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Thanksgiving Joy (manuscript)

T070_A_Photohis sermon was preached on 11/25 at the Monument Heights Baptist Church for the community “Thanksgiving Eve Worship Gathering”.

 

“Thanksgiving Joy”   –  Mark 10:13-16

 

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

 

What does God looks like?

 

This is an important question. In fact, it is THE question behind all theological discourse.

 

What does God looks like?

 

It’s an important question because our answer – our “picture of God” – will influence all aspects of our faith, values, morality, and ethics. It’s important because if our picture of God is distorted, then all of life will be skewed in wrong directions.

 

What does God looks like?

 

We’ve been given lots of images. Artists, movie makers, authors, musicians, clerics, and religious leaders from across all spectrums and traditions have offered us countless pictures of God.

 

What does God looks like?

 

Each of us have our own images of God. Voltaire said, “God created humanity in His image and ever since, human being have been trying to return the favor”

 

What does God looks like?

 

Is God the Universe, the FORCE; some nebulous great spirit?

Is God a majestic king sitting on a heavenly throne?

Is God a wise old man with a long flowing beard? Is God the happy go-lucky character like George Burns?

Is God a court judge ruling over human existence?

Is God the supervisor at work looking over your shoulder?

Is God a critic passing judgment on the drama of your life?

Is God a kind and loving parent looking out for our best interest?

Is God a heavenly grandfather trying to spoil his grandchildren?

 

Is God some of this, none of this, or all of this?

 

What does God looks like?

 

Does God watch us in some detached way from the distance? Or is God a personal, present and engaged in the present?

Does God favor some people over others? Or does God love all people the same?

Does God rewards faith with material wealth?

Or is God present with those in poverty, feeling the pain of life?

 

What does God looks like?

 

The Guardian News broke the story about a previously unknown self-portrait by Rembrandt, revealed beneath another painting titled: “Old Man with a Beard.” The discovery was made using the latest x-ray technology. Rembrandt started this self-portrait only to paint over it later to reused the canvas for “Old Man with a Beard.”

 

This got me thinking about how people think about God. God is perceived by many more like that second painting – the “Old Man with a Beard.” Much of religious art portrays God as an old man, sporting a long flowing beard, sitting on a celestial throne, distant and detached, strict and stern, far removed from our daily lives.

 

But what if we’ve got God all wrong? What if the “Old Man with a Beard” like many of our other mental pictures of God actually covers up what God is really like? What if our picture of God distorts the nature and character of God? Where might we turn to find a clear self-portrait of God? A picture of God freed from the layers of religious paint? Where can we turn to find a picture that reveals an unvarnished understanding of God?

 

I suggest that we turn toward Jesus. Jesus is God’s self-portrait! Jesus once said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. The Father and I are one!” The core conviction of the Christian faith is that God looks like Jesus. We believe that Jesus is the incarnation – the fleshing out – of God. We believe that Jesus is “the word become flesh to dwell among us.” We believe that God looks like Jesus because God IS Jesus; because Jesus IS God.

 

It all this is true – if Jesus is God’s self-portrait – then our images for God must included laughter, smiles, and joyful play. That’s what we see in the picture of Jesus painted in the verses of scripture we looked at just a few moments ago.

 

How did Jesus find the time to bounce babies on his knee? Our lives are much too busy to waste time doing trivial things like that. We have places to go. We have people to see. We have urgent things that have to be done a.s.a.p.

 

But Jesus found the time to bounce babies on his knee. He made the time to play freeze-tag, hide-and-seek, duck-duck-goose, or whatever the first century equivalents of those games might have been. Jesus knew how to play. He knew how to enjoy life fully in the moment. Tony Campolo writes:  “Children are so intense. They cry with agony; they laugh with joy; they are really turned on to what life is all about.”

 

Jesus says: “Anyone who does not welcome the Kingdom of God as a little child will never receive it!”

 

Here’s a part of what I think Jesus meant.  I think he was saying:  “Unless you approach life with the same enthusiasm and joy as a child at play, you can’t be part of what I am about.”

 

I think we need to learn how to play. We need to know how to get outside of our heads and enjoy life a little bit more. We need to learn how to sing and engage in joyful laughter.

 

If you are like the typical individual in our society, you probably feel overworked, overburdened, and under-appreciated. You probably describe yourself as weary, worn-out, tired, and exhausted. You feel as if you are on the verge of a meltdown or burnout.   If you ever feel this way, you are not alone. Psychologists tell us that stress related illnesses are at an all-time high. The director of the Menniger Institute estimates that nearly 70% of all minor ailments—such as colds and fatigue—are nothing more than psychosomatic reactions to daily stress.

 

Where does out stress come from?

 

Sometimes stress comes from our homes—from our family life. This time of the year really brings out that sort of thing. Everyone will gather around a table to enjoy a nice thanksgiving meal. Then it begins… “Now, honey, don’t you think it’s time to settle down and find a husband.”

