Listening in Thanksgiving

The Listening in Thanksgiving  Deuteronomy 26:1-4, 10-11; 2 Cor. 9:11  11/20/16  Thanksgiving Sunday
“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11 NIV) 

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God makes you rich in every way so you can be generous on every occasion and then your generosity results in thanksgiving to God.  God’s giving to us results in Thanksgiving to Him.  This is a triangle: God gives to us- we give to others and to His work.  This results in thanksgiving being sent back to God.
This shows in the person of Zacchaeus (Luke 19) .  Zacchaeus was known in his community as a selfish tax collector who lived his life only to accumulate stuff for himself.  But when he encountered Jesus, his heart was changed.  He showed his heart was changed by his willingness to give. He said he would give half of his possessions to the poor and will pay back people four times the amount he owed.  This was a huge change, that resulted in thanksgiving to God. Jesus thanked God for him, and the people ended up grateful that the one who had taken from them was now giving back.
All we have is a gift from God who gives us life, and more than that- sacrifices for us- and He shows that in the person of Jesus- to show He loves us.  It is His sacrifice- both in coming down and dying on the cross that shows us love, and humbles us with deep gratitude.
In a similar fashion, when we are generous- giving of ourselves even sacrificially for others, then it wells up thanksgiving for our gifts.  You don’t have to have a lot either to be a generous person.  I remember seeing a homeless guy share his one and only piece of food- an apple- with another homeless guy.  I remember seeing a prisoner give part of his Easter meal that LMPC provided- not because he didn’t want it, but because his friend wanted it.  The widow’s giving of her mite made Jesus more thankful than the billionaire’s gift.
This passage paired with the passage from Deuteronomy remind us to be generous and to be thankful- but a pre-requisite of that- which we may take for granted- is to listen- listen to God’s generosity and listen to what God says about being generous.  If we do not want to listen, then we will not experience the blessing.
LISTENING TO GOD’S ENRICHMENT-  Part of Giving Thanks and Being Generous is that you recognize you have something for which you can give thanks.  This is a matter of seeing- it is a matter of faith.  We are not just thankful to ourselves or to our lucky stars.  Being thankful to God means you are listening to His Word which many times invites us to give thanks to Him for He is good.  But it also means being able to see God’s hand in providence- the answered prayers; the gifts we have; the faith given by God that energizes, strengthens, completes and saves us.
God doesn’t bless us to be greedy.  He doesn’t bless us so we can pat ourselves on the back.  He doesn’t bless us so we can pile things up.  John the Baptist said to repent by sharing- if you have two coats share with the one who has none.  In Chapin, we have been blessed.  The Governor has said that we need to pray Tuesday.  SC has had a 1,000 year flood, Hurricane Matthew and a drought in the upstate that has started numerous fires and lots of smoke.  Yet in Chapin, we are one of the few areas that has been relatively unscathed. We have many reasons to give thanks.
When you let go of what is in your hand, it is now open to receive greater blessings from God.
Can you listen to God’s enrichment?  Can you believe that God blesses you?
LISTENING TO THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE GENEROUS-   Looking for an opportunity to give or to serve means having a listening ear to hear what the needs are.   God provides for us so we can give.  He also provides opportunities to give. At LMPC we try to do that.  We have the We Care Food drive; Thanksgiving at the HUB; The Giving Tree; Our Building and General Fund have needs too.      I know of two people who are neighbors to each other. They have much wealth and live in a gated community at the beach.  One is constantly looking at what more he can get.  His neighbors do not like him.  He loves power- and is smart.  He has been married five times. His adult children are alienated from him.  When he was in his mid-eighties he had to move himself into a nursing center and no one- while I was there- came to see him.  In contrast is his neighbor who had much money but he was always looking for an opportunity to give of himself.  He was a multi-millionaire but he would work on the Habitat Houses.  He gave to mission causes.  He grew up with nothing- the first in his family to go to college, but he would give so others would go.  He was anxious to look for an opportunity to get something so he could pass it along to others.
In our passage in Deuteronomy it talks about giving to God the first fruits.  Now, the problem with giving to God the first fruits is that there is no guarantee there will be second fruits or third fruits.  Most people would like to get all the fruit in and then divvy up how much God can get after we have spent everything we think we ought to spend.  But the idea of first fruits is like the idea of writing God the first check of the month after pay day.  The idea of first fruits is to give by faith- giving to God the firstovers (as one minister called it) and not the leftovers.  But we miss the point when we say “I HAVE TO GIVE THIS WAY.”  The generous person can’t wait to get in order to give.  So the generous person cannot wait for the first apples to appear because he knows someone down the road who is hungry for an apple.  The generous person cannot wait for the first fruit to start popping out because then he or she can give.  Their priority is giving not getting or paying.   My wife, Kay, has taught me much about giving.  She has the gift of giving.  But she would go without food to give something extra for our children or grandchildren. She gives much to the poor even at sacrifice to herself.  When you love someone- you give to them.  You don’t HAVE to give- you want to give.  When you love something you give to it.  If you love golf- you are going to make sure you have those golf clubs and balls and green fees.  But where does God fit in?  If you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength- will you give to Him?

