Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Psalm 147: 13-21
John 1: (1-9) 10-18
When I was about 6 years old, my younger brother and I had one of the most amazing Christmases ever; a Christmas to remember. What made it a memorable Christmas for us at that age was because of the number and nature of the gifts we received. To be honest, we were overwhelmed with all the gifts.
My parents took a wonderful picture of my brother and I in the middle of opening AND playing with our gifts; we were doing both at the same time. I was kneeling on the floor trying to figure out what to play with and my brother was standing next to me, with a toy gun in one hand and a toy tractor in the other.
The picture was priceless; we were truly overwhelmed.
Speaking of being overwhelmed with gifts, one need only take a gander at today’s Scripture readings. As I reflected on all three Bible passages, what hit me first was the list of gifts that God gives. It is a stunning list, a list that I cannot comprehend and they seem overwhelming. Consider the “gifts of God” that are listed in all three Bible passages:
God gathers God’s people from the farthest parts of the earth they will come with weeping, they will receive consolation
God will provide a ransom for their freedom
God will redeem God’s people
God chooses us
God adopts us redemption through his blood the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, a gift of salvation wisdom and insight
God chooses to live among us in Jesus
Jesus provides us a light in the darkness of life
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world all who received him, believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
God has been made known to us.
That is quite an impressive list of gifts in those Bible passages and the overall message for me is that God keeps on giving and giving. But are we truly overwhelmed? What does this gift list mean to us?
I would suggest that it depends on several things, not the least of which is the side of the fence I am on. Do I approach this gift list from God as a receiver, or a giver?
As a receiver of gifts, I like practical gifts, gifts that I can use all the time. I like gifts that I can use; clothing is a good gift.
As a RECEIVER of gifts, I am not concerned about the cost. A bigger price tag does not necessarily make a good gift. I am not worried about style or color, so I am pretty much happy with just about anything. Useful gifts PLEASE!
Okay, as the receiver of these gifts, I can agree that God is a generous giver however I am still not so sure about the practicality of all of these gifts. Can I really use these gifts? Maybe I CAN use these gifts, but not necessarily in a way that I might have imagined. Here is the way that I imagine the practicality of the gifts God gives:
When the light goes on and I gain some wisdom or insight, this is a gift from God.
When I feel a closeness in my heart, a warmth, that God is near, this is a gift from God.
When God provides light for my path, and I see it, this is a gift from God.
When I forgive others as God has forgiven me, this is a gift from God.
When I don’t worry about trying to save myself, when I don’t worry that I haven’t been a good little boy or a bad little and that heaven is mine, this is a gift from God.
When I live out the consolation of God, so that someone else’s tears dry up, this is a gift from God.
In that regard, when I listen to the sorrows of others, this is a gift from God.
When I remember that is it better to give than receive, this is a gift from God.
When I live for and serve others, this is a gift from God.
When I suffer and remember that God suffers with me and I am not alone, this is a gift from God.
And one could go on and on.
But rather than go on and on, as one considers this list from the perspective of a GIVER of gifts, that is something different.
From the human perspective, I think most people love to give gifts; we tend to give and give and we often don’t have limits. In that regard, it is a little easier to relate to this overwhelming list of gifts God has given us.
God keeps on giving, doesn’t wait for sales, doesn’t seem to care how much God has already given; God can give and give without stopping or without reservation.
There is one more thought from the perspective of the giver. I think there is another factor that enters into God’s gift-giving. There is joy.
It would not take a lot of imagination to look at a picture taken 50 years ago, to see two little boys who are overcome with joy. What joy there was in opening up all those gifts and then playing with them! But I’ll be there was a lot of joy in the hearts of the gift givers.
As GIVERS of gifts, I also think that we enjoy the giving as we get older. Having children or grandchildren certainly changes your perspective and you get just as excited as they do when they open their gifts.
I think joy factors into our gift-giving; we continue to give, because we get great joy as people receive our gifts. In that sense, almost every gift is practical.
Maybe God is like that. Maybe God loves giving and gets great joy from it. God gives and maybe God gets excited when we discover the depth and richness of our gifts.
