sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 03/24/2013
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
Today is Palm Sunday. In the Christian calendar, today kicks off Holy Week, a week in which we remember and celebrate the final week of Jesus’ pre-resurrection incarnated life. The last supper happens this week, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, Jesus’ arrest and mock trial, the failure of his followers to stay with him in his darkest hours, and eventually, on Friday, his execution on a Roman cross. In truth, it is a dark week – a week full of pain and struggle and defeat for Jesus and his first disciples.
Yet, at the same time, it is a week marked by thankfulness and gratitude. A week in which we recognize God’s extraordinary goodness towards us, his triumphant love and the passionate rescue of his creation from certain corruption and destruction. Jesus himself, the one who endures the brunt of the suffering of death, is himself the one who models thanksgiving for us. During his last supper with his disciples, he holds up a cup which will come to be a remembrance of his blood poured out for us, and he himself gives thanks for it. And likewise, as he holds up bread that will come to be a remembrance of his body broken for us, he gives thanks.
And so today, as we enter the final week of our Leap of Faith experiment, I want to invite us into the final step of a courageous, faith-filled, world-changing life.
And that step is Thanksgiving.
To get us in the mood, in the right frame of mind, to get our bodies buzzing and our souls afire to consider the practice of thanksgiving, let’s kick off with a video. It’s an example of thanksgiving in action…
[show Psalm 116 / U2 Where the Streets Have No Name video]
Psalm 116, a song of thanksgiving, brimming to the rim and running over with thanks to God for the way in which he rescued the songwriter. Describes death staring him in the face, hell hard at his heels, and cries out for help.
God is gracious – it is he who makes things right, our most compassionate God. God takes the side of the helpless; when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me…
I’m striding in the presence of God, alive in the land of the living!
I stayed faithful, though bedeviled, and despite a ton of bad luck.
Despite giving up on the human race, saying “They’re all liars and cheats.”
I’m ready to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice and pray in the name of God.
I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it in company with his people.
In the place of worship, in God’s house, in Jerusalem, God’s city, Hallelujah!
Right? Can you see it? Bono’s turned his life, that concert, and especially that song into a fulfillment of the promise to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice…
[Leviticus 7 – background on the thanks offering; shared with the priests, taken home to become a meal that had to be consumed that day or the next – an offering with benefits for everyone (God’s representatives, the offerer, and the family and friends and invited guests to the feast).]
Thanksgiving is right at the heart of a leap of faith, because it’s the thing that ties it all together, that provides benefits for everyone in the world, ourselves included. It’s the thing that turns the leap of faith from this serious, important effort (which it is), into the most joyful, powerful, satisfying, thrilling, abundant life.
By way of review: this joyful life with God’s power at its back begins by focusing on God’s one great purpose on earth: to make his name great among all people.
And then it requires from us faith to act as if things we can’t see are actually true – like, for example, that God actually loves to do great things for people who put their trust in him – faith that laughs in the face of our fears.
And it requires courage; especially courage to give God free reign in our lives and a blank check to change us into the kind of people who go and take the land he has promised us.
And it requires of us that we learn the language of God’s kingdom, the language of Asking. Because asking is one of the essential practices of leapers.
And today I’d like to add to that by saying that the other essential practice of leapers is thanksgiving.
So perhaps it’s fitting that we’d begin by looking at a story about lepers…
It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
They went, and while still on their way, became clean.
One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”
Luke 17:11-19 (the Message)
Notice how this ties back so much of what we’ve talked about already? First, the lepers ASK. “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Then, they have FAITH. Jesus tells them – before they’ve actually been healed – to go show themselves to the priests, something they are supposed to do to officially verify that they are healed before re-entering society. It’s in that faith filled step that the healing happens. Then the one leper, a Samaritan, demonstrates remarkable COURAGE in coming back to Jesus and throwing himself at his feet and thanking him. Because Jesus is a respected Jewish rabbi, and the man is a Samaritan, someone with whom a rabbi would normally not associate at all. And we see Jesus noting that what this man has done in thanksgiving is “glorifying” God. This man, in his thanksgiving, is part of God’s One Great Purpose On Earth, isn’t he?
So God loves to do great things for people who bank on him, like he did for all of these lepers, but only the 1 who was thankful got to be part of the great things that God is up to in the world.
Only one entered into a truly changed life of faith.
Only one of the lepers went from keeping his distance from Jesus to coming close and then being sent out by him to be everything he was created to be.
Only one of the lepers became a leaper.
Almost literally. The most literal way of translating what Jesus says to him is: “Rise up, jump up on your feet, and pursue the journey you’ve just entered into. Your faith has saved you!”
Isn’t that what our leap of faith is all about? Moving from a place of some distance from God, held back by something beyond our power to fix, and taking a leap of faith, seeing what God would do when we began to trust him in new ways, and finding out that real life only comes when we come close to him and make our lives all about the only thing that matters in the universe, and in the process discover that we are fulfilling the full potential of our lives?
And the secret ingredient for the leper who became a leaper was thanksgiving. It’s our secret ingredient as well.
When God answers our prayers, thanking him gives God glory – which connects to the main thing he’s doing on earth.
