Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Reason to give thanks

Thanksgiving is upon us. I’m glad we set aside a day to give thanks for our many blessings. As for me, I’m thankful for all of you – my Redeemer family - and I pray for a very happy, safe, fun and family/friend-filled Thanksgiving Day for each of you.

I admit, however, that it saddens me that our culture has chosen the very next day to promote the opposite message. Black Friday has become THE day to accumulate more stuff, and the advertisements promote a sense of urgency: if you want happiness, beauty, prestige, even respect, you need to buy this car, this clothing, this kitchen item, this… whatever. The message is a familiar one: more is better. More stuff/clout/control = more blessing.

It’s an addiction in its truest form and it brings to mind the gospel story of the rich young man who asks Jesus how he can be sure to inherit eternal life. (Mt 19:11-21) This young man was obviously blessed. He had lots of stuff, respect, and he was obedient to the rules of his faith. Yet, he wanted assurance from Jesus, who looked deeply into his heart, and saw the sin there.

Our Prayer Book says, “Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God…” (Catechism, BCP, 848); and Paul Tillich says, sin is the state of being that separates us from God. Like the rich young man, we can obey all of the rules and still sin. We can have all the good stuff and still be lost.

Jesus looks deeply, lovingly at the rich, young man and offers him freedom from his sin: “There is one thing you lack,” Jesus says. “Give everything you have to the poor,” in other words, empty yourself and your life of all that distracts you from the path of righteousness (hear: right relationship with God, neighbor, and self). “Then come, follow me.”

Modern culture’s response to this would be: are you crazy? From an earthly perspective, following Jesus’ advice means giving up too much: our independence, our freedom to choose our own destiny, to chart our own course. Besides, giving all our stuff to the poor is untenable. We need our stuff.

Thankfully, we are, as our Presiding Bishop Michael, says, “crazy Christians.” For us, it’s all upside-down and inside-out because of Jesus who showed us that it is in self-emptying that we find fulfillment, it is in dying to ourselves that we find eternal life.

Salvation doesn’t make our lives easy or sinless and it doesn’t make us better than anyone else. The way of the cross is painful and our human frailty makes sin an ever-present reality for us. Like the rich young man in the gospel story, we all have sin in our hearts. Thankfully, we also have redemption by the forgiveness of our sins through our Savior, Jesus Christ.

St. Paul tells us he heard the voice of Jesus say to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” As upside-down and inside-out as that sounds, it’s true. Therefore, we are able to join with St. Paul, and say: “I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Cor 12:9-10)

Sin and death have no power over us crazy Christians and the temptations of the world have nothing to offer us - because we have all we need in Jesus… and that’s reason to give thanks.

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