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Thanks, then Giving

I've been thinking about thanksgiving (little-t, being grateful and feeling gratitude) in the face of abundance that makes it easy to take things for granted. When we solicit prayers of the people, no one ever gives thanks for air; it's just there. When times are tough, people give thanks for every little thing, but when times are good it's easier, I think, to forget to be thankful for food, shelter, friends, family. This leads me to think some things theological, but before I get into my theological Thanksgiving thoughts, let me first say how thankful I am to be here in Pauls Valley and working with the First Presbyterian Church.

Notice two things. First, I say working WITH the First Presbyterian Church. Our Presbyterian polity makes all the baptized equal. We're all working in the best sense of having a purpose to work for. There is no special distinction between clergy and laity in our form of government; it's just about division of labor, not prestige. I also said I like working with the CHURCH. When I say I'm thankful to be working with the First Presbyterian Church, I'm thankful for all the people who do so much in this congregation. You're here like air, and I don't want to take you for granted. So, at the risk of leaving someone out, and in no particular order, I'm thankful for:

people who sing in the choir, who sing in the pews, who sing to themselves at home, who enjoy music, who play music; people who play (period), who play games, who play sports, who have a sense of humor; people who give their time and physical labor to clean, decorate, repair, install, change light bulbs, sweep, take out garbage, cook, blog, proofread, print, fold, teach, learn, read, listen, speak, tell stories; people who lead, discern, guide, decide, write, who count and do accounting, who plan and manage; people who call, text, socialize, email, who invite other people and share with other people; people who smile, laugh, even people who complain (constructively), people who visit, care, and give to other people; people who love scripture, who pray, who love and worship God; people who love one another and defend one another; people who advocate for people, even when they aren't part of our group or our people, of our congregation; people who love each other, who care for each other, who comfort each other.

When I was in my computer career, I always said I liked working with smart people. In the church work now, it's I like working with caring people and with people loved by God.

With that out of the way, let me observe something more theological. In the words of institution (I Corinthians 11:25-25) it says Jesus took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it. I sure would have loved hearing what JESUS gave thanks for. He certainly gave thanks for the bread; even today there is a famous Jewish prayer blessing the bread: "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the land." I imagine he thanked God for the place they had to sit and have supper. I also imagine on that night, at the end of his earthly ministry that he poignantly thanked God for his disciples, his coworkers, his friends. I imagine he thanked God for all they had accomplished together, but also for the deep relationships they had developed. I imagine that Jesus took nothing for granted like air.

In fact, I imagine Jesus didn't take the air for granted either. Another Jewish prayer is for blessing the wine: "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine." That word "create" in Hebrew only ever has God as the subject. It is the thing God does in Genesis when God creates all things. In the beginning of the Gospel of John, God created all things THROUGH the Word, and Jesus is the Word incarnate, so I imagine Jesus knows a thing or two about creating air, so that he did not take that for granted either. We give thanks to our creator for all creation and do not take it for granted.

The thing I'm thinking about, though, is that word AFTER. After giving thanks, Jesus broke the bread and gave it to his disciples. Somehow, the way Jesus does things, gratitude and giving are connected. After giving thanks, Jesus gave bread. I like working for caring people, and I see all the time how people in this congregation give. I think that kind of giving can only be in response to the gratitude we all feel for all the blessings in our lives. We give thanks, and when we give thanks, our response is also to give--to give to each other and to give to those in need.

I want to go a little further with this, though. Jesus, after giving thanks took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, "This is my body which is for you." Jesus not only gave; he not only gave sustenance, food; Jesus gave himself. He gave his body broken. For us. After giving thanks, Jesus gave us his broken body. Now here's where my pastoral instincts want to pull my punches. I'm NOT saying that you should give sacrificially to each other. I'm not saying your should live broken lives for each other. I'm not saying you should die for each other. Here's what I am saying: Jesus did that for us. What our response to that is left for us to figure out. At the very least, I'd say that Jesus' gift to us should inspire more gratitude. We are thankful for the things that bless us in life. We are thankful, if we can think about it, for the things we take for granted like air. We are thankful for each other and we are thankful for the opportunity to get to know others still. In response to all that gratitude, we develop generosity and give. We give stuff and time and effort and talent to each other. After giving thanks, Jesus gave himself. That inspires us to still more gratitude and giving and inspires us, most of all, to give thanks to God. We give thanks to God for all God has done for us. We give thanks to all Jesus has done for us and all Christ has won for us.

Thanks be to God, and have a blessed Thanksgiving full of gratitude.



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