At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we have a pastoral intern this year from Knox College, Toronto, who is learning the craft of ministry alongside me. Christine preached for the first time this morning, and the service, and just her message, based on Luke 17.11-19, can be found below. This was our Thanksgiving celebration.
“Goodness.” It’s a strange term in our culture, isn’t it? It has so many uses.
Sometimes, it’s a substitute swear word: “Oh, my goodness.”
Sometimes, it’s an exclamation: “Goodness, me!”
Sometimes, it’s a character trait.
For a lot of people, “goodness” is what characterizes everybody: “He’s such a good person”, or “We all have inherent goodness.”
And there is some truth to that: all human beings are made in God’s image, and there is a certain goodness that comes with that. The challenge with that is that our inherent goodness is badly stained by sin.
I once heard the late renowned theologian and apologist, R.C. Sproul, offer what I thought was the best answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
His response? “There are no good people.”
Not very encouraging, eh? But he was right.
The apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Rome in the first century, said, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3.23, NLT).
In other words, the goodness in us is tainted by the reality of our sin, our inability to measure up to God’s perfect standard.
Thankfully, God also gave a solution to our problem: Jesus. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.21, NLT).
This means that when we place our faith in Jesus, receiving his death and resurrection as being for us, personally, we receive the righteousness of Jesus by faith. So when God looks on people of faith, he sees only the righteousness – the goodness – of Jesus.
That’s why we can bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit – a fruit that includes goodness. It’s not something that comes from within us; it’s something that is borne through us by God the Holy Spirit, who lives in all followers of Jesus.
And for that, on this Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, we can be thankful.
Most Canadian households will celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend in one fashion or another, whether it’s by inviting the extended family over to the house for a turkey dinner, or going north to close up the cottage before the frost gets at the water pipes. And while I would often take this opportunity to encourage you to be thankful – and I do encourage you to be thankful! – I wish instead to encourage you to take a break.
Not just after the potato overdose kicks in from Thanksgiving dinner, but now.
The time from the day after Labour Day until Thanksgiving tends to be one of the more hectic times of year, with all sorts of activities restarting after their summer hiatus. Many of you will already be in need of a break, and there’s still the Thanksgiving celebration to attend to.
Simply marvel in God’s goodness to you, and accept his invitation to come, and rest in him. If you’d like some accompaniment for that rest, even for two minutes, feel free to listen to this setting of a text from the Song of Solomon by the English-Canadian composer, Healey Willan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdEIYnQsSZQ
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come” (Song of Solomon 2.10b-12a, NRSV). True, the winter is not past, it is on the doorstep! But the beauty of autumn remains, and the invitation of the Lord to us, like the invitation of the love to the beloved, remains.
Before the rush of the weekend.
I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving has snuck up on me this year. Because the first of the month was a Monday, the second Monday falls immediately after the first Sunday this year – meaning that it feels like Thanksgiving is a week early. It also falls on World Communion Sunday, the day set aside by all Christian groups for the mutual celebration of the Lord’s Supper. So I feel snuck up on!
But that’s okay. In one sense, it shouldn’t really matter, since for followers of Jesus, every day is Thanksgiving. (Thankfully, we don’t eat a big turkey dinner every day, or I’d be really fat.) There are lots of catch phrases for it: “an attitude of gratitude”, “thanksliving”, and so on. We know that we’re called to a life of gratitude, but some days, it is really hard to live it fully.
Here’s a suggestion that might help: consider keeping a journal of things for which you are thankful, and make a point to record at least one each day. It doesn’t have to be complicated; it’s not a “Dear Diary” kind of journal. It might be just a list – a list of things, people, places, and so on, for which you are thankful – and you can record one each day.
The apostle Paul wrote a great challenge to the Thessalonian church: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NIV). It’s not easy to do any of these things. Sometimes, it’s hard to find life joyful; it is difficult to pray continually; it is really hard to give thanks in all circumstances – but, as Paul says, it is God’s will for us.
So start small. Examine your life in such a way that allows you to find even one tiny little thing that allows thanksgiving to flow from your heart. (Remember, the Bible doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything, but in all circumstances. We can be going through dreadful circumstances, but if we can find even one thing, one person, one phenomenon that allows us to be thankful, we have achieved God’s will in that sense.)
If you still find it difficult, pay attention to your surroundings. Pay attention to the people in your life. Look around. At this time of year especially, it is possible to find something for which to be thankful – if nothing else, then at least the resplendent colour of the trees. Even they are a gift from God that can spur our gratitude.
Try it every day – list one little thing. Then, after a while, review your list. Watch your heart overflow with gratitude as you take a look at all those little things that made you thankful, even if life was not happy for you at the time.
Is this a discipline? You bet it is. Growth in the Christian life is about discipline. But we can do it. And God will bless us as we make the choice to be thankful.