+ A sermon preached at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL on November 26, 2014 +
Text: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It seems to start earlier and earlier each year, the Christmas season. Wait, what? Did he say Christmas? The turkey is brining for Thanksgiving dinner, and he’s jumped past Advent and into Christmas? Ok, you’re right. But in my defense, thanks to the media and marketers, the season of Christmas has been creeping into our public consciousness since about Labor Day. Well, maybe not really the season of Christmas per se, but the season of giving. And not really even the season of giving, but the season of giving material things. And now we find ourselves celebrating the one day we as a nation set aside to give thanks and yet our collective attention is focused on that festival of material goods next month. So, how does this idea of giving thanks jive with the popular understanding of giving – giving stuff?
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we hear that God has provided us every blessing in abundance so that we can share abundantly. This message of abundant gifts is so contrary to the message advertisers will continuously tell us for the next 28 days: “Buy this now! Doorbuster savings! Quantities limited! These prices will not last!” Our entire capitalist material giving system is based on the idea of scarcity. It is this concept of scarcity that will drive hundreds of millions of shoppers to brave the Black Friday sales just a matter of hours from now and spend over $60 billion in a single day. And now, that season of material giving is even creeping into our Thanksgiving celebrations, as many stores will open tomorrow to officially kick-off Holiday shopping even earlier.
Who here remembers Tickle Me Elmo? Back in 1996, the scarcity of that little plush toy caused mad dashes resulting in many injuries and arrests. Some consumers reportedly bought Elmo on the resale market for as much as $7,100 – over 244 times retail. I remember seeing one of these near mythical toys in a department store a couple months after Christmas and remarking to my younger sister that this Elmo was worth thousands of dollars. As we were gazing in awe at such an expensive bag of fluff, we were informed by a store employee that the supply shortages were fixed and Elmo was back to its original $29 price tag. The scarcity was over and the price normalized.
None of this is to say that I don’t love receiving gifts. Who doesn’t love finding that new toy you just couldn’t justify buying for yourself under the tree on Christmas morning? Or even this alb I’m wearing – definitely one of the best Christmas/birthday presents ever – thanks, Ryan! What I am proposing is that, while this type of giving can be fine and has its place and time, I don’t think it’s what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote about giving in abundance.
Tomorrow has been set aside for giving thanks to God for the many blessings we have received in the past year. Paul tells us that the natural byproduct of these blessings is for us to then be blessings to others. In Martin Luther’s treatise, The Freedom of a Christian, we are told that because of God’s grace that has been given to us, Christians have been freed to serve others in love. That while our good works will not merit us salvation, since that has already been given to us, they will show God’s love to those around us. Luther writes, “we should devote all our works to the welfare of others, since each has such abundant riches in [their] faith that all [their] other works and [their] whole life are a surplus with which [they] can … serve and do good to [their] neighbor.” God has given us an abundance of blessings through our faith and now we are free to share those blessings with our neighbors. This is how we can give thanks to God. This is how we share abundantly in the world.
Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we participate in a section of the liturgy called the Great Thanksgiving. During this time we collectively give thanks to God for God’s saving work throughout history and for the life and work of Jesus Christ. Each week we recognize and give thanks for God’s abundant blessings for all of creation. After this thanksgiving, we share a meal. Now this measly meal of bread and wine may seem insignificant compared to the abundant feast many of us will enjoy tomorrow, but through this simple meal, we are united with God into a communion with all believers through Christ Jesus. Through this meal we see a glimpse of the ultimate thanksgiving feast where we will join with the saints of every age at the table of Jesus and no one will hunger. Through this meal we are fed and nourished so we can go out into the world to share abundantly the blessings we have received and continue to receive. In a few minutes we’ll eat a measly bite of bread and sip of wine, which will seem insignificant compared to the abundance of tomorrow’s feast. But this is God’s abundance.
Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!