Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Called to Pray – Sermon on 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Watch a video of this sermon here.

A couple of weeks ago, we heard Jesus describe the high cost of discipleship. We learned that Jesus demands our all – you can’t be a half-hearted follower of Jesus. You’re either all in, or you can’t call yourself a disciple. Last week, we began a four-week journey through the letters to Timothy to learn what following Jesus looks like in practical terms.  Timothy and his congregation at Ephesus faced the same questions we do today:

 How do I follow Jesus in a culture that does not honor him?

 How do I stay faithful to God and his call on my life, when others around me ignore God?
 How can I live out my faith within the Body of Christ, and grow deeper in faith with my brothers and sisters?

These are important questions, and Paul has some answers for us.
In chapter one, we saw how Paul’s personal encounter with Christ led him to see the call to discipleship as a call to gratitude for God’s mercy. This week, we will consider how prayer develops our faith and makes us strong in the Lord. Over the next couple of weeks, we will take a look at our witness and our stewardship as parts of being  faithful followers of Jesus.

Whatever aspect of discipleship we focus on, it’s important to remember that no single piece of the puzzle will give us the whole picture of discipleship. It’s a good idea, then, to take a moment to zoom out before we zoom in on today’s passage, to see how these verses fit into the whole letter to young pastor Tim.

The letter begins by stating its primary purpose: “When I left Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching.” (1:3) So we know that there has been some “wrong teaching” going on in the Ephesus church, and this letter serves to remind Tim of the “right teaching” he is to offer. The letter goes on to express gratitude for Paul’s own salvation and calling, and for Timothy’s faithfulness, before getting down to the business of outlining the instruction that Timothy needs to pass on to his congregation. This is where today’s passage brings us.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all  —this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7) 

“First of all, then,” … the instruction begins, but this isn’t going to be a point-by-point outline. Prayer isn’t something we do at the beginning and then check off the list. After all, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

“First and foremost” or “most importantly” might be another way of looking at this. Prayer is the most useful tool in our discipleship toolbox. A life of prayer sets us apart as followers of Jesus. “Matt” Matthews (Feasting on the Word, Year C, volume 4, p 89) writes, “Prayer is not at the center of things… but it gets us there.”

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, …”(2:1)

Supplications – now there’s a word you don’t hear every day. But we do it all the time – at the grocery store, at the gas station, in the supper line on Wednesday nights. Supplication is simply asking for what you need. “May I please have more applesauce?” “Would you please give me a receipt?” That’s supplication.

Asking God for what you need is the most basic kind of prayer you can pray. It’s the kind of prayer Jesus encouraged in his Sermon on the Mount. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” (Matt 6:8) “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11)

Intercession, on the other hand, is praying on behalf of another, asking God to give someone else what that person needs. These are the prayers we pray when we pray for the sick, the bereaved, or those who have a special need. These are the prayers we pray for our children and our parents.

We understand what it means to give thanks, and to give God praise in our prayers – though I sometimes think that these two forms of prayer don’t get as much “air time” as supplications and intercessions in my own prayer life. But these four types of prayer are not offered here as a formula to follow, so much as an accumulation of all types of prayer. Pray every way you can, all the time, – for everyone.

Pray for everyone, even (especially?) for your enemies, and for those who are not like you. Pray for everyone, especially leaders and “all who are in high positions.” Rulers need God’s mercy and guidance as much as anyone else. Pray for them, even if you disagree with their politics. Why? “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” Prayer cultivates peaceful relationships, and godliness is a benchmark of doing God’s will. It’s a sign of true discipleship.

Prayer isn’t the main thing, but it gets us to the main thing – “there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind: Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Pray for everyone because God wants everyone to be saved and know truth. Here again, just as we heard in chapter one, we see that the central idea is Christ’s redemptive work in the world. The center of last week’s passage was: “this saying is reliable and worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This week, we zoom in on the same central truth: “Christ Jesus … gave himself a ransom for all” Not just for some, but for all.

