Give ThanksPosted: November 22, 2012
Last Sunday during worship at Collierville First, we sang “Give Thanks,” the popular chorus that calls us to give thanks with grateful hearts, thanks to the Holy One, because we have been given the Christ. In the Liturgical Calendar, our American tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving always falls near Christ the King Sunday. In some years, the first Sunday in Advent follows Thanksgiving, which always makes us feel a little disjointed. On Thursday we are celebrating a secular holiday and on Sunday we are lighting the Advent Wreath and placing the Chrismon Tree in the sanctuary. It is a bit of metaphor mixing at best.
And yet, at the core of our theology is gratitude. Indeed, all we are and all we do is in response to the gift of God’s amazing grace in Christ. Paul writes in that powerful second chapter of Ephesians: “God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things we did wrong. He did this because of the great love he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6 CEB). Christ the King, the coming of the King and giving thanks for God’s good gifts of creation all are wrapped up together in the next 10 days. In a world that has grown distant from this reality, perhaps it is not too much to pause and reflect on all we are and all we have with gratitude for the good gifts of God.
Today we will gather with family around a bountiful table. We will eat more than we need. We will laugh. We will remember those who are no longer in our midst. We will welcome new members to the family who were not among us last year. We will offer prayers of thanksgiving for all that has transpired in our lives over the last twelve months.
Sunday morning, Christ the King Sunday, I will preach at my home church. As a preacher’s kid, First United Methodist Church, New Albany, MS, is my Bethel. It is the place, more than any other, where I met God over and over as a teenager. The laity who taught Sunday School and led UMYF, my mother-in-law who led the youth choir, Rev. James T. McCafferty, my pastor (my dad was a District Superintendent during those years), all played a part in my faith formation. It will be the first time to worship there and to preach there since being consecrated as a Bishop in the Church. My parents will be present as will my mother-in-law and other family members. There will be high school classmates and young people now adults who were in the youth group I led as a young pastor. Yes, I came home to my home church in my first appointment out of seminary. Those young people, now adults with college students, make me feel older than I want to feel.
So, my heart is full this Thanksgiving and I offer gratitude for:
- Those who loved me with an unconditional love until I understood the unconditional love of Jesus Christ
- The congregations of my childhood: Belden, Bruce, West Point, Fulton, New Albany.
- The places I have been privileged to serve in ministry: Jackson: Broadmeadow, Gainesville, GA, New Albany, Lambert, Southaven: Getwell Road, Philadelphia, Madison: St. Matthew’s, Tupelo, and the Seashore District.
- The gift of being elected to the Episcopacy by the Southeastern Jurisdiction and assigned to the Nashville Area of the United Methodist Church
- Those colleagues in ministry with whom I am now serving who are teaching me every day the bountiful goodness and grace of God and the blessings of 200 years of Methodism in Tennessee.
I leave you with this: Abraham Lincoln’s declaration – written during the trials and tribulations of the Civil War, actually, by Secretary of State William Seward:
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.
So, I give thanks with a grateful heart for all the gifts God has given, but especially, this day, for the place and the people with whom God has given me to serve.
I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6 CEB
With Gratitude for your partnership in the Gospel,