Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Homily: 26 November 2008

Thanksgiving Eve: 26 November 2008
(Deuteronomy 8:7-18/Psalm 65/2Corinthians 9:6-15/Luke 17:11-19)
Between the Dreaming and the Coming True: A Thanksgiving Cycle

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts;let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth,making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty,but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off (Is 55:6-13, NRSV).

Isaiah sings this song to his captive people. He sees – whether in visions or in reality, God only knows – he sees the temple destroyed, the holy city razed, the land desolate, and the people exiled. It is dark; it is night. But in the dark come dreams, and Isaiah has a dream. In Isaiah’s dream, his people call upon the Lord – a Lord who will be found. In Isaiah’s dream, his people forsake their wickedness and unrighteousness and return to the Lord – a Lord who will have mercy, a Lord who will abundantly pardon. In Isaiah’s dream the Lord speaks to his people, “Come forth!” and as surely as Lazarus will one day respond to Jesus’ call to come forth, Israel responds to their Lord and comes forth from their tomb of exile, comes forth into a living land and a land of the living. In Isaiah’s dream the Lord speaks and his people go out from the land of exile in joy and are led home in peace. This is Isaiah’s dream: when the Lord speaks and his word accomplishes that for which it was purposed, then joy and peace shall reign and the land itself – all creation – will be restored. Then the land itself – all creation – will join in praise and thanksgiving to God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, Redeemer of his people. The mountains and hills will burst into song, the trees of the field will clap their hands, the curse will be rolled back – the cypress will replace the thorn, and the myrtle will replace the brier. It is a prophet’s dream.

Centuries later another prophet sings to his people: John the Evangelist, prisoner of Rome, exiled on Patmos. He sees – whether in visions or in reality, God only knows – he sees the coming true of Isaiah’s dream, the liberation of all God’s Israel, all those from every language and people who are united through Christ, and with Christ, and in Christ. He sees all God’s Israel – and all God’s creation – united around the heavenly throne joining in praise and thanksgiving of the Lord God the Almighty.

6b Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,‘Holy, holy, holy,the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come’ (Rev 4:6b-8, NRSV).

Whatever else they may be, the four living creatures around the throne are symbols of the fullness of creation: the lion, wild beasts; the ox, domesticated animals; the human, all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve; the eagle, the birds of the air – all creation redeemed and restored and given voice, so that the created order might offer praise and thanksgiving to its Creator and Redeemer. This is the coming true of Isaiah’s dream. The Lord has spoken; his word – Jesus – has accomplished his everlasting purpose; joy and peace have begun their reign; and the land itself – all creation – has been restored. Hear the mountains burst into song. Watch the trees of the hills in standing ovation for the Lord their God. In the dream, all shall be praise and thanksgiving. In the coming true, all is praise and thanksgiving.

But, as Robert Benson notes so well and so truly, we live between the dreaming and the coming true: between Isaiah’s dream of a redeemed and renewed creation filled with praise and thanksgiving and John’s vision of the living creatures giving voice to all creation around the throne of God. How then are we to live as God’s people of praise and thanksgiving between the dreaming and the coming true?

Paul faced this very issue and works it out in the epistle text. The saints in Jerusalem – the Jewish church – were in the grips of a devastating famine. Their terrible necessity provides Paul, and his gentile churches, with a glorious opportunity: organize a gentile relief effort for the Jewish church to demonstrate gentile/Jewish-Christian solidarity. And so Paul encourages “his” churches to join in this goodwill offering – in this text, particularly the city church of Corinth, in the region of Achaia.

9Now it is not necessary for me to write to you about the ministry to the saints, 2for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; 4otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking. 5So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.
6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written,‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness
endures for ever.’ 10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift (2 Cor 9, NRSV)!

We find here a Christian cycle of thanksgiving.

God, in his surpassing grace, has given us an indescribable gift: adoption as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ our Lord and unity with one another through the Holy Spirit.

God, in his surpassing grace, has given us an unparalleled opportunity: the ability to share our material resources – food, money, clothing, etc. – with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in temporary need. This sharing with the saints is not only a responsibility, but also an act of praise and thanksgiving to God.

God, in his surpassing grace, has given us an unimaginable privilege: the power to help turn Isaiah’s dream into John’s reality by drawing all creation into a great chorus of praise and thanksgiving. Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians – and us – that through the ministry of sharing, “11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” Through the thanksgiving act of sharing resources, those who receive will themselves be caught up in thanksgiving, so that the creation begins to overflow with many thanksgivings to God. Between the dreaming and the coming true we have been given the power to hasten the dream toward its coming true.

To all God’s people in Christ the thanksgiving message is clear: Let us be thankful for the indescribable gift of God in Christ. Let us share what we have with others so that they, too, might have ample cause for thanksgiving. And let us join with all creation in praise and thanksgiving of God Almighty – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – as we await and hasten the dream come true.


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