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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

Colossians 2:6-7

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“As you therefore have received Jesus, the Christ, continue to walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

 

Luke 19:36-40

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36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 Now as he was approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

 

“Blessed is the king    

who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven,    

and glory in the highest heaven!”

 

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 


This is the last Sunday in our series on gratitude and thanksgiving. As we wrap up this series, it occurred to me that what we have been talking about throughout the month is a particular lens through which we understand our faith. I suppose there are multiple ways of understanding who God is, how God works in the world, and what our relationship is to the divine being we call God. In our passage from Colossians, the writer reminds its readers of their faith in Jesus and how that faith is designed to carry them through every eventuality. In a general sense, we see that our faith is built upon a foundation of Thanksgiving, an outpouring of what we’ve been taught about Jesus—that Christ is “the image of the invisible God” and the one in whom “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell;” all things were created in him and through him and for him, and in him all things hold together (1:15-20).

 

This sweeping understanding of Jesus and what Jesus’ life meant to the people of Jesus’ day offers us hope for a better tomorrow. We can see that by faith, and through the practice of Thanksgiving, we are somehow made whole. As I was thinking about the depth of the Book of Colossians, and its cosmic perspective on the incarnational aspects of Jesus as the Christ, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words in the Book of Luke. The Luke passage is at the end of the story of Jesus’ triumphal entrance into the city of Jerusalem prior to his death. I have often thought that the word “triumphal” was misplaced in this context, but it is used to better understand what happens to Jesus on the cross, that Jesus’ death and resurrection ultimately defeat death, which is triumphant, indeed.

 

What we see in the Luke passage, though, is Jesus pointing out the nature of the whole of creation. When the Pharisees complain to Jesus about the shouts of praise from Jesus’ disciples, Jesus replies, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” The image of stones shouting out praise and glory to God may be worth the silence. What a spectacle that would be. And yet, how true it is that when we fail to offer God thanks and praise, the whole of creation will chime in and make its presence known.

 

This reminds me so much of walking in the mountains of Southern Appalachia. There is something magical about the hills, valleys, and peaks that scream God’s beauty. If you’ve ever spent any time sitting by a rushing creek or stream, the babbling of the water over the rocks sounds like music that echoes throughout time. Surely God hears the language of the water and the stones, both offering their praise.

 

I have often wondered if we were more attuned to nature, would it be possible to understand the language of trees or mushrooms, or any other living thing. Could we actually talk to the wildlife around us, or all the plants that find life among us. We tend to think that we are superior to all other living things because we are thinking, feeling entities, but without all the other living things, we could not live. It is hubris to separate ourselves from the very things that give us life.

 

Instead, our faith teaches us that we are interconnected beings of one creation. God saw fit to create us alongside all other living things, which should cause us to pause and ask how we can better praise and offer thanks to our creator. What Jesus reminds us of is that the whole of creation is better at doing the one thing we all should be masterful at—praising and offering thanksgiving to our creator. There was a time in the evolution of man when we were far more connected to our creator than we appear to be now. When we were surviving on the land, one meal at a time, and understood the sacrifice of a single animal to feed a group of people, our connection to the realities of this world was far more tangible than today.

 

We’ve lost our sense of wonder in creation – maybe because we are so removed from it – and this loss affects our ability to see God or know God in the tiniest of ways. God is longing to be in relationship with us; to hear our thanks and praise. We might ask, though, what do we have to be thankful for? What kind of praise can we offer a God who allows such horrible things to happen to us and around us? Perhaps this is why the Luke passage is so special. Jesus knew he would soon be arrested and put to death. Even so, he did not change his plans to go to Jerusalem; he stayed the course. And as the people are singing when he enters the gate, he understands that his life, just like all of our lives, is worthy of praise and thanksgiving.

 

Jesus reminds us so blatantly that we cannot escape the love of God no matter how much we try. Our lives are held by God, maybe even for God’s purposes alone, which we are not privy to, but are bound none-the-less. There is comfort in knowing that God is that intimately involved with the whole of creation. I’m glad to know that there is this interconnectedness that I cannot escape, no matter how much I try. What draws me back, again and again, to the Luke passage, though, is the simplicity of the stones. I collect rocks and have long believed that there is something special and unique about rocks, although, we could say that about all of creation. What I need to instill in my heart and mind, though, is that an object, such as a rock, may have the capacity to cry out to God, and because I am so busy walking by without noticing, I miss the song of the rock.

 

Our praise and thanksgiving to God is a powerful set of tools that can bring us closer to God, our creator, and closer to the whole of creation. Our praise and thanksgiving can root us in our faith, can give us the necessary elements to begin healing from all the assaultive things in this world. When we recognize how we are connected to all life, when we offer song just as the trees offer their wind song, we acknowledge the life that is in us all, and the joy that comes from living in this very moment.

 

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and offer thanks and praise for each and every one of you.

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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

Philippians 4:4-7

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4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus the Christ.

 

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, written while he was in prison, Paul takes a rather upbeat tone to tell the congregation to rejoice, to not be anxious, but rather spend their time in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. This letter provides an interesting look into Paul’s theology regarding prayer to God and makes a bold claim that if we make our requests known to God, we should do it with thanksgiving in our hearts. The outcome of these requests is not necessarily a resolution to whatever problem or situation we take to God; it is peace that guards our hearts and minds.

