The EPISCOPAL CHURCH of ST. JAMES the LESS
The Way of Gratitude, and Love. A Sermon for the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Don’t you just love on the Sunday before Thanksgiving a reading telling us not to worry? Did Jesus ever cook a Thanksgiving turkey? That’s what I want to know.
These are the readings assigned for Thanksgiving Day. I’ve found in my years of ministry that no one is thinking about Thanksgiving on the Sunday after. Everyone’s too busy cooking to come to a service the day of. So we’re celebrating on the Sunday prior, with Thanksgiving readings, and music, and decorations. (Isn’t this altar lovely by the way? Ruth Brooks from the Altar Guild does this every year. It’s my favorite altar arrangement after Christmas and Easter.)
So I know we’re not quite there yet, but Happy Thanksgiving!
Today is also the last week of our Annual Appeal, and that’s not an accident that it falls right before Thanksgiving. Our theme this year has been “Walk in Love.” We’ve talked a lot about love, about giving as a response to our love for God and each other. About giving as a way we walk in love, one of the many ways.
Two weeks ago Patrick Wynne told us about moving to the Episcopal Church from another tradition, and how since being at St. James he comes here not to fear God, but to hear God. I loved that. Last week, Andrea West told us about serving on the Altar Guild, the quiet time alone with God she relishes on Saturday mornings. That, and how growing up her mother used to hit her with a shoe to get her to wake up for Sunday services. Douglass Hatcher shared his experience growing up as a priest’s kid and reminded us of that wonderful hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” There was the wardens’ letter, with Tracy and Pam’s memories of their children and grandchildren growing up here, and of Tracy’s daughter taking her first steps at St. James, walking in love.
And the videos! I’ve watched those so many times. Ruth Brooks talking about stern Mrs. Isom, the Sunday school teacher here back in the 40s and 50s after whom our Isom Room is named. The senior youth talking about the Midnight Run ministry to the homeless, the youth group, and loving the community here. The Whitney girls who grew up at St. James and their exuberance at seeing everyone two weeks ago at their goddaughter’s baptism.Lorraine Hansen kept us on message with the goals of the campaign: 100% participation. Collectively raise our pledge 10%. And throughout you’ve heard over and over these three words from our weekly liturgy:
Walk in Love.
One word we haven’t used so much that we’ve always used in years past is Gratitude. How much our giving is a response to our gratitude–gratitude not just for this church, but for all of life. We say this a lot in church and nothing can be truer: All life is a gift. One of the most spiritually advanced states we can reach is when we see things not as our own, but as God’s, and the more we understand that, really understand, the more generous we’ll be. It’s that simple.
Some years ago I read a study where churches that use the language of obligation, debt and duty consistently raise more money than churches that use language of gratitude and love. Think about that for a moment. Churches that say you have to give, you’re obliged to give or it’s your duty raise more than churches that rely on language of gratitude and love.
I wish I could say that surprised me. It didn’t. When we talk about duty and obligation, what we’re talking about is fear. Fear of what might happen if we don’t do what we’re told. Fear is a powerful motivator. We see it everywhere. Just look at our politics. We use fear to motivate. Fear, to rally. To get quick results. To win. But love is the long-game, And it’s the long game we play in the church.
If you want to get somewhere fast, you use fear.
If you want to go far, and long, you use Love, and Gratitude.
So what if it doesn’t get the same results? We give because we want to give. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul? This is the last week you’ll hear me up here talking about our Annual Appeal. Next week is Christ the King Sunday and then after that Advent begins and before we know it, it’ll be Christmas. So in the spirit of love and gratitude as we head into Thanksgiving week, let me conclude this appeal by saying how grateful I am for this church, for all those who support it in so many ways, for being your rector, and for the incredible blessing of walking the way of love with the people of St James.
Happy Thanksgiving … and Walk in Love.