text :: 1 Peter 4: 7-11
theme verse :: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:10)
No sooner than we’ve cleared the Thanksgiving Day table, our attention turns to the irresistible deals of Black Friday. Looking for that perfect gift to give this season? Look no further! Join us for a holiday season giver’s guide, as we consider how Scripture weighs in on all things gift.
special music :: 'Remembrance' (HillsongWorship) : The Rising Band; Isaac Herbert, leader
anthem :: 'Simple Gifts' (arr McChesney) : Handbell Choir; Andrew Dugan, director
reader :: Abby Langenheim
preaching :: Rev Kevin Howe
offertory :: 'Great Is Thy Faithfulness' (W.M.Runyan) : Kelly Ford, vocal; Mark DeLuca, piano
1 Peter 4: 7 – 11
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
Want to grab people’s attention? Start your writing with these words: “The end of all things is near.” You know, a great deal of time and energy of every generation has been invested in predicting the end of all things. And each year brings about its own set of troubling global crisis and events that some will inevitably point to as sure signs that the end is near—telltale signals that the last of days are close at hand. And though I hear Jesus’ words echoing in my mind, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will come to pass,” I just can’t help but feel like that time is surely near each year we approach Black Friday.
Yes—the crowning achievement of American consumerism, Black Friday and its younger sibling, Cyber Monday, have produced some of the most mind-blowing discounts and bargain deals that you could swipe a card at. For those of you tuned in to the advertisements, you have likely uncovered door buster deals that are worth fighting for. It is my pastoral obligation, however, to remind you here that pushing and throwing elbows is not the way to show Christ’s love to fellow shoppers. But please also note that if you’re not planning to set an unusually early alarm or pitching a tent outside the mall, you may miss out on that coveted high-definition TV. After all, stock is limited, and these deals will only be around while supplies last.
John Kotter, is a professor emeritus of leadership at Harvard Business School and he wrote a book entitled Leading Change. And in this work, Kotter lays out eight stages of change and the first is, of course, the most difficult: establishing a sense of urgency. It makes sense. If members of an organization, or Black Friday shoppers, or dare I say Christians, don’t sense the need to take action, nothing will change. Kotter suggests that the most significant impediments to meaningful change combined low levels of urgency with high levels of complacency.1
Enter the Apostle Peter. Urgency might as well be his middle name based on the passage that we just read from his first letter. He says “Look, you don’t have as much time as you think (and boy isn’t that the truth). So don’t take anything for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Love each other as if your life depended on it. And like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
You know the word grace comes up quite frequently in our talk. But often times with important words, I think we can use them so much that we risk losing sight of their meaning. And grace is one of those words that is at risk. The apostle Peter suggests that to understand grace, is to understand that it is what we receive from God as a gift.
So amidst the bargain deals of the coming weeks—as you consider the gifts that you will give to others this holiday season—it is good that we take some time to consider how our faith weighs in on all things gift. Let me help set the stage…
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And God said, “Let there be light.” Gift! “And darkness.” Gift! Earth, sky, animals…the whole thing was all pure gift. And yet in all that material goodness, there was nothing that could reciprocate; there was nothing that could respond to God. And then God created a gift better than anything else; crafted in God’s image, filled with the very breath of the Divine. Crowned with glory and honor…the gift of us. And in same lavishness, God blessed us and said, “Go; explore my world and unwrap the gift of my creation. And bless the world with your own gifts.” And it was so.
But then there was a tree. And the strange thing about this tree…it wasn’t a gift. And wouldn’t you know, we took it anyway. And in taking that which was not gift, there was death and confusion. Our relationship with God was strained and all creation suffered, and it seems we forgot what life is all about: being receivers and givers of gifts. But despite our propensity to take that which is not ours, God gave us yet another gift. A gift so amazing; the gift of God’s very self as one of us. And in doing so God once and for all restored the way of our purpose; restored our role, so that we can once again offer to God our lives, our work, our knowledge…that we might join our gifts with the gift of Christ so there would be life abundant on earth and to offer thanks and praise for the all the good gifts that God has given.2
It is has been said that a Christian is one, who wherever she or he looks, sees the gift of Christ and rejoices in that gift. Perhaps this is the very essence of thanksgiving. We come to our Thanksgiving tables this year