We pray for everyone because Christ died for everyone. It is God’s deep desire to save everyone. Not everyone will accept this amazing gift, but God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In John’s gospel we read, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

It shouldn’t surprise us then, that this list of ways to pray culminates in thanksgiving. John Wesley spoke of the “holiness of gratitude.” He said that “we who are grateful believe we have better than we deserve. Instead of taking things for granted, we see good things in life as gifts. Instead of assuming we are entitled, we assume grace underlies all we have. Gratitude gives thanks for mercy. Complaints focus on what we don’t have. Gratitude notices the good and is thankful. Gratitude sets us up for joy in life. Rather than merely consuming or existing, those who are grateful choose to embrace what life gives and enjoy life’s mercies.” (CEB notes on 1 Timothy 2:2)

So pray with gratitude because Jesus gave himself as a ransom for you. Do this as a response to God’s call on your life. Paul was called as an apostle and teacher to the Gentiles, and God calls each of us into some unique form of ministry that only we can perform for the kingdom of God. That is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, fully devoted to serving him.

How is God calling you to live out your faith? If you aren’t sure about the answer to that question, I invite you to make supplication – ask God for what you need, and in this case, what you need is to be and do what Christ calls you toward. And if that prospect seems to frightening for you, maybe you could start with some intercessions.

Who can you pray for? How can you ask God to bless them, heal them, be present with them, help their faith to grow to full maturity? Who do you struggle the most to get along with? Pray for that person. Who irritates you most? Who challenges your good will the most? See what prayer for that person might do for you and your relationship.

If praying for a specific individual is still more than you’re comfortable doing, try praying for our church. Right now, we are on the cusp of a great thing that God is about to do among us. One way I can tell this is so is that Satan has been busy, trying to divide us and raising doubt where faith should be strong.

But God is stronger than Satan, and God will work in us, and has been working among us. One place where this is most evident is our Wednesday Family Night program.

I had this message from our District Superintendent a few days ago. We were setting the date for a special charge conference, and he offered this additional comment:

“By the way when Mark Miller and I were looking at the data of which churches sustained an increase in worship attendance for the
past three consecutive years we found only 6 churches in all of Minnesota United Methodism. New Ulm First was one of them!!!! Great work. In 2015 you were 14 more AWA then you were in 2012! You may think that’s nothing, but when you compare it to a culture of huge decline, its leading us!!! And a huge sign of hope!”

Do you know where that Average Worship Attendance increase is showing up most? It’s on Wednesday night.

Another place where God is moving among us to do great things is in the work of the Healthy Church Initiative Implementation Team. Energy and joy are bubbling up in this group of dedicated servant leaders who are seeking God’s direction for our congregation. One of the goals is to create an environment for Pentecost to happen, and the team that is working on this goal has identified several prayer initiatives for us to adopt.

One of those prayer practices is to simply arrive at worship a few minutes early so you can pray for the worship service. It seems likeCa simple thing, and in a way it is, but the impact of God’s people praying for God’s presence to be made known to us in our worship can be powerful.

So let’s go back to those questions that are the same for us today as they were for Timothy and the church at Ephesus:

 How do I follow Jesus in a culture that does not honor him?

First of all, then, I pray. I ask God to let my life reflect his glory so that others will notice that I honor Christ. I pray for those I know who don’t know Jesus. I give God thanks for all the good that is in the world, and I praise God in my prayers, so that the praise on my lips fills my heart and spills out into my life.

 How do I stay faithful to God and his call on my life, when others around me ignore God?

First of all, then, I pray. I make supplication to God to use me for his purpose, to keep me grounded in faith, and to protect me from evil.

 How can I live out my faith within the Body of Christ, and grow deeper in faith with my brothers and sisters?

First of all, then, I pray for them. I lift up prayers of intercession for those who struggle with faith issues, with health issues, with job issues and financial issues. I pray for them, and they pray for me. I pray especially for members of the Body who have hurt or angered me. I pray for us to find unity in Christ Jesus.

In 1818, James Montgomery wrote a hymn about prayer. Of his more than four hundred hymns including Go to Dark Gethsemane and Angels from the Realms of Glory, he thought this one was his finest.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;  

The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.  

The saints in prayer appear as one
In word, in deed, and mind,  

While with the Father and the Son
Sweet fellowship they find.  

No prayer is made by man alone
The Holy Spirit pleads, 

And Jesus, on th’eternal throne,
For sinners intercedes.  

O Thou by Whom we come to God,
The Life, the Truth, the Way,

The path of prayer Thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray
.

Let us pray.

 

Post-Thanksgiving Post

firstsnowfall10-10-09.jpgI give God thanks for this day, this
day-after-the-day-after Thanksgiving day.
I thank God for a day in which
I can sip coffee slowly.
The sun sparkles on new snow.
The clock ticks comfortingly
at the top of the stairs.
Today I have the luxury
of puttering at my own pace.
That pace says, “Thanks.”

