Thanksgiving Sunday

Thanksgiving Sunday

Preached Sunday 22nd September, 2019 at Turramurra Uniting Church

Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

Our bible reading, we are encouraged to “give thanks in all circumstances” or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “always give thanks.”  But if Thanksgiving is something we should do all the time, why are we setting aside one Sunday to be Thanksgiving Sunday?

Good question.  Part of the answer is that we are honouring the history of the harvest festival when rural churches once a year would have a Sunday to thank God for the harvest.  But really, I think it is a bit like Easter Sunday.  We talk about Jesus and the cross all year round but it good to specifically celebrate it on Easter Sunday.  Likewise, while yes, we do give thanks to God all year round, Thanksgiving Sunday is a day where we specifically and intentionally count our blessings and give thanks.    

There are some great thanksgiving readings in the Bible, but for today I have chosen 1 Thessalonians 5.  Paul starts in verse 12 by saying that we should give thanks to God for those who have worked hard for God.  “Recognize the value of those who work hard among you … hold them in high regard and love for the work that they do.”

It got me thinking.  Who are the people that I have watched or learnt from or been blessed by who have worked hard in the Lord?  I first thought of Ray Cox, my youth leader in Year 9 and 10.  Ray was not your typical youth leader as he was in his late 50’s and had been running the youth group at Ganmain (the country town near where I lived) for nearly 40 years.  He loved young people and was a genius in adapting games to be new and different and fun.  

Ray worked tirelessly for the Lord, and I was humbled that when Ray finally retired, I was asked to run the Youth Group.  Ray is certainly someone I hold in high regard and love for the work that he did for God.

What about you?  Who do you hold in high regard for the work they do for the Lord for the work that they have done?

(90 second discussion)

This morning I want to acknowledge that here in this congregation we are blessed to have many of these who have worked hard in the Lord – and especially worked hard over the past 12 months to further the mission and ministry of the church.  I would love for you all to stand so that we can applaud you, but the irony is that I know that you don’t work hard for the acclamation (actually you shy away from the acclimation) but you serve because this is just what you do.

So … you know who you are.  I want to speak from the heart and say that the mission of the church has been greatly blessed by your passion, your commitment and your service.  We are so grateful, and we want you to know that we hold you in the highest of regards and we love you so much.  Thank you for all you do. 

What is even more exciting is that this sense of serving and participating to further God’s mission here at TUC has had a huge boost thanks to the Imagining Hope program … and I would love to invite our IH chairperson Peter Rogers to come up and share with us about the results or outcome of Imagining Hope in terms of participating and serving…

Imagining Hope #1

Imagining Hope set out to encourage participation in the church’s mission and it was so thrilling to see the level of congregational involvement in all aspects of the program. 

Take the Imagining Hope Bible studies as an example.  Over the three weeks of Imagining Hope, 10 different groups participated in the church-wide special Imagining Hope Bible Studies including a new bible study started specifically for Imagining Hope.  More than 100 people participated, both existing small group members and over 30 people joining specifically for these studies.  There were also many others who did not attend a group but still engaged with the studies as we printed 140 copies of the booklet and it was downloaded 163 times!  I think that covers everyone! In our group there were some lively discussions and serious questioning for each of us to turn our thought to.

Imagining Hope reminded us of the vision that God has for our church here at TUC and our dependence on God to help us bring that vision to life.  The reality is that God works best through the hands and feet of the members of the church.  The Imagining Hope program put before us the challenge that we are called to embrace God’s vision and to offer our time, energy and talents to serve in God’s mission.

You will recall that as part of the Imagining Hope program we held a Ministry Fair where we had many opportunities for people to “sign up” to serve in a ministry area or to help further a vision goal … and the response was amazing.  As of yesterday, the Ministry Fair sign up lists contained 164 names of people signing up to do things that they weren’t currently doing.  Those 164 signups came from 64 individual people.  This number is humbling.  Many churches would love for 10 people to put their hand up to do something new, and we here at TUC have had 64 people sit up and say “I offer you my time and skills to help”.  We genuinely want to say thank you. 

If you have signed up you will be contacted in the next week or so (you may have already been contacted) and be given details on what the next step is.  If you would like some mentoring or training, talk to me or Phil and we will arrange something.

But it is not just the numbers that are exciting – it is where those sign-ups are focused.  Over the next three months you will see different people involved in worship rosters or serving dinner at Turrazone or being on the Turratots management committee for instance.  More people serving in key areas that will enhance our mission.  I am personally excited that out of the Ministry Fair our church now has two new teams – the Social Justice Team and the Community Engagement Team.  Both were part of our 12 mission priorities and to see them come to life during Imagining Hope is amazing.

But amongst all that good news, there were some key areas that desperately needed sign-ups and didn’t get the responses we needed.  One that I mention particularly is the Tuesday Playgroup which is looking for another leader to serve on a fortnightly basis – doing a bit of setting up, programming, having fun with the kids and connecting with the parents.  If you are interested, please talk to me or Phil.  Also if you were not able to see the lists and sign up, its not too late – the online sign up is still open on the Imagining Hope page on our church website.

Can I just re-iterate something Phil said earlier … every person who has signed up for something new as well as all those who are continuing to serve and have added different areas of service, that we hold all of you in the highest regard and love and give thanks to God for you. 

I’ll say it again and keep on saying it – Thankyou for your service and participation in the mission of Christ our Lord here and through Turramurra Uniting Church.

Thanks Peter, I am also humbled by the number of people putting up their hand to service.  It truly makes me proud to be part of this church. 

The Apostle Paul when writing to the Philippians church in chapter 4 reminds us that we can only do that we do through the strength of Jesus.  As we can read in our massive verse that we have had up the front “We can do all things through Christ who strengthen me”.  But if we keep reading on in Philippians 4 that yes, God will supply all our needs (v19), but Paul also affirms that he is able to travel on his missionary journeys and sharing Jesus because of the generosity of the Philippians churches financial support.