 

Once again, we see the idea of thanksgiving or gratitude being used as a way to influence our thinking. The idea that we need to focus on rejoicing and giving thanks is not new, but Paul’s understanding of the product of these actions may be unique. It isn’t just any kind of peace that we receive; it is the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

As we have reflected in the last two weeks, there is something rather spectacular regarding the use of thanksgiving or gratitude to affect internal change. When we are able to be grateful for what we have, something shifts and changes in us. This would apply to our prayer life as well. Prayer is a way of communicating our intentions to the universe. I have long believed that prayer is one of the best ways to make known what it is we really think, feel, or believe about the world, it gives us a method of speaking about deeply personal things without recrimination. God is always there to listen, and we are always free to speak the truths of our hearts.


What makes this passage remarkable is Paul’s understanding of how thanksgiving increases our internal peace and maybe even moves us to a place of acceptance. When we  pray, we are breathing out all that is getting in the way of us becoming that which God desires us to be, and we are breathing in God’s vision for the whole of creation. It is intangible but real. It holds all the promise of a better tomorrow. Thanksgiving shapes and molds how we see the world. It alters how we talk to God and how we live in the hope of God on a daily basis.

As we inch closer to the holiday of Thanksgiving, it is my hope that we all utilize the tools associated with having a thankful and grateful heart. These will move us a little closer to the peace we long to know.

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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

Jeremiah 30:18-19

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“Thus says the Lord: I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound and the citadel set on its rightful site. Out of them shall come Thanksgiving and the sound of merrymakers. I will make them many, and they shall not be disdained.”


As we continue our discussion of Thanksgiving and Gratitude, I thought this passage might be an interesting segway into idea of restoration. Our passage today makes it sound as though the restoration comes first and then the thanksgiving comes as a byproduct of the restoration. I’m not so sure this is really how it works.


While it is true that we find thanks and gratitude when that which was lost to us has been restored, what I find most in my own life is that gratitude and thanksgiving come first. Let me explain.


In the book of Jeremiah, we encounter the story of the Israelite people being whisked away to Babylon in captivity. In the previous chapter – chapter 29 – we read, “4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.


It was God who sent the people of Israel into exile. But he doesn’t tell them to weep or be depressed. Instead, God tells them to find gratitude and thanksgiving: build houses; take wives; have children; plant and grow food; and seek the welfare of the city. These are not things that you do when you are ungrateful or unthankful. No, these are tasks that people engage in when they are trying to make a way where it appears there is no way.

Chapter 29 is also the chapter where God says to the people, “10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.


What we learn from this text is that God is requiring the people to adopt a particular kind of attitude, one where they are grateful for the circumstances of their lives regardless. This is not easy, but it makes sense that when we lack gratitude and thanksgiving, what we are really doing is taking our situations in life for granted. God is often absent in these moments.


God is trying to get the attention of the people in a dramatic way. All other attempts have appeared to fail. We can ask, “What ways has God tried to get our attention?” and likewise, “Has God failed?”


This entire story reminds me of how stubborn we can be as a people. We think we know what is best and we fall prey to the age-old adage that we can conduct our lives any way we want with few if any consequences. We see evidence of this all around us. And yet, we are called to be accountable for our behavior. We are called to take seriously how we show up in the world. What God is asking the people to do in the diaspora is to reevaluate their lives. Take stock and make changes. To ultimately find a way to be grateful for where they are and what they have been given, even though they are not in their homeland.


When we have been stripped of all that we know and love, it is difficult to find gratitude. None of us wants to look at difficult circumstances as if we deserve them. In fact, the idea of deserving hardship is not really what God is about. I do think, though, that God wants to equip us for these difficult moments and that having an attitude of gratitude and being thankful for what we do have provides us with some necessary tools to weather any storm.


The idea of restoration coming on the heels of some dark moments fills me with hope. I like the idea of being restored. Whatever malady I am facing, God can work through the noise and help me find wholeness again. But God can’t do it alone. Well, I suppose God could if God wanted to, but I think God chooses, quite intentionally, to not treat us like puppets with God as our puppet master. We are not toys for God to play with, we are part of the created order. And while it may seem strange to us, I believe that God desires for us to be active participants in the work. God can’t make us be or do anything that we aren’t willing. This means that we have choices and with those choices are consequences.


The act of restoration comes over time; it is a gradual healing and making whole of that which is broken. Sometimes we veer so far off course that it can take a while for us to find our footing again. The beauty of working with God in tandem is that God meets us where we are. Not only does God show up, but God walks us through the difficult moments of finding ourselves again. It really is a partnership.


In this moment with the Israelites, I imagine that the writers of this text felt that God was the one who had shipped them off to captivity. While it is difficult for me to imagine a God that would do such a thing, even to teach someone a lesson, this is where we find ourselves. What the people were told, though, is to thrive where they were planted. And they were reminded that God wasn’t forsaking them but was expanding their understanding of what it means to be a community.


In some ways, the text in Chapter 29 is not really good news. But by the time we get to Chapter 30 and beyond, there is an understanding of God’s power of restoration. Does it make their current situation any better? Probably not. And yet, the people did thrive, and they did return, and the temple was rebuilt. And all of these things happened because the people figured out how to find some gratitude and thanksgiving even in the midst of discomfort and grief. What are we being called to overcome in our own lives by actively seeking gratitude and thanksgiving? How can these positive things reshape our understanding of what God is trying to do in our lives?

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