Be Thankful (Not Apprehensive)

mother and son
Photo credit: Tony Alter

Luke 7:11-17

Later on, Jesus went to Nain with his disciples and a large crowd in tow. As he neared the city gate a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. Another large crowd from the city was with her.

When Jesus saw her, he felt terrible for her, and said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went over and touched the gurney so that the pallbearers stopped. And he said, “Dude, get up.” And the dead man sat up and started talking. So Jesus returned him to his mother.

The crowds were struck with apprehension. They acknowledged God, saying things like: “A great truth-teller has come to us,” and “God has come to our rescue.” And this news about Jesus shot through the whole Judean region.

(Happy Thanksgiving!)

The point of this is not to prove the Jesus can raise the dead. The point is to prove that Jesus can restore a relationship. The key line: “So Jesus returned him to his mother.”

It requires his attention to both sides of the estranged relationship. Her sorrow. His inaction. She’s not as alone in the world as she thinks. He needs to take responsibility for himself.

But what the crowd (which includes most readers) sees, of course, is the raise the dead thing. So instead of being thankful and rejoicing, they are struck with apprehension. Instead of seeing an example to do likewise, they interpret it as a sign that they will be rescued from beyond.

But the life, and the rescue of society is in the relationships. So too, is the hope of renewing life and restoring community in the ability of each of us to do as Jesus did. To have compassion, and then to do something to rebuild broken relationships. Even those that seem hopelessly dead.

[Hint: If you really want to do this, it will take paying attention to both sides.]

[Oh, and did I say, this is tremendously great news. So don’t be so apprehensive about it. Happy Thanksgiving!]

Have the Attitude of Gratitude

woman smiling
Photo credit: Sukanto Debnath

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Here’s the point. If you’re a stingy investor, you’ll never get much of a return. But if you invest a lot, you’ll get a lot back. So each of you needs to contribute what’s genuinely you, not what someone else tells you to. God’s looking for unfettered generosity. God will provide more than enough of what you need. And, since you have everything you need, you’re free to share it freely to do great work.

Like it says in the psalm:

God invests everywhere, even in the poor.
God’s justice is eternal.

God supplies food to eat with enough extra to invest in the future. And God will give you plenty to invest, so you can be increasingly magnanimous, too. The best way to become rich is to be generous – and we will be sure to thank God for you. Our ministry takes care of many believers, and in addition, gushes with thanksgiving to God. When you invest in our ministry, you prove your loyalty to God and your commitment to Jesus by sharing with them and others. And, they also will pray and care for you because of God’s having blessed you. Thank God for this indescribable opportunity!

Paul is pitching his own ministry here, of course. But even as such, it’s a pretty good reminder that if you have what you need, it’s an occasion for gratitude.

And if you happen to have more than just what you need to get by, then it’s an occasion not just for gratitude, but for expressing your gratitude through generosity.

Unlike Paul, I’m not going to tell you how to express your gratitude or generosity. But Paul is right to say that such occasions are tremendous opportunities. Not every investment is successful in the way we hope it might be. But the general principle is still true: you can’t expect to make a profit without some putting in some effort.

And, while effort is hard, it doesn’t have to be burdensome. Working hard at something you love is another indescribable opportunity to be thankful for.

It might just be another definition of “unfettered generosity.”

[On a personal note: I’m thankful for the opportunity to work on the Scarlet Letter Bible and to share it with you. It’s hard work. And I love it. And I’m equally grateful that anyone reads it. And that you’re reading it now. To you, I say, quite simply, Thank you.]

Pay it Forward

pay it forward
Image credit: Heather Bauer, Yellow Makes Me Happy

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

God is bringing you into a good place with flowing with streams, with artesian wells and aquifers springing up on hill and in dale, a place where staple crops, fruit vines and trees grow, a place where you will find delicacies like olives and honey in abundance, a place where you’ll never lack, and where you’ll find iron and copper. You’ll stuff yourselves full and thank God for the blessings of this good place.

But, make sure not to forget God or fail to follow God’s instructions, laws, and ways. When you’re stuffed full in the beautiful homes you will have settled down in, and when your livestock are multiplying, and when your money is accumulating, and when everything is going well, don’t think that you’ve come by it on your own and forget that it was God who brought you here from slavery in Egypt. Don’t forget who led you through the vastness of the desert wastes with its poisonous snakes and scorpions. Don’t forget that God made water flow from rocks and fed you all that time, through all that ordeal, and in the end did right by you. Don’t tell yourself that you’ve made all this by your own strength. But remember that your strength is on loan to you from God. It’s a loan guaranteed by a contract between God and your ancestors.

Moses must have been channeling Elizabeth Warren:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Whether you read Moses’ version or Ms. Warren’s, the bottom line is you’re never as independent as you think you are. And your success depends on the hard work and contributions of a lot of people. Many of whom you don’t even know. Many of whom are long since dead. Your success and prosperity is on loan to you. This Thanksgiving Week, three things to do:

  1. Take some time to be grateful, and to tell someone – heck, tell everyone – how grateful you are to them.
  2. Pay it forward. Don’t just say something to someone. Do something for someone.
  3. Don’t squander the gifts and advantages you have. Do something significant with them. Something that will make the next generation realize how much they have and be thankful.

Live Up to Your Calling

encouragement1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

You remember, friends, how hard we worked, how much effort we put in. We worked around the clock while we were telling you about Jesus to avoid being a burden on a single one of you. You know, and God knows, how upright, fair and innocent we were with you who believed. You know we treated you like a father treats his own children: urging you, cheering you on, begging you to live up to your calling from God, a glorious kingdom calling.

And we thank God all the time that when you accepted the divine message you took it in, not just as any old story, but as the divine calling alive within you that it truly is.

Sometimes we all need a little encouragement to do our best. Sometimes we don’t even know how much potential we have until someone points it out. And, if we look back to see where we came from, we can probably find at least one occasion when someone put a lot of effort into us, to tell us a new story about ourselves, that made us believe.

And sometimes, when we see the potential in someone else, it becomes our turn. To put some effort in. To tell a story that will make someone believe that there is more to them than meets their own eye. To urge, to cheer, to implore someone to live up to their calling. After all, it’s not just any old story. It’s the reason you’re alive.

[Bonus: Blessed is the congregation who has a Pastor whose calling is to do this. Blessed is the child whose parents and teachers do this.]

[Double-bonus: You might want to follow Paul’s example and say thank you.]