November 24, 2019
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois
Thanksgiving is more than the festivities, the feasting, or the football games on TV. It gives us time to ponder what lessons we have learned and how we can spread happiness to those around us. It is an opportunity to look back at the great memories and good people who have come into our lives. I am thankful for this congregation and I want you to know that I appreciate you. Happy Thanksgiving Day to you and your loved ones.
Many of us have traditions around thanksgiving. Some of us gather food for the less-fortunate. Some participate in “Turkey Trots”. And some just try to be kind in little ways. I read a story recently about one small gesture that made an outsized impact. This story is actually from Reader’s Digest.
When Mrs. Klein told her first graders to draw a picture of something for which they were thankful, she thought how little these children, who lived in a deteriorating neighborhood, actually had to be thankful for. She knew that most of the class would draw pictures of turkeys or of bountifully laden Thanksgiving tables. That was what they believed was expected of them.
What took Mrs. Klein aback was Douglas’s picture. Douglas was so forlorn and likely to be found close in her shadow as they went outside for recess. Douglas’s drawing was simply this:
A hand, obviously, but whose hand? The class was captivated by his image. “I think it must be the hand of God that brings us food,” said one student.
“A farmer,” said another, “because they grow the turkeys.”
“It looks more like a policeman, and they protect us.” “I think,” said Lavinia, who was always so serious, “that it is supposed to be all the hands that help us, but Douglas could only draw one of them.”
Mrs. Klein had almost forgotten Douglas in her pleasure at finding the class so responsive. When she had the others at work on another project, she bent over his desk and asked whose hand it was.
Douglas mumbled, “It’s yours, Teacher.”
Then Mrs. Klein recalled that she had taken Douglas by the hand from time to time; she often did that with the children. But that it should have meant so much to Douglas …
Perhaps, she reflected, this was her Thanksgiving, and everybody’s Thanksgiving—not the material things given unto us, but the small ways that we give something to others.
When we think about what we are thankful for, most of us will have a long list. Much of that list may be material things, but I’m sure that our lists also will hold many names of people who have touched our lives. As you think through the names on that list, family, friends, teachers, mentors, is one of those names Jesus? I’m not trying to shame you or make you feel guilty. I admit that I don’t always include Jesus in my list of thankfulness. But when things fall apart, when I start to drift away from my center, I need reminding that there is One in whom all things hold together. There is One who empowers all my acts of kindness and gratitude. And I am thankful, truly thankful, for Jesus.
We have the experience of living in a community and culture that is largely Christian. While there are certainly disagreements about just how to be a good Christian, what we believe about Christ, and how we live our faith, we are all generally pulled in the same direction. That was not the case for many people in biblical times, particularly those who lived in the near-east where many cultures bumped up against each other, and many philosophies from near and far vied for attention.
Colossae was one of the most celebrated cities in the western part of what is now modern Turkey. A significant city from the 5th century BCE onwards, it had dwindled in importance by the time of this letter. The town was known for its variety of competing religious influences. Cosmic forces and unseen spirits were understood to be everywhere, and the Christian community was drifting. Paul writes to them to try to re-center Christ in their lives.
As we heard in our reading, Christ is not merely another choice in the marketplace of philosophies, but the center-point. Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (C. 1:17). The people may believe that they have to appease these other spirits lest they fall into disease or poverty. Paul reassures them that in Christ, “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers” (C. 1:16). These other things may cause you to worry, but as Christians we must remember that Jesus Christ is our connection to God who rescues us from the power of darkness, and reconciles all things.
For us, following Jesus is not supposed to be one task competing with others, not just something we think about on Sunday morning, but the way in which we live our whole lives. There are certainly plenty of powers competing for our attention, from materialism and greed to struggles for power and prestige. What Paul is telling us here is that we aren’t subject to these other powers. We belong to another kingdom, “the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (C. 1:13).
This may seem like a lecture, but when you read the letter to the Colossians, you’ll find that it is filled with love, encouragement, and reassurance. Are you struggling with the fears and forces that pull you every which way? Are you weighed down by all of the suffering, brokenness, and sin in the world? All of it, and all of us are gathered up in Christ, who is able to hold all of us, to heal and comfort and restore. God’s house is big enough to shelter everyone and everything.
This letter is connected with Luke’s Gospel, and the account of the crucifixion. There are several reasons why this story comes up now in our yearly walk through the scriptures. We have reached the end of the Christian year. Next Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, marks the beginning of a new year as we return to the stories of the birth of Christ. It is fitting to be reminded now, as we mark the end of the year, of how the Gospel story approaches its end. “They crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” (L. 23:33).
These two scriptures are also connected because of Paul’s reassurance of reconciliation and peace through the good news of the Gospel story. Though the world around us swirls with troubles, and the rulers and powers seek our destruction, we have Christ as our king, the head of the church, the firstborn from the dead. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (L. 23:43). If you are feeling lost amidst all the cosmic powers, and you are starting to drift, remember to re-center your life in Christ, recognize and give your allegiance to the One who died in order to heal all the brokenness of the world, and to make us whole once again.
Let us pray. God, we are thankful. Make us strong with all the strength that comes from your glorious power. Prepare us to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to you, who have enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. We give thanks today for Jesus Christ. Amen.
 The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.