Thanksgiving Eve 2013 – Thanks and Praise

For the past couple of years, I have seen a lot of gratitude postings on Facebook during the month of November, as many of my friends participate in 30 Days of Thanks.[1]  You may have seen this, or even participated yourself in the practice of consciously engaging in (at least) one moment of thankfulness every day during the month of November.  It’s a great exercise, and it warms my heart to see so much gratitude being expressed.  But something also bothers me about this little internet meme, and it took me a while to put my finger on it.

At first, I thought it was the limitation of thirty days.  What, you aren’t grateful the other 335 days of the year? You have to save up your gratitude for the month of November, only? But that wasn’t it.

I pondered that it might seem just a bit self-congratulatory to announce to the world how wonderful one’s life is every day. “I’m so thankful that I’ve been blessed with the best husband ever” or “the most amazing children” or even  “the ability to do so much for others who are less fortunate.” Doesn’t this sound a bit like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, who prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men…” ? But that wasn’t really what bothered me, either.

Then it hit me as I read the Psalm for the day, which happened to be Psalm 106 that particular day, but really, almost every psalm has at least one verse in it that expresses this same idea. I realized that all this “I’m thankful for…blah, blah, blah…” floating around Facebook was missing something really important.

Who is getting thanked? Who is receiving all this gratitude?

Being thankful all the time is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. It helps us stay humble as we recognize the many blessings we experience in life, blessings for which we can take no credit whatsoever. That is important.

But even more important, I think, is remembering that just being grateful isn’t really going to change us into Christ-like people. Because being grateful is all about me and how feel. But giving thanks is all about the One to whom I owe gratitude. Actively thanking God puts the focus on God, where it belongs.

And that’s how our thanksgiving becomes praise.

The Psalm for today, Psalm 100 gets it in verse four, and to make it even clearer, I’m going to replace the pronouns with the proper noun to which they refer: “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s courts with praise. Give thanks to God, bless his name …”

Thanks and praise go hand in hand. Thanking God is an act of worship. Psalm 100 goes on to tell us why we should thank and praise God: “for the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” We thank God for what he has done, and we praise God for who God is. We worship God in both our thanks and our praise. For, when we thank God for his goodness to us, how can we not praise him? And when we praise God for his mighty work, how can we be ungrateful?

Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes: “Faithful gratitude believes that the God who has given good gifts has more good gifts to give.” But Brueggemann adds a warning: “While God’s gifts are welcome, in fact they do disrupt.”[2]  Brueggemann goes on to explain how God’s gift of truth disrupts the dishonesty that finds its way into every corner of our culture. God’s gift of generosity contradicts our stingy selfishness that puts our own interests ahead of others. God’s gift of mercy interrupts our hard-hearted indifference to the many needs around us, needs that would break our hearts if we really paid attention to them. God’s gift of justice exposes the injustice of our social structures. God’s gifts amount to an inconvenient reality among us; they remind us that what we have come to regard as “normal” actually promotes a deep abnormality in God’s design for the world he made and loves. What a different world that might be if God were truly at the center of it, if God were truly the focus of our thanksgiving and praise!

In our various congregations, as we celebrate Holy Communion, which might also be called Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, depending on which church you attend, we draw on ancient words that Christians have repeated through the centuries in one form or another, in what we call The Great Thanksgiving. In fact, the word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word that means “to give thanks.” As we celebrate our life together as the Body of Christ, we may say something like this:

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

These ancient words, spoken over countless Tables for countless centuries, introduce the Sacrament of Communion to Christians throughout the world. They serve as a universal reminder that we commune not only with Christ, who welcomes us to his Table, but also with one another, and with Christians we have never seen nor will ever meet. We are one in Christ’s Body. As we join together to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us, it is right to give God thanks and praise. It is right and a good thing to remember that God has provided for us, and will continue to provide for us. We give God thanks and praise, not because God needs to hear it, but because directing our thanks and our praise toward our Creator changes us, making us into better human beings, making us more and more like Christ.

And it is good to do this together, being Christ to one another as we offer bread and cup. You see, giving God our thanks and praise works best when we do it in community with others, multiplying our gratitude and our praise exponentially by offering our worship as part of the family of God.

If we look back to the origins of Thanksgiving – and I mean way back, past the Norman Rockwell image, past the post-Civil War declaration of a national day of Thanksgiving, even past the Pilgrims and Indigenous People who gathered for that first multicultural feast – we hear the words of Deuteronomy calling us to worship, calling us to give thanks and praise to the Lord.