Maybe God gets excited when I open some of these little revelations and then lines up ANOTHER gift for me to open up later on. God is not stingy or resentful and that is a wonderful thing.
I would like to think so.
And the gifts keep coming! Thanks be to God.
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
John 8: 31-36
.... and God said to the people of Israel..... Athings are going to change.
And the people of Israel said..... Dang!
Or they might have said, Change? Why? But we have always done it this way! Things are just fine the way they are. We don't NEED change!
But God said, We are going to change. Things are going to be different! We are going to do things in a whole different way!
GOD wanted a change. As the prophet Jeremiah speaks to the people of Israel, he indicates in our Old Testament lesson that God is going to make a change.
What kind of changes did God want to make?
God wanted to change the covenant and create a NEW covenant. God had made a covenant with Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. God said to Abraham that God would bless Abraham and make him the father of a great nation. That nation, with descendants as many as the stars, would be a witness to God and would be blessed by God. God would always be present for them.
The Hebrew people fell into slavery in Egypt, but the God who promised to deliver them... did. Israel escaped the clutches of slavery in Egypt and for 40 years they wandered in the wilderness of the Sinai desert. During that period, God was trying to mold them into a people, God's people, into a society that honored Yahweh that was ordered by the divine wishes of Yahweh.
One of the ways that Yahweh tried to mold these people, was through the giving of the Law. God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, the heart of the Law, the rules for their society to live by. The law gave shape to this covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel It was how they were able to keep up their end of the bargain, their end of the covenant relationship with Yahweh.
But Israel couldn't keep it up. It was impossible, they were human beings; they made mistakes. No matter how hard they tried, they continually tripped up over themselves.
Despite the threats of disaster and punishment, the nation of Israel could not avoid slipping into evil. The evil, the ungodly ways of their society kept building up and finally the prophet Jeremiah lets the people know that Yahweh has had enough.
Things HAD to change.
What was the change that God had in mind?
Jeremiah tells the people of Israel, that God will do something NEW. The people will still have the law, but God is going to rewrite this covenant relationship that they have with God.
The new covenant does not involve the giving of a new law; that is unnecessary. The covenant will be new in the sense that it will confer a new, inward motivation and power for fulfilling the law already known. The promised forgiveness of sin and the knowledge of Yahweh will give people a new incentive for obeying Yahweh and God's law. God will REWRITE the law. Yahweh says, AI will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
What changes for them, is the fact that the grace and mercy of Yahweh, comes to the forefront of their faith. Grace and mercy is not written down, it is put upon their hearts by God.
The life of the nation of Israel will not be ordered around the rules they can't keep, but the knowledge that they will fail, AND God will forgive. This message will be imprinted in their minds and on their hearts. It will be the new standard by which they will live. They will not have to pull out a book or a manual to try and figure out which rules and rituals they must follow to appease God. Rather in their hearts and their minds they will have a relationship with a God who forgives, a God who is gracious and merciful.
So things changed. God made the changes.
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther looked around him and thought, Athings have got to change. Luther looked at his church, and came to the conclusion that they had lost their way, were wandering in a wilderness that did not understand the grace and mercy of God.
When Luther nailed his 95 theses, his 95 vision statements to the heavy wooden door of the church in Wittenberg, he was signaling that things had to change.
WHAT had to change?
Luther tried very hard to order his life around the correct observance of the rules, as did everyone else. But eventually Luther got tired of trying to follow the rules, because he felt no peace, he felt no closer to God. Luther was chasing his own tail and there was no fulfillment in that. In fact, there was fear and a tortured existence. Luther feared for his salvation and his life was bent on trying to keep the rules at all times, so that he would never be excluded from heaven.
Things had to change and Luther concluded that the change had to involve Christ; no matter how much you didn't measure up, you were still loved and accepted by God. This reality was ultimately and most effectively dramatized on the cross. Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness and salvation of humanity. Jesus demonstrated that God is with humanity in every aspect and phase of life. We are never abandoned by God, we are never alone. On top of this, God ensures us a place in eternity with God; this is all a gift of God, we can do nothing to get it.
