December 6, 2009

Bingham Powell
December 6, 2009

There are days when I read certain passages of Scripture and think, if that lesson ever came up in the lectionary, I probably shouldn't even waste my time writing a sermon. What more could possibly be added to what has already been said? Our second lesson from Philippians is one of those readings. Paul wrote, "I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you." What more can be said than that? These may be the words that Paul wrote to the Philippians almost 2000 years ago, but the sentiment is the same for me today. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you. I have so much for which to be thankful because of you. Like Paul, I'm thankful for your support and encouragement of me personally. Your deep care and affection ever since I joined St. Mary's 2 1/2 years ago has made it clear that you hold me in your heart and for that, I am deeply thankful. But more importantly, like Paul, I'm thankful for your work here sharing the gospel, the good news of God in Christ, from the first day until now. I'm so very thankful for all that you are doing to help build up the Body of Christ. Over the years, you have built up a church with strong worship, outreach, education, fellowship, and pastoral care, all designed to help draw us closer to one another and to our God.

A few of my friends have asked if I'm scared to take over from Father Ted as your new Priest-in-Charge. And sure, probably about one or two days in seven, a little healthy fear creeps in and keeps me on my toes, but for those other five or six days, my answer is a clear no, because this is a place where we truly share in ministry. I’m not afraid, because it won't be up to me alone to keep this church going. As Father Ted said in our Pledge Campaign letter this year, "Over the years, I have come to realize that my job here has not been to run a great parish, but to help everyone here run a great parish." St. Mary's is so healthy and strong not only because of the Rector, but because the church is full of healthy and strong people who work hard in spreading the good news of God's love and mercy and peace into the world. And as long as we all keep up the same effort of trying to build up the Body of Christ and we take the gifts that Ted has given us during that time and continue to use them, we will be just as successful in the next 28 years as we've been in the past 28.

I thank my God for all of your hard work in spreading the Good News of God's love found in Christ Jesus. I thank my God for your building up the Body of Christ here in downtown Eugene. I thank my God for your collaboration in ministry and sharing in God's grace. I thank my God every time I remember you.

One of the interesting things about Paul’s letter here is that he doesn’t thank them, he doesn’t thank the people of Philippi; he thanks God for them. God is the one who is receiving our thanks because God is the one who began the good work in them. They share in ministry with Paul because of God’s divine grace. The people play a role, they do the work of ministry, but only because God gave them the grace to do so. God is the one most worthy of our thanks.

The act of giving thanks is a type of prayer that we all too often overlook. Of course, right now, when some of us are still stuffed from Thanksgiving dinner, the idea of giving thanks is probably still fresh, but outside of the month of November, how intentional are we about giving thanks? Most of the time when we think of prayer, we usually think of asking God for something. How often do we thank God for something? Thanksgiving is a type of prayer on its own and an important one at that. There is a nice quote coming up this week on the Advent calendars that were handed out last Sunday that says "If the only prayer you ever say in life in thank you, that will be enough." One of my favorite prayers is a prayer of thanksgiving found hidden away toward the back of the prayer book. It begins: “Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.” Giving thanks is what we do each week in the Eucharist. That’s what the word Eucharist means; it means Thanksgiving. Let us give thanks unto our Lord God. It is meet and right so to do. The center of what we do each Sunday when we gather together, the core of who we are as a community is thanksgiving, The Great Thanksgiving. In the Eucharist, we thank God for the greatest gift of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Giving thanks requires us to look back, but the act of giving thanks also looks forward. In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he says thanks, but then looks forward to the future - "And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more." Paul is thankful for their love he has felt in the past and he hopes to build on that love more and more in the future. When we see what we are thankful for in the past, we can focus and build on that in the future.

The question we need to ask ourselves this week is "what am I thankful for?" Can you name ten things in life for which you are thankful? How about things at home? At work or school? What at St. Mary's makes you say “Thank you, God”? Is it the music? The people? The efforts to reach out into the community and help those in need? The opportunity to grow in our faith, in the knowledge and love of the Lord? The support you received when grieving? Or… what? Then take those things and offer them up to God as a prayer. I know what my prayer will be. I will thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.

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