It’s Thanksgiving Sunday! We have a lovely harvest display prepared by Jeannie and Joyce, plus a harvest of thankfulness that we added. And we have a beautiful Communion table, set for our celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Many of us will enjoy special meals and even family gatherings this weekend that give us reason to rejoice. And in the midst of the struggles and difficulties of the world today, we are very aware of our blessings.
We give thanks for food, homes, family, community, health, vaccines, meaningful work, strength and perseverance and the support we need through difficulties, the beauty of creation, and so many other good things that come from God.
And yet, our Scriptures today call us not only to be thankful and grateful this weekend for the good that we experience in life and for God who has come to us in Jesus Christ and who abides with us by the Holy Spirit. Our passages this morning from Hebrews and Mark challenge us with the difficult call of the Gospel and the BIG response that is required of us when we choose to follow Jesus.
The author of Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before [God] no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”
And you thought that this would be a nice happy day to come to church! You assumed you would be invited to name your gratitude, sing some songs of thanks and praise, and then go home and get that turkey in the oven for dinner tonight. You probably weren’t expecting swords and nakedness and accounting for your words, your actions, and even your thoughts!
But we are followers of Jesus. And although Jesus did enjoy times of celebration and joyful meals with his friends, when he took bread, looked up to heaven and gave thanks to God for it, it took on a meaning well beyond gratitude.
A meal with Jesus moved from just thanksgiving towards giving ourselves in thanks for God’s goodness and grace and provision for our lives. But I’ll say more about that in a little while. First, let me turn to the challenging message of the Gospel for us today.
In the midst of Jesus’ healing and teaching ministry, a man hurries up to him to ask a question. He might be someone like you or me. Someone who believed in God, who practised his faith by following the commandments. Someone who recognized Jesus as the Teacher who might guide him towards fullness of life.
Most religious people would assume that this guy was doing everything necessary. It makes me wonder why he even asked the question, given that he was doing so well at all the things God said we should be doing.
Now, I’ve heard some Christians suggest that anyone can be good, follow the commandments, and live with kindness, justice, and care. And if someone asked them what more they must do to live forever, they would say that believing in Jesus is the key. There are even some other parts of Scripture that tell us that’s all we need to do. But that’s not what Jesus says in Mark’s Gospel.
Jesus looked at the man and loved him. And he said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
I mentioned that today’s text was going to be challenging, didn’t I? So challenging that this man couldn’t do it! He was shocked by the requirement, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.
Yes, this man was called to believe in Jesus, as some want to emphasize. But it’s not a kind of believing that is in our heads, that’s just about our thinking. It’s a kind of believing that means having faith in Jesus, trusting Jesus, believing in him enough that we are ready to leave everything else behind when he calls us to do so. Even if we have a LOT of stuff, a lot of blessings, a lot of things that we’re thankful for today.
All those wonderful things that we named in our thanksgiving this morning. All those blessings that we presented as a “Harvest of Thanksgiving” – Jesus may ask us to give them all up.
I heard about one couple who came as refugees to Canada many years ago. They came with practically nothing, but they worked hard – not only to earn a livelihood and buy a house, but also to build a church that worshipped together in their language.
But after some years, others in their community were struggling with housing. The couple realized that they had more than they needed at their stage of life, so they gave their home to those that needed it. They moved into a little apartment instead.
No, they didn’t sell the house. They gave it. Perhaps because they had come with nothing, or perhaps because of their faith in Jesus, they were not holding so tightly to their possessions.
I know another couple who gave up a lot when they were quite young. Perhaps you know them too. Like the man in the Gospel story, Jesus called them to sell their possessions and follow him. In their case, Jesus led them to Africa for a mission appointment.
And it wasn’t just things that they left behind, but people too. Friends, family, and grandparents to their kids were left behind in Canada. And staying in touch wasn’t nearly as simple and affordable as it is now.
The years they spent there were challenging and wonderful, full of risk and sacrifice, and also blessing and joy. They didn’t come home with more stuff, but they came with transformed minds and hearts, equipped by the experience to live and serve wherever God might send them next.
I think it was hard to give up as much as they did, but I know they never regretted it. In contrast, I think the man in the Gospel story regretted his choice – the choice to hold on to all his stuff – the very moment he walked away from Jesus.
I don’t know what Jesus is going to ask you or me to do next, or what we may be challenged to leave behind or give away. We may need to release our grip on things that make us feel comfortable and safe. We may need to set aside our plans and priorities to put God’s plans first, no matter how much the world tells us that we deserve to have all our dreams come true.
I don’t know where Jesus will call us to go or send us to do. But I am pretty sure that it’s going to be BIG. So big that we shake a little in our boots, wondering how we will manage to do it.
After the rich man walked away, Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Now remember, when Jesus says “Kingdom of God” he’s not just talking about heaven or what happens after we die. He’s talking about the time and circumstance in which we participate in God’s realm in the world. He’s talking about the world as it should be, the Kingdom that is coming and is already growing all around us – in which the poor are raised up, the hungry are fed, the captives are set free, and the love of God is shared abundantly for all.
And we will miss it. We will miss that Kingdom of God if we stay in our houses, and look after our own, and accumulate our stuff. Yes, God’s call is BIG, and it’s going to be hard, but nothing is impossible for God. And God is with us.
The letter to the Hebrews encourages us that Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. He understands our hesitation, or even our fear and trepidation when God asks us to give up more than we think we can handle. Jesus has been tested as we are, and yet did not walk away from God’s call.
Don’t you remember his prayer and agony in the Garden of Gethsemane? He had already given up family and a normal life. He had already given up a livelihood, and any possibility of wealth. He had already given up peace and quiet, and safety and security.
And now, he knew he had to give up everything – power, freedom, dignity, even life itself. It must have seemed impossible that this giving up could be the answer, that this sacrifice could lead to life and a future with hope for all. But nothing is impossible for God.
Friends, when we gather around the Table of the Lord today, we do so in remembrance of Jesus who gave his whole life for the life of the world. But it’s not only a memorial, not only a recollection of Jesus’ self-giving love. It’s also a thanksgiving.
We begin our Communion liturgy with the “Great Prayer of Thanksgiving.” In the Greek, the word is “Eucharist” which means “thanksgiving.” In our prayer, we give thanks for God the Creator of all who made all things including us, and who loved us so faithfully and consistently even when we turned away.
Then we give thanks for Jesus who came to us to show us God’s love in human form – teaching us, healing us, and leading us in God’s way of love. And finally, we give thanks for the Holy Spirit who lives in us still – assuring us of God’s love, and empowering us to be love for one another.
Yes, when we break the bread and share the cup, we give thanks for Jesus who gave everything away in love for us. But we don’t stop there with thanks alone. We pray: “As this bread is Christ’s body for us, send us out to be the body of Christ in the world.”
That is HUGE! It is a difficult calling for us not only to be willing to follow the commandments, not only to believe with our minds… but to have faith in Jesus, to trust Jesus to help us in our weakness, and to transform us by the Spirit into his very presence in the world. And then it is huge to give ourselves away as he calls us to do.
May your Thanksgiving Weekend be filled with thanks for the blessings of life and God’s goodness to us day by day. And may your Thanksgiving Weekend overflow with giving, as you respond to Jesus’ call with courage and hope. Because nothing is impossible for God.