Sermon: Come to the Table – “Thanksgiving and Generosity”

November 25, 2018
Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday

Matthew 25:31-46
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Come to the Table – “Thanksgiving and Generosity”

The Season of Thanksgiving and Generosity
Last week we enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday with our families and friends.  It is a time of joy and a time of saying “thanks” to God for his abundant blessings upon our lives.

Let us look around and look at our life. God has richly blessed us. Although times might be difficult for you, still there is so much for which to give thanks. You have a relationship with our gracious and loving God. You have this family of faith who love you and care about you. You have enough food, nice clothing, and a warm shelter. Your gifts of time, talents and possessions are ways of saying “thanks” for the blessed life you have in God our heavenly Father.

To respond to God’s abundant blessings, we designate this Sunday as a “Commitment Sunday,” and on this special Sunday we want to bring our offerings and pledge cards for the year of 2019. (Just last week, we learned that Christian stewardship is not just a fundraising, but more about our loyalty to God through our time, talents and treasures.)  When we celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday, we know there are still people who have suffered from disease, people who go to bed hungry every night; people who have no medical care; people who have to go to a T-station to sleep overnight. They live without much of the hope we have for our normal lives.  We collect offerings and money, not just to pay the bills of our church utilities, but to support Christ’s ministry for the sake of people in need.

I hope we celebrate this “Commitment Sunday” as a reminder that we are blessed in order to give and share. When we give, we don’t want to give out of obligation, but out of genuine love, for we know “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Jesus the Shepherd King
Liturgically, today is the final Sunday of the Church’s year. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent, and we will start the year afresh as we prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world. This Sunday we consider Christ as a King, and as a King we think of him as a Shepherd to his people.

The Shepherd is the most favorite image of our Jesus when we think of what he looks like. Don’t we see Jesus as everything good? He loves us; he heals the sick; he seeks the lost; he forgives and saves us from death to eternal life. When we are in trouble, we think of our Shepherd leading us to green pastures and still waters, and we feel so good. Our Shepherd Jesus is a man of compassion, mercy and everlasting love.

Yet such is not the only image we have from the Scripture today. The Christ in Matthew’s Gospel is shown as a King who is to judge his people; if we love and serve him, then he rewards us; but if we do not love and serve him, he punishes us. Christ is our King, and we must respond to him, or face the consequences. This is what Jesus says to us in his parable this morning.

We need to know where to find Jesus, so that we can reach out and serve him. The answer is written in today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel: “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; 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.”

Reflecting on what Jesus just says in this parable, don’t we see so many Jesus walking and passing by us? He is hungry standing in the Food Pantry lines. Or as a homeless man, he is living on the streets and waiting for the gate of the Salvation Army to be opened so that he can get a coat. Or he is in the nursing home, or more likely, he is homebound because he can’t afford to go to a hospital. Or he is in prison, feeling hopeless about his life.

Don’t blame me. I didn’t say it, but Jesus said it; “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (v. 40). Taking Jesus’ message literally, he is more likely to be found in the downtown of our communities, looking for arms from us. And he is not just there to comfort those in suffering, but he is also suffering along with them. That’s where Jesus is.

As our Shepherd, Jesus calls each one of his flock and feeds and nourishes our spirits. That’s why we want to come into God’s house to give thanks to him. Yet we need to remember that as our Lord, he sends his flock (disciples) out to the world and commands us to feed his lost sheep. That’s why we need to bring our generosity to the world. In this regard, Church is the place where we worship Jesus our Shepherd and where he sends us to carry out his caring and serving ministry to all people living around us.

What does all this have to do with our Commitment Sunday? Biblically, thanksgiving and generosity are two sides of the same coin. Jesus just says in his parable what we did to people (generosity) is what we did to God (thanksgiving)! We start our worship with thanksgiving and end it with generosity. When the Israelites of the Old Testament came to their sanctuary to worship their God Yahweh, they brought their offerings and tithe of their produce. It was a way of saying “thanks” to God for his blessings upon their lives. After their worship in the sanctuary, they went out to share their offerings with neighbors in need. Generosity was a way for them to say “thanks” to God.