 

“I can’t believe you would support a person like Trump…a person like Clinton…a person like (whomever).”

 

“I can’t believe you’re going to THAT church! I heard they got themselves one of them woman preachers over there.”

 

“It’s time for you to turn off that twitter machine and stop watching cat videos so we can have joyful family time.”

 

“When are you going to stop following your dreams and get a real job?” It takes less than an hour for your in-laws to become outlaws, and your children to start exploring how to divorce their parents.
Job stress is also epidemic. Some of you go to work trying to climb to the top, but it seems as if somebody has taken a few rungs out of your ladder. The hours you work are too long. The pay you receive is too little. Your boss’s expectations are unrealistic. From your view of the rat race, the rats are definitely winning.

 

Some days the stress of life simply seems overwhelming.

 

Just about the time you think have your financial life in order you get a letter from the IRS informing you of an audit.

 

You step off the bathroom scales feeling proud of your weight loss success till your spouse says that your scale is running about eight pounds too low.

 

Your blind date tells you that her favorite movie is Fatal Attraction.

 

It feels like the stress is coming at us from all directions.

 

Did you know that Jesus had days like this? Sure he did! Think about it! The people whom Jesus worked with were exasperating.

 

The disciples never understood what Jesus’ ministry was all about. They always seemed about one taco short of a combination platter.

 

Then there were the Pharisees. Don’t you think that just once Jesus would have liked to teach one lesson without some pea-brained legalist trying to pick it all apart?

 

Jesus even had family problems. One day, Jesus was preaching when his mom showed up.   She said he was crazy and ought to come home. Probably something like, “Come back to Nazareth and build tables and chairs like your daddy Joseph use to do.”

 

Jesus’ life was filled with stress. There’s nothing more stressful than being called Messiah. Jesus had parables to teach, people to heal, water to walk on, a world to save.   If our list was as long as Jesus’, we wouldn’t be found playing with children.

 

But that’s where we find Jesus today. He is playing with the children. He had so many stressful demands on his life that he went out of his way to find occasional opportunities to enjoy himself. He was forever seeking joy in a stress filled world.

 

I know that some folks may find this hard to believe—especially the stuffed-shirt, excessively formal, solemn faced type people among us— but sometimes Jesus did things just for the fun of it!

 

He attended parties.

He told jokes.

He observed and enjoyed the Jewish festivals and celebrations.

He pointed out that the Sabbath was a gift not burden.

He set aside time for recreation, enjoyment, and worship.

 

Jesus played games with children.

 

In fact, Jesus had so much fun that people even began to call him “a glutton and a drunkard.” The religious leaders of Jesus day thought he was simply having too much fun to be the Messiah.

 

Jesus came eating and drinking and socializing and participating in God’s world. He knew that life was too short not to be savored.  Jesus’ celebrated the good things that God had created. He was joyful and thankful for his Abba’s blessings. He knew that one of the secrets to surviving life’s sorrows was to enjoy life’s blessings.

 

“Enjoy life the way children do!”

Have you ever watched a child play?  They are not self-conscious.  They are not reserved.  They are not stuck in their head.  It does matter what they are doing.  They turn loss and have fun.  They live in the moment and revel in the blessing that life has to offer.

 

Jesus is setting an example for us when he spends time with the children. He’s showing us what God is like. He’s teaching us to be joyful and thankful for all life’s blessings.

Sometimes we get so busy being grown-up that we lose our capacity for living with childlike joy. Without that joy, we will never really experience the kingdom of God.

 

Let’s look at our calendars. I bet for many of us there is not much time scheduled for having fun. We are too busy and the stress levels just keep adding up and multiplying.

 

 

We need to recognize those stress signals.

 

We don’t fall asleep as quickly as we once did.

We feel exhausted when we wake up.

We always seem to have a headache.

We are addicted to Tums and Rolaids.

We can’t remember the last time we really laughed.

We walk slower than we are used to walking.

We feel older than we really are.

We find it easier to get angry and harder to get happy.

We constantly feel there are not enough hours in the day.

We feel like everyone is conspiring to frustrate us.

 

All these symptoms are signals that God has built into our lives that we are over stressed and approaching burnout. When these signals appear we need to take a break. We need to have some fun! We need some joyful diversions from our stress filled lives.

 

The cost of not paying attention to our stress is frightening. Stress destroys our health. People who center on their work— with no time for play— are often described as hard working when they are young. At middle aged they are described as heart attack victims.

 

Stress leads to alcoholism, obesity, smoking, depression, nervous breakdowns, ulcers, suicide, and premature death. Tension-filled lives have all kinds of costs.

 

The most frightening aspect of our stress is that it pushes us away from intimacy with Christ. All work and no play keeps us from living as joyful Christians. Without a sense of gladness and joy, we end up spending our time, our energy, and effort on things of no great importance. Without joy, we invest in the trivial and miss the what is truly significant.

 

What does God look like?

 

In Christ, we discover that God enjoys play, merriment, and what we might inaccurately describe as foolish frolicking.

