Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Ending well.

How do you “round off” a year, or a letter, or anything else for that matter? Paul seems to have understood the need for summary and suitable conclusion at the end of his letter to the Romans. (We read Romans 16:25-27 today – the very last words of the letter). Perhaps he is anticipating that it will be read as Christians gather for worship, for this has something of the feel of a service ending – and makes a very good one!

Paul is never going to be content with just repeating a convention. These words are full of thanksgiving, first for God’s ability to establish, or to make these believers strong in their faith. Of course they may need it – the life of the Christian community goes on, and will face both individual and corporate challenges. At the end of 2020, many Churches will have been shaken by the Covid pandemic, but the same God is able to strengthen us and make us stand firm.

The Christian group in Rome was “mixed”, including both Jewish believers and those of a non-Jewish background. Some of the tensions between the groups are reflected in the letter. Paul’s conclusion emphasises and summarises his point: this inclusion of both is part of the gospel message, and, though once mysterious, had been prophesied.

All of that – the argument of the letter, the working out of the gospel Paul has written to explain and proclaim, all is for the glory of God. It is not to build Paul’s reputation, let alone his wealth. It is not about the status of the faith community. It is all with the purpose of bringing glory to God through Jesus Christ. That is a challenge for every Christian and every congregation, but if it puts us in our place, it also gives us focus and hope. We are not called to “success” but to live in a way that brings glory to God.

To that we can say “Amen”, and end a chapter.

Rejoice! (properly)

How can you always be joyful? – isn’t it insensitive when suffering and tragedy abound? What if you don’t feel like it? – don’t you have a right to be miserable?

Perhaps we ought to look at the context of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. Looking back through the letter, there has been talk of:

  • the Life and Faith of the Thessalonians
  • Paul’s Work (well, God’s really); his desire to visit again
  • and in chapter 4, the consequences: A Life that Pleases God

What does God want? – well, very much what we want in our better moments: Love, peace, mutual service, holiness of life. So if they, and we, have absorbed that, we should be Ready. Ready for – The Lord’s Coming. And the words we read today are at the end of chapter 5 and the letter.

So “Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances”. It’s not insensitive in context. Don’t “bounce” on the miserable – but help put their problems in context. Face death in the context of resurrection, pain and hurt in the context of incarnation and healing.

No, you don’t have a right to be miserable! All you have is given by God (sometimes spoiled by your misuse – but there is forgiveness). At least some sorts of misery imply that God isn’t up to his job – he’s given the wrong tools, doesn’t understand, doesn’t know. (Yes, there are other sorts of misery. We can all be overcome for a time by tragedy, and cannot offer an easy solution to mental illness, but – do I have a right to choose to be miserable, NO, as far as it is a choice, I don’t).

Be joyful. How, if I don’t feel it? By giving thanks, by not restraining the Holy Spirit, by avoiding evil. This isn’t a forced Hollywood smile, a backslapping heartiness, or the suggestion that real Christians must be extravert personalities. But it is a serious instruction.

“Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances.” Joy, even at times of difficulty, is a blessing. Thanksgiving can be carefully practised until it becomes a habit. So – Praise God! not as a cliché, but as a deliberate decision, especially at times of stress. Thank God! even when you have to think quite hard what you can thank him for.

The lives the Thessalonian Christians led were certainly no easier, more comfortable or more secure than ours, – perhaps they needed these instructions, but so do we. As a preparation for the coming of Jesus, and as a serious part of our faith, let’s set out to do this:

“Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.”

1 Th 5:16-18

Bleak?

In Wales, we are half way through 2 weeks of Covid lockdown; England are just about to start 4 weeks of staying at home; other places also struggle. It is hard in many ways, and for once we share in difficult times.

Christians have to be realistic, and this is not an easy situation – but neither is it the full story. November 1st is often kept as All Saints day. Having survived Halloween, we turn to celebrate and give thanks for the less famous of God’s people. Revelation 7:9-17 is the fuller of the New Testament passages set for the day, and it has an encouraging picture to offer. Here is a picture of God’s kingdom, with much to celebrate and much to look forward to:

  • here is a crowd of people united. It’s not that they are alike: they are of many backgrounds, races, languages; but you might say they are singing from the same hymnsheet. They have a common purpose which makes their differences insignificant. Their focus is God, and together, happily, they worship
  • God is at the centre. Not because he insists it be so, nor because he is some sort of successful dictator. He is recognised for his love and faithfulness. This crowd know how he has healed, forgiven, and brought them together in a wonderful way which has given freedom, not taken it away.
  • And then there is the comfort and reassurance of the closing verses

and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Revelation 7:15b-17

This is God’s kingdom, which we want to celebrate and live in. We start now, knowing that we haven’t got it all sorted, but that turning our backs on what is wrong and following Jesus is the way in, even when its not easy. Some of that crowd of saints had a hard time – so did Jesus – but the kingdom is worth it. Those promises are kept. That hope is realistic. That destination will not be in lockdown. Join the celebration, enjoy the view, keep on until arrival.