Likewise, we gather together to worship the Lord as we bring our own tithe, offerings and donations as a sign of our thanks to God. But that’s not all. Just a few minutes later, we are going to put them all together, bless them all, and bring them back with us, so that they will go back into the world, the world where Jesus lives and suffers along with his people. If thanksgiving is the foundation of worship, generosity is a completion of worship.

On Commitment Sunday
I really care about your worship attendance, about your fellowship with one another, and about your commitments here in our church. Yet, what makes me most impressed to you is your own willingness to reach out to Jesus who is out on the streets and to respond to the needs of our neighbors in our communities. I am glad that our Church is full of the sheep, full of the shepherds, full of servants who like to gather together and reach out together to serve Jesus Christ sitting out in the world.

On this Commitment Sunday or Christ the King Sunday, I give thanks for you all who know how to serve God. I give thanks to Jesus our Shepherd who feeds us, leads us, and blesses our lives every day. And I give thanks to Jesus our Lord who is himself joining the people in suffering and calls us to serve him in everything we do and every place we go. Amen.

Sermon: The Samaritan Leper

The Samaritan Leper
Luke 17:11-19 RUMC
19 November 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

A Sunday school teacher once asked her class what they were thankful for. One little boy raised his hand and said, “My glasses.”  When asked why he was thankful for that when most little guys were bitter about wearing them, he said, “Because they keep the boys from fighting me and the girls from kissing me.”

The theme in our gospel text is about one thing–thanksgiving. It is very simple: Ten men were given something; one returned to give thanks, nine did not.

My text is Luke 17:11-19.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

As Jesus approached a village, ten lepers stood far away and cried for mercy. Most believe the men had a type of leprosy called Hansen’s disease; it started with a small white patch on the skin and progressed over the entire body.  The unfortunate ones with the disease were called the “walking dead,” because those afflicted were highly contagious and with no hope for a cure.  Their ultimate destination was banishment into a leper colony.

Now Luke, the gospel writer, tells us the ten lepers cried out for mercy, and once they got Jesus’ attention, he told them to report to the priests for confirmation of their healing. Perhaps as they walked towards the temple, thy began to notice physical signs that they were becoming well.
It was at this point, that the Samaritan leper stopped, turned around, and went to thank Jesus for the miracle. Now I am reasonably certain that if the nine had gone to the high priest to get their confirmation of healing, then came back to thank Jesus, Luke would have written this down.  But it appears they did not.

This past week in the news, I thought it was interesting, amusing and reflective of the times in which we live. Three UCLA college basketball players were arrested for shoplifting in China and were detained. When they were released (which involved negotiations of the highest levels of government) there was an eventual confession, apology and thanks all rolled into one, which I was glad to see.  I suppose better late than never.

One individual whose life personified the idea of thankfulness or gratitude was a woman named Mary Reed. She was a missionary to India in the early part of the 20th century.  While Mary served, she noticed that nothing was done for the lepers, who were outcasts of society.
Though she took proper precautions, she spent much of her time with the lepers. In the course of time, she too had become sick with an illness that doctors could not diagnose.  I think you know where I am going with this.  In time, she developed numbness in one of her fingers and a rash on her face that would not go away.  Then at last a doctor realized that she had contracted leprosy.  Her reaction was interesting.
Instead of becoming bitter, angry, devastated or depressed, she decided to thank God for the blessings she already had. In time she began to realize that as a leper, she could reach more for the kingdom of God.  In her eyes, a person’s soul and where they spent eternity was of paramount importance.  That is how she got through it.

When it comes to becoming thankful, I think many are grateful, but they often forget. Their intentions are good, but they fail to follow through.  It seems from this story of the 10 lepers, 90% of the people do not thank God enough.

As a child of God, thankfulness is not a one time of year event, but an attitude that is part of us.

American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that if the stars came out only once a year, everyone would stay up all night to look at them. Unfortunately many take God’s grandeur for granted.

I also realize in life, bad things sometimes happen to good people, and it is difficult to honestly give thanks in the midst of pain. One scripture that has kept me going through tough times is Romans 8:28. “We know that in everything God works for good to those who love him.”

