Thanksgiving Sunday 2021
Bible Reading: Philippians 4:4-20
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Even after a year of disruptions, lockdowns, anxiety over COVID and limited opportunities to gather, we are taking time to reflect on God’s goodness to us and to give thanks. In a creative and participatory service, we will be pondering what we are thankful for, praising God for God’s goodness and exploring how we might be able to respond with gratitude by living lives of thankfulness.
Do you remember last year when we had Dr Catherine Bennett as a guest speaker at church? She was the person who started the Kindness Pandemic movement in Australia – a movement which encouraged people in this time of COVID uncertainty and difficulty to show kindness to others.
As part of this movement there is a number of social media forums which share heart-warming stories of kindness. They are great to read but they do have a bit of a pattern to them. It goes like this.
- Person struggling with life
- Another person is kind to them – pays for their groceries, gives them a gift, leaves a basket on their front door, looks after the kids and gives them a day off etc
- The recipient is so thankful and asks how they can repay them, how they can show their thanks.
- Nearly every time the answer is “No need to repay … however you can show your thanks by being kind to others. Pass it on”
We love the idea of Pass it on. We don’t help people so that they will repay us back, but we do hope that if we show someone kindness that maybe they will also show kindness to others too. Sort of like “Do unto others as you would want them to do … unto others as well”
And while I gest a little about the golden rule, this is a biblical concept. Think about the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18 (v21-35) whom Jesus criticised for not forgiving others when he had just been forgiven. When we are blessed or have mercy or kindness shown to us, it is part of our faith response to also show that blessing or kindness or grace or love to others.
The Apostle Paul who wrote half the New Testament was also really big on this idea. In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul says that we are to be compassionate to others using the same compassion that was shown to us.
Today on this Thanksgiving Sunday, I wish to encourage us all to – as we just did – to pause and to count our blessings, to give thanks to God for all God’s goodness to us. That is important. But as I was preparing for this service I kept thinking about Old Testament prophets who kept on saying that their festivals and songs were not what God wanted, God wanted us to live lives of justice and mercy and to walk humbly with our God. Or James in the new testament who says that our faith is not just concept but is something that is reflected in our actions. Or 1 John – which is all about love – clearly says “let us not love with just words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Thanksgiving Sunday is more than giving thanks to God for God’s blessings or singing songs of thankfulness … it is also about recommitting to living lives which reflect our gratitude. It is blessing others with the blessings we have received.
How do we do this? Well this brings us to our Bible reading from Philippians 4. Actually I could have used about a dozen different passages in the New Testament which all basically say the same thing, but we haven’t looked at Philippians for a while so I chose this passage.
Paul starts with this idea that our gratitude, our thankfulness, should not be a one Sunday a year idea but rather we should rejoice in the lord ALWAYS. We should live out our thankfulness in our actions daily. In every moment of everyday.
But that is easier said than done, isn’t it? Sure it is easy to give thanks to God when things are going well, but Paul didn’t have to live through 2020 and 2021. After all that we have been through, we are not expected to rejoice ALWAYS, are we?
While Paul didn’t have the same experience as we have had, Paul’s life was not always easy. Just look at the list of experiences in 2 Corinthians 11 to see that Paul had been arrested, jailed & beaten, spent time on the run, shipwrecked three time, known hunger and thirst, been cold and naked, overworked etc. In our reading from Philippians Paul humbly states that he knows what it is to be in need, and he knows what it is to have plenty. (v12) And yet he can call us to rejoice in the Lord always, to live lives of thankfulness because he has learnt the secret to being content in any and every situation – whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
So what is this secret? Paul says, “I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength”. Pauls says that focusing on the difficulties or challenges before him gets him down, instead he looks up and looks to Jesus, he realises that Jesus is greater than any that he is facing. That the blessing from Jesus is the strength needed to keep going. Many of us would agree that it has been our faith that has given us the strength over the past 18 months.
And isn’t that what Thanksgiving Sunday is about. Pausing in the busyness and chaos of our lives and looking around to see the blessings we have and looking up to give thanks.
I also think that this imagery of looking up and be helpful in the other part of the question of living out our thankfulness.
When we look up from our own situation and look around – in our own families, in our church, in our circle of friends – we begin to see that there are others who are also doing it tough or who are in need of some kindness or love. How do we share the blessings we have received with the people around us?
But we can also look beyond our regular circles. When we take a closer look at our local communities, or just beyond our local communities into this region of northern Sydney, we will find that there are pockets of people and groups and organisations who are not experiencing the same blessings as we are – or who have been greatly impacted by the events and lockdowns of late. What does it mean for us to show kindness or compassion or generosity to these people or groups?
Or we can look a forward a little and see that while we are in a challenging time now, the beginning of next year as we wrestle with the complexities of opening up will be just as challenging. How do we look forward with hope to 2022? It should be a hopeful time. Here at the church we have Kevin arriving, we should be able to meet in person next year. How do we as people of faith encourage a sense of hope and energy – not only here at TUC but in our local communities as well – as we look forward into 2022?
Paul in our reading was commending the Philippian church for their concern and generosity but acknowledged that they were struggling to find an opportunity to show it. I think that we are sitting in a somewhat unique moment – coming to the end of this time of lockdown and moving into a time of reopening and reconnecting – that opportunities are arising for us show our thankfulness, to share our blessings, to make a difference.
One of the key ways in which we can do this here at TUC is through our actions – in the way that we offer ourselves in service to God, to the church and to others. We live out the verse from 1 John by not just showing love with just words or speech but also with actions. We are so blessed here at TUC with an amazing group of people who regularly give of their time and skills and energy in serving on rosters or helping run groups or leading in worship etc, or people who are serving in charities or organisations in the community. For which I want to say “Thanks be to God”.