Still Thankful

When Peter wrote (we are looking at 1 Peter 1:3-9 ), Christians were not having an easy time; like us, they were people who had not known Jesus during his ministry. Like us they had problems, though theirs may have been from the emperor Nero. Life is difficult for many people, now as ever. I imagine most of you could identify “issues”; perhaps you’d like to think about it as you read. What are the problems, the irritants, the sticking points, the causes of tension. Is there one main one, or two or three together (more than that, and you’re probably missing the point, the root cause). If everybody annoys you, it may be you who is the problem

Have you got some idea? Good, because what Peter has to say may well apply to us, too. First of all, he urges us to “give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” v3 – thanks for the new life we were given through Jesus’ resurrection. That’s important, not least because it tends to get lost when other things get to us. If you don’t know what you are doing, at least give thanks, and remember what you are giving thanks for.

Then he talks about the safety of our presents. Have you ever had something put away for you? The silver mug or spoon at the Christening; the toy that’s very nice, but a little too old for you just yet? Adults may have things in the bank, like the deeds of the house, or a piece of family jewellery – kept safe. Well says Peter, at an unsettled time, isn’t it great to know that God’s good presents to us are kept safe; they can’t be stolen, or spoiled. So even in rough, uncertain times, there is something to give thanks for personally.

So you can face your “issues” with thanks to God, – and with faith. Too often we leave a gap between the difficult bits of life and our faith, but that’s a mistake! We are given a new life, and need to live it, and to apply its energy and principles to our problems and sticking points. Peter is not surprised that the Christians are suffering; he didn’t expect them to escape difficulty because they had been good (verses 6, 7a). Their problems will help them to grow up in faith, showing what is genuine, and what isn’t and needs to be replaced by something firmer.

He doesn’t offer an instant fix. Look at Jesus he will say (in chapter 2:18f), and as his followers you will not expect an easy ride, or immunity from pain, or success. But look at Jesus, he will say, and you will see how worthwhile it all was, and how glorious is the way he walked, even with its pain.

We may be glad that our Royal family is one we can give thanks for. I don’t think I can find a single point of comparison between them and the emperor Nero. But like those first century Christians, we face problems, and need reminding to face them with thanksgiving for God’s goodness, remembering that the worst trouble is not going to make us lose God’s best blessings, and that if things are rough for a time, it should sort out our faith.

What about Creation?

Creation is wonderful! If you doubt it, think how many different people would be fascinated, within their speciality:

  • Engineers of all sorts are fascinated by the order, and interlocking systems balancing
  • Anthropologists and Zoologists can spend lifetimes studying the diversity and intricacy of what they discover – knowing there is much more
  • Astronomers get excited by things I don’t understand at all!
  • Authors are amazed by the varieties of human experience, or travel possibilities.
  • Artists look at landscapes, from postcard sunsets to subtle delights

I try to take photographs, and have a continuing series of clouds. Sometimes with skyline, often without. There is colour, shape, contrast, mystery, power . . all sorts of things, often in great beauty.

Yes, creation is wonderful but – read Romans 8:18-25 as we did, and we need to look forward. We know there are various things wrong. Climate Change has been highlighted as a concern for us all. But there are other problems: trade imbalances impoverishing the weak; technological changes affecting cultures. . Paul is not very specific, but seems to say that creation groans, and that humans, including Christians, also experience less than the ideal. This isn’t it – we haven’t arrived.

These and other problems don’t mean creation is wholly spoiled, but neither is it as it should be. So creation groans – verse 22. One commentator says “Cosmic pessimism was rampant in the first century; most people believed that decay and Fate reigned supreme.” I’m not sure of the most popular outlook today, but Paul adds that even Christians who have been given the Holy Spirit share this groaning, looking for what they do not yet have or experience. What is that? Freedom from the present problems – so heaven, or perhaps the full experience of the Kingdom of God. It has started, but we still wait for its full realisation. We can’t make the Kingdom of God happen. It needs God, and his timing. So we wait, perhaps suffer, and hope.