 

Listen, sometimes the most Christ-like thing you can do is to relax, have fun, and give yourself self a break. Do something out of the ordinary. Get away from the noise. Life in the fast lane isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes we need to pull off to the side of the road. When the stress begins to wear us down we need to follow the example of Christ an make room in our busy schedule for joy.

 

What does all this have to do with “Thanksgiving”?

 

I am glad you asked.

 

Thanksgiving is a “built in break” time that allows us to relax, remember God’s blessings, and rejoice in God’s grace. Spend some time over the next few days “giving yourself a break.” Play with your children or grandchildren or great grandchildren–whichever one of them is the youngest. Play uninhibitedly. Play noisily.

 

Call somebody whom you love and haven’t spoken to a long-time and tell them you miss them and love them.

 

Take a piece of paper and actually write down your many blessings from God. Do what the old hymn suggests: “Count your many blessings; name them one by one.”

 

Make some time to enjoy life.

 

Take a hike through the woods.

Take a bubble bath.

Listen to one of Mozart’s symphonies.

Listen to Willie Nelson if that’s what works for you.

Tap your foot.

If you are not afraid of dancing, tap both feet.

Arrange a second honeymoon with your spouse.

 

Go swimming,

mountain-climbing,

hang-gliding,

bungee-cord-jumping,

or roller-coaster riding.

 

Go for a run around the block or a walk around the mall.

Take a vacation.

Take up a new hobby.

Read a mystery,

an biography,

a science fiction novel,

or a comic book.

 

Do whatever it is you do to have fun! Your greatest act of thanksgiving might be to simply enjoy life. Bounce a baby on your knee. There are not diversions from life, they are the source for joy in life.

 

It would do us well to regularly attend worship gathering. It would also do us well to go to the park and fly a kite with a child.

 

Reading your Bible is an excellent act of devotion. Reading the newspaper comic strips can’t hurt, either.

 

Go see a movie. Watch an improvisation comedy show. Tell a good joke. Smile. Tell stories. Sing songs. Play games with your children or grand-children.

 

Let me tell you about a lady who lived life with this kind of passionate joy. I use to work as a volunteer with Hospice- that great organization that ministers to individuals facing imminent death. Since I was a “preacher-boy,” I was asked to serve as chaplain. I would visit people of faith and offer my prayers, counsel, and support.

 

One people under my care was lady named Minnie. We called her “Miss Sunshine.” She was a seventy-two year old widow recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Minnie was in a tremendous amount of pain. The heavy doses of pain meds she consumed were unable to remove all of her discomfort. She wasn’t expected to live more than a few months.

 

Despite her hardships, “Miss Sunshine” always had a smile on her face. No matter how much pain she felt, no matter how gloomy her prognosis, she always seemed happy. Not only did she smile, but she also loved to sing. Whenever I would visit, she would sit at the piano and would play and sing the hymns of the faith. Her favorite hymn was “Sunshine in My Soul.”

 

There is sunshine in my soul today,

More Glorious and bright

Than shines in any earthly sky,

For Jesus is my light!

 

There is music in my soul today,

A carol to my king

And Jesus, listening can hear,

The song I cannot sing.

 

O there’s sunshine, blessed sunshine,

When the peaceful happy moments roll;

When Jesus shows his smiling face,

There is sunshine in my soul.

 

It was this hymn that gave Minnie her nickname. It why we called her “Miss Sunshine.”

 

I have fond memories of Miss Sunshine. She died a couple months after I met her, but she has continued to inspired me years later because of her joyful approach to living. I asked her about that on one of my last visits.

 

“Minnie, how is it that you can smile when your body is filled with so much pain? How can you sing songs of faith as you stand so near to death’s door?”

 

She was bedridden by this point. She could not bring herself up to the piano. She smiled at me and said, “I can sing because Jesus has put a song in my heart and I have to expresses it with my lips!”

 

Then she squeeze my hand and started singing. “There is sunshine in my soul today.”

 

That’s the heart of thanksgiving. Jesus has put a song in our heart that has to express itself on our lips.

 

What does God looks like?

 

He looks like Jesus joyfully bouncing children on his knee. He looks like the joyful lifestyle of a elderly woman with a smile on her facing, singing: “There in sunshine in my soul today!”

 

He looks like each of us might look if we release some of the stress and look to celebrate life with the thanksgiving joy of a little child at play.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Gobble Gobble Mad Libs
by: Roger Price
publisher: Price Stern Sloan, published: 2013-08-15
ASIN: 0843172924
EAN: 9780843172928
sales rank: 2066
price: $1.11 (new), $0.99 (used)

Gobble Gobble Mad Libs features 21 original stories all about the yummiest holiday–Thanksgiving! Featuring hilarious stories about preparing and eating dinner, Thanksgiving traditions, and Black Friday shopping, it’s sure to keep kids laughing for hours. Gobble Gobble Mad Libs is 48 pages of fun.

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