All Lands Summoned to Praise GodPsalm 100 (NRSV)
A Psalm of thanksgiving.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
And his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
His steadfast love endures foerver,
And his faithfulness to all generations.
Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday because Thanksgiving is just a few days away! Now I wonder, when you think about Thanksgiving, what comes to mind? Turkey, family, fancy placemats, football, parades? Squash, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce? Apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, mincemeat pie? Those are all wonderful things that do go along with the celebration of Thanksgiving, but what about church? When you hear the word thanksgiving, do you ever think about church?
Sure we are thankful for our church here in Oldtown, but the act of thanksgiving, and giving thanks is something that we do every single week here in Oldtown. It’s not just a “once a year when we watch the parade and eat turkey with our family and friends” kind of activity because truly living a life of thanksgiving is what we do when we choose to live out our faith.
The important thing to understand is that no one person lives out their faith exactly the same as any other person, just like no one church is exactly the same as any other church. Sure, there might be similarities and common practices, they may sing the same songs and read the same scripture, but each church has its own personality, its own feel, and its own way of being.
Often when people think about how a church works, they think about a business structure and or a corporate mindset. And while some bigger churches work that way with multiple staff and expansive programming. But smaller churches, like we are here in Oldtown, don’t quite work that way. And we shouldn’t. Because small churches are more like families than corporations. But when operating a small church like a family, it’s not a good idea to just fly by the seat of our pants. No! We should still strive to do what God calls us to do and do it well. We simply need to find a way that works appropriately for us, and that’s the blessing that comes from being a part of the United Church of Christ. Each congregation makes its own decisions and figures out how it is going to function and what it is going to do.
Over the last two months, we have followed a sermon series that has reminded us of who we are and what we do here in Oldtown. Some of the topics we have talked about we do well, and others are more of a challenge for us sometimes, but we strive to live by all of them. Does anyone remember what we’ve learned so far? We give grace. We tell the truth. We make mistakes. We say I’m sorry. We have fun. We give lots of hugs. We value ALL families. We show love. We live by faith. And this week, we bring it all together with the understanding that “In This House: We Are Family!”
Now as we all know, there are healthy families, and there are dysfunctional families. There are families that work together, and there are families that fight. There are families that support one another, and there are families that are have broken relationships. Families can be a place of love, or families can be a place of chaos. And all of those things are true with church families too.
I recently read an article that talked about the five most important things for churches that consider themselves family to do. Each of the five things can be looked at as either an issue to deal with or as something to give thanks for. So on this Thanksgiving Sunday, I think we should be thankful for the uniqueness that comes with being a church family.
Number 1: Healthy families teach by example more than by lecture.
That is one of the things that we celebrate here in Oldtown. Here, we believe that we are all teachers, every one of us, and we all teach and learn from one another, no matter how old we are, whether we are one or a-hundred-and-one. It’s not only the sermon on Sunday that teaches and inspires, but it’s also sometimes the experiences that we have with one another, at House Huddle or Coffee Connection, working at a church supper or a yard sale or the fair, delivering missions collections or greeting people as we shovel the ramp outside. And that’s a good thing! Because no matter how good the sermon is, it’s only ten or twelve minutes on Sunday, whereas we can experience our relationships with one another all week long! Just think about how Jesus taught the people. He met them where they were and encouraged them to love one another and to do the best with what they had.
So, I think the first thing to give thanks for today is that as a church family, we all get to know each other—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and we deepen our faith through experiences beyond worship as we all strive to live out our faith together.
Number 2: Healthy families welcome new members with joyous celebration!
When many churches say, “We’re like a family here,” that means they’re small, they’re insulated, and they plan to stay that way. But a healthy family doesn’t put up walls to keep newcomers out. A healthy family welcomes new members. In fact, that’s when families throw their biggest parties, at weddings and baby showers, birthdays, anniversaries and other events! Well, healthy church families do the same. They don’t keep others out, instead, they throw open their doors to welcome everyone in.
So friends, let’s continue to work together as we give thanks for our warm Oldtown Welcome!
