Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 17, 2013 The Ripple Effect: Giving Thanks

Psalm 100
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Philippians 4:4-13
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable―if anything is excellent or praiseworthy―think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me―put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Heard a cute story about the habit of saying Grace before a meal:
PASTOR: Now, Simone, tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?
SIMONE: No ma'am, I don't have to, my Mom is a good cook.

(Even though we in this church are all good cooks, we will have our benediction serve as Grace for our turkey dinner!)

This is the final in my sermon series called the ripple effect ...
toss a stone into water and the ripples appear and spread out...sometimes much further than you would imagine! This series has been spread out in part because we had a couple special services recently. The topics have been prayer, bible reading, worship (communion), being together, and today Giving thanks. These are ways in which we can stay in our faith, live our faith and even grow in our faith, to help spread the vision that God has for this church! It's wonderful to say one believes in God and Jesus, but we can do more! Jesus said, “Follow me”. and these practices are how we do better at following. They enable us to do things that ripple out and benefit others..but also enable ripples within ourselves that help us learn and grow in kindness and compassion, to become better human beings and better followers of our loving Lord.

Our passage from Philippians is a prime example.
{READ lesson}

Rejoice in the Lord. No matter what's going on, God is in charge!
You know people will say, 'if God is love, how can this happen...” referring to disasters, illness, sick children. That's a fair question!! Well, if there were no God, there would be only disasters, violence, hatred, illness, devastation. There would be NO joy, no peace, no love, no beauty, no truth-because these are the qualities of God. We only know truth, beauty and joy because of God. Rejoice in the Lord...again I say rejoice.

No matter what is going on in your life, in the world, there is SOMETHING for which to be grateful. There is something that is right, admirable, true, something lovely. Focus on these, give thanks for them and for the ability to perceive them! Give thanks for a bird song and for hearing, for the colors of the sunrise and sunset, and for vision. For the aroma of food cooking, and the ability to smell...See what I mean here? This is how we maintain that attitude of gratitude that Paul is talking about here. And this attitude will help us get through a LOT.

There have been many studies that show that keeping positive thoughts help a person emotionally in many ways. It promotes resilience against stress...can help against depression or anxiety, and can even help a person sleep better! That is what Paul is saying...'the God of peace will be with you” keeping a positive attitude helps us maintain equilibrium even when things are challenging.

That equilibrium can help us to see that when things are falling apart, others are as well. That we are all in the same boat, we are all dealing with STUFF.

Author Anne Lamott says,
“we're all in the same boat. We ALL think we missed school the day that the visiting specialists stopped by our grade school to distribute the pamphlets on what is true, who we are, how we are to live with the great mystery of life, how to come through dark times, how to awaken. We're all sort of winging it, trying to learn self-love and respect, ... and live lives of meaning and joy.”

So we work on holding onto what is true, beautiful, noble, the things that help us remember the qualities of God and that bring us the peace of God.... And that equilibrium can help us to want to reach out! We can share that peace!

Social psychologists are increasingly finding that "pro-social” behavior – including expressing gratitude and giving to others – is key to our psychological well-being. Even how we choose to spend our money affects our health and happiness.

Expressing gratitude confers benefits, so too does giving to others. New research shows that people all around the world --derive more happiness from spending money on others than they do on themselves.

"For the first time, we show that giving away money or spending it on others confers the ...psychological benefit of increasing the giver’s sense of wealth,” says Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and co-author with Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia of the upcoming book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. In {several} new studies, Norton and colleagues showed that charitable giving makes people feel wealthier.

This research follows on other work... that shows that giving time to others – from helping with homework to shoveling a neighbors’ driveway – actually makes people feel that they have more time. "In fact, giving time away ...{helps us feel we have MORE time} even more than unexpected windfalls of free time.”

Giving our money helps us to feel wealthier! Giving our time helps us feel that we have more time! Could it be that our Creator God actually MADE us that way? On purpose?

Giving is a huge key to feeling good.....when we bless others, we feel blessed. That is how the Kingdom of God works! We think we have set out to do something for someone else, and we end up feeling good, feeling that we have more time, money and we just feel better about ourselves in general!

So you want to feel realllllllly good?! How about being a blessing to our church!? You can feel more wealthy and feel that you have more time, both! We need both time and talent, and all of us have things we can do to help out.

Here in this church, we are doing wonderful things to bless others, and will continue to do so, even while we are in transition until the new Sr Minister is called here. The Sr Minister is not the only reason the church's the people! People who are committed to taking care of others, people who know how good it feels to do something, just because we are able to do so!

We give because we can. Because we recognize that we are blessed, and we can share some of those blessings. And we give because God gave...The Eternal God who Is and Was and Ever Shall be....gave God's Only Son-- For each of us! We give because we realize that we are each a child of God, an heir with Jesus Christ! Jesus, who gave ALL for us, the greatest gift of all, and we can do all things through Him, who strengthens us.

A while back, early in our merger process, I shared this quote with you all....and I think it bears repeating.
Author N.T. Wright in his book Simply Christian, writes of what the church can be:

“It’s a place of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life. It’s where the homeless drop in for a bowl of soup and the elderly stop by for a chat. It’s where one group is working to help drug addicts and another is campaigning for social justice. It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry out that purpose. It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover, in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. No church is like that all the time. But a remarkable number of churches are partly like that for quite a lot of time.”1

This church is partly like that, for part of the time. There is more to do, but we are on our way. I am convinced this vision of what the church can be is part of what we are called to! I was convinced of that early in our merger process, and I am convinced of it today. But I can't do it alone, nor can whomever ends up as our Sr Minister, whenever he/she comes here. It takes ALL of us. And that is who is at work right now. We are becoming that church of vision, even in this time of transition. WOW, that is amazing, it's a gift from God. Let us be generous with OUR gifts today, tomorrow and next year.

The ripples we cast here in UCB are spreading a LONG ways...thru our monetary donations and actions, we in this church are making a big difference in lives in Beloit and beyond. Through Heifer International, which helps families learn to feed themselves and their neighbors. Through other missions, we help disabled people in Mexico, translate the Bible in Mozambique. We gave school supplies to 340 kids here in Beloit, we help educate children in Myanmar. and we are collecting today to help disaster victims in the Philippines. Our ripples are spreading across the globe!

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

How about a group of thoughtful, committed citizens who pray, read our bibles, gather as the Body of Christ to worship and give of ourselves and our gifts? Think of our ripples spreading out... we can help change the world! We can do ALL things through Christ who is our strength!

Let's pray
Gracious God, thank you for creating us to be giving people. Help us to be a blessing today, tomorrow and every day, through this church and in our every day lives.

1 - NT Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, p. 123

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