and the rush of a mighty wind.

But today, we’re living between those two feasts: Ascension and Pentecost. It’s like a break, a pause, a time for silence and reflection. These are good times to have, to treasure as moments when we can sit and ponder, when we can meditate upon the sometimes turbulent lives we lead.

Jesus himself made time for such quiet moments. He would go away to lonely places to pray, leaving behind the crowds that never grew tired of seeking him out. He followed in the footsteps of tradition, like Elijah before him, who sought refuge from conflict, hiding in a cave on Mount Horeb. There Elijah witnessed great storms and violent earthquakes before he heard the voice of God coming from “a sound of sheer silence,” (1 Kings 19:12b, NRSV) or “a tiny whispering sound” (1 Kings 19:12b, NAB).

In that tradition of seeking to hear the voice of God speaking to us from the pauses, the rests, the times between, we pause to hear some words for us in today’s readings.

In the passage from Acts, Jesus shares some final words with his apostles before his Ascension, making a promise to them:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalm, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, NRSV).

In the reading from 1 Peter, the apostle writes words of encouragement:

But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13, NRSV).

Finally, in John’s Gospel, Jesus prays to his Father for the Church:

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3, NRSV).

A slender thread winds it way among these verses, tying them together, and binding us to them. As we listen to their message in this day of pausing and resting, we can hear the voice of that thread speak to us.

In the passage from Acts, Jesus tells his apostles, and us, that we will be his witnesses. That word—witness—comes from the Greek word martyria. That’s the root of our word “martyr.”

So Jesus is telling us that he will give us the Holy Spirit. This gift will in turn give us the strength we need to witness to him before others, to become martyrs for the faith. It’s another way of saying that the Spirit empowers us to take up our crosses and to follow our Lord.

And that leads us to the verse from 1 Peter. The apostle reminds us that we can rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings. This tells us what it means to live with the power of the Spirit, to be witnesses, to become martyrs, to take up our crosses. We share in Christ’s sufferings, but then that means that he shares in our suffering for his sake.

John’s gospel, finally, brings to mind the old saying about how we truly come to know someone when we have walked in his or her shoes, when we have shared the joys and sorrows of another’s life. I think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he prayed to his Father on our behalf and bound together the gift of eternal life with knowing God our Father and his Son in the love of their Spirit. He prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3, NRSV).

When we hear that word, “know,” we easily take it to mean knowing like we know the cashier at the grocery store, or maybe the person who delivers the mail, or our next-door neighbor, or maybe a son or daughter, a niece or nephew. We can identify them by their hair, their shapes of their faces, their distinctive laughs, perhaps the lists of hobbies and pastimes that bring them joy.

And that’s all part of knowing. But to know God is much more. It’s a little like how you know, when you get up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water, just where the light switch is—so many steps, so far from the doorway, so high up on the wall—that your hand just goes to the right spot without needing to think about it.

Knowing God is like that. It’s knowing about him, about his mighty works, his acts of power and mercy, but it’s also knowing him with our whole selves. That’s why Jesus said the great commandment was, “… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, NRSV).

We can only do that because Jesus has given us the gift of his Holy Spirit. That’s where we get the strength to persevere, to be obedient, and to serve. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we become witnesses, martyrs for the faith. We receive the blessing of grace so that we can rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings. We come to know God with all that is in us. And in that knowledge, we share in the eternal life that the Father and the Son enjoy in the communion of their Holy Spirit.

So, in these days that fall between the times, between the wonder of the Ascension and the mystery of Pentecost, we can rest together in the peace of God—the peace that does pass all understanding—we can listen to the voice of our Lord, and we can get ready to join Peter and the whole Church and “be glad and shout for joy when [Christ’s] glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13, NRSV). Amen.

Of Tears and Telling

Introduction

St. Mark’s on the Campus Episcopal Church, Lincoln, Neb., celebrates the Holy Eucharist on Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m. The parish’s rector, Father Jerry Thompson, asked me to lead worship on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. This is Tuesday of Easter Week.

Readings

Acts 2:36–41
Psalm 118:19–24
John 20:11–18

Homily

When we are weeping,
our tears cloud our vision,
our grief weighs down our hearts,
our sorrow rests heavy upon our shoulders.

In our sadness,
we do not see clearly,
whether we mean with our eyes
or with the eyes of our spirits.

The world around us turns misty;
the clarity of God’s purpose fades;
we do not know what to do or where to turn.