At this point I would love to mention that there are two teams that need some extra volunteer investment. The Church Management team (which meets monthly to look at the day to day practical decision of the church) have had a couple of key members retire and would love to have some new people join them. If this interests you have a chat with me or Rob Day. Also the Turratots board desperately needs a treasurer. It is not a huge task but it does need someone to provide leadership in this area. If you feel God is calling you to bless either of these teams, talk to me.
But today on thanksgiving Sunday, in response to God’s goodness to us, I would like to do something that we did in 2019 here at Turramurra. I would like to put forward a Thanksgiving Offering.
In the same way that we have been blessed through people serving, we have also been blessed over the past 12 months through the regular tithe’s and offerings of our church. Once again we are so grateful for people’s financial generosity because it allows us to invest in moving forward our church’s vision.
We are a church who punches above it’s weight and while we focus our resources and our budget on our key mission priorities, the reality is that we also have more ideas that what our resources allow us to do.
And that is where the Thanksgiving Offering comes in. A Thanksgiving Offering is a way in which we can respond to God’s blessings by sharing those blessings with others. It is a once-a-year special offering – above and beyond our regular giving to the church – designed to make a missional difference both within and beyond our church. Church Council in consultation others have come up with a short list of projects that are currently not resourced by our Church Budget. There is no pressure or obligation. This is purely what Paul was doing in Philippians 4, offering an opportunity for people to show their gratitude and share their blessings.
There are five project in this years thanksgiving offering, and while a sermon is not the place for me to be a salesman, I will briefly mention what they are – but if you are interested, all the details and payment options are on our website. But in brief:
Project #1 – Resourcing the Reopening of Groups.
Many of our groups are hoping to return in person before the end of the year but we are aware that it will take some time to rebuild numbers. As many of these groups (such as the Friday night children and youth groups) rely on fees or donations to pay for resources (such as food, craft etc) we imagine that they might need some financial help in the rebuilding process. We would love the leaders to focus on reconnecting and rebuilding their groups rather than worrying how they are going to pay for their ministries.
Project #2 – Easy Fold Tables
This is my personal favourite. Outside of covid, one of the regular sights I see at the church is our senior members or less physically abled members of the groups who use our premises struggling to set up the plastic trestle tables. Yes, they are light, but carrying them around and then lifting them into place is a struggle. When the Playgroup got their new little tables, which come on wheels and easily tilt into place, the first thing I though was, we need these tables in adult size to help our seniors. Unfortunately, these high quality tables are not cheap – $725 each – which in not in our current budget. So I am wondering if we wish to share our blessings to bless our seniors?
As we have been encouraged, we need to be looking beyond our church and seeing how we can share our blessings with others. The next two projects focus on this…
Project #3 – Blessing our Missionaries.
Over the past 2 years we have been able to continue our regular giving towards our missionaries but due to not being able to run our missionary BBQ or other events to bless our missionaries above our regular giving. So, this Thanksgiving Offering is for a bonus blessing to our missionaries. Any money donated will be split amongst Bickerton and Blair families as the Nimbong School project in North India.
Project #4 – Blessing local charities and Community Groups
Many local charities and organisations are also struggling. As a church we have been very generous supporting such groups through our flea market but have not being able to do that because of COVID. So, I wish to suggest four groups that you might like to consider directly donating to – sharing with gratitude some of our blessings.
The four I have listed are:
- The Dish in Hornsby feeding the homeless
- Fusion working with disadvantaged young people,
- Frontier Services – providing chaplains for the bush
- Parramatta Mission meals plus program who have really struggled being in a LGA of concern
These are my suggestions, but if you have other ideas go for it. I just encourage you to share your blessings and make a difference.
Project #5 – Church Coffee Machine.
And lastly, and I stress this was not my idea, there is consistent talk about the need for a high quality coffee machine in the church kitchen to be used by all the groups. I cannot deny that this would indirectly bless me as well, but as groups reopen up, we believe that this could be a great blessing to many.
(There is also a bonus project of a fiber network switch to finish off the network mesh … as a thankyou to Matt for all his work setting it up I promised I would put it in).
So … there it is. Is this list complete? No – I am sure that there are plenty of other just as worthy idea and causes both within and beyond our church. In the big picture, none of the internal projects are critical (which is why they are not in our church budget) but we believe that all of them would make a significant difference. And we strongly encourage people to be sharing their blessings with charities and groups beyond the church as well. As I already mentioned, we are just doing a Paul and highlighting opportunities for people to live our their thankfulness in being generous to others.
As Paul said in verse 17, encouraging a spirit of generosity within people to share their blessings was not about getting people to bless him personally because God has already supplied all his needs – rather, Paul knows that sharing our blessings with others is an important part of our discipleship, of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and can make a huge difference in the mission of God.
It is part of the this amazing circle of grace. God blesses us, we share the blessings with others, and God continues to bless us and our God will continue to meet all our needs according to the riches of God’s glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:19)
I mentioned at the beginning the idea of “pass it on”. I think God is the original (and the ultimate) encourager of pass it on. As John said in 1 John 4:19, we love because God first loved us.
God loves us, God wants to shower us with blessings, even in times such as this lockdown, we still find God blessing us in different ways. And we are so thankful for that.
So let’s recommit to show our gratitude by … passing the blessing on. Whether it through the thanksgiving offering or whatever other opportunities that God might open up for you, lets be generous and show our thankfulness everyday in the way that we bless those around us and those beyond us.