Number 3: This one is hard sometimes. Healthy families don’t let dysfunctional members call the shots.
In every family, there are members we love even though they’re not easy to live with. In unhealthy families, those members seem to control everything, casting a cloud over every family event. A healthy family draws boundaries that allow us to love and welcome the dysfunctional members without allowing them to cause hurt and abuse.
In a healthy church family, dysfunctional members are loved and appreciated, but micromanagers need to understand that some people work differently. Gossip is not tolerated, and bullies don’t win. It’s important for boundaries to be set, and here in Oldtown, though all people are welcome, poor behavior and hurtful words and actions are not.
So, friends, let’s always pray for God’s guidance and strength, giving thanks for our church family and our building which we strive to keep as a safe place for all.
Number 4: Healthy families use discipline sparingly and constructively.
When I first read this one, because of my personal discomfort with conflict, I thought, “Nope, this one doesn’t fit for Oldtown.” But the more I prayed about it, the more I realized that maybe that is part of our problem. Sometimes, healthy families need to use discipline; bad behavior needs to be addressed. But a healthy family uses negative discipline only after all positive options have been depleted.
That’s why here in Oldtown, we lead with love and grace, not law and punishment.
We teach by example, but sometimes we need to give a little more direction. Not
out of a sense of judgment or because we are disappointed or mad, but because
we love one another and we want everyone to be the best that they can be.
So let us give thanks that Jesus taught us the importance of grace and unconditional love.
And Number 5: Healthy families come together when they face challenges.
Nothing will expose the health or weaknesses of a family or a church like facing adversity. No matter how much they may disagree with each other, when a healthy family faces a common struggle, they stick together and support one another. The same is true in the church.
Sure, we can argue about the kind of music we like or what color tablecloths we should have in Maxcy Hall. We can disagree on how the fair is going to be set up or the way we set the place settings for the Turkey supper. We can complain about people’s attitudes or the fact that not everyone pitches in to help. But when the rubber hits the road, and our church family faces difficulty, when we lose a member of our congregation or we find out that someone is sick and in the hospital or struggling with addiction or having a hard time putting food on their table, this church family pulls together, despite our petty disagreements.
That’s what makes us a true church family, and for that, I give thanks every single day! Folks, we’ve got something amazing here in Oldtown. Notice I didn’t say, “perfect,” I said “amazing,” because we are far from perfect. And that’s okay because like the disciples, we are a ragtag group of Jesus followers who try our best to do the work of God. Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed, but we just keep trying and giving it all that we’ve got. By doing that, we leave the door open for God to work through each and every one of us.
Now, I told you earlier that there were only five important things for churches that consider themselves family, to do, but there are actually six. Number 6 is: Healthy families work together, and they share what they have.
Friends, I started out today talking about how we are blessed to be part of the United Church of Christ because each congregation makes its own decisions and figures out how it is going to function and what it is going to do. But as we all know, with freedom comes great responsibility. So, because we can make our own decisions and figure out how we are going to function and what we’re going to do. We are also responsible for supporting ourselves financially. We do not receive financial support from our denomination or from any outside source. All of our money comes from our pews and from our fundraising. That’s why it is so important for all of us to work together, sharing our time, our talents, and our treasures.
So, as a part of our Thanksgiving celebration today, as we give thanks for all of the blessings in our lives including our church family, I’m going to ask you to take the Pledge and Promise Form out of your bulletin and take a minute to fill it out. I would also like to invite Jim forward to offer us a gift of song. While he sings, I invite you to bring forward your form and drop it in one of the baskets up front. If it is difficult for you to come forward, remember that we are family, and you can reach out to a brother or sister for help!
And finally, friends, as an act of thanksgiving, I want to thank all of you! Thank you for being the most loving and the most frustrating. The most hardworking and the most aloof. The most cheerful and the grumpiest. The most thoughtful and the most combative. The most courageous and the most indecisive. The most devoted and the most unsure. The most enthusiastic and the most stubborn. The friendliest and the most complacent. In other words, thank you for being the most amazing church family a pastor could ever ask for!