Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
3 We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. 4 We’ve done this since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all God’s people. 5 You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You previously heard about this hope through the true message, the good news, 6 which has come to you. This message has been bearing fruit and growing among you since the day you heard and truly understood God’s grace, in the same way that it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, who is the fellow slave we love and Christ’s faithful minister for your sake. 8 He informed us of your love in the Spirit.
9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. 13 He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. 14 He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins. (Colossians 1:2-14 CEB)
I have found my time here in Meigs County great. It’s a close community. People talk to you. There’s Mexican food. The one main difficulty I have is the lack of a coffee shop. When I was at my last church there was a local coffee shop that opened near the church. I would often go there in the afternoon. It was a great place to linger, to write a sermon, to study. My favorite coffee there was the Dancing Goats blend that comes from a roaster in Atlanta. On more than one occasion I would meet people there instead of at my office. And the coffee really was great.
I think it is difficult to get good coffee. Some people really like the coffee at McDonalds—I don’t. It’s got this taste that I just don’t like. And before you think I am a big coffee snob—more often than not, I drink plain black coffee. And I really like the coffee at sonic. If I had my choice I would go to Starbucks, but in all honesty – I really like Sonic’s coffee.
Starbucks, though, for a chain, is where I like to purchase coffee. It’s always fresh. They brew new every 30 minutes, and any left in the carafe they pour it out. This ensures that I, the customer, always has a fresh cup.
While I appreciate Starbucks commitment to caffeine, is kind of the community that rises up around the place. One practice that I find interesting is this practice that I think they call paying it forward. What happens is that some guy goes through the drive through pays for his coffee then decides to pay for the car behind him. I have heard about this happening people—of course, I don’t think it’s ever happened to me.
Were it to happen to me, I guess shocked and say thank you and drive off. But to some people they decide that since their coffee is free they will pay for the next customer. Hope, who is much more generous than I would probably do this, but for me – I’m likely just to smile and drive away. I might feel bad because I couldn’t thank the person in front of me who is already on their way to wherever they are going, but I would be thankful. I would tell this story all day. When I got home, I sure I would tell my family, and Hope might inform me that I would have been thoughtful for me to pass on the gesture. But the thing is, if I had passed it on, it wouldn’t have benefited me and I probably wouldn’t be so thankful.
Perhaps this has happened to you. Perhaps you have done this for someone else. But I bet there is something that has happened to you at some point in your life that you have been thankful for. Some small event, or some circumstance that made you thankful.
Perhaps you feel this way when McDonalds brings back the McRib. I’ve been told this is a big deal. Never really understood this myself.
Perhaps you felt this way after someone gave you a nice gift.
Perhaps you felt this way when bought your first house. Or went on a good date. Or got to spend time with loved one. Thankful.
Oftentimes at thanksgiving, families will sit around the table and require each person to share something for which they are thankful. Has your family ever done this? I think it’s a neat thing to do. Often in doing this we find that we are thankful for many of the same things.
What fascinates me about this practice, and the way we usually talk about gratitude and giving thanks is that it is an individual thing. We are sitting together as a family, and each person, individually, shares what he or she is thankful for. In doing this, each looks into her own life and own experience to share something neat that she thinks is worthy of gratitude. Though we are together for the meal we are thankful as individuals.
Sometimes I might a small prayer after a good day, “God, thank you for today, it has been such a blessing in my life.”
If we all got together for our thanksgiving dinner, what would you say you are thankful for?
All this thankfulness is great. It makes communities better; it makes you a healthier person; it makes your relationships better; it gives you a better mood.
But still I’m struck by how it is something we kind of do alone.
In our scripture passage that I read earlier, we see a different understanding of thanksgiving and giving thanks. In this passage, Paul and Timothy, are writing to a church in Colossae. As with most of the Bible, this letter was not written to an individual. Often, in today’s world, Christians will read the Bible thinking that it was meant for them, personally for them. It’s this tendency to read something in the Bible addressed to someone and then you read it as if you were the primary audience. As if the letter was written to you. But this letter first written to church. And a church is more than one individual. This letter written to group of people and meant to read by the group.
It’s as if someone writes Decatur UMC a letter, and addresses it: “Dear people of …”. That kind of letter is not meant for one person, it is meant for a group. This is the kind of letter that Paul and Timothy are writing to the church in Colossae.
This was a town in what is now the modern country of Turkey. Both of these men express that they together give thanks to God because of what this church is doing. They heard of the faith of this church and heard of how the church expresses love to all of God’s people. It’s the collective faith and collective living of this church that gives Paul and Timothy something to share thanks with.
But they aren’t just expressing their thanks. They then give them some guidance. They say “We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way.”
They are praying for this church live as Jesus intended them to live. And then Paul and Timothy give them three examples of what it means to live lives worthy of Jesus: “by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people.”
One of the main markers of living this faithful life, is giving thanks with joy to God. But this thanks is not only the kind of individual thanksgiving that we might give around the dinner table. Instead, the thankfulness in this scripture lesson is communal.
In another letter to a different church, Paul is expressing a similar idea, and says “always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ.”
In this passage it is even more clear that thankfulness and thanksgiving is linked with communal living. Here he is saying, give thanks and submit to each other. Submitting to one another is not something you can do by yourself. It requires a least another person. And in this instance, it is addressed to the church telling us that we need to submit to one another and express thanks together.
This idea of submitting is very troublesome these days. We live in a world where we discourage submission—where we encourage empowerment and liberation. I’m the biggest fan of empowerment and liberation; the submission that Paul is talking is not a submission that puts one person in a position of power over another. Instead, submitting to one another we all are supposed to look out for our neighbor and put the needs of others first. In doing so we are equal and we can give thanks together.
This communal idea of giving thanks brings people together, and I can’t think of a time when we need this more. As a nation, we don’t trust one another. In 1972 Americans believed that most people were trust worthy, most people were generally good people. These days we hardly trust one another at all. These days, only about a third of Americans believe that others can be trusted. People are giving thanks at home, and don’t think their neighbors can be trusted.
At first it may seem as if this lack of trust doesn’t have anything to do with thankfulness. But you see, in our scripture lesson, Paul is telling us that we need each other, we need live with each other, we need to put each other first, and we need to be thankful for others.
Despite this lack of trust, I have been pleasantly surprised this week with an outpouring of this shared thanksgiving. On Monday I stopped into Meigs Ministry; and let me tell you, this place is huge asset this community. They help others, they run a great thrift store, they feed people. I mean, this is such a great thing in our midst.
I was there because our boy scouts. You know we have a great scouting program at the church. It touches this community in real ways. There are boys and girls whose lives are enriched because they are a part of scouting at Decatur UMC. Anyways, I was talking with our scout master, Greg, and the boy scouts, each year, provide thanksgiving dinner to a family. They live into this idea of communal thanksgiving—of giving thanks as a community, and share with others.
So I was helping them identify a family, and while I was talking with Suzie at Meigs Ministry I saw the list of names that were being helped this thanksgiving. She and I talked about these families, and identified one family that really could use even more help.
In addition to this, the Adventist church, this year, is providing a cooked thanksgiving meal to people in need.
I think this is the kind of thing that Paul was talking about when he wrote to these early churches telling them about this communal idea of living and this communal idea of giving thanks.
In this age where Americans don’t trust each other, where we are deeply divided—the role of the church is very important. It’s up to us to do what our scripture passage is talking about. When we do it, it should then spill into all areas of our lives—and with prayer can bring us all closer together. Making our community, our state, our nation, our world more grateful and better place to live.
Decatur United Methodist Church
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