First Congregational Church
November 22, 2020
Christ the King Sunday
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
If you call a large turkey a gobbler, what do you call a small one? A goblet. You know, if your great-grandmother saw you making boxed mashed potatoes, she’d turn over in her gravy. I’m guessing that there are a lot of folks who might wish me to stop telling Thanksgiving jokes, but I just can’t stop cold-turkey.
In a letter that may well have been written while the great Paul was in a Roman prison, Ephesians was likely a circular letter - one intended to be passed around many different churches. It’s not positive Paul was the author, but that’s a point for experts. Writer or not, the point is the same: to inspire those churches how to practically maintain unity; how to live a holy, pure, and Christ-inspired lifestyle. After some initial verses giving praise for spiritual blessings in Christ, that includes being called by Christ, we get this morning’s passage. As you listen, hear it as a part of a letter from God to you, and one that I wish I had written to each one of you.
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Thank you, Nancy. Not everyone knows the true source of Jennie-O turkeys, but now you can answer any such question confidently with the answer of Litchfield, MN. In fact, I lived about five blocks from it until I was about 14. Although I think they have come to use a different mode of transport, it was common enough to see a semi truck of turkeys with metal wires, no metal sheeting on the sides of the trailer. My dad shared a garage space with some other guys right across the street, so being around the open garage door that revealed turkeys being moved on a conveyer belt was as much a part of my life as cornfields and the smell of silage.
Being it was a human run factory with very live birds, every so often a turkey would escape and would wander around town until someone caught it. To this day, I can’t remember all the exact details, but the larger memory is - of not once, but twice, catching a turkey with my bare hands and bringing home the bacon - so to speak. That may be my most proud Thanksgiving-related memory.
My favorite Thanksgiving was when I lived in Denmark while in college. It happened while we were on a break, so most of the 81 of us living in a youth hostel were gone - traveling to who knows where. Partly because I was on work-study, and partly because I probably didn’t have the funds to go away on that break, I found myself alone that Thanksgiving. My five roommates were away and the couple of students way down the hall were not part of my social circle, but it was okay. I was doing it my way. So I picked up a box of Knoor Minestrone Soup mix, added water to the pot on the hot plate, and got down to the business of gratitude - for being able to do what I was doing, for the amazing opportunity, for the abilities I was discovering in being able to be anywhere in the world and know that I would be just fine. It was nothing like the family gatherings that I was forced to - I mean attended as a kid. And it was the best - ever since.
This Ephesians section isn’t a traditional Thanksgiving scripture passage, but it gets right down to the heart of the matter: being grateful for those given to us. In a year when not everything is as traditional as other years, I know many folks are going to be celebrating differently this year - most likely with less people around. It’s been much on my heart this week to encourage you in allowing this holiday to be about the business of gratitude, that it might make a way to be one of your significant Thanksgivings down the road.
Not everyone has picked up on my idea of maybe doing something different, but I know of one house that is foregoing turkey and the accouterments and making pizza pot pies, and our Administrative Assistant, Katherine and her husband are having spaghetti and venison meatballs. Who knows, maybe someone may end up having reconstituted, lye soaked lutefisk, although someone might want to check on anyone making that to see that they’re okay.
Pilgrims and Congregationalists aren’t the only ones with a corner on the Thanksgiving event. I would guess that every culture - throughout time - has a form of giving thanks to the Creator for the sustenance of life and living. As our world becomes more educated, we may find ourselves needing a different context from our grade school plays about someone saving someone else’s hide. Our passage for this morning is a fine place on which to lean.
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Gracious God, thank you for Lawrence Welk, who said, “Over and over I marvel at the blessings of my life: Each year has grown better than the last.” Thank you for Henry David Thoreau, who said, “I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” And thank you for Jim Davis, who admonishes us, “Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.”
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Thank you, Great Giver, for 16th century Swiss physician and theologian, Conrad Gesser, who said, “Best of all is it to preserve everything in a pure, still heart, and let there be for every pulse a thanksgiving, and for every breath a song.” And thank you, too, Lord, for Henry Van Dyke’s thought, “Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.”
The 18th verse of our passage states, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Heavenly Parent, thank you for the insight you gave Willie Nelson: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” And God, there is beautiful inspiration in Neal A. Maxwell’s line, “We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.” And of course, there is the piece de reistance from Melody Beattie, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.”
And speaking of fullness, If you're sitting in public and a stranger takes the seat next to you, just stare straight ahead and say, "Did you bring the money?” I finally got eight hours of sleep. It took me three days, but whatever. I don't mean to interrupt people. I just randomly remember things and get really excited.
Our passage writer continues, “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
In a paraphrase of this passage, there is gratitude in tinting the lenses just a little, so that it is seen in a little different light. I pray that God—the God the Beloved, Jesus Christ, showed us, God our beautiful Life-Giver—may give you a spirit of mindfulness and wisdom as you deepen your openness to God, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you will have the hope God has for you. May you live in wonder and trust of the gifts we all receive as God's Beloved. May you feel in your bones the immeasurable greatness of the power of love when we trust it. This is God's power in us. Love is the power that raised Christ from the dead, the power that orders the universe, the power above all human systems, every rule and authority and dominion, and above every seen or unseen power, force or value you could imagine. God subjects everything to love. And we—we are the embodiment of that love, which conquers everything, and fills everything, and completes everything. We are the body, and Love is what makes us alive.
Even in the final verse of today’s passage gives us direction in vision. “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
Tegan Langley posted this story, most likely from England. "Sitting in McDonald’s carpark waiting for an appointment, a gentleman who I later found out was named Tony, approached my car window. He asked if I knew about the state of my tyres. I explained that I knew I needed new ones but at the moment simply couldn’t afford it.
He asked me if I would follow him to the Bridgestone store across the road to see what they could do for me. This complete stranger, Tony, explained he couldn’t live with himself if he walked away from the situation knowing they were about to blow at anytime.
Tony didn’t expect anything in return, just asking that one day when I’m in the position where I’m able to help someone that I pay it forward. 535 dollars, a lot of tears on my behalf, a few hugs, three brand new tyres, a wheel alignment and the offer to fuel up my car. Then he left. No last name, no contact number. Just Tony the gentle giant with his two beautiful sons teaching them a life lesson. Let us pray.
Gracious, Gracious, Loving God, you are well aware of how over-powering life can feel sometimes. And you know how we just don’t always live up to our call to follow after Christ. But there is so much good in the world, God, good that is done for us, and to us, and through us. We may not be able to give tires, God, but we can give so many other things - like grace and lover and forgiveness. This week - not just Thursday - but the whole week - help us to be attuned to the kindnesses that meet us, the moments of fullness that we can so easily miss, for the wisdom that surrounds us - not only in this age, but from the past as well. Grant us a new prescription that affords us to have a Thanksgiving Vision, that allows us to see opportunities that can transform how we recall events in our lives. And thank you for you, and your Son and your Holy Spirit, that we live our fullest lives here until the time we join you there. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.