Sunday, November 22, 2015

Butter Turkey Sculpture and Eternity

John 6: Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

How many people are getting ready to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving? At my house we have been doing the same thing the same thing for Thanksgiving year after year. Matt makes the stuffing, my sister’s brings squash and maybe a dessert and my parents make salad and cranberries. Matt’s family brings pies. Sometimes we have the meal at our house and sometimes we make the short drive to my parents’ house and take the food over there.  But I always made the turkey. I feel like I’ve made a pretty good turkey every Thanksgiving for about the past 10 years. This is a big accomplishment for me because I’m not much of a cook.

But this year is different. This year we are going to drive down Virginia to have Thanksgiving with my husband Matt’s parents. Instead of baking a turkey, I’m taking this…

It's a turkey butter sculpture. I didn't even know they existed until I saw it in the store!

This year we are the guests, not the hosts for Thanksgiving.  It changes the dynamic a little bit. It makes me wonder about how we give our thanks—do we give thanks for the joy of decorating and hosting our families? Do we give thanks because we have a table full of food? Is a butter turkey any different for a 15 pound bird? Or are they both just something that is transitory?

As I was doing some reading about giving thanks, I was struck by a comment by Rev. Martin Copenhaver made about our human nature. He says: Nobody is born knowing how to be thankful. We are taught thankfulness in childhood.

And you may disagree with that. You may believe that infants and toddlers children do have an innate sense of gratitude. Either way, I think we can agree upon is that somewhere along the way we are taught to name gratitude and practice it in good times and bad. Our gratitude helps to shape our response to the events of our lives.

Our phase of life influences our gratitude. Image a Christmas morning. Children are genuinely surprised and delighted by the gifts that they get. They know they could never get them on their own. When Billy gets the right Xbox game from his grandma, he learns that the excitement he feels is a form of gratitude. Dad tells him to remember to go hug grandma and say thank you. Billy learns that gratitude is part of the excitement when he gets a really cool gift. But then, one year grandma gives him socks. He’s about to toss them aside to open the next gift when he hears his mom’s voice.

Go give grandma a hug and thank her for the gift. And he does. And he learns that gratitude isn’t about getting what you want. It’s a response to the love of the giver.

But as we age, many of us get to the point where we can buy things for ourselves. We get jobs and have incomes. We can buy own Xbox games and socks. We aren’t dependent and on others anymore and so we run the danger of shallow gratitude. In this phase we write checks for a lot of things—church, house, cars, kids, college, retirement, etc. We say a quick prayer of thanks in the morning or before a meal and then rush to the next thing. In the busyness of life gratitude becomes more mechanical.  We may practice it, but we do it by rote.

But then life changes again. And I’m not at this stage, but this is what some of you saints of church have taught me. We age some more and our incomes are limited and our bodies start to slow down or even hurt. Because we are living so much longer, we have a new third phase of life. It’s not childhood or adulthood. Scholars call this new phase from the late 70s on the third phase, but I’d call it wisdomhood.

In childhood our toys and socks are a reminder that someone loves us and is caring for us—and we are taught to say thank you. In adulthood, our stuff is symbolic of our accomplishments in life. It’s proof that we have become independent, productive people—and again we give thanks. In the third phase or Wisdomhood, it seems that the lifetime of practice becomes second nature.

Some of you who are entering into wisdomhood are the most grateful and giving people that I know. You know how to be thankful not just for the things. Your thanksgiving becomes deeper and richer and truer and frankly, is an inspiration to me.

People in wisdomhood remember to give thanks for things that people like me take for granted. For waking up and getting out of bed. You don’t even take that simple act for granted.

People in wisdomhood seem to be grateful for the most elemental thing—life itself. It doesn’t have to be a life with the right toys or a life of independence., but being itself.  It’s not excited gratitude for  the gifts and stuff of life but a great thanksgiving for the one who gives the gifts—God. 

Those of you who are living this phase of gratitude aren’t doing because it’s easy or it comes naturally. You are doing it because you practiced it your whole life. Your parents taught you to say thank you when you received a gift, even boring ones like socks. You probably write thank you notes for things that you receive.  You’ve come to church where week after week you’ve practiced giving when your income was steady.

You still come and give of your time and treasure even though you may have less—less money, less energy or less physical ability. And so I am thankful for you. For the gifts you give to God’s church and the gift of wisdom that you share with us here.

