A Sermon for 10 July 2016 — Appreciation Sunday
A reading from Colossians 1:1-14. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
For a few minutes today, I want you to pause to ponder: Who gives thanks for your faith? . . . Most of us probably don’t think about it often. What is said of us as others look upon our lives? Are we making positive contributions? Is the world a better place – or at least our communities, or neighborhoods, or families because of the way we live our lives? Does anyone say thank you over who we have been to them? Think about it: who gives thanks for your faith?
In both of our scripture readings for today the responses are obvious. Despite all the stereotypes and bitter historical divides, the Samaritan in Jesus’ story certainly would respond: “the assaulted man on the road whose wounds I tended. He’s the one who would give thanks for my faith.” . . . The Samaritan actively was embodying his faith. He didn’t let natural divisions stop him. He saw a man in need and was moved to do what he could. His love of God was growing and bearing fruit in the world. . . Imagine how that wounded man would tell the story. “I was sure I’d be left for dead – what with two others already walking by. But the Samaritan came to my rescue. Because of his compassion, I am alive today. Thanks be to God for such committed faith!”
In the letter to the Christians of Colossae, Paul and Timothy give thanks to God for the faith of the steadfast of that church. Theirs is a witness overflowing with love for everyone. Their hope is contagious. Their connection in the Spirit is real among them. Their lives, according to the letter, bear fruit among their congregation and beyond because of their trust in the grace of God. That free, un-earned favor obviously is informing the approach they take to all others. True, embodied love is their common trait. As we read in their own words, Paul and Timothy write for two reasons. First, they write to put into words their encouragement to the brothers and sisters in Christ of the congregation. Supposedly some false teachings were circulating and the last thing Paul and Timothy want is for that church to be pulled away from living in the grace of God. Paul and Timothy were offering prayers for them to be filled with the knowledge of God. Wisdom. Understanding – in other words, careful discernment so that the good fruit of their lives would continue to grow. . . . Perhaps more importantly, they write because of their overflowing gratitude. Colossians 1:3-4 states: “In our prayers for you, we always thank God . . . for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints.” Our world sure could use a similar witness today! In great joy, Paul and Timothy perpetually give thanks to God for the living, loving faith of the Colossae Christians. The text makes it clear that even if no one else does, Paul and Timothy give thanks for the faith of those Christians.
It’s natural for us to think of the ones for whom we give thanks. In fact, in our weekly Prayers of the People, the Book of Common Worship calls for a closing collect of thanks for those who have gone before us in the faith as sure witnesses to us. . . . I remember my grandmother; give thanks for my parents; bring to mind a woman from college who was an incredible spiritual mentor and friend. When we bow our heads to pray together, we recall those of this congregation – maybe even ones whose names we’ll never know — who, throughout the years, have been a part of ensuring this part of Christ’s body flourishes. We must give thanks for our mothers and fathers of the Protestant Reformation who paved the way for Presbyterianism. The martyrs and first apostles of Jesus Christ, who carried on the faith despite all the costs. And Christ Jesus himself, who willingly lived and died and lives again for the benefit of us all. In our prayers, let us never cease to give thanks to God for every last one of these people. . . . At the same time, it gives good perspective for us to consider the flip side of the thanksgiving coin. Every so often it seems important to stop long enough to discern: WHO gives thanks for our faith: you? Me? Each one of us who have been claimed by God as a part of the church of Jesus Christ. We who are alive here in this place for this very day.
It stands to reason that if our own prayers of thanksgiving include grandparents and parents and special spiritual friends too; then the reverse also might be true. For those who have them: do your grandchildren and children give thanks for the witness of God’s gracious love that they have experienced through you? And for us all: I sure hope there are children somewhere in this world who do not cease in their gratitude for us. I hope we’ve lived our lives in such a way that the children whom we know, or maybe those on the other side of the world who have no idea of our names, but who our expressions of Christ’s love have touched for their benefit; I hope children somewhere count us in their blessings as they lay themselves down to sleep each night. . . . Maybe you have people in your life who you walk beside – perhaps young people trying to make it through college or an old friend who always can count on you. Have you been a unique expression of hope to ones such as these so that they might make their way in this world knowing that, no matter what comes, they never do walk alone; for your unconditional encouragement ungirds their every step. . . . Someone recently pointed out that it was – and likely remains – a Native American custom to come together before any great decision in order to discern whether the considered action would be of benefit for the seventh generation to come. They know they do not exist on this earth for themselves alone and they seek the wisdom of treading as lightly as possible. What about us? Are we living in ways that seven generations from now someone yet unborn will pause to pray a thank you for the foresight of their faithful ancestors? Will creation itself give glory to God because we live in ways that recognize our interconnectedness?
Who gives thanks for our faith? . . . If you’re still having trouble coming up with a satisfactory response, I could name particular people for you. So as not to embarrass anyone, let me just guide your thoughts for a moment on this Appreciation Sunday. Think about those of this congregation for whom you have prepared a meal recently. Maybe it was a call you made – another way some of you steadfastly use your gifts to live your faith. That call came because the crisis hit. One you’ve known for years, or maybe not well at all, needed this church. You made a way to be there to fill that need. . . . Think about all I hope you’ve learned in Sunday School, or Bible Study, or choir practice, or Wednesday night classes or maybe even a time of worship in this sanctuary. Is it possible you said something or did something for another because of a new insight or firmer resolve or revived inspiration you received through a teaching ministry of this congregation? And if you’re one who leads such ministry, then know your reach has gone further than the handful of people who join you for such times. . . . Even little prayers we might say with one another – or the promise of floods of them to come when we go home to our quiet time with God. All our prayers can touch the lives of others that they end up saying prayers of thanksgiving for you. From the pre-teens who are a part of the Wednesday night ministry of this church, to the Boy Scouts who have a place to gather each week, to the seniors who open their doors to a cooked meal at least once a day because of your delivery efforts, to families that have been able to stay in their homes with the lights on and a table-full of food, to the ones whose names we’ll never know who stop here on the property of this church to take a break from the busy-ness of their days. We may not hear it enough, which is part of why the leadership of this church wants you to hear it today on this Appreciation Sunday. For all you do – every way your life bears beautiful fruit in this congregation, in your family, in your neighborhood, in your place of work, and wherever you go each week – even the unseen reaches our lives have all throughout this world. We, the leadership of this congregation, give thanks for the faith of every last one of you!
Know that somewhere out there in this world today gratitude is rumbling around in the heart of someone your life has touched for good. We’ve got to remember that. After all, it’s pretty much why we are here. Not to gain glory for ourselves. But for everyone we meet to say: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God! Thank you for a faith that lives 24-7, not just from 11 a.m. to noon a few Sunday mornings a month. Thank you for the luscious fruit of such a loving life! That’s the exact kind of witness this world desperately needs today! . . . In the quiet of these next few moments, I invite you to silently ponder in your heart: Who gives thanks for your faith?
. . . In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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