And Imagining Hope also touched on this.  Imagining Hope reminded us that while it is critically important that we offer our time and talents to the mission of God, that it is also important to enable the mission of God through the giving of our finances.

We have had a dream leading into Imagining Hope … we called it our Big Audacious Goal … that through Imagining Hope we hoped that our regularly giving to the church might increase by upto $60,000 so that we can employ a part time minister to focus on pastoral care and seniors ministry and then to reallocate the other ministry hours to be most effective and fruitful for our church’s mission.  That is a huge goal, and I invite Peter to come back up again to share how we went in this aspect of Imaging Hope.

Imagining Hope #2

We stressed as part of Imagining Hope that we were not seeking to make people feel guilty, or placing expectations on anyone to give or increase their giving.  We did however, urge each one of us in the congregation to prayerfully review our giving and see if we might be able to help TUC achieve the Big Audacious Goal.

You can see from this table, and I can report to you today that as of yesterday we have had pledges totalling over $40,000 a year.  In addition to this there have been donations of $7,000 towards our special project (but it was unclear if they were one-off donations or commitments to donate that amount annually).  That is $47,373.16 in total.  Once again, this response is amazing and very humbling.  Many churches are struggling with decreasing offerings and we have been blessed with a commitment to increase it by about $800 a week!

In terms of reaching our big, audacious goal … $40-47k per year puts us in the middle of our target range, meaning that if these pledges flow through in the regular giving we should be able to implement our Big, Audacious Goal.  It might be tight but as a missional church, TUC is used to this.   The Church Council, which met last Tuesday, moved to start writing a Job Description and other documents in preparation … but we will need to wait and see if the pledges flow through as increased offerings in the lead up to Christmas before we can ultimately press the GO button.

So again, I say a heartfelt thank you to all who have pledged to be part of seeing the vision become a reality.  Now is the time to make this happen.  The final tick of approval will be given when we implement the promises we have made.    If you still want to register a pledge you can do it online or talk to the Office or the Treasurer Rob Day.  If you need some help or guidance on updating your electronic giving, please talk to the office or to our Treasurer Rob Day.

Thanks Peter – and thank you to you for all your help as the Imagining Hope team leader.  Actually, while I am giving thanks … can I also thank Chris Bosch who coordinated the Bible Studies; Will Giacometti who coordinated the IH Ministry Fair;  Geoff Leslie who wrote the missional dreaming’s in the IH Brochure; to Rob Day who worked on the financial information; Sue Whipp and Heather Koroknay for their administrative support and the TUC proof-readers who fixed up my spelling!

But in particular … I want to genuinely say thank you to all who regularly financially give to the church.  I can only do what I do because of your generosity … so I do give thanks to God for your giving.

But that sentence doesn’t capture how I feel.  You see, I know that people don’t have to give to the church.  There are so many other things you can spend it on … like saving up for an extra holiday or something like that, but instead you give to the church … which allows me to not work and instead invest my time, energy and focus into ministry and mission.   You are willing to invest in me … and I just want to make sure that you feel that every cent that you give is a worthwhile investment.   

When I think about it like this … I am more than thankful … I am actually overwhelmed.  I am so grateful that I am almost lost for words.

But it is not only your financial support – you personally support me and each other as we all serve God.  We follow the example of our bible reading where we inspire those who are struggling, we encourage those doing it tough and we strive to do what is good for each other and for the kingdom of God.

This is what it means to be a church family.  And as I said before, I am so proud of being part of the TUC family.  I am so grateful … once again, I almost lost for words.

Actually there is a story in the old Testament where the priests felt the exact same way.  2 Chronicles 5:7-14.  This story comes from the opening of the new temple that Solomon build.  The people of God gathered in the new temple to give thanks for God’s blessings and to worship God … very much like we are doing today on Thanksgiving Sunday. 

In the reading, the people had just carried the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies.  It was a moment of deep gratitude and thanksgiving.

But it is what happens next that is so amazing.  In verse 11, in this moment of thanksgiving, the musicians gathered and started to play.  It was unplanned … they just started to play.  (Actually can I invite the band up … what would it mean for you to just start to play).

So … in the middle of this worship service in the new temple … the musicians just start to play and then we read the the singers started to praise God with harmonies.  From a place of gratitude and thanksgiving … they worshipped.

Yes, the temple was built because of the generosity of donors (mainly Solomon but others as well) and through the service and work of so many people… but in the end, all the glory, the honour, the praise … it was Gods.

So they worshipped.  “Here I am to Worship”

But the story didn’t finish there.  Yes, the whole community started to worship but … God hadn’t finished giving yet.  The Chronicler also writes that as they worshipped, as they gave thanks it was like the very presence of God descended on them.

God continues to bless.    The glory of the Lord filled the temple … like a cloud … they worshipped God in thanksgiving and gratitude and God responded.

And then the most amazing line … 2 Chron 5:14

In the midst of this gratitude and thanks, In the spontaneous worship, While feeling the presence of God surround them … They were overwhelmed.  Verse 14 says that the worship leaders and priest “could not preform their service” … they were so overwhelmed that the organised worship just stopped. There were no words to say, they were so overwhelmed that even the priests were lost in the moment.

Can you imagine that … that things were so amazing that we just can go on but rather we just worshipped God.

When I think about all that God has done here at TUC over the past 12 months, when I see what God is doing in people’s life, when I think about the generosity shown in people signing up at the mission fair and the generosity of people in their regularly giving … people giving so much so that God’s mission can come alive here … I have no words … all I can do is turn my eyes on Jesus and worship.