In our Gospel story today, we don’t have a turkey and stuffing Thanksgiving, but we have a big meal. A large crowd is following Jesus and listening to his teachings. There were a lot of people because the Passover festival was near. Jesus looked out on the crowd who had been following him and decided that they needed something to eat. Jesus had a plan to feed them but he turns to his disciple Phillip and asks where they might buy some bread for the people.

Phillip, thinking that it’s all up to him says they can’t afford to feed all the people who showed up. It would cost hundreds more than they had. Andrew must have overheard them because he pipes up—there’s a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish. But the idea that 5 loaves and two fish could feed 5,000 was ludicrous.

That’s like taking a lunchbox from an elementary student and trying to feed the whole school with it. A sandwich, an apple and a drink for 300 kids.

But Jesus knew better. Jesus didn’t look at the loaves and fishes and worry about how little was there. He looked at the loaves and fishes and trusted that God would provide.

Jesus looked at the loves and fishes and blessed God.

All of our English translations say that Jesus gave thanks. But in Jesus’ Jewish tradition he would have said a blessing. But this blessing was not for the food. The blessing was for God, who provided the food. The blessing was for the giver, not the gift. Jesus’ gratitude was directed toward God.

As a good Jew Jesus would have said the bread blessing. One of the things I learned in Israel is that there are different blessings for different foods. AND there is an order in which the blessings are to be given.

In our story, Jesus starts with the bread blessing because bread is the first food blessing to be given:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, Hamotzi lechem min haaretz.

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth.

Then he did the same with the fish:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, Shehakol Nihyah bidvaro

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe by whose word all things come into being.

Even if you don’t know anything about Hebrew, you can hear that the opening in the prayers is the same. They all start Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam. They bless God, the giver of all gifts.

This is a subtle change in language but I think it makes a big shift in the way we see our lives. A shift that many of us make as we enter old age. At Thanksgiving, we say thank you God for the food. Or we ask God to bless the food we are about to eat. This makes the object of our thanks and prayers the food. We are thankful for the food, which is good. But even better is when our thanks are for God. The food is temporary. God is eternal.

It’s like the difference between a thankful child and a grateful adult. The immature child is excited for the Xbox and the things of life. The wise adult knows that gifts come and go, but living and loving and faith are what really matter. The wise adult blesses the things that are of eternity, not the things that can be unwrapped or eaten or worn.  

In the feeding of the 5000 Jesus, takes the bread and gives thanks, saying Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth.

Jesus recognizes what is temporary and what is eternal. Jesus knows the difference between the gift and the giver. We take a lifetime to learn that the Xbox game or the socks are not what we are saying thank you for. We are saying thank your for the person who cared enough to give the gift. We are thanking God, the ultimate giver.

Is a butter turkey different from a 15-pound bird on the Thanksgiving table? Not really. In our lives the turkeys will come and go--literally and metaphorically--but God remains steadfast and eternal. Let us give our thanks to the giver.

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe who gives us everything. Amen.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Giving Your Two Cents Worth

IMARK 12:38-44
38As Jesus taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.43Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

A few years ago I was working with a youth group at a church in Pittsburgh. We had a great location. The church was on a main street at a pretty busy intersection with a traffic light. People walked past on the sidewalk. That spot was a great place to make a statement about Jesus.

So, the kids and I decided that we would use the churches lawn to do something Jesus-y. Something to show the neighborhood the love of Christ. We decided to stand outside on a chilly day and pass out free hot chocolate and talk with the people went by.

The church members donated the hot chocolate and toppings like marshmallows, candy canes, whipped cream and mini M&M’s. But we also had some cookies to sell and put a can out for donations.

The kids were excitedly shouting out “free hot chocolate”  to the passersby as teenagers will. Some people ignored them but many came up and took some hot chocolate. Some people took the free drink. Others threw in a dollar or two into the donation bucket. Church members stopped over and would toss in $10s and $20s.

Then, an old woman in a babushka came up and a hush came over the kids. She was obviously different from them. Her mouth was sunken in and she had layers and layers of clothes on. Taking the lead, I asked her if she would like some hot chocolate. I explained that it was free,

Yes, she nodded.

“What do you want on it?” one of the kids asked gently. She seemed bewildered by the question.

“Do you want some whipped cream on the top?” the young man tried again.

She nodded again.

As he was making her drink, she took out a tattered change purse. She had seen other people putting money in the can. As she opened her change purse I could see she literally had two coins in it.

She started to take the coins out to put them in the can.

