Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving 2005

For the last two years, I've organized the Thanksgiving service at Otter Creek. Here's what I said yesterday.

I don’t really have much to say today. I figure at this time we’ve all thought about the things we are thankful for: a chance to get together with family, good food, good times. We are simply a fortunate people who live in a country that allows us to live and worship in the way we wish. These are good things and things for which we should be thankful.

One of the other things that I’m incredibly thankful for is this church body here at Otter Creek. The last 5 years of my life have been pretty full. From the birth of my daughter to losing two jobs, to now working at Otter Creek for the last three years and being at my current job for two and then this year, going on a ministry trip to England and Sheryl being pregnant, things have been incredibly full. And through it all, Otter Creek has been a bedrock for me. It’s where my best friends are; it’s where my mentors in life and faith are. It’s where I was baptized, it’s where I got married, and it’s where my daughter was dedicated to God.

One of the things that always encourages me about Otter Creek is the ability to ask questions that don’t have easy or obvious answers, and even the ability to ask questions that have obvious answers, but the answers are not easy. I’ve been asking a lot of those questions over the last two years. Wondering about the purpose of church, the purpose of staring at the back of each other’s heads for an hour every Sunday, singing songs about how much God loves me, wondering about what it means to be a Christian, wondering about who Jesus was.

One thing that I’ve thought hard about is that for those gifted with physical and financial wealth, the responsibility to the poor is huge. We have to give of what we have been given. That’s what I hope this gift card drive can remind us. That some of the things that we take for granted (like buying diapers or laundry detergent or toilet paper or getting gas) are not things that some people can do every day. And I think it’s incumbent upon those people who have the ability to help those who need it, should help those that need it. If that’s not what Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-36 is talking about, I don’t know what it is.

Honestly, this is something difficult for me to think about. I don’t like thinking about the fact that there are families in this city living on less than $10,000 a year. I don’t like the thought that tonight some parents will not eat themselves so that their children can eat. But they are there.

Back in August, this fact was brought into sharp focus with Hurricane Katrina. The memories I have are not simply of the devastation that Katrina brought onto the Gulf Coast, but of all the faces of the people stranded downtown begging for help. The stories of the people at the New Orleans Convention Center and the Superdome brought to light the struggle that so many have everyday. It’s true that those situations were among the worst that we could imagine in a civilized society, but they also show the very thin thread that can sometimes hold things together for people. When desperate people get into desperate situations, some do desperate, foolish, stupid, dangerous things.

We’ve taken the opportunity that came out of Katrina’s devastation to help people in the Gulf Coast to clean out their houses and begin rebuilding them. Now I truly believe that we are being called to help people here in Nashville do the same thing with their lives. We are being called to help people clean out their lives and begin rebuilding them. And it’s hard work. Ask any of the people who have gone down to help with Katrina clean up. It’s nasty, it’s tiring. The work of rebuilding people’s lives is just the same way. But you see, we don’t have to come up with fancy mission statements or vision statements. Jesus did it for us in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” We’ve got our mission; it’s simply for us to decide to get off our pews and go do it.

You see, as I read the Scriptures, it becomes apparent that part of the judgment we will have will be based on how we treat those that are less fortunate. In Amos 5, verses 21-24, God says,

21 "I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.

22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.

23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.

24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

God doesn’t care about our worship, if we are not active in bringing justice to those who are having it denied to them. And even more pointedly, Jesus says in Matthew 25.

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Being a Christian is more than simply mentally assenting to an idea about Jesus. It’s about following him and his example.

Remembering what we have to be thankful for is a wonderful part of this time of year. But if we are serious about claiming to be “little Christs” (which is what it means to say you’re a “Christian”), then we have to be concerned about the things and the people that Jesus was concerned about: the poor, the people outside of the mainstream, the disenfranchised.

So as we go out today to enjoy our times with families and then tomorrow as some of you will be waking up at ungodly hours of the morning to save money on gifts, try to remember those we usually do our best to ignore. We claim a Savior who did that. So should we.


judy thomas said...

Phil, good words--those I could read--your font is too small for these old eyes. Miss Judy

Phil said...

Sorry, Judy. Funky thing in the HTML code when I use blockquotes and p tags.

See if that's better.

Nancy said...

Great thoughts...

Malia said...

They should let you preach more often.

Phil said...

I don't know. I thought Doug did very well on Sunday.

Tony Arnold said...

Convicting brother.


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