Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

This is a guest post from John Oussoren (Rev. Dr.) who shared the following reflection in worship last Sunday as we celebrated stewardship at St. Andrew’s. The reflection is based on 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 (Encouragement to be generous) and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (Life in Christian Community) with particular focus on 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Hopefully, on this Stewardship Sunday there is a word for all of us saints, sinners and those-in-between so we may be inspired to continue, where possible, to generously give our time, talents and shekels!

Time, Talents and Money is the definition most of us have for the word “ Stewardship” but, of course Scripture invites to think about more than the meaning of the three familiar words.

The bedrock motivation for Christian stewardship is found in 2 Cor. 8:8 when St. Paul writes to the congregation in the city of Corinth, Greece:

“I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.   For you know the generous act [charis or grace] of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Christian Stewardship at its heart is an act of thanksgiving to God for placing, as David Demson, at Emmanuel College taught us many years ago:  a huge free gift in our bank account.  All we have to do is draw from that account grace upon grace and readily respond, with thanks or gratitude.

One potential response to the amazing gift given to all God’s children is found in our text today:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

A wonderful example of giving such thanks is the faith and attitude of Edward (Eddie) Mac Murchy, Marg’s grandfather, who lived just south of Semans (in the Raymore district of Sask.) and was an integral part of the Semans U.C.

Eddie in the summer of 1947, couldn’t help but admire the beautiful crop of wheat.  But, as many farmers know only too well, before long, a massive hail storm hit the house and crop and pounded the wheat into the ground.  Did Eddie: weep, cry or become angry?

Eddie Mac Murchy responded creatively, he went to the cows—fetched a pale of milk, called Margaret, his seven-year old granddaughter, to come outside and help scoop some hail stones into the bucket and said, “let’s go and make some ice cream for, this is the best ice cream ever– it came strait down from heaven!”

Eddie had a basic trust that God will provide, take care of us and seek our well-being or shalom.  That faith and attitude to look for the best in a considerably difficult and challenging time is part of a resilience that many prairie people have learned and received.  That response also reflects St. Paul’s reminder to Christ’s followers to give thanks in a variety of circumstances.

Scripture teaches us that God intends a heavenly kingdom or reign of shalom, peace and well-being for all God’s children on this globe and universe.   God encourages us, as individuals and congregations, when difficulties and challenges hit, to look for silver linings or shafts of light.

Stewardship for me covers just about everything in life.  For example, it includes environmental stewardship such as the mundane but necessary taking out of the garbage and making sure we have re-cycled as much as we can.

It includes caring for local and far away neighbours in small but significant ways.  A recent example helps to portray that.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim was convicted by a Sudanese court for marrying someone supposedly of another religion and for refusing to give up her Christian faith.  Meriam’s mother is Christian and her father is Muslim.  Meriam was raised in her mother’s faith but, because her father is Muslim, the Sudanese government did not recognize Meriam’s marriage to a Christian man.

On July 24 of this year, she was convicted by the Sudanese court to suffer 100 lashes and death by hanging.   While she was 8 months pregnant Meriam was thrown in jail & forced to give birth in chains.

Thank God literally, about a million persons around the globe, including a number of Canadian Christians and others, by means of on-line petitions, other activities and embassy visits plus considerable efforts by Amnesty International, all these were able to pressure the Sudanese to relent and set Meriam and her family free to join her brother-in-law live in New Hampshire.

Stewardship for Christians and others is thus also thinking about the human rights of others and, when we are able to do so, of saying something when a flagrant abuse is taking place.

Our text reminds us to: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Closer to home what does the text mean for us individuals and congregations as we try to live humbly and faithfully our daily lives with its many hills and valleys, ups and down, challenges, joys and sorrows.

Now Marg, my spouse, was kind enough to review the second draft of this sermon, she said that she was overwhelmed, ready to put her ”pjs” on, get into bed and cover her head with a big blanket.   And here I thought this was a nice tame sermon!!

So draft 3 or 4 which you folks are receiving this morning is considerably toned down.  And by the way, John does not pretend to have the corner on stewardship ideas.  Any examples or projects mentioned in this sermon should be dealt with as any other sermon—with a pinch of salt.  By all means listen to a preacher holding forth, think about it, critique it and, if the suggestions fit, by all means use them. But please remember it’s not the only or last word on the topic.

