Being Thankful – part 1
Reading – Deuteronomy 8:6-18
How many people here have already had their breakfast this morning? How many people are sitting here wishing they had had time for breakfast this morning? Well, I thought I’d bring my breakfast this morning – but you might be relieved to know, I’m not going to actually eat it. Eating cereal and speaking in public really don’t go together, and I’m not about to explain why.
But at this Harvest Time I do want you to think for a few minutes about the cereal you had for breakfast.
- First of all, where did you buy your box of cereal?
- Was there lots of choice when it came to buying your cereal?
- How did the cereal get to the supermarket?
- Where did the supermarket get the cereal from?
- Where did the factory get the ingredients from?
- How long did it take the farmer to produce the crops?
Once you stop and think about it, there are an awful lot of people who are involved in making sure we have our packets of cereal on the breakfast table. There are the shopkeepers and the staff at the supermarket, who provide us with a wide range of different foods to eat. There are the lorry drivers who carry the cereal from factory to the shop. There are the factory workers who turn the raw ingredients into something crunchy and sweet. There are the farmers who go out in all weathers planting and reaping and growing. And there are other people as well we probably don’t even think about: the food scientists who make sure we get the right amounts of vitamins and iron and all that stuff; the environmental health officers who check that our food to safe to eat – and so many more besides.
We should be thankful for all these people. And there’s someone else we should thank as well. Anyone like to guess who that might be? The answer, of course, is God. Because in the end everything we eat and enjoy comes from God who gives life. That’s why it says in our first reading today: When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. (Deut 8:10). Of course, none of us here today are farmers, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t thank God for those who look after the land and all those who work so hard to make sure there are is food on our plate.
Over the past few months we’ve been looking at what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. And one important part of being a disciple is being thankful for all the good things God has given us.
Later on in our service we’ll hear our second reading and think what it means exactly to be thankful. But for now I guess all of us can think of times when we haven’t thanked God for the good things He has given us, when we’ve taken the food we eat for granted, when we’ve failed to remember the poor and the hungry who don’t have the privilege of celebrating harvest.
So we’re going to a time of have a time of confession where I’m going to use a special harvest thanksgiving, and let’s use this time to remember just how good and gracious God is to each and every one of us…
Being Thankful – part 2
Reading – Luke 12:13-21
I’m going to start by making a confession. Because the one thing I really, really hated as a child was writing thank you letters. It was, of course, the days before e-mails and text messages, even before computers. And in our house letters had to be proper letters, not just hastily written notes. The last thing I wanted to do when I got a present was sit down and write a whole epistle to some family friend who had just sent me something I had to pretend to like.
But over the years I have learnt just how important it is to say thank you. There’s nothing worse than sending cards or even presents over the years to some member of the family, and never getting any kind of gratitude. Or having a friend who doesn’t seem to care about the amount of time and money you spent finding them the perfect gift.
And that leads me on to the story which Jesus told. Although Jesus describes the main man as a fool, he was in fact a very clever person – at least when it came to making money. There was no way of knowing, but I suspect he was also, like any respectable person of his day, quite religious. He probably went to the special services to give thanks for the harvest. He learnt the Scriptures as a child and knew all about God’s law. There is even a hint in this story that he was able to hear God speak to him.
So if you were to ask this rich person, “Are you grateful to God for all the good things He has given you?” his answer would be “yes”. He could point to his attendance at synagogue, his knowledge of Scripture, even his prayers. But – and this is the key point Jesus is making – his thankfulness to God didn’t affect the way he lived his life.
At this point, may I just ask you to do a little bit of detective work? I want you to look at verses 17-19, and count how many times you find those little words “I” and “my”.
He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.
… I make the answer 11, and that’s not including when he starts talking to himself. As far as this rich man was concerned, his crops, his barns, his grain, his goods were his, and his alone. What about us? Do you see your pay, your home, your car, your possessions as yours, and yours alone? Or do you see them as gifts of a loving and a generous God? Jesus is teaching us here there are two ways of looking at all the stuff we have, and they are completely opposite to each other. One is to say that everyone I own is mine, and I can do with it what I will. The other is to say that everyone I own is lent by God, and so it is to be offered with thanks and praise back to Him.
And perhaps in a slightly surprising kind of way I want to link this whole point to the subject of baptism. Today J and S are bringing baby L to baptism. It’s been my privilege to spend some time with them over the past few months working with them and helping to plan for this special occasion. And in a few moments they will come forward with the godparents and make promises before God and before the whole church.
