A simple thought in preparation for our Thanksgiving festivities. It is most likely a bit short-sighted to give an encouragement to take a moment before carving the turkey and passing the bowls of stuffing, green beans and cranberry sauce to give thanks to God for His innumerable blessings. After all, it is November and this is part of what we do. We give thanks. And so we should. For house and home, for land, animals, money and good, for a devout family, good friends, peace and health, and for all of the thing that are listed in the explanation for the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Give us this day our daily bread), we are bound in true humility to give thanks to God for His grace and mercy by which He supplies all that is needed to support this body and life.
However, one thing is missing. A critical thing. As we consider how exhaustive the list is which Luther describe as making up our “daily bread” it might be difficult to identify what that one thing is. Granted, Luther’s explanation ends with an “etc.” but what else could be listed in addition to the 23 items already named? Well, in a word, the one thing is Jesus. It is right and proper that we give thanks TO Jesus but are we not remiss in giving thanks FOR Jesus?
True thanksgiving begins with the recognition of the blessing that is Jesus – the gift of His life, His sacrificial death and His victorious resurrection. True thanksgiving begins with the humility that is generated by the forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life given to us through Jesus. It is in this thought that these stanzas of the hymn, “Christ, the Life of All the Living” are appropriate to consider as part of our Thanksgiving. Read them now and let them shape your expressions of thanks when you gather with your family around the table on Thursday. Give thanks to Jesus for all He has done, but begin by giving thanks for Jesus and the great love which He has shown you in the salvation He has won for you.
A Devotion based on John 1:40-45
One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:40-45 ESV)
Everything is a system, a series of parts that work together to achieve a specific goal. Mechanically, an engine is a system, a series of parts (pistons, fuel injectors, belts, etc.) that work together to achieve the goal of moving a vehicle such an automobile. Administratively, an office staff is a system, a series of parts (people doing different jobs) that work together to achieve the goals of the organization. The same can be said of the church. The church is a system, a partnership of people (pastor and parishioners) who work to fulfill the mission of the church, that is, making disciples of all nations.
Whether it is an engine, a business office, or a church, even the smallest change in the system can either diminish or improve the efficiency of the system. Adjusting the timing belt on the engine can improve the car’s performance. The IT guy calling in sick on the day when the server is offline can slow down productivity for the day. Just a small change can impact the whole system.
Again, the same can be said of the church. In fact, the same needs to be said of the church. If we are going to take the mission of the church seriously, we need to change something. It is not a big change. It is a small change. Now, this may sound counterintuitive to any discussion you have ever heard about the mission of the church, but we need to stop shouting it from the mountain tops. In other words, we need to stop using the word “everyone.”
No, I am not implying that the Gospel message is not for everyone. It is! God’s will is that all people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus (I Timothy 2:4). And, Jesus, Himself, said to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The Gospel is for everyone. But, this mandate was given to the Church, not to any one individual. The Church’s goal is all nations, that is, everyone. Your participation in that goal is specific people you can disciple. That is the change. You are not called to tell to stand on a mountain top. You are not called to tell everyone about Jesus. You are called to tell someone – a friend, a co-worker, someone you know.
This is the example that we see with Andrew and Philip in this text from John 1. Andrew followed Jesus and decided he needed to go get his brother, Peter. The same thing happened with Philip. He went and found his friend, Nathanael, and said, “We found the Messiah.” They did not go “shouting from mountain tops” but went and told people that they knew, people they thought would benefit from knowing about Jesus.
When you read a good book or see a movie you thoroughly enjoyed. Who do you tell? Everyone? Most likely not. If the movie was a scary thriller, you most likely will not tell someone who doesn’t enjoy those types of movies. But, your co-worker who does? You tell him first thing Monday morning when you see him. This is what needs to happen in how we engage the mission of the church. This is the change that needs to happen. Always thinking “everyone” leaves the mission in the abstract. It lets us off the hook because how can we tell “everyone.” We need to think specifically. Who will benefit from hearing about something that was said in the sermon or in a Bible study. When we finish a good book, we will post it on Facebook and specifically tag those whom we think would enjoy it as well. Perhaps you heard a sermon that focused on an issue that you know your neighbor would benefit hearing about. Go tell that neighbor! You are willing to tell that neighbor about that book or that movie. Why not tell her about Jesus?
A simple change. That’s all this is. Think about the impact this can have on the effectiveness of the mission of the church. Not everyone – just a specific person. Not a mountain top hike – just a conversation in a front yard or in the break room at work.
A reflection on the Gospel lesson from Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018 - Mark 7:14-23
I like to think that I work hard to take care of my yard. I keep the grass cut and the driveway and curbs trimmed. I take the time as I can to pull that patch of crabgrass before it takes deep root. I try and keep the Johnson-grass from taking over the flower beds. Last week I took the time and pruned a row of crepe myrtles in my back yard. However, there is a part of my yard that always seems to get ignored. It’s around the side of the house, the north side to be specific. There weeds can easily take over especially in the winter as I never have to go over there unless there is an issue with the various meters and breakers that are there – which is never. Come spring time, I will go to mow for the first time of the season and I am overwhelmed, even embarrassed, by the dollar-weed, crabgrass and thistle that has grown up on that side of the yard. The reason? It is out of sight and is easy to ignore.
I also like to think that I work hard to take care of my life, controlling my thoughts words and actions. I try to exert patience and stop that thought from turning into words that could insult or into actions that could offend. Amidst various temptations, I try and keep my thoughts, tongue and hands free from engaging in sinful behaviors. Sadly, though, there is an area of my nature that is often easy to ignore, an area that escapes proper reflection and scrutiny. That area is my heart. There, as Jesus says in the Gospel lesson from last Sunday, “come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).
Sadly, we sometimes become consumed with managing our appearances, controlling our outward behavior, that we ignore the natural state of our heart. When that happens, we hinder the transformative power of God’s love in our lives which seeks to create peace and cultivate compassion so that we may truly bear the fruits of the Spirit through our thoughts words and actions. As Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah, says earlier in this lesson, “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6).
When I come around the north side of the house and realize how I have neglected that part of the yard, it is easy to become… well, disheartened. It is going to take a lot of work to get rid of all the weeds and cultivate a healthy growth of grass. As we considered how we have neglected the condition of our heart, it is easy to become… well, disheartened – especially when we realize that there is nothing we can do to root out the evil, that try as we might we cannot improve or change it.
But, what does Jesus say? He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me” (John 14:1). How can He say this? I look at the condition of my heart and I am troubled. I look and I say with Paul, “What a wretched man I am” (Romans 7:24). Jesus is able to encourage us to lift our spirits because of the promise of God, that in Jesus the peace of God will guard our hearts. What is the peace of God? It is the “shalom,” the salvation of God, the assurance that in Jesus, through His death and resurrection, we have been redeemed from sin and death and that our hearts will be preserved, restored and transformed. With this peace, we are drawn close to God who reveals the nature of His heart, a heart overflowing with love. Despite the condition of our hearts, we live in the promise of redemption and restoration because of the condition of God’s heart. So, be at peace and let not your heart be troubled. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Learning to live life as it’s meant to be. That’s what we strive to do here at Grace, to live under the cross in the new life that we have in Christ through His death and resurrection. The posts on this blog, grounded in God’s Word, will be offered as a source of encouragement, comfort and strength “along life’s way” to the end that we live lives of service in our homes, in our communities and in our congregations.