When we lived in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, there was a devastating tornado that went through the nearby towns on May 3, 1999. When I heard the sirens, I went into a basement for precaution.  When we received the all clear signal, we later learned this tornado had caused over a billion dollars’ worth of damage and 45 people were killed.
A week later I had to conduct a military funeral in one of the towns that was hardest hit, and it looked like a war zone. However there was one house that I will never forget:  The roof was gone; the glass in all the windows was shattered.  Clothes and personal belongings were scatted on the grass.  And spray painted on the bedroom wall was this message, “Thank you Jesus for sparing our lives.”

The person who wrote that certainly had their priorities straight, and sometimes life just comes down to that. Instead of becoming angry and frustrated about what is happening, we can look for the silver lining in the clouds.

If you are going through a difficult time, this is the time to lean in towards the trouble. Instead of running away, embrace it and the Lord.

In the current issue of the Methodist Interpreter Magazine, there are some interesting ways to practice gratitude at home or church.

  • Keep a Gratitude Journal-find the blessings in your career, family, finances, spirituality, friends and recreation.
  • Express thanks verbally or in writing.
  • Savor the moment. Eating, taking rides, visiting with grandchildren.
  • Thank God for the weather. Whether sunny, rainy, snowy, windy. Find the good in the forecast.
  • Write a note to someone you admire or appreciate in life. My wife wrote a note to a former high school teacher who is in her 90’s and it made the retired teacher’s day.
  • Read Psalm 100.
  • Rake your neighbors’ leaves.
  • Let the person behind you in the grocery store check-out line cut in front of you.
  • Visit a neighbor you have not seen in a while.
  • Volunteer a few hours at an animal shelter.
  • Smile and hold the door open for people.

These are some practical things we can do. Thanksgiving Day is more than a sit down meal.  It is an attitude of heart where we can give thanks for not only the good, but also those negative things that come our way.

Let me close. Just as the one Samaritan returned to give thanks, may we do the same.

2017 Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service

Sunday
November 19, 2017
4 pm

Join us for a celebration of thanks for all of our blessings.

Gather together as a community to thank God for all our blessings at the Ellington-Vernon Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service. Sunday November 19, 2017 4 pm at Rockville United Methodist Church 142 Grove Street, Rockville, CT 06066. Enjoy readings by town officials and local pastors and hymns led by our Ecumenical Choir. Everyone is welcome to this all-inclusive event.

 

Participation:

Bryan Flint, The Cornerstone Foundation

Pastor Wayne Hansen, Talcottville Evangelical Church

Dan Champagne, Vernon Mayor

Pastor Brent Carl, Union Church

Lori Spielman, Ellington First Selectman

Deacon Michael Berstene, St. Bernard Roman Catholic Church

Reverend Virginia Army, St. John’s Episcopal Church

Reverend Paul O’Neil, Rockville Untied Methodist Church

Reverend Ed Catalano, Church of the Risen Savior

2017 Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service

Gather together as a community to thank God for all our blessings at the Ellington-Vernon Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service. Sunday November 19, 2017 4 pm at Rockville United Methodist Church 142 Grove Street, Rockville, CT 06066.  Enjoy readings by town officials and local pastors and hymns led by our Ecumenical Choir.  Everyone is welcome to this all-inclusive event.

Sermon: Thanksgiving is an Attitude

Thanksgiving is an Attitude
Psalm 100
20 November 2016

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom told of an incident that taught her to always be thankful to God.  It was during the Second World War where she and her sister, Betsy, were prisoners at the Ravensbruck concentration camp.  When the two sisters arrived, the female barracks was greatly overcrowded and filled with fleas.  Prior to their arrival, Betsy had just read in her small pocket Bible, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 which reminded her to “rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances.” When the two sisters saw the appalling conditions, they were depressed, but Betsy insisted they needed to thank God for their new living quarters.  Corrie refused, but finally gave in.  As the months passed, the two sisters were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible studies and prayer meetings without guard interference.  Later they learned the true reason: the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.

When we are able to praise God, it gets our minds off our troubles and on to the Lord. When we are able to do that, we can endure whatever life throws at us.