LISTENING TO THE THANKSGIVING- When we are generous it results in thanksgiving.  I have some heroes that inspire me.  Sue Madden was a member here and head of GOoDWorks.  She always saw needs. She was great at channeling money to those who had need.  So many people gave thanks to God for Sue.  Another one was Dwayne Taylor.  If he saw someone in need- friend or total stranger- he would go out of his way to give to meet their need.   Once there was a widow  in her late 80s in my second church who gave so much.  The impression was she had a lot.  Her house wasn’t that fancy, but she had a reputation of being generous.  She gave her jewelry away to those in the church who had no jewelry.  She had the gift of giving and loved giving.  As she said, she loved giving her dead husbands money away.  Many people gave thanks for her and the whole church and community was grateful for her.  But when she died her brother came to me and asked me where all her money was.  He said, “I know she gave a lot of money to the church, but I can’t find any money in her accounts.”  I told him that about two weeks before she had confessed to me she could not give any more money away.  She had died happy but not with a super abundance in her bank accounts.  She had no children, but the sanctuary was packed with people who were grateful for her life and her generosity.  When we as a church are generous- others give glory to God.  I have seen it.  The HUB kids are grateful that get to go on a Great Outdoor Adventure Trip where they see the mountains up close and hear the good news of Christ.  We Care folks are grateful for our 4,000 pounds of food from our food drive.  47 children and their families are grateful we give them Snackpack foods each week.  Thornwell Children may not know it is from us- but when they get to see a counselor to deal with the abuse they have experienced, or get to see a tutor who will help them with their homework or enjoy good food when they have nowhere else to go- they are grateful.  We are one of the leading contributors to the HUB, to We Care, to Thornwell, to GoodWorks, to flood relief, to Justin Pepper Foundation, to Medical Missions.  There are more needs than we can begin to meet.  But we are looking for opportunities to give so that when we get- we can pass it out to those in real need.   This is what we are called to do as individuals to.  Look for a chance to give.  When we follow that up- it results in Thanksgiving to God.
A child asked his parents, “How do I thank God at thanksgiving?”  Good question.  So how do you thank God at Thanksgiving?  Our call to worship from Psalm 100 speaks of entering into His gates with thanksgiving- that is come into His house and worship- giving your time to Him.  Our Assurance of Pardon and Offertory  taken from Psalm 103 and other Psalms speaks of not forgetting God’s benefits- but recounting them.  Count your blessings- name them one by one.  At our Thanksgiving meal we go around the table and name what we are most thankful for this year.   But our passage in Deuteronomy and 2 Corinthians speak of a concrete way to give God thanks- by giving to His work on earth.  As we give to God and make plans to give- it results in thanksgiving to God by others.  Being thankful helps us to be content with what you have.  Being happy in your life depends in part on your willingness to be content.  One rule is the more income you have the more spending you spend.  But John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, reversed that.  When he was 28 he lived on 30 pounds a year.  The next year his income doubled, but he still lived on 30 and gave away the other 30.  At one time he earned 1400 pounds a year but he still only lived on 30 and gave away the rest.  This drove the tax collectors crazy.  They said that he must have silver plates and bowls he wasn’t paying excise tax on- but he only had two silver spoons that were given to him.  He said how could he live on more when people were going without food?  When he died at age 87 he had given most of his income away- living on 1,800 pounds and giving away 28,200 pounds in his lifetime.  Wesley set a great example for us all in contentment and generosity.  Contentment and thanksgiving lead to generosity which in turn leads to thanksgiving to God.