Sunday 30th June - A day of Thanksgiving for the Life of the Church
Every Wednesday, when we gather to say Morning Prayer, we begin with the words, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” St Paul wrote this near the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians. To give thanks “in everything” means that St Paul wants the Christians in Thessalonica to give thanks even when things are going wrong. The whole letter is written to encourage the Christians to a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the self-same fruits of the Spirit which St Paul describes to the Galatians in the reading we heard today. Here, St Paul gives a list of destructive actions (he calls them, “the works of the flesh”) and goes on to say “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Then he describes the characteristics of those who will inherit the kingdom. These things are not human actions, but they are gifts from God. Love is a gift from God. Peace is a gift from God. Generosity, faithfulness, self-control and all the rest are gifts given by God so that human beings can live in the kingdom of God.
I have watched many programs on the television which describe the evolution of life on earth, starting with a primordial protoplasmic globule floating in the sea to all the wonders of the animal kingdom on dry land. When we think about human beings, we have been given lungs so that we can live in the animal kingdom on dry land. In the same way we have been given gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control so that we can live in the kingdom of God.
Those people who despise God’s gifts and don’t use them simply can’t live in the kingdom of God. Instead they choose “the works of the flesh”, choices and actions which may end in their destruction. Or they may be like the good people whom Jesus asked to follow him. They turned away because they couldn’t see beyond their own worldly concerns to the gracious and astonishing gift Jesus was offering.
Jesus was offering them nothing less than a free citizenship of the kingdom of God. Well, I’d like to be a citizen of that kingdom. So I’d better start stirring up the gifts God has given me. God has given me these wonderful gifts so I want to use them; I want to breathe the air of God’s freedom into which God has called us all.
Remember how St Paul told the Thessalonians to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing, give thanks no matter what is happening around you.” (My paraphrase) So here’s good advice. We activate our God given gifts by being thankful. Let me quote from the internet, a page called “How to be thankful.”
‘People with a strong sense of gratitude, love and appreciation don't necessarily have more than others; they aren't "luckier". They simply recognize and see more beauty in their lives. A 2003 study suggests that people who count their blessings are generally happier and healthier than people who don't. If you ever feel as if anything in your life isn't "enough", try practising an attitude of thankfulness. You might realize how good you have it after all.’
Now I doubt if the person who wrote that was a Christian. Maybe so, they did say, “count your blessing”. Maybe not, because in the whole of the rest of the article – a very good article, by the way – faith was not mentioned. St Paul told the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Paul might have been thinking about the old Jewish Law as the slavemaster, but I think he also meant the terrible feeling of loneliness and fear that can strike the human heart when we think we are alone. It is the terrible fear when we have no one to say “thank you” to. Christ’s death on the cross and rising again makes a connection which no one can break. We call our celebration today, the Eucharist, which is Greek for Thanksgiving. We give thanks because we know that God declares God’s presence among us. A bond which neither death, nor hell, nor anything else in all creation can break. We know now where the gifts of the spirit come from and we can give thanks.
Let’s take a few examples. Love. Let us thank God that we are loved; given as precious gifts from God to this world. Let us thank God that we can love others; we thank God for those we like and those we don’t like. With practice we can even love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.
Patience. Let us thank God for the gift of time. We have time to consider and plan; time to take action and to wait. There is a time for every purpose under heaven. Let us thank God for the patience God shows to us when we misbehave; may we be patient with those who we find frustrating and annoying. We give thanks for patience in suffering and patience in waiting for plans to mature.
Generosity. When we look around at God’s staggering generosity to us, let us be generous ourselves; great-hearted and inclusive; and if people thank us, may we remember who gave the gift first and thank God.
Faithfulness; God has created the laws of physics so that the universe will be faithful. Let us be faithful in our relationship with others; faithful in our work and in our play; faithful in worship and support for our church community.
I’ll leave the rest to you; peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. God’s peace, kindness, gentleness and self-control. These are free gifts God has given you, to use whatever way you want to. Let us give thanks for these gifts, too, and let us give thanks for the ways in which we can use the gifts for our own salvation and the salvation of the whole world. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.