Every single year, when people gathered in their crops, they took the first fruits of those crops to the temple, offered them up, and then they did a powerful thing: instead of gobbling up the good food they had just brought in from the fields, they took some time to think about their history. They remembered, together, a time when they couldn’t grow crops, a time when they couldn’t live in their own places, freely and peacefully. They remembered what it was like to be torn out by the roots, denied the rights of citizenship, treated like slaves. And they remembered, there in the temple, surrounded by the fresh produce of their own precious fields, that their freedom and their land and their harvest were all gifts from God.[3]

In this passage, we find a curious detail that deserves our attention. Seven times in these eleven verses the author uses the word “to give” (nātan). In verses 1, 2, and 3, the verb refers to God’s giving of the land and in verses 9, 10, and 11, the reference is to the good gifts provided by God. The seventh use of the verb “to give” occurs in verse 6, and our English translations might make it difficult for us to recognize that the same word is being used. The text reads, “When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing (nātan) hard labor on us.” Literally, that might read as “by giving us hard labor.” In the six other usages, God is clearly the subject of the verb, yet in verse 6, the subject changes. Israel remains the recipient, but it is Egypt who carries out the action.  Instead of land or good gifts, Egypt “gives” Israel hard labor and oppression. These two very different uses of the word “give” offer us a fuller understanding of gratitude. The gratitude for the land being given by God can never be understood apart from the hard labor “given” to the entire community while they were slaves. The One who delivered them out of Egypt with a “mighty arm” is the same One who has delivered them safely into the land flowing with milk and honey. The produce harvested and brought as first fruits is never offered apart from the remembering of deliverance.

Maybe that’s why those 30 Days of Thanks comments rub me the wrong way. Maybe it’s because I don’t get a sense that the gratitude being expressed has any element of what we’ve been delivered from, as well as what we are being delivered to. We don’t like to dwell on the past, especially if our memories are painful ones. We don’t like to remember the struggles and hard times we have experienced, the times we have doubted God’s goodness, or suffered unbearable pain. And yet, it is those harsh memories that anchor our remembrance of blessings and give them a sharper focus. It is the backdrop of our pain that highlights our joy.

So, as the children of Israel brought their first fruits to the temple, they did a remarkable thing. They sat down, “together with the Levites and the aliens” who lived among them, and they celebrated with all the bounty that the Lord God had given to them. They sat down together. They sat down with Levites, who had no land of their own, who depended completely on the other tribes for food, as they ministered in the temple. They sat down with aliens, or foreigners, who had no land of their own, and who were completely dependent on the generosity of the children of Israel as they lived and worked among them. They sat down together and feasted on the bounty the Lord had provided to them.

Maybe thirty days of thanks isn’t such a bad idea. If that seems too much, perhaps you will consider the 24 days of Advent, the season of expectation that will begin this Sunday. As we wait expectantly for God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, perhaps we can contribute something toward making that a reality. Perhaps we can offer our daily thanks to God for what he has done, and our praise to God for who God is. Maybe remembering that God has delivered us from slavery to our own desires can help us remember to give God thanks and praise. But be warned: this daily practice of praise and thanksgiving may change you!  Taking time every day to offer God thanks might turn you into a person who finds more goodness around you, a person who praises God more and more. You might even become more and more like Christ. Thanks be to God. Praise the Lord! Amen.


[3] Paraphrased from Sermon for Nov. 24th 2013 (Thanksgiving C) “Milk and Honey & Zombies and Aliens” – the copyrighted work of Rev. Holly Morrison and used with permission of the author.

No Thanks

When did “No, thank you” become “No thanks” in our world? Somewhere along the way, we’ve stopped including the comma that makes this sentence a polite regret. Somewhere along the way, we’ve turned it into a denial of gratitude.

Did you even notice? Can you see the difference between the meaning of these two sentences?

Having no thanks is a lot different from “no, thanks.”  It’s like the difference between “I am completely without gratitude” and “Oh, I’m sorry, but no, thank you anyway.”  That little comma lets us keep a little “yes” in our “no.”  It implies a longing for yes, and a regret that the answer – for now, at least – must be no.  That little comma keeps the gratitude, instead of denying it.

So I urge you, this week, to pause for the gratitude.  When you turn down that second helping of potatoes or pie, stop for just a second between the “No” and the “Thanks” and let the comma be heard as an affirmation that you really are grateful.  See what it does to you, and get back to me on that, will you?