“You don’t need pay for this. It’s free,” I said, touching her gently on the arm.

But she shook her head and dropped the coins in the can.

“Thank you,” I managed to get out. All of the kids said thank you as well.

The teens knew they had witnessed something radical and different. At that point, the kids started handing her anything they could from the table, bags of cookies, candies. Maybe it was out of guilt or a desire to help. Or maybe it was out of admiration.

I don’t know if the kids knew our gospel story of the widow who gives all that she has to the Temple treasury, but I did.  I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit gave us a real life example of that on the church lawn that day.  And so I’d like to share my reflections about what it taught me—lessons that we see in the gospel story today.

First, if we confine ourselves to what we call church, we miss out on witnessing God at work. In our reading Jesus tells us to beware of the scribes who love to hang around and be greeted with respect and adoration.

Beware of clergy who walk around in long robes, like this one.

Beware of the leaders who get the get the best and fanciest seats, maybe like these red velvet ones behind me.

Beware of preachers who say long prayers and have special parking places.

Umm…I think Jesus is telling you to beware of me!

Actually, I think Jesus is telling us to beware of the things we use to separate ourselves from one another—it might be a robe or a Walmart tag or a Talbots label or camo pants or a Brooks Brothers suit. We should not let the things on the outside separate us from one another.

I’ve been spiritually moved many times in church, but some of my most powerful lessons of faith have come from outside the sanctuary—like the one I just told you about. I am absolutely and utterly convinced that God has a sense of humor and messes with me. He seems send messages of faith in some of the strangest people and the most unlikely circumstances. So when someone comes to me with a bizarre or unusual circumstance, I stop and pay attention. Is the crazy man Jesus? Is the homeless woman and angel of God? Who knows?! It could be.

Second, our giving reflects our trust in God. I confess on this one it’s hard to follow Jesus. It’s hard to practice what I’m about to preach. Please know that there is a huge discrepancy between what I’m about to say and what I feel confidant doing in my own life. I can’t and I won’t judge you on what you feel you can give. Jesus will judge you, but I won’t. No, I offer this as an opportunity for reflection for all of us.

The call of Jesus is to give it all up. You can’t read the Bible and come to any other conclusion. In the Bible Jesus says this over and over and over. He tells disciples to drop everything and follow him. They didn’t go pack or grab a few dollars or say goodbye to their families. They went.
Jesus tells a rich young ruler that he is to sell all that we have and give to the poor. He calls the man who saves things in his barn a fool. He says we can’t serve God and money. Jesus applauds the widow who gives all that she has to live on. He teaches the disciples to pray for daily support, not prosperity and safety--give us our daily bread, our manna, that which we need to get through each day.

And so, I remind these lessons of Jesus to you and to myself as something to think about and pray about.

Third, even the poorest and most destitute people want to give something back. When I remember the woman who came for hot chocolate, I suspect that she knew that those two coins wouldn’t pay for her drink, but giving was her response to the offer of hot chocolate. It was her way of saying thank you—and truly meaning it.

By taking her meager offering we were including her in what we were doing that day. We saying you can participate, your gift is matters, too. It made her one of us, if only for a moment.


Finally, true giving happens when we give out of our poverty, not out of our abundance, for that is when we are relying on God.

On the hot chocolate day, some church members dropped tens and twenties into the can. For that I was grateful. We actually made almost $100 by “giving” away hot chocolate and that money was a great help to the youth group. But time and time again, I feel like true giving happens when we give something we don’t think we have.

For the widow in the story and the woman on the street it was money.

But for each us, it might be something a different. And so I invite you to reflect for a moment, where is your poverty? What part of Jesus’ call on your life is the hardest for you?

Do you feel like you don’t have enough money to give to help our church finances? Do you feel like you never have enough time to give for leadership? Do you feel like you don’t have enough Bible understanding to give as a teacher? Do you feel like you aren’t good with people or can’t say good prayers?

I was talking with a pastor friend this week and we were discussing the various aspects of ministry, which did we like, what are we good at, where can we improve.

And every preacher is different. Some are great in the pulpit and terrible at pastoral care. Some are great pray-ers with members who are sick or hurting, but terrible at talking to strangers about Jesus. But we are called to do all the jobs regardless of whether or not we are good at them. We are to serve in our richness and our poverty.

We show up in some of life’s hardest situations and pray that God will use us.  Maybe it’s to witness the Holy Spirit teaching something about giving to teenagers. Maybe it’s to pray for someone as they die. Maybe it’s to speak in front of hundreds of people or point out the way people are sinning. Over time, we end up practicing all of these things.

