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A 2020 Thanksgiving Message from Bishop Ken Carter

A 2020 Thanksgiving Message from Bishop Ken Carter

Versión en español 

We approach Thanksgiving as Christians by seeking to understand who God is in our lives. We give because we first received. Life is a gift. Health is a gift. Faith is a gift. 

Gratitude is the basic posture of life before God. The sins of pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness get in the way of who we really are, before God. To know this is to sing the hymn,

Now thank we all our God,

With hearts and hands and voices.

In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul writes to the early church about the nature of generosity, which is deeply grounded in the gift of God through Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor. This was his sacrificial death for us, that we might have life. We are saved by his grace. We rejoice. We give thanks. 

And as his followers we seek to take on his mind, to grow into his likeness. Disciples are generous people. Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, speaks of the generosity of the church in Macedonia. In their extreme poverty, the Macedonian followers of Jesus have displayed a surplus of generosity.

This is the ministry of giving and receiving. We give because we have first received. Paul is taking a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem. Gifts are coming from Corinth and Galatia, where there seem to be more resources, and from Macedonia, where there seem to be fewer resources. 

These churches were connected to each other in the one body of Christ. As United Methodists, we are a connection. In a physically distanced pandemic, the connection has been strained. In our national election season, the connection has been strained. In our response to public expressions of racism, the connection has been strained. 

And yet we are a connection, bound together in a ministry of giving and receiving. 

This Thanksgiving is a very different holiday for many. A quarter of a million Americans have died of COVID this year, and because of the virus many cannot gather together. 

Remember that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, speaking of the grace of God in the lives of the Macedonians. Listen to his words:

During a severe ordeal of affliction,

their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed

in a wealth of generosity on their part.

They voluntarily gave according to their means,

And even beyond their means,

They gave themselves first to the Lord,

And by the will of God, to us.

 They gave themselves first to the Lord. Generosity is always a spiritual practice. Gratitude is a spiritual practice.   Each is a response to God, whose nature is grace. To give ourselves to the Lord is to live in his grace. 

We have been through a severe ordeal of affliction—some individuals, some families, some churches more than others.

And yet, abundant joy overflows, even amidst our constraints.  

I encourage you to read 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 this Thanksgiving. The language of grace in this passage—from the Greek word charis—is pervasive.  The offering that Paul was taking up was important to him—he refers to it in three other New Testament books—Romans, 1 Corinthians and Galatians. The example of the Macedonian church is likened to the grace of Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2), who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2). 

For Paul, the collection he is taking is not a commandment (2 Corinthians 8. 8), it is not a coercion. It is a test of our love for one another. It is a sign of our connection.

We come, each of us, with some wealth and some poverty, with some gifts and in our needs.   As my friend Gil Rendle notes in his work on quiet courage, this may be a season to avoid the language of abundance and scarcity. We speak more honestly to use the language of sufficiency. God’s grace is sufficient. We have enough. We share. 

In the economy of God, when we join Jesus in his mission, it is never clear who is helping whom.  Whoever you are, you have a gift. And whoever you are, you have a need. This is the ministry of giving and receiving. This is our connection.

This thanksgiving I invite you to first give yourself to the Lord. 

I invite you to the spiritual practice of gratitude. Name two or three blessings. Dwell there for a time.

And then I invite you, I don’t command, I don’t coerce, but I invite you to be your most generous. Who is in need, materially? Who can benefit from your gifts? I invite you to dwell there also. 

This Thanksgiving, let us lean into its spiritual purpose. 

Now thank we all our God,

With hearts and hands and voices.

Let us give ourselves to the Lord, and to each other, with thanksgiving.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.