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  • Robert John Andrews

Reflection: Blessings





Watsontown Presbyterian Church

“Blessings”

Sunday, November 22, 2020

10:30 AM




Lesson and Message – Ephesians 1: 15-25


When was the last time you received a real letter in the mail? Don’t mean email. Don’t mean text message. Don’t mean either a post card or a quick note card. I mean a real letter, preferably with the envelope hand-written. Preferably with a fountain pen.


That was my rule when I had a church office. First mail I would open would be a hand addressed letter.


How about love letters? Do you have some stored in some box or a drawer, tied up with a ribbon?


How about letters sent to a son or daughter in the service? Or at college? I have several grandma sent mom her first year of college. Only one year because dad came back from the war.


Given COVID-19 quarantining, we at least have the chance to sit down and write real letters. Personal. Special. Good stationary. In letters, you get to know the writer’s heart.


We call it the book of Ephesians. Letter is more accurate. Paul’s letter sent to the folks at Ephesus. Probably written when Paul was under house arrest in Rome. Hand delivered by friends. Read to all the folks in the church during worship time. Can you imagine how stirring and warming and wonderful it would be to hear these words said about you by Paul, Paul telling you how he feels about you all:


I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,

and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.


Paul is waiting to be tried before Caesar. Paul figures he’s going to be killed soon. And what is he doing? He’s thinking about you. He’s giving thanks for you. He’s praying for you.


He does not cease to give thanks for you… Why? Before they are faithful – not despairing, not resentful, not complaining, but faithful.


How about us, entering this Thanksgiving week? What are we giving thanks for? Who are we giving thanks for? Are our thanksgivings ceaseless or fickle? Constant or erratic? Consistent or moody? Some of us might remember when a highlight of November would be a chilly night and the warm Thanksgiving Eve church service, and the pews packed. Prayer cards written about what we are thankful for.


Jesus be our guest today; Bless this food, dear Lord we pray

As we bow our heads and say, Thank you for your love this day


When was the last time that happened? Due to lack of interest, Grove gave up a thanksgiving service years ago. Still, we pray on. Which prayers of thanks will you offer this Thanksgiving?


How many of us will say grace tomorrow when we gather for our thanksgiving meals? At least, those of us who will enjoy a Thanksgiving Meal. There are many fine graces, blessings. Most families have their favorites.


This is the one Jesus would have prayed:


Baruch atoh Adonai, Eloheynu Melech Ha-Olam Ha-Motzee Lechem meen Ha-Aretz


Blessed are You, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.


Others?


Ÿ God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.

Ÿ Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.

Ÿ Bless, O Lord thy gifts to our use and us to thy loving service; in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Ÿ Scots (The Selkirk Grace). Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Ÿ Ruba dub dub, thanks for the grub…Yay God!


There’s the story of the young boy who visited for the first time Thanksgiving with some family who he had never met before. They sat at table and started chomping away. The boy looked over at this uncle. “Uncle, you’re just like my dog; he starts eating right away also.”


Here is my favorite prayer before mealtime, shared with us one tired night on a mission to Honduras: “Gracias Senor por el pan (Thank you Lord for bread). Y da pan a los que tienen hambre (And give bread to those who hunger). Y hambre de justicia a los que tienemos pan (And hunger for justice for those of us who have bread). Gracias Senor por el pan. Amen.”


~~~


Here’s something else for which you can give thanks if you run out of reasons: Give thanks for Abraham Lincoln’s audacity. In his declaration of October 3, 1863, establishing the first official Thanksgiving, he invited the citizens of the United States to praise God for their incredible blessings.


Do you realize what was going on when Abraham Lincoln declared this Thanksgiving Federal holiday for the last Thursday of November?


They were still burying the corpses of Gettysburg. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was given one week before this “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Both armies were still licking wounds from the third Battle of Chickamauga. Early November, Lee withdrew to the Rapidan River after the Bristoe Campaign. Hooker was moving 15,000 troops toward Chattanooga while Bragg fortified his position along Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, battles which were waged these November days. Monday evening, 157 years ago, Grant and Sherman were planning their attack -- the Battle of Lookout Mountain on November 24, the Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25. While the nation celebrated its first Federal Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, 1863, they would be counting over 10,000 American casualties from these two battles, blue and grey.


Happy Thanksgiving? When a chaplain asked a General whether the dead should be sorted and buried by state, the General replied: "Mix 'em up. I'm tired of States' rights."


By the way, I love that Lincoln chose Thursday for this Day of Observance. He chose a day no religion could claim. He wanted it a purely civic, national day of prayer. No particular religion can own it. Nor the religion of Walmart and Black Friday.


~~~


How audacious are we, given our struggles and losses? You would be in your right mind to think this hardly is time to thank God for blessings. A dithering selfish government snubbing us by disregarding they are public servants. 400 families needing help from the Danville Area food bank. Small businesses closing. How am I going to pay rent, pay my mortgage? Family staying put for the holidays due to COVID-19? Eating alone? It’ll be just the two of us for Thanksgiving and Chrisytmas. A chair or two empty at the table? We aren’t nation aas violent as they were at Missionary Ridge but we’ve got our own divisions and hostilities, little boys on both sides with guns or bottles, Q folk – Q for sinister wing-nuts. And it looks like a lean Christmas.


Or maybe this is exactly the right time to thank God for blessings, for us to count our blessings. Do we only sing the hymn, “Count Your Blessings,” when times are comfy and calm? The cranky might call this hymn trite, cloying, certainly Pollyanna-ish. Foolishly optimistic Pollyanna sings away nonetheless. Bubbly Little Orphan Annie joining her in the chorus:


When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discourage thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

n When upon Life’s Billows


It’s sentimental slop if you wish to be. Or it’s claiming courage and audacity amidst hardship. Does counting your blessings ignore or sugarcoat troubles? Or does it refuse to let the troubles define you?


What is a blessing? In Hebrew, the word for blessing means to bend the knees, to adore, worship, praise. It refers to being fortunate, happy, the gift of well-being. Yes, we have our troubles and heartache. All the more reason for me to realize I am a fortunate man, a grateful man, more blessed than I deserve. I too count my blessings:


1, for one very patient and lovely wife. 3, for three fine kids. 2, for two honorable sons-in-law. 2, for 2 grandchildren we’ve shared, one living. 2 ½, for the number of months until number 3. 4, for my brothers and sisters (double that for their wives and husbands, 4x4 for nieces, nephews, and their families). 12, for the truly great friends I’ve known. 2, for the 2 congregations I’ve been privileged to serve as their pastor. 8, for the other congregations kind enough to let me walk with them. 4, for the years till the next election. 42, for the number of times I mess up in day and get the chance to become a better man. 60, for the number of minutes in an hour reminding me its time to make the most of the time I’ve been given and be faithful.


How about you?


We benefit this Thanksgiving Day from reading the closing lines of Lincoln’s declaration:


And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”


If Lincoln could have such hope, how about us?


I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,

and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

Amen

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