My text for this morning is Psalm 100. It is a psalm that the Pilgrims knew quite well and it gave them strength in all that they had to endure, both on the Mayflower and on Plymouth Plantation.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
This is the Word of God.

The 100th Psalm was written for the Jewish pilgrims who came into Jerusalem to worship.  Now the writer of Psalms didn’t give them a list to be thankful such as:

  • Give thanks for our food.
  • Give thanks for our families.
  • Give thanks for our health.

But instead the psalmist encouraged believers to “Give thanks to Him and praise his name.” When you think about it, our focus of worship should be on God and not just on what He gives, because things such as food, shelter, health, relationships, job, car or income can change at a moment’s notice.

As chaplain of the Fire Department, I can see this almost on a daily basis. When my beeper goes off, it is always a cry for help whether it is a fire, an accident or some medical problem.  You see, buildings or physical structures can be destroyed by fire, cars can be damaged in accidents, or people can have medical situations that need immediate attention.  When we wake up we don’t know what each day may bring; unfortunately for some, there will be an emergency.  I often witness the first responders, fighters and ambulance personnel, who put things in perspective when they say, “You are okay, you are alive.  You can always replace material things, but you have your family and your health and that is what is important.”

For believers in the Lord, we are reminded there is one constant: our relationship with our Heavenly Father. The Pilgrims were the ones who started the custom of Thanksgiving, even though they lived in times of great adversity.

church-rumc

Let me put this in perspective. Let’s pretend we are about to convert ¾ of our sanctuary into a cargo ship where all of you are about to be passengers and for the next 66 days.  You would not be able to leave, and your first day of freedom will be January 30, 2017.  Let me add we would turn down the heat and shut off all the lights. Many of you will become sick with colds and the flu.  The only clothes that you would have would be what you are wearing. And don’t let me forgot, the trustees will make arrangements to have one port-a-potty placed in the corner.  These are just some of the difficult conditions that would send us over the edge.

The Pilgrims kept their sanity through their faith in God. Every day they read from the Bible, they sang praises to God, and they prayed; this was their source of strength.  That spiritual activity on the ship was what kept their minds off their misery and on to the Lord. What worked for them will work for us.

This past week, I just finished a book on tape called Captain’s Duty.  It was about merchant marine captain, Richard Phillips, and how he was captured by Somali pirates and held captive for 5 days where he endured all kinds of physical and emotional abuse.  But there was one thing that kept him going.  It was a phrase that he learned in his church in Vermont and he kept repeating it.  “God is good, all the time. God is good”.  His prayers were answered and he was rescued him.

I have some inspirational quotes:

  • It isn’t what you have in your pocket that makes you thankful but what you have in your heart.
  • It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy.
  • Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.
  • If the only prayer you said was “thank you,” that would be enough.

Today, we will sing “Now Thank We All Our God”.  It was written by a German pastor named Martin Rinckart during a very difficult time called the Thirty Years War.  During that time, thousands of refugees moved into the tiny village where Rinckart lived.  In time, the overcrowded conditions of the city brought on famine, disease, and death.  It those difficult days, Pastor Rinckart conducted hundreds of funerals, including his wife’s.  He lost all of his property, and he was desperate to find food for his children.  Yet he was able to write this song.
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;

How could he write of such gratitude? He took his eyes off his trials, adversity, problems, and death and on to the Lord.

  • That is what Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom did at the Ravensbruck Concentration camp.
  • That is what Captain Richard Philips did while under the control of the Somali Pirates when he repeated the phrase God is good, all the time. God is good.
  • That is what Martin Rinker did in the midst of death, famine and disease.

May God help us to thank and praise God despite any difficult circumstances we are facing.

Let me close. The Pilgrims had an interesting custom.  When they sat down for their Thanksgiving Day feast, they would place five kernels of corn on each plate.  It was a reminder that the five kernels of corn were rationed out during the worst of the winter and God brought them through it.

