Sermon Pentecost 21 October 9, 2016
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 Psalm 66 1-11 2 Timothy 2:8-15 Luke 17:11-19
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Jeremiah, the prophet, is not known for his positive attitude. Most of his life was spent warning the Jews of impending doom. Now that doom had become their reality for they had been snatched away into exile in Babylon. Instead of saying “I told you so !” Jeremiah kind of echoes ‘It is what it is !” He tells the exiles to make the best of a bad deal. Be industrious, plan for tomorrow, carry on with life as normally as possible. Through the centuries the Jews have taken Jeremiah to heart. They have been a most persecuted people, surviving even the Holocaust by having faith in God and trust in their own efforts. Jeremiah in his time though was criticised heavily for his prophecies of doom and now that he tells the people to roll with the punches he gets criticised again. No one says thanks to him. Jeremiah just cannot win ! Prophets seldom do !
But his creed is well worth following in everyday life even today. Jeremiah encourages us not to give-up but to carry on as best as we are able, whether through spiritual, physical, financial or relational difficulties, judge them realistically, accept them and then do what you can to use them to your benefit. Now Jeremiah, being a prophet knew that the Exile would last only seventy years, he would not see it end, but the Jews would return to Jerusalem, he had faith and knew what would transpire. Be confident in your Belief. We can deal with our difficulties in the same way for as the Psalmist says “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 35:5).
The other lesson that Jeremiah gives us is that we should pray for our oppressors, those people who infuriate us, harm us, hurt us, hate us. Jesus put it succinctly when He said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Now that really takes a lot of resolve but it strikes to the heart of the matter. If we carry bitterness in our hearts, we become bitter. We are what we eat and moreover we are what we think. If bitterness takes over our life we will be bitter, we will see no joy in life. It’s not just the power of negative thinking but a takeover of who we are. In a world where we have, since the beginning of time, been wary of danger we have come to be suspicious of things we don’t know and definitely more suspicious of things that have harmed us before. Our natural inclination to keep things at arm’s length nurtures in us a negativity towards others. Bitterness can take over more easily than joy but joy is what we are meant to have.
What do you have to be joyful over ? Well I challenge you to sit down this Thanksgiving and write out a list of all that gives you joy. May I suggest you start with you ? What is it that you like about you ? My mother had a very Victorian upbringing, she was brought up in a time when “a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking” (Anything Goes) so, for a lady to show her ankles was very risqué, but my mum was very proud of her ankles, I think that is how she caught my dad. What bit or bits do you like about you ? There must be something. You remember Leah, Jacob’s first wife, she was homely but the Bible says that at the very least she had beautiful eyes (Genesis 29:17). There must be one thing about you that you like. What about your health ? Ok, we all have aches and pains and bits that don’t work well anymore but at least once they did. Surely that brings joy. Maybe there is something in your character that impresses even you. What about your family and friends, do any of them give you joy when you see them or even just think about them ? And then your home, isn’t it a comfort to be able to go to your home and feel the familiar, and be safe and sound, that must bring joy surely ? What about all the things you did and achieved against pretty stiff odds ? The list can go on and on. Rifle though your memories. How wonderful it is to have a Memory ! Now none of those things about yourself is particularly Earth shattering, but you just wouldn’t be you if any one of them were missing.
All those things that you liked, all the things that gave you joy, surely they are worth giving thanks for. In total we should be giving thanks for all that we are. Not out of pride like the Pharisee who praised himself in his prayers (Luke 18:11-12) but out of joy that we are here and alive, warts and all. It is easy to look on the gloomy side, you know, all the things we aren’t and all the things we don’t have. If we look honestly the glass is more than half full.
It has been said that “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘Thank you’, it will be enough” (Meister Eckhart). God appreciates it when we say thanks. On the other hand you can tell that Jesus is disappointed when He heals ten lepers and only one returns to say thanks. Note to all: it’s best not to disappoint God, because He will discuss it with you later. We have been blessed to have been made in God’s image. That means more than appearance, it means having a rational mind, and having emotions and feelings – Jesus had them too. He wept over the death of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35), Jesus was frightened about His impending torture (Matthew 26:39), Jesus felt deserted and alone on the Cross (Matthew 27:46).
But, Jesus gave thanks ! He gave thanks for the miracles He was about to perform. Before feeding the four thousand people He gave thanks (Matthew 15:36) at the Last Supper in the face of Doom He gave thanks (Matthew 26:27). And of course there was the affair at Simon the Pharisee’s house, when at supper Simon had ignored the common courtesies due to a guest. Instead the woman with the ointment and tears gave Jesus those courtesies (Luke 7:44-50). He was thankful for her attention and disappointed at Simon’s ignorance towards Him. Say thanks. Say thanks for things you were, are, and have and for all the things yet to come. You will be richly blessed. Yun-Hee remarked the other day that the birds we used to hear at dawn from Spring into Summer are no longer here, they have migrated to sing to others. Don’t sing your Thanksgiving Song to others, sing it to God in prayer. Let us pray,
“Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all you have done for us. We thank you for the splendour of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone. Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.