But they reach that point, let’s all of us just stop and think what actually will be taking place. Will it just be a nice little ceremony that can be quickly forgotten a few days later? Or will be it something meaningful that will profoundly affect L life, and the lives of her parents?
To understand what will be going on, let me ask first of all – how many people here can remember their baptism? Or can remember a time when they confirmed for themselves the promises made in their baptism? I won’t ask you to say exactly what the occasion was. I’m sure there were wide differences in the type of service you were involved in, depending on your church and your age and the decade when your baptism took place. But I hope that you can agree that, whatever took place, it involved a public declaration of your faith which recognised the whole of our life as a gift from God, and a commitment to offer ourselves willingly in His service.
And this points us to an essential truth, that there should be a direct link between the fact we have been baptised and the way we live each day. The problem, after all, with the rich man was not, as I’ve already explained, that he was not religious. He thought himself as someone included within the people of God. Indeed he probably saw the fact he was rich as a sign that God had blessed him. But his status as one of God’s chosen people did not affect how he used his money and his possessions. What, I wonder, about us? Are we living out the promises and declarations we made in our own baptism or confirmation? Will you, J and S, live out the promises you are making today?
And if you’re here today as a grown-up who has the care of child who has been christened, maybe as a godparent or a grandparent, then the story of the rich man, I hope, serves to remind us that we have a duty to teach and to show those in our care just how to live out their own lives in thankfulness and praise to God. For example, by teaching our little ones a simple grace before meals, or helping them save a little of their pocket money each week for a Christian charity, or showing them stories of Christians around the world who are busy helping those poor and in need.
Not, of course, that any of this is easy. Because right from the earliest age we are surrounded by all kinds of messages that if we want to be happy, we need to buy the latest toy, or wear the coolest clothes, or eat this particular brand of cereal. Now we can blame the advertisers who put out all those messages, or the companies who hire them. But the reason why advertising works is that there is something of the rich fool in all of us. We know the theory about trusting God. We pray the prayer Jesus taught us, “Give us today our daily bread”. And we may even hear the warning Jesus gives us in today’s passage: a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. But if I’m totally honest, I still put so much of my security in the things I own, rather than in the love and care of my Heavenly Father.
And this leads on to another essential point about baptism. Because while we may not be as generous and trusting towards our Heavenly Father as we ought to be, God Himself has been infinitely generous towards us, towards you and towards me. How? By sending Jesus who gave Himself totally and freely for us by dying in our place for all our selfishness, greed and lack of gratitude.
I said at the beginning of this talk to imagine what it’s like to send present after present year after year without ever receiving any thanks. Imagine what it must be like for God, who as we remember each year at Harvest gives us so much not only year on year, but weekly, daily, hourly. God has the perfect right to demand from us, as He demanded from the rich fool, an account of our life. And when that happens the amount we have in the bank, or the size of our house, or the value of our pension fund, won’t be a lot of use. In fact, they won’t be of any use at all.
That’s the bad news. But the good news – and it’s the one we celebrate in baptism – is that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. So when shortly I ask Do you turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour? I am not asking a theoretical question about your own private beliefs. I am asking whether you publicly recognise just how wonderful and generous God has been in sending His Son Jesus to die in our place for our sins.
Now there’s much, much more I could say about God’s generous gift of His Son to us. If you want to find out more, it’s not too late to join our Christianity Explored course we are currently running. You could even be brave and talk to me later about why it is just so important to believe and trust in Jesus Christ, or indeed with any other question you might have about the Christian faith.
But for now I want to finish by returning to the question I raised at the beginning of the service – what it means to be thankful to God.
Because I hope you can see by now it involves more than just coming to church for a special occasion such as Harvest or a baptism. Thankfulness is more than the words we say on a Sunday or the songs of praise we sing. It’s about offering the whole of our lives – including our goods, our money, our possessions – to God because we recognise everything is a gift from Him. It’s about responding to the generous gift of His Son Jesus with faith and love and obedience.
Thankfulness, in short, is whole new way of living. The Bible calls it grace. And at this Harvest time, when we focus so much on the grace of God to us, may I ask: do you know this grace of God I am talking about? And if you do, how much does the grace of God shape your life? This morning, today and every day? As we come now to this baptism, these are questions all of us need to answer for ourselves.