But do we do that idly? No, at least I hope not.

  • We relish creation, enjoying it according to our gifts (taking pictures, easing relationships under strain, gardening) – and hope that helps others as well as us enjoy and glimpse the Creator.
  • We learn to give thanks, recognising the Creator, and our bounty.
  • We look forward. We talk about what we have now and what we are waiting for, keeping up our expectation with encouragement.
  • Where possible, we put things right. Fair Trade matters; it won’t solve all the problems of the world, but it will help, and fix some. Climate change matters, and yes, its a big issue – but find out what you can do, and do it.

Creation is wonderful; and we are waiting for our Creator God to make it as it is really supposed to be. In the meantime, we can still see some of his character in the creation, and we have things to hope for, and things to do.

The joy of limited responsibility!

There are (at least) 2 ways of living as a Christian:

  • loaded down with all the concerns – lists of sick people to pray for, world problems, – proper concerns, but “heavy”, and liable to make life hard going.
  • or with a sense of God’s ownership, and thanks for it:
    sometimes (as at Harvest) times are good – there is the reminder of the gifts of creation
    sometimes (as at Christmas, Easter, Pententecost) focus on the gift of Jesus, of his life, his death for us, his sending of the Holy Spirit.

In darker moments, when its easy to focus on what is going wrong or badly, and the pain of it, the best way may be to go on with a sense of God’s ownership. We don’t have to understand, as long as someone makes sense of it.  We are not called to be in control, but only to do our part.  If we don’t understand everything, is that a great surprise – God is much greater than we are, and there is no suggestion we have all the information, let alone the ability to process it properly.

Jesus tells the story of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46), picking up from Isaiah.  God had worked, not just to pop plants in, but to clear a place, build a wall, plant, and get everything set up. All the tenants had to do when they came in later was to carry on with the harvest and maintenance. There is real anger at their attempt to take over ownership – the deceit, theft, pretence.

Of course there’s a warning here for us all: Don’t imagine you own – anything! On earth, we’re all tenants, and we need to know that, and pay due regard to the landlord.  That’s the negative side, but see the positive as well – Like a good tenant, you don’t have to worry when the roof leaks – you do what you can, and tell the owner. That’s your responsibility.

When life is good – Give thanks.  When life is not so easy. Give thanks for the owner, who has to deal with everything. We don’t. And if you can remember that, you could save a lot of nervous energy.  Whether it is as easy to put into practice as to understand – well, you try.

Not mine! (Proper 13, Pentecost 11)

It is hard being poor!  Not that I have direct experience, but working with Christians Against Poverty Swansea Debt Centre brings reminders and stories.  It might be enough to make me anxious, or reinforce my mean nature, but this weeks reading in Luke 12:13-21 is a good antidote.

Jesus refuses to arbitrate an inheritance dispute (did he want to leave it to those appointed for this, or recognise that to divide a small inheritance would leave no-one enough, or was he just making a point?).  He goes on to talk about greed, and tells a parable about a rich man who plans a life of idle luxury, and dies before he can enjoy it.

He doesn’t complain about the good harvest, nor even the man’s riches, but about perhaps three other things.  First, this man is stupid to forget his mortality; he can’t control how long he will live.  Death isn’t something we talk much about, but perhaps it ought to be better prepared for – hopefully not because terrorism makes sudden death more common.

Then there is his obvious selfishness.  He either totally fails to recognise the needs of others, or thinks they are none of his concern.  It looks almost as if the person has been taken over by his possessions – who is making use of who?  In any case, he is quite wrong; the whole point of the abundance of the earth’s resources is that they are for the benefit of all God’s people.  Those who are rich have added responsibility, and an opportunity for good (remember the Good Samaritan?).

Thirdly, he misses a safety net.  If he had only paused to thank God for his gift, he might have been led to remember that nothing we have is “owned”, but only ever “lent”.  Just as we tell children to be specially careful of how they treat something belonging to someone else, so we need to relabel “mine” as “God’s loan”.  Perhaps it is only a verbal trick, but it helps sort my attitudes.

Generosity is not something we talk about much.  Which is odd, when from a world point of view we in Britain are so rich.  Luke, and the other gospel writers, make it clear that this is a gospel issue.  How we own / deal with God’s loan, is central to our life with God.  Poverty is hard, but wealth may be even more disabling if not handled with faith and generosity.