The text reminds us that in spite of all the difficulties and challenges of daily life, God our Creator and Sustainer loves us enough to create us, and always supports us, shelters and nurtures us.

We know spiritually and intellectually that God intends shalom, peace, harmony and well-being for each and every person in this church, in this community and on the globe.   But, we also know that creating/building a new heaven and earth, will take a week, 10 days or so!!  Thus we are encouraged to bring, when we are able to so,  gradual and approximate improvements  to life in general and, to the church and our faith in particular.

Thus when it comes to the local church, stewardship means, using our imagination, setting do-able goals and finding, with God’s help, realistic solutions.  Every person has certain gifts that are their unique gifts and these can be offered for the well-being of friends, families, churches and beyond.

I’m impressed with The U of T development theme: “Boundless Imagination” and they’ve set two goals: 1) to encourage all friends, alumni, and others connected with the U of T to share their comments, ideas and possible connections and, secondly, set a $2 billion dollar fundraising goal over a couple of years—and would you believe it– they’re close to achieving both of those goals!!

In the Christian Church, we’re obviously not working with billions or millions —it’s more a ballpark of hundreds and thousands but we can readily use the “boundless imagination” concept!

One example of using the imagination comes to mind:  Kenville UC congregation  has served a number of Swan Valley people for over 100 years.   About five or six years ago the congregation decided  it was time to upgrade 12 large single pane windows covered in the winter with plastic to keep the cold out.  The new windows were pricey, about $18,000 in total was needed.  About 15 or 20 worshippers participated on an average Sunday and about 100 or so members, adherents and friends were on the mailing list.

During the annual fall canvass, one of the farmers and his spouse gave the first $1,000 towards the project.  The ball really got rolling when an 80 plus year old woman decided that instead of leaving $1500 to the church in her will–she would spend it on a window and enjoy the gift while she was still living.  One Sunday morning during the announcements she said: “my family will take care of one window and, we encourage our friends and neighbours to please do likewise.”

Within a year, the money for the new windows was raised, a dedication service was held, a plaque was made from parts of the old windows and listed all who were able to support this project.

Locally here at St. A’s UC, I commend you for the stewardship ways you folks use your Church building to strengthen the good work of the  Yorkton and District Choir and Band as they use your sanctuary and lower quarters.  You help provide sounds of music and choral song for the congregation, community and district.  Hopefully, you will continue that stewardship by finding ways to use your building to help meet a variety of church and community service and justice needs.

The most recent UC Observer also reminds us that many of us look for a spiritual home where we belong.  Page 9 of the November issue has a picture of Beach U.C. in Toronto warmly welcoming people up the stairs into the sanctuary—that’s clearly thinking, saying and doing stewardship!

“People are looking for community, compassion, and hope….  Strong, healthy congregations help people in their search.”  That says to me personally, that a congregation helps individuals like you and me to belong when people provide a warm welcome to all, readily makes information about the life and work of the congregation available, and are befriended over coffee, tea, or something stronger in our homes, at work or the like.

Finally, one program group called by Marg “for the  old guys and girls” may be of interest to St. A’s U.C.  It’s called UTA, University of the Third Age (older adult learning).  Might this church be the regional home for a pilot program on faith, ethical issues and related learning topics.  The topics could be identified  by a representative group of older adults.  A couple of potential topics could be:

1) Creating Helpful & Healthy Relationship with grand-children, nieces/nephews, and the like.

2) Practical Ways of Ensuring Financial, Food and Personal Security.

3) “Oil and Water: Two Faiths One God” by Amir Hussain.

The book & discussion covers beliefs held in common in Christianity and Islam, shared scripture and spiritual values of peace and social justice.

The Lifelong Learning Centre at the U of R offers a number of short courses/seminars per term dealing with every conceivable religious, ethical and other topics.  Older adult education programs elsewhere offered discussion of  ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, etc.  These attracted instructors and older adults from a variety of locations across North America with federal New Horizons often helping to fund program aspects.

In closing, if you think that John has the corner on stewardship, you’ve missed the message!  The above are suggestions, ideas and not be all and end all examples.

Instead, all of us are urged by St. Paul, to give thanks in all circumstances;

My father, when he was alive, would remind us of “Ora et Labore” (to pray and work); and William Carey, the great missionary, would remind us to “Expect Great Things from God;  attempt Great Things for God” and all God’s children.

Email: joussoren@sasktel.net 

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