But this isn’t just my call. Jesus doesn’t say this is the job of the scribes and clergy in their long robes and adoring followers. For Jesus, giving our of richness and poverty is the call of his disciples and followers, including you. Our call is to go and make disciples, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in jail, sell all that we have, give all that we have to live on, love our neighbors and our enemies, pray for those who persecute us. The Jesus Way of being a Christian is hard stuff. None of us can do it on our own.

But as the Apostle Paul reminds us, we can do all things through Christ. As Christians we can do this. Even when it seems like we can’t.

When we are giving out of our poverty, our hands might shake in fear.

Maybe it’s happened to you when you increased your giving and gave to the church before paying your other bills. Maybe it’s happened when singing or playing or reading in church. My hands and knees were shaking the first time I gave a sermon. Who am I to speak about God? Then, a mentor reminded me that I wasn’t in the pulpit alone, God was with me. I could trust that God insure the Word was given. I thank God each week for the work of the Holy Spirit who can interpret our sighs and groans and disorganized thoughts.

The first time I went to the subsidized housing plan for ministry, my hands were shaking and prayed telling God he had a lot of work to do because I was scared. I had a seriously impoverished spirit. I thank God for walking with me.

When I started work as a chaplain in the hospital I was angry and resentful that I had to do it. I did not want to face hurting and dying people day after day. But I did and I’m better off for it and I thank God for that opportunity to grow.

When we give from our poverty, we remember to be grateful. When we give from our poverty we give thanks to the God who gets us through.

When we give from our poverty, we grow in faith and trust. Some people, like the disciples took a leap of faith and left everything to follow Jesus. If you can do that, I encourage to!

But for most of us, faith is a journey that we take one step at a time. And so today, I encourage you to take your next step of giving your life to Christ, whatever that might be.

I invite you to open the tattered change purse of your own life and take out your coins of money, time, leadership, evangelism and offer them to God. Offer them with hands that shake a little bit, but offer them trusting that God is with you.

Offer what you have in thanksgiving to God who is faithful, forgiving and just. Give in response the God who gave up everything to be reconciled you through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our LORD.

A poor widow came to the treasury and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Jesus called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

Thanks be to God.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Holy Sheep! Aha Moments in Israel and Jordan

Hebrew Bible: Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Second Reading: Revelation 7:13-17 John’s vision:

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’[a]
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[b]
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’[c]”

John 10: 14- 18  
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Does anyone notice a theme to the readings this morning? All three are about shepherds and sheep. I am still recovering from my trip to the Holy Land and have decided to share some reflections with you this morning. 

We all have those aha moments in life when we suddenly understand something. Those moments when our brain makes new connections and we just get it. It’s like a little explosion inside our heads that casts new light on everything.
Photo by Niki Brodeur
As you might guess, I had a few a-ha moments on the trip to the Holy Land. On this trip, I actually saw some shepherds at work in the land of Jesus. I saw the land on which the shepherds kept their flocks. It is astonishingly different that the sheep farming I’ve known.

The shepherds I saw were Bedouin. They are not city dwellers or farm owners, but rather a free range people. They live on the outskirts of town, often in tents—but they probably have a cell phone and maybe even a satellite dish.  Those that I met had faces weathered from being in the sun. They work hard and will hustle you for a buck. They were outsiders in the time of Jesus and many still are today. I saw shepherds at work on two occasions. I think you will hear echoes of the Bible passages in both of these descriptions.

One shepherd was along a small, flat road. The landscape was brown and rocky with occasional patches of grass and trees. I think we were getting close to the Jordan River so the landscape was more than just brown. Off in the distance was a collection of Bedouin tent homes. These are long, portable tents covered with something like burlap. Suddenly the bus slowed to a stop. I was in the back and thought people wanted to take some photos. But a herd of sheep blocked our path.

The bus driver beeped his horn and the sheep did not move. When I looked out the window to the right, I could see a young man coming out of the tents and sprinting toward the flock in bare feet.  He ran around behind the sheep and managed to push them grudgingly off the road so that we could pass through.

Sometimes a shepherd leads a flock of sheep from behind, pushing the sheep along with rod or a staff of some sort. The shepherd stays behind and keeps them moving in the right direction and from making stupid mistakes like refusing to move for a bus. The shepherd gets the strong-willed and  stubborn sheep going in the right direction and then the entire flock will follow.

