Summary: A thanksgiving sermon about living a life of thanksgiving as a way of generously sharing God's wonderful gift of grace!
In mathematics, there is a theory that some of you have probably heard of called “the butterfly effect.” Now, there’s plenty of complicated ways to describe this theory, but what it basically boils down to is the idea that a single, seemingly insignificant change or event can have profound, large-scale effects later on. The most common example used to illustrate this theory is a butterfly, flapping its wings, which produces air waves that intensify over time to such a degree that it becomes a huge storm, perhaps even a hurricane.
It’s really interesting to me how the smallest things can have the biggest impact; how a single decision can send us hurdling down a path to a future that would have been completely different if a different choice had been made. Or how one prayer can reverse a terminal illness, or a simple note of compassion can bring hope into the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. The things we do and the choices we make can have a significant impact not only in our lives, but in the lives of others as well. And that is the point that Paul is driving home in our scripture lesson for this morning.
Paul is making a specific appeal for the collection for the Jerusalem Church, a collection which is important in the continued work of the early church. But Paul’s words have a much broader application, especially as we think about the continuing work of the church in the world today, and our call from Christ to make disciples of all nations. Basically, what Paul is saying is this: “Your ability to show gratitude to God for the work of grace in your life becomes the way by which many others can experience God’s grace firsthand.” And as we approach Thanksgiving 2011, this is an important lesson for all of us to keep in mind. Our embodied thanksgiving makes it possible for others to offer thanksgiving to God as well. It could even cause a “butterfly effect.” Just one act of generosity, just one show of thanksgiving to God, could be the spark that spreads a wildfire of God’s grace; and before we know it hundreds, even thousands, of people are lifting their voices in praise to God!
As a matter of fact, a life of thanksgiving may be positive in more ways than we realize! A growing body of research has tied an attitude of gratitude with a number of positive emotional and health benefits. An article in The Wall Street Journal summarized the research like this: “Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not…They are also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly, and have greater resistance to viral infections.” The article ends with, “The key [to benefiting from an attitude of gratitude] is not to leave it on the Thanksgiving table.” Continually giving thanks to God brings us joy, and it brings others joy as well! Our gratitude to God should be a whole way of life that infects others with the wonderful blessings of God’s grace!
We have much for which to give thanks to God, do we not? In this passage, Paul lifts up specifically the gift of God’s grace at work in our lives, but think of what all that means! We are here because God has brought us here. We are blessed because through Jesus Christ, God’s unconditional love has poured over us. God’s grace has opened so many doors for us, most of which we’ve walked through without even noticing! It is so easy for us to forget all the blessings in our lives. It is so easy for us to say, “Woe is me!” One of the great mistakes of life is to turn to God only in the overpowering emergencies or the shattering crises. It is so easy for many of us to curse God; to blame God when catastrophe strikes. But we have things upside down! We live in a fallen world! We all sin! And yet, by the grace of God we still have the good times and the good things that we do have! It’s not as if we deserve them! Where would we be without the help of the Lord, without the goodness of God, without the love and faithfulness of our Savior? We can try to live without God’s grace, but it really is an impossible assignment. Thanksgiving is about more than family gatherings and cranberry sauce; it’s about recognizing and proclaiming what our Savior has done for us so that others can do the same!
Have you ever given any thought to the possibility that, perhaps at times, the way we live our lives is a hindrance to others coming into God’s presence in thanksgiving? I believe this probably happens more than we are aware. Maybe because we don’t live the other six days in any way that reflects what we do on Sundays. Or perhaps people see us sinning, but never repenting. This may happen because we are a little like the Pharisees we talked about last week; we say one thing but do another. Or maybe because we are not generous in the way we should be, generous in the way Paul describes in our reading this morning. And the result is our behavior keeps others from being able to experience the generous grace of God.