Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
It was one of those Sundays when I tried something different. For many pastors, trying something different can fill us with anxiety. What will the congregation think? Will they participate? Or will this go over like a lead balloon?
It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving so I used that as the theme. Normally I ask people to call out things they are thankful for, but for that particular Sunday I did something different. In each bulletin was a sheet of paper and I asked the congregation to write down what they are thankful for, and place them in the offering plates.
The Ushers were instructed to take them and hang them up on the bulletin board in the Fellowship Hall.
And there was a problem. So many people participated that there was not enough room. The Ushers hung them on the board as well as the doors and a few on the walls.
Thanksgiving is an important holiday that, unfortunately often gets overlooked by Christmas. But Thanksgiving, as a holiday, reminds us that thanksgiving, as a way of life, is crucial. Giving God thanks for all of our blessings forces us to stop and think about those blessings. And to see the blessings we often take for granted.
Studies have shown that gratitude makes people happier – people who keep journals or make lists of what they are thankful for are happier, more optimistic, more energetic, and nicer than those who do not. In other studies, those who keep their gratitude lists exercise an average of 90 minutes more a week, sleep better and have less pain. Gratitude actually can retrain our brains – changing neural pathways so that we can better deal with stressful situations, and even helps our hearts be healthier.
As you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner, take some time to truly look at the many blessings of your lives. And do the same on Friday.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Mt. 16:13-20
Wouldn’t it feel great to receive a verbal blessing directly from Jesus? Doesn’t that sound good as Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!” Wouldn’t it make your heart swell to hear Jesus say that to you?
We all need positive affirmations in our lives. They keep us going. And studies show that on average it takes five positive statements to overcome one negative one.
Perhaps we cannot hear directly from Jesus (although, by now you should know I would argue this point – if we just listen for God, God will speak), we can be Jesus-like to others and bless them. In this day and age of negativity, of social media that spends more time tearing things down than building them up, we should be more like Jesus.
As you go through this week, start handing out blessings. Bless everyone you encounter. Find something positive to say to them. Ignore the negatives and seek the good. Become Jesus for others.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Mt 5:4
By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Ex 13:21
You might be wondering what these two passages have to do with each other. And honestly, they are not related. Except for one thing. They are both reminder of God’s presence.
Yesterday (11/3/19) was All Saints Sunday, a day on the liturgical calendar set aside to remember those who have gone before us. There is a long history of Christians remembering the dead, and that history extends into Judaism as well.
Jews practice something called “Yahzreit”, which includes lighting a candle on the anniversary of a person’s death, or at significant times in the Jewish calendar. It is a way of honoring those who have gone before.
Notice the candle – the flame – the light. Now I turn to the passage from Exodus. God’s presence was known in the pillar of fire. As long as those wandering in the desert saw that pillar of fire, they were reminded of God’s presence.
And as Christians, we believe that the dead in Christ are not truly dead, rather they are in God’s presence, so lighting a candle of remembrance is a way of reminding us that God is present with us, and our loved ones are present with God, therefore we are blessed – even when we mourn.
Yesterday we lit candles in memory of our departed loved ones. Yesterday we had a prayer of thanksgiving for their lives, and we gave God all praise and honor and glory.
And the flames reminded us that God always goes with us.