Sometimes our faith life is like this, right? We’re standing around doing our thing when Jesus comes and pushes in a new direction. We don’t always want to go and stubbornly refuse, but the Holy Spirit is insistent. Sometimes the shepherd pushes us to new places from behind.

On another occasion we were in the hills and mountains. As we stood on what seemed like a barren hilltop, we could see a shepherd and sheep down below. We couldn’t see any homes or tents, just some occasional caves in the hillside.

The hill was ringed with paths and the shepherd seemed to have no tools but a song. He would lead the way calling his special call to the sheep. Slowly and carefully, the sheep made their way up the hillside toward the shepherd while he sang. Now I'm pretty sure they were not Presbyterian sheep because they weren’t decent or in order. They weren’t in a nice straight line, but scattered across a steep hillside.

Each one carefully placed its hoofs so that it would not slip back down the hill. Some went to the right and some went to the left, but slowly and carefully, they made their way up that hillside because they knew the sound of their shepherd’s voice. They trusted that he would not lead them into danger, but would provide for them.

Sometimes this is what our life of faith looks like. We know our shepherds voice. We hear Jesus calling us forward. Inspired by the song we make are way slowly and steadily toward him, trusting that he won’t lead us into danger.

Scottish Sheep
I realized that despite the fact that I've seen a lot of sheep in my life, I’ve never seen a shepherd until this trip. I have memories of visiting some neighboring sheep who lived behind a fence when I was a child. There is a sheep farm on the way to my kids' school. And when I first met Matt, his family had a couple of sheep. Then, I went to Scotland and the sheep were everywhere at our vacation house. Thousands of free range sheep just roamed around on their own in the green pastures.  

But things were different in Israel and Jordan. 

In Pennsylvania and Scotland we have sheep farmers, not shepherds. The grass and water are abundant. The sheep wander the hillsides covered in grass and watered by regular rain. Here they are inside fences, left free within a confined area of grass and a water source.

But in parts of Scotland sheep reign. They independently roam the hillsides and wander down roads. They are left to their own devices much of the time. In fact in Scotland it’s the houses that are fenced to keep the sheep out so that the sheep don’t eat the landscaping.

But in Israel and Jordan, water is more scarce and grass grows in patches, not on hillsides. The grass is only green for a couple of months and the sheep can eat all the grass in an area in a day. So the sheep and shepherds are nomadic, travelling from patch to patch.

Mark Twain wrote that the sheep in the area appear to eat rocks, since there is no grass visible while they eat. The reality, our guide told us, is that the sheep can eat brown, dry grass.

There’s not much grass in many of the parts of Israel and Jordan because there is not much water. If you see a tree or plants growing, you see irrigation hoses. We visited a family friend who kept track for the rainfall near the Sea of Galilee--a "wet" area. A whole year of rain fit on one side of a small piece of paper.

Photo by Abby Thornton
So, looking at the sheep on a barren, brown hillside led to my a-ha moment. Being a sheep in the Middle East is really, really hard. They can't be independent and survive.  The sheep are totally dependent upon the shepherd. And so are the people. 

Being in the Holy Land helped me to see that all of us in this room today are born into abundance. Many of us go through wilderness times of grief or illness, but we have so much that we take for granted every single day.

Water, fertile soil, grass, and trees are probably the ones we think least about. We are fed from this ground of abundance both with produce and livestock. It happens so easily and naturally we may forget that God is involved. But the shepherds and sheep of the Middle East don’t forget. Water and grass are a gift from God. Survival is a gift. Life is a gift.

And so in this month of Thanksgiving, I’d like to remember to bless God for the things I often take for granted—and I invite you to join me in this, on paper or online. Together we will participate in a Great Thanksgiving—we will give thanks every day for the big things and the little things, remembering the God is intimately tied to everything in our lives.

You should have a paper calendar on which you can write down something you are thankful for every day (download it here). Or, you can find and like the Reunion Church Facebook page. Each day there will question or thought prompting you to give thanks. You can comment or just use it for inspiration for a prayer of thanksgiving.

Since it is November 1, I’d like to start today. I give thanks to the LORD for the rain and the grass. For God, the shepherd, who provides for us and leads us through dark valleys. For Jesus, the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, who promises that we will not hunger and thirst and wipes away all of our tears. 

I am thankful for the sound of our shepherd’s voice that calls us in our everyday lives so that we may dwell in the house of the LORD forever.