Luther felt that the grace and mercy of God had to be at the forefront of faith. Grace and mercy is not written down, it is put upon one’s heart by God.
So things changed.
Five hundred years later, things have changed and yet things seem eerily similar. The world is just as crazy as it was then; the world is changing just as much as it did then. We may forget that 500 years ago, a new technology had been ushered in which changed the world forever; Johannes Guttenberg invented the printing press. Martin Luther took advantage of that new technology to talk about God’s unchanging grace and mercy.
Five hundred years later we marvel at our Ipads, and our Android phones and our Blackberries. I hope I have included everyone. T
Things never stop changing and in this world of change, strides a God who changes.
GOD has always changed? There are several instances in the Bible, where God has been described as changing God's mind. The new covenant in the book of Jeremiah is only one instance.
As a consequence, the church will ALWAYS change.
Because the more things change, the more they remain the same. God changes, but God remains the same.
Am I confusing you? Good!.
Jesus gives witness to THIS immutable truth. God changes, yet God remains the same. Jesus captures this idea when he tells his disciples, Athe truth will set you free.
Jesus says, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
God changes. God challenges the church as the world changes around it. But while God does change things up, God remains the same.
What remains the same is God and Jesus. What remains the same, is the grace and mercy of the God we meet through Jesus. God STILL says , "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
And this is the life of the church..... the church universal and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The core message of how we meet God through Jesus, remains the same.
How we live it out.... changes. The actors on the stage may change, may trade places, but the play remains the same.
God is up to something in this world. God is active, not here within the walls of this church rather God is active OUT THERE.
God still challenges us to discover what God is up to and then to change and respond.
"Yes, says, God, "change is always needed. Living in faith and hope, trusting in God and each other, we don't HAVE to say," Dang.
We CAN say, Amen, and thanks be to God.
Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Psalm 147: 13-21
John 1: 1-18
Have you ever had someone thank you for something and you have responded, “Oh, it was nothing?” Or have you ever responded by saying, “Don’t mention it,” or “You don’t need to thank me?”
Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, when WE are expressing our gratitude, it isn’t “nothing.” We WANT to express our gratitude.
Showing gratitude, saying thank you, is important.
Gratitude has been a major theme of one of the devotional websites I have featured on St. Paul’s Facebook page. Specifically, I refer to the website entitled, “In the Meantime.” “In the Meantime” is a blog site developed by David Lose, a Lutheran Seminary professor in the United States, which he uses to encourage people in their faith and life. Under the theme of gratitude, David Lose has a series of blog spots. Their titles:
The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude, Contagious Gratitude, The Power of Gratitude and finally Easter Gratitude. You can access all these blogs by going to: http://www.davidlose.net/tag/gratitude/
I would love to show you the videos included in all those blogs, but time will not allow. So here’s a quick little recap.
The blog entitled, The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude, features David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who is known worldwide for his teaching on practices of gratitude. David Steindl-Rast asserts that it’s not that happy people are grateful, but rather that grateful people are happy. Further he says, we are most grateful when we receive a gift. We are truly grateful and most grateful when we recognize that every moment in our lives, is given to us as a gift. Recognizing this, he says, we begin to live gratefully.
In the blog entitled, Contagious Gratitude, an outfit called Soul Pancake, asked people to write down the attributes of the person they were most grateful towards, the person they were most grateful for. But simply writing this down was not enough; Soul Pancake asked their interviewees to telephone those people. That experience of telling someone why they are appreciated and the experience of expressing gratitude was, of course, very GRATIFYING, for the speaker and the listener.
Soul Pancake did the same thing in the blog entitled, The Power of Gratitude.
In the blog, Easter Gratitude, David Lose recapped a project he had undertaken last year during the season of Easter. During each of the 50 days of the Easter season in 2013, he wrote down one thing for which he was grateful. At the end of the 50 days of Easter, he came to these conclusions:
Nevertheless, “practicing” gratitude – that is, making an intentional effort to name it daily – made a difference. It broadened my “gratitude horizen” and invited me to notice even more of the blessings in my life, and noticing them made me even more grateful and, quite frankly, happier.