Sermon: Ten Minus One

Ten Minus One
Luke 17:11-19
9 October 2016

Once upon a time, there was a man who lived with his wife, his two small children and elderly parents in a tiny one room hut. He tried to be patient and gracious, but the noise and crowded conditions wore him down.  So in desperation he consulted the village wise man.  The wise man said.  “Do you have a rooster?”  The distressed man answered, “Yes.”  The wise man instructed him.  “Keep the rooster in the hut with your family and come see me again next week.”  The next week, the distressed man returned and told the wise man that the living conditions were much worse; the rooster crowed and made a mess of the hut.  Then the wise man asked “Do you have a cow?”  The man nodded fearfully.  Then he told him, “Take your cow into the hut and come see me in a week.”  Over the next couple of weeks the man, on the advice of the wise elder, brought in one goat, two dogs and his brother’s children.  Finally the distressed man could take no more; in a fit of anger he kicked out the animals and guests, which left only his wife, his children and his elderly parents.  The house suddenly became spacious and quiet.  He was now thankful for what he had in the beginning.

When we go through hard times, we should do everything we can to change whatever the situation is. But if it is not possible to change the circumstances, we still can have peace from God with a thankful heart.

My text is Luke 17:11-19.  It is the story of how ten lepers were healed, but only one returned to give thanks.
1 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show you to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Ten lepers stood at a distance and cried for mercy as Jesus was about to enter a village. It is believed that those 10 men had the severest form of leprosy called Hansen’s disease.  Because Hansen’s disease was so highly contagious and incurable, these poor lepers were required to stay a safe distance away.  When Jesus healed people, he used a combination of means where he would touch the sick, make spit on the ground or say some inspirational words.  In this situation, he said-“Go to the priests,” who were like health inspectors. As they went to find these holy men of God, the 10 lepers noticed physical changes.

It was at that point, that one of them returned to give thanks to Jesus. Now if the nine had gone to the priests to receive confirmation of their healing, then come back and thanked Jesus, Luke would have written that down.  But it appears they did not.

I suspect that most of the lepers wanted to be with their families, and if time permitted they would thank Jesus later, but later never came. They soon got on with their lives and forgot the one who made it possible.  What I respect about this Samaritan was that he did not forget.

While we as believers are grateful for the blessings God has given, sometimes we forget to verbalize that. For a child of God, thankfulness is not confined to the official Thanksgiving holiday.  This scripture text shows that giving thanks to the Lord is important any day and at any time.

English writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson who understood human nature said: “If the stars came out once a year, everybody would stay up all night to look at them.”

This quote reminds me of when Janet and I lived in Lakeland Florida in the mid 1980’s. During that time period the space shuttle launches were televised.  Once they achieved lift off, we would count 15 seconds and run outside to look up into the sky and watch it go as far as the eye could see.  Believe me; it was pretty exciting to see something like that in our backyard.  My landlord and landlady lived next to us; when they saw us gaze into the sky, they thought it was hilarious.  To them the shuttle launch was ho hum.  No big deal.  Over the years they had seen the Mercury, Gemini and the Apollo space launches; with the shuttle, there was no more excitement.

It is almost the same thing with the blessings of God. If we are not careful, we could take them for granted.  Going a step further, can we honestly give thanks in the midst of pain?  There are several scriptures that speak to that question.

  • Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”
  • Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

 

Gratitude is like a vaccine that can prevent certain diseases. It negates the poison of fault finding and complaining.  Here are two quotes from English writer William Ward:

“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you’?” 

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

With the Thanksgiving season just around the corner, here are some things we can do to enrich our lives.

  1. Live in the present. In weight watchers, which I am a member, they tell us to savor the moment. Taste each bite.
  2. Immerse yourself with inspirational thoughts, good books and the Bible.
  3. Be content with what we have and do not focus on what we do not have. I own a 13 foot sunfish. It looks like a giant surfboard with a small compartment and a sail on it. Whenever I am out on the lake and see one of those expensive powerboats, I feel rich. From my vantage point I can enjoy the same scenery, the beauty of the water, and the atmosphere on my simple, yet inexpensive boat.
  4. The last thing is to help others so you will be in a position to touch lives in a meaningful way.

In closing, I believe thanksgiving is important in the eyes of God. If it were not so, Luke would not have penned these verses about the ten lepers.  Theologically it is very simple.  10 were healed.  1 returned to give thanks.  Nine did not.