(Note: The blog posts related to my sermons are not to be considered manuscripts. I do not use a manuscript in my preparation, but I blog as a means to get my thoughts in order. Some of the ideas may be incomplete, but for those who like to reference sermons, this is the best way to share the sermon after (sometimes before) it is preached. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.)
I think all of our communities are in need of some restoration. Though the decisions of our respective denominations may have faded from national news, discussions about theology, the way we read the Bible, the leadership of our congregations, and how we work together are on the collective minds and mouths and electronic media of Lutheran and Episcopalian Christians all over the United States. Even if theological and church governance issues were the only things our respective denominations were facing, the declining trend of both of our denominations both in resources and people makes it easy for people to look at our respective denominations with uncertainty at best and despair at the worst.
Granted, each community holds their own story about what is hopeful in the lives of their congregation, but in my 11 years of ordained ministry, and in my life in the Church in general, I have never seen so many people discouraged in their outlook on the Church. Our text from Matthew offers some wisdom. Jesus says not to worry and strive for the Kingdom of God. I think this is a good way to look at some of the anxiety that faces our lives. However, I want to turn to Psalm 126 because it gets to the heart of what will be a part of our collective culture tonight and tomorrow as the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. We are thinking about what it means to be thankful, and many of us engage in the activity of naming, thinking and/or writing about what in our lives inspires thankfulness. In Matthew, Jesus tells us that God provides abundantly for the creation, even for creatures who don't worry as we often do.
Psalm 126 is a Psalm of Ascents, which Walter Brueggemann calls Israel's public statements of thankfulness. Thankfulness is not merely an emotional response to the good things in life, but it a public act in response to the generosity of God. Rolf Jacobsen from Luther Seminary notes that in Psalm 126, thankfulness and restoration are linked. God restores a people whom have been beaten down and experienced community destruction. Restoration is not an act of magic, it is not an execution of a public relations, spin, or the technical savvy by using photo shop. Restoration is not even linked directly to hard work. Primarily, in Psalm 126, restoration is linked to a public statement of thanks, which is this Song of Ascents.
Why is it so important that thankfulness is public? Why do we not merely sit around our Thanksgiving dinner tables or dessert tables and talk about for what we are thankful? Restoration comes when "the nations" recognize that we are thankful. It actually does matter how the rest of the world perceives us. God is using the nations as a mirror for how well we publicly proclaim thankfulness.
Pastor Jerry Hoffman was instrumental for Melanie and me and how we publicly proclaim thankfulness. Many times when people ask Jerry how he's doing, he responds, "Grateful." It stuck in my relationship with Melanie, though she is much more proficient in proclaiming gratitude. That basic practice has also guided our ministry and how we choose to be present in the community. It's fun to watch people's response to a proclamation of gratitude in everyday life.
Do people see God in our actions? What do the nations see? If we put our energy toward living a thankful life for ourselves and as community of faith, we will see the restorative power of God in Christ Jesus--in our congregational lives, and in our own lives.