Psalm 50 says it this way: “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me.” (vs. 23)
God is so into this, and so into training us to do this, that he’ll go to crazy lengths to make the point.
A couple weeks back I knew I was likely to be getting some really difficult news soon. And I’d been thinking about this idea of how important thanksgiving was – so important in fact that thanksgiving is commended to us as something to do no matter how things seem on the surface. There’s this passage in 1 Thessalonians that goes like this:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
And right during the time while thinking about that, our small group watched a video highlighting the idea that everything we experience in life can be a gift from God, if we offer it to him in thanksgiving, and we were joking about why we never saw athletes thank God for boneheaded plays or tragic defeats, but only for victories.
And so I’d resolved to have an attitude of thanksgiving about the difficult news when it came. And the news came, and in some ways it was more difficult than I had even been expecting. But still I told God thanks. Thanks for the difficulty. Thanks for whatever you’re doing through all this. Thanks for all the blessings I have despite this difficulty. Thanks for being a good God. And the next day God sent someone to me with some really hopeful news that directly impacted the difficult news I’d been thanking God for already.
It was like God was saying, see, Jesse, keep thanking me and you’ll keep being able to receive the good from me that I love doing for you.
In fact, thanksgiving is at the heart of both our ability to love others and our ability to not be anxious.
12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 4:12-17 (TNIV)
So there’s all these great things that are central to being followers of Jesus, with love at the top of the list, and Paul is telling us that being thankful is the key to it all. Whatever we do as representatives of Jesus, he says, give thanks to God the Father through him. There are no leaps of faith that give God glory, in other words, without thankfulness.
Similarly in Philippians:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (TNIV)
There is no peace and freedom from anxiety without thanksgiving, is there?
And interestingly to me, the love and peace of those who trust God are at the heart of accomplishing his one great purpose of making his name great, aren’t they? After all, Jesus said that people would know who his followers were by their love for one another. And fear – which anxiety is an expression of – is the primary enemy of faith. So without thanksgiving, according to the witness of Jesus’ first followers, a leap of faith is pointless. We’ll fail. We’ll lose our faith. We’ll lose our nerve. Our courage will fail us. We may see God do some great things for us – because he loves us and he’s always wanting to do that – but the big point of a transformed life that gets caught up in the huge adventure that will change the world…? Well, that will have to wait until we learn thanksgiving.
Besides, in addition to being encouraged and commanded throughout the scriptures, and being regularly held up as an authenticating sign of the work of the Spirit in a person’s life, more and more scientific research is suggesting that thanksgiving pays off in all sorts of cool ways. People who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful and report experiencing more frequent positive emotions. They also tend to be more helpful and empathic, more spiritual and religious, more forgiving and less materialistic. The more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, angry, bitter, greedy, or neurotic. Traumatic memories are less likely to surface, and when they do they are less intense.
[experiment: 5 things once a week for 10 weeks…more optimistic, more satisfied with life, more helpful to others + health benefits (less headaches, acne, coughing, and nausea and more time exercising, more sleep) http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/pay_it_forward ]
So, practically speaking, how can we practice this discipline together as a community of leapers?
1. Tip Extra.
2. Daily prayer: “Lord, thanks for today. Help me to see the gift in everything today.” Like the old song, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Note: for good things, the practice of gratitude directly counteracts the effects of hedonic adaptation… and for bad things, it gives a different ending, which fundamentally alters the way we continue to remember/perceive it.
3. Strategically replace grumbling with gratitude
Identify ongoing or circumstantial source of complaint and resolve to give thanks for it / in it until it's no longer a source of complaint (give someone permission to help, if needed)
Psychiatrists have learned that “the practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions, and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness and greed.”
Do everything without grumbling...” Philippians 2:14
Mud on sandals; can't see walls of water - miss the love, the life
4. Weekly: journal or directly, concretely express thanks to someone
Note: greater frequency, for the average person, produces less positive effect for journaling…
Optional additional comments depending on time…
An experience my wife had several years ago might provide a helpful illustration [tell story of nodes on vocal chords, having to learn to breathe differently when speaking in order to be able to heal and sing again…] The interesting thing about the healing process is that it required Ronni to practice this way of breathing and speaking all the time. She had to do some artificial practice to get the technique right, and she needed help recognizing when she was getting it right and when she was getting it wrong.
It wasn’t easy, because, especially at first, it felt totally unnatural. Not like herself. And it wasn’t – it was sort of exaggerated at first. Which is really tough, because our voices are connected to our personalities and sense of self [try imitating someone else’s voice…] It got easier, and eventually, almost second nature. But if she slips back into old patterns, even for relatively short periods of time, she’s susceptible to losing her voice.
The discipline of thanksgiving is like that, a little. It’s meant to be discipline that comes to be a core expression of how we relate to the world. We’re finding a new voice, and it will sound different for each one of us. The way I give thanks won’t be the way you give thanks nor will the way you give thanks be exactly like anyone else.
Show closing “One Day Like This” video, encouraging people to reflect on 5 things for which they are thankful to God, or 1 person to whom they want to express thanks, or a situation in which grumbling has drowned out the gratitude, but no longer…
[“One Day Like This” video]