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Gratitude and Generosity


a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

November 19, 2023

Matthew 25:31-45


31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

I said this last Sunday, I like Thanksgiving. In fact, it may be my favorite holiday. One reason why is that unlike so many other holidays, Thanksgiving doesn’t involve as much stuff as other holidays. Yes, there is some cooking, but just about every other holiday involves that, doesn’t it? Let me explain what I mean.

Think about it, with a lot of holidays there are gifts to buy – Christmas, Mothers’ Day, birthdays – that get’s expensive and deciding what to buy can be hard. At Easter you have to buy dresses or a new shirt, and all that candy. And you don’t have to drink green beer or eat boiled cabbage at Thanksgiving, ala St. Patrick’s Day. All in all, with Thanksgiving you get to think about all you have to be thankful for and then just cook, eat, and watch football until you fall asleep. It’s not as demanding as a lot of holidays.

I think that’s the problem people have with so much of religion. There are so many requirements. If you’re Catholic you have to memorize all those prayers, and remember to go to confession. If you are fundamentalist you have to make sure you get entirely wet when you get baptized or it doesn’t count, you have to remember all that dogma and doctrine that proves you believe the right things. You have to remember all the things you can’t do and if you pray you have to say, “just” and “Father” ever third word! Hard to do all that, right?

That’s why I like this Scripture too. It doesn’t require you to remember theology or dogma or doctrine. It get’s right down to a few things to be a blessing to others and boom you get to be a sheep instead of a goat. And by goat I don’t mean GOAT – like everyone says Tom Brady is. You know, stands for “Greatest Of All Time.” No that’s a great goat. The ones in Jesus’ lesson here are ba-a-a-a-ad goats. Sorry, had to do it. There’s no kneeling, or memorizing dogma or getting dunked with this Scripture, and Jesus says those who do these things are welcomed into glory with open arms. Yay!

And these things that Jesus talks about doing – you guys are already doing them! That’s what I am thankful about. You – to the best of whatever ability you have to do it – feed the hungry, are ready to welcome the stranger, comfort the person struggling with mental health issues, clothe the naked and help with housing for people without a house. I am so thankful for this church and for all you do. So don’t get me wrong when we offer or ask for these other opportunities to give, to bless others, this isn’t an arm twist. It is an offering to you and to me to live up to our “Sheepdom.” You like that? “Sheepdom,” I coined that. It means to be like the sheep in this passage of Scripture if you didn’t immediately get it.

I have been trying to connect three things over the past three weeks: grace, gratitude, and generosity. Let me try to connect them today and make my point more clear. We all are blessed by the grace of God. We all have great reasons for gratitude because of that grace. And true gratitude always erupts in generosity which is a human form of grace. So it completes a circle. This is a kind of sacred process God invites us to experience. I think it is the real nature of real religion. Without all three pieces the process God intends is incomplete. All generosity flows from gratitude for God’s grace. And every act of generosity is a living sign of grace, and an expression of gratitude to God. Let me say that again. All generosity flows from gratitude for God’s grace. When we have experienced God’s grace the natural response is gratitude. When we are truly grateful we give to others – we “commit acts of generosity.” When we do that we multiply gratitude because it brings gratitude from those who receive. It is truly a sacred process or circle.

But here’s the other problem with holidays. We focus on their purpose for a day, or a week, or a season maybe. Then we often seem to forget about those purposes the rest of the year. It is good to celebrate our freedom as a nation, or to honor those veterans who helped make that happen, but we ought to do it more than on July 4 or November 11. It is good to remember that Christ is risen, but it is as important on November 19 as it is on Easter Sunday. So when it comes to Thanksgiving, what Jesus illustrates for us is how we show gratitude any time of the year. I want to help us extend our intentions to live with gratitude, to show our Thanksgiving at least another month into that most overwhelming of holidays, Christmas. How do I want to do this? I’m glad you asked.

When you came in today, we gave you a little packet of four index cards with a paper clip on them. I want to invite you to write your name and address on one side of each card for mailing. Then I want to take a few minutes now, while we play some music for you, and I want to challenge you to challenge yourself to grow in gratitude. What we are going to do is invite you to fill out the four cards, clip them back together, and we will come out and pass the offering plates to you to put the cards in. We are going to bring them up and pray over them, for these are your thank offerings to God. Then we are going to mail these out to you, one a week, for the next four weeks.

What I want to invite you to put on there is at least one way a week you want to live out your thanksgiving in gratitude and generosity. It might be to do something new. Maybe you never helped at God’s Kitchen at Burton Methodist before. It isn’t hard and it is a gratifying way to serve others. Put that down. Maybe it is to participate in our “Giving Tuesday,” on November 28 by giving an extra offering online. Maybe it is to help someone in your neighborhood trying to clean up after our non-hurricane, hurricane we had last week. Whatever it is I bet you can come up with at least 4 ways to do what Jesus defined in this passage as our faithful way to express gratitude and generosity. I bet you have a dozen ways more creative than I can imagine to live out your thanksgiving.

Now, the first song we are going to do is an instrumental and I am going to walk out here and if there is some question I can answer those for you while they play. Then the band will do another song, so that gives you about 8-9 minutes to think and write. Then we are going to pass those plates to gather them up and we will all sing “Beautiful One,” together. And that should give us one more thing to be thankful for and that is we will get to go eat lunch together. If I’ve timed this right it should be a short sermon so we will get to that pecan pie even more quickly, too. Thank God for all God’s blessings, huh? Let’s get to it. AMEN.

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