And so, like Mary of Magdala,
we rest in the rote motions of our days.
We occupy ourselves and fill the hours.
We walk the dog,
make the bed,
and pull the weeds.

Mary was broken by the burden of her loss.
Not ready to move on,
not knowing what to do,
filled with pain and grief,
she stood outside the tomb of her rabbi and she wept.

Then the angels and the stranger all asked her,
“Woman, why are you weeping?”

They knew why.
But we believe they also knew she needed to know for herself.
And so they asked,
and so she answered.

I miss him. He is gone. He is dead,
and I cannot let go, move on, begin anew.

The response she receives is what exactly she needs—
reassurance and a reminder.
The Lord calls her by name,
he reveals himself to her,
he gives her a mission in his name,
turning her from one who grieves
into one who proclaims to others
the message of his resurrection.

And she does what he commands.
She goes to her friends and says to them,
“I have seen the Lord.”

Mary of Magdala is the one in this gospel
in whom we see reflected our own images.
We share her feelings of loss,
we can see ourselves in her confusion,
and by the blessings of the Spirit,
we receive the same mission from our Lord.
He calls us to go to our brothers and sisters
and tell them the Good News.

Thanks be to God
that Mary did what Jesus told her to do.
Because of her faithful obedience,
the message of our Lord’s resurrection
did not die in the garden unspoken and unheard.

She passed on what she received.
And those who heard her then told others.
And so on until the message came to you and to me.
And now the mission is ours.

To whom is our Lord sending us?
Who needs to hear what we know to be true?
By his grace, we will find the ones we need to tell,
“The Lord is risen and we have seen him alive!” Amen.

Majesty and Grace

Introduction

St. Mark’s on the Campus Episcopal Church, Lincoln, Neb., celebrates the Holy Eucharist on Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m. The parish’s practice is to observe commemorations at this service.
The parish’s rector, Father Jerry Thompson, asked me to lead worship on Tuesday, March 22, 2011. This date is also the day on which Jonathan Edwards, Teacher and Missionary to the Native Americans, died in 1758.

Readings

Isaiah 6:1–8
Psalm 119: 89–96
John 17:6–10

Homily

Born in East Windsor, Connecticut in 1703, Jonathan Edwards was the fifth of eleven children. He had ten sisters. His father was a pastor in the Congregational Church. Jonathan was homeschooled, enrolled at Yale when he was thirteen, and graduated when he was seventeen. He studied theology, earning a master’s degree when he twenty, and was ordained when he was twenty-three. He got married five months later, and he and his wife had eleven children.

He was what we would call an intellectual, working in epistemology and psychology and theology. He also underwent mystical experiences as an adult.

His preaching inspired waves of revivals of the faith in New England that led to the Great Awakening of 1740 to 1742. He grew famous and that led to strains with his congregation. Eventually he was dismissed in 1750. He moved to the frontier, way out west in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and became a missionary to the Native Americans. He continued to write treatises on the freedom of the will and original sin. In 1757 he became president of the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University. He was inoculated against smallpox during an outbreak, but succumbed to a secondary infection in 1758, and died on March 22.

What strikes me about his life isn’t so much all of the academics, but the fact that he was open and receptive to the mystical side of the faith. It reminds me a little of Isaiah’s experience from our first reading (Isaiah 6:1–8). We can get so bogged down by the grinding details of our daily lives that we forget the wonder and mystery—even the strangeness—of God and how he changes our lives when we are open to him.

Jonathan Edwards wrote a Personal Narrative. In it, he said,

As I was walking [in my father’s pasture] and looking up on the sky and clouds, there came to my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express. I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction; majesty and meekness joined together; it was a gentle, and holy majesty; and also a majestic meekness; a high, great, and holy gentleness. (From New Book of Festivals and Commemorations, Phillip Pfatteicher, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2008 p. 137)

Majesty and grace in sweet conjunction. That’s not a bad way to speak of Jesus Christ, God himself in our midst. He’s gentle and holy, majestic and meek.

And the great gift is that he comes to us in the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation. Wine becomes blood and bread becomes flesh. That is grace and majesty in sweet conjunction, given for you and for me, given to forgive our sins, to strengthen us for daily living, and to preserve us until the day we gather around the LORD’s “high and lofty throne” an join with the seraphim and sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory” (Isaiah 6:1,3, NAB). Amen.