Anytime we start a new behavior – whether eating more healthfully, nurturing a richer prayer life, or exercising – it helps to do it with others in community and support each other. So also with gratitude. We have such communities, of course – we call them congregations – but don’t always use them this way. Why not?
Gratitude is the noblest emotion. I’ve said this before, and while I’m not prepared to argue whether it really is the noblest emotion, it certainly is a contender as gratitude simultaneously invites and forces (in a paradoxically non-contradictory kind of way) you to shift your focus away from yourself. Even though you are grateful, you are grateful for something beyond yourself, which is a remarkably freeing and healthy way to live.
Well you might ask, why all this talk about gratitude?
The Bible passages today are about gratitude. How so?
In the Old Testament lesson, the prophet Jeremiah talks about what God will do for the people of Israel. About 570 years before Jesus, the little nation of Israel was overrun by the powerful Babylonians. Israel was destroyed and many of her important people were taken into captivity. This event became known as THE EXILE. As desolate and discouraged as the people of Israel were in exile, the prophet Jeremiah told them to take heart. God, he said, would redeem them and return them to their homeland. They will be restored as a people and they will live in abundance.
And what should be the reaction of the people of Israel towards this gift of God? GRATITUDE! Jeremiah encourages them to show their gratitude towards God through worship, through singing, praising God, being radiant over the goodness of the LORD, by being satisfied with everything God has given them.
In Psalm 147 the psalm writer says,
“Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!”
In other words, show gratitude towards God. Why?
Because, says the psalm writer, “…God strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat. He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.”
The psalm writer says that God has not dealt with any other nation in this manner. No other nation has been gifted in such a way as Israel has been gifted by God. Therefore, Israel should show their gratitude towards God through praise.
In our epistle lesson, the second lesson, the writer of Ephesians provides a long list of gifts from God:
- God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
- God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
- God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,
- God freely bestowed on us grace through Jesus.
- we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
- God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure, set forth in Christ,
- In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
That is quite a list of gifts and blessings from God. And what are we supposed to do, according to the writer of Ephesians? We are encouraged to show our gratitude, we are to live for the praise of his glory.
Finally, in his Gospel, John the fourth evangelist says, God has given us the Word, Jesus, who has existed before time with God, but walked this earth with us. Through him we have been given life, light and grace. We have seen the light; we have been given grace upon grace. Forgiveness, eternal life!
And what should be our response? John the fourth evangelist encourages us to show our gratitude towards God, by receiving Christ, believing in Christ, and realizing our potential in this life, as children of God.
Gratitude is important. It is important to thank someone, to express gratitude, it makes us feel better; it makes the recipient feel better.
So how does this relate to our faith? How does this affect our relationship between us and God?
It is important to show our gratitude towards God. Important for God because God likes to be thanked and important for us because it makes us feel better.
All of those gifts, listed in our Bible passages, are given to us as well. So how do we show our gratitude towards God?
Well, our Bible passages today list a lot of ways in which we can show our gratitude. It is obvious that worship plays a big role in our expression of gratitude. In almost every passage, worship is emphasized. What are we doing when we gather for worship? We are praising God, we are in effect showing our gratitude.
The Bible passages AND the blogs point to other aspects of the Christian discipline which play an important part in gratitude. When we talk of the Christian discipline, we speak of reading Scripture, praying, serving, telling others, giving.
Think about what YOU do, think about how you try to live out your Christian faith. When you are able, do you feel better? Do you feel better when you worship and sing praises? Do you feel better when you can be a generous person through your gifts of time, talent and treasures? Do you feel better when you are serving whether it is in a committee, at the Street ministry or a host of other places?
The more I think about it, I wonder if we in the church are in the gratitude business. As the Scripture writers say, as some of the blogs attest; as we express our gratitude towards God for what God has given us, we live grateful lives.
Living gratefully, we are connected to something beyond ourselves; we are more strongly connected to God. Living gratefully TOGETHER, we end up being more strongly connected to each other.
Notice the shape of that grateful living, connected to God and connected to each other. This is in the shape of the cross. “Cruciform” living, grateful living.