Reflections on Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Matthew 25:31–46, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Sermon "Steps Toward a Thankful Heart"
In a year like 2020 where we are still in the midst of issues that we hoped would have ended long ago, it may prove challenging to celebrate Thanksgiving. For those that can safe gather around the table and share a meal, they may find it difficult to engage in conversation that doesn't divide. It is exactly at these moments when we need to be reminded of what it takes to have a thankful heart.
Moses proclaims to the people that once they enter the promised land there will be so many reasons to give thanks. This thanks, however, can be stolen if we forget the source of all our blessings. If we allow our pride and independent nature convince us that we "earned" our blessings than we will soon forget our God. The first step in having a thankful heart, therefore, is to humble ourselves and remember that God alone is the source of all blessings. If we have been able to prosper through skill and hard work, it is God who gave us the talent, health, and opportunities to prosper. Without these, all that we tried would have failed. Humility is the first step of a thankful heart.
This humility can be seen in the actions of the sheep in Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats. Both the sheep and the goats were given opportunities to love Jesus and neither recognized Jesus when they came upon those opportunities. For the goats, these opportunities appeared as distractions and a waste of time and money for people that most likely were reaping what they had sowed. If those people lived a godly life, than they wouldn't be in prison or hungry or a stranger. Their own pride in their accomplishments kept the goats from seeing the opportunities to love Jesus.
The sheep, on the other hand, didn't see Jesus but rather saw people who were in need. Through their humility, they could see themselves in all those who were suffering. They could not walk away but rather compassion drove them to do something. The sheep didn't go looking for opportunities but when those opportunities presented themselves, the sheep responded with love. By loving those in need, they loved Jesus. This is the second step towards a thankful heart - compassion. Compassion places us in another person's shoes. It curbs the sharp tongue of criticism and the hardness of judgment. It leads us to treat others as we would want to be treated if we were in their place.
When, through humility, we begin to have compassion for those without, we begin to realize how much we have actually be given. Even the smallest of things can be a huge blessing when seen through the eyes of those who have nothing. Humility and compassion move us from the fear of scarcity to the joy of abundance. This abundance overflows from a cheerful heart that counts every blessing as a precious gift. This is the final step of a thankful heart - cheerful giving. The paradox of our faith is that the more we give out of a thankful heart, the more blessings we receive. Our humility moves our focus from ourselves toward God. God directs that focus to those in need. Driven by compassion, we cheerfully give because we have been so blessed by God. By cheerfully giving, we become a blessing and thus more people join the road towards a thankful heart.
Especially in times like these, we need to cultivate a thankful heart in ourselves, our families, and in our community. Rather than focusing on the scarcity, let us count our blessings and share what we have so that everyone may have a thankful heart. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!