The First of the Fruit

Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Beatrice, Neb., celebrated our nation’s Day of Thanksgiving on Wednesday evening, November 24, 2010.

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Readings

Deuteronomy 26:1–11
Psalm 100
Philippians 4:4–9
John 6:25–35

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Prayer

We come to you, Holy God, and give to you what you have first given us: our lives, our talents, and the abundance of your creation. Help us by your Spirit’s guidance, to live with gratitude for your generosity and commitment to sharing your blessings with others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Message

Thanksgiving is an odd national holiday.
It doesn’t have the same civic and patriotic flavor
of our other days of celebration:
Independence Day and Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day.

We don’t much talk about it anymore,
but there’s something deep in the bones
of Thanksgiving that aspires to reach out,
to reach up, to turn our gaze to God.

If even we get to the point of saying that,
we don’t really, as a people,
find much agreement on what we mean by “God.”
Our money says, “In God We Trust,”
but which God we mean by that is an open and unsettled question.

And yet, if we dig down into the rich soil of our history,
we can uncover the roots of Thanksgiving.
And here is what we find.

Throughout our nation’s history,
people celebrated days of Thanksgiving.
We all remember learning about the Pilgrims
and their feasting with the Abnaki Indians
in 1621 to celebrate surviving cruel winter weather
and living to gather a bountiful harvest.

Communities and colonies and then states
held similar observances over the years.
But it wasn’t until the dark days in the midst of the Civil War
that our nation—at least the Union part—
observed a national Day of Thanksgiving.

In his proclamation of October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln noted,

The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed
that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added,
which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

He then went on at some length to describe the ravages of war
and the richness of the country’s wealth, despite that war.
Then the proclamation concluded:

They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

President Lincoln defines the holiday
as “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise
to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

It’s a blessing to be reminded that Thanksgiving
is a day for giving thanks
and for giving that thanks to God our Father,
the One who has given us all good things in the first place.

So, underneath the trappings of football and parades,
tables laden with traditional foods,
newspapers thick with Black Friday advertisements,
there hides this simple idea
that for one day each year,
we set apart a time as a nation, a people, to give God thanks.

It’s not a new idea.
In Deuteronomy, we hear the instruction,
“you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground”
and bring it to the house of worship
and give it to the LORD our God. (Deuteronomy 26:2, NRSV)

And when we give that “first of all the fruit,”
we tell God the story of how he has blessed our lives.

LORD God,
you have watched over us and guided us
this last year and a half in our search for a pastor.
You have led Pastor Linda Walz to us.
You have blessed us with the possibilities
that come with new beginnings.

In the meantime, you have raised up
so many individuals in this congregation
who have used the talents you have given them
to serve your mission and to show your love to others.

You have comforted us in times of loss.
So many have died,
and we have commended them to your care
and we have asked you to receive them into your blessed rest
and to console us while we mourn their absence from our lives.

Some of us have seen dark days this past year.
We have lost jobs, known pain in our families,
felt betrayed by the institutions we had grown to trust,
wandered about in confusion about our callings as disciples.
In the midst of this turmoil,
you have been our rock and our fortress.

With prayer of thanksgiving like these,
we offer our gratitude to God Almighty.

And then, with the people of Israel,
we follow the instructions in Deuteronomy:
“You shall set [your gifts] down before the LORD your God
and bow down before the LORD your God.
Then you, together with the Levites
and the aliens who reside among you,
shall celebrate with all the bounty
that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”
(Deuteronomy 26:11, NRSV)

This whole passage lays out worship
that contains old and familiar parts:
Offerings, Prayers, and a Meal.
It’s what we do each Sunday
and what we will do together in a few minutes.

So, while our nation celebrates its Day of Thanksgiving,
we, as Christians, observe our Thanksgiving
each and every time we come together
to hear the Word of God,
to offer him praises and prayers,
to place our gifts before him upon his altar,
and to join him at his Table in the Meal.

And if we think about it that way,
if we look at all that we have as a blessing from God,
and if we look at all that we give to him
as our act of returning the first of the fruit,
and if we look at the Eucharist
as the meal of celebration and thanksgiving,
then things look and sound a little different.

Let’s listen, one more time,
to St. Paul’s little declaration from his letter
to the Christians at Philippi.

He writes,
“Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
The LORD is near.
Do not worry about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your request be made known to God.
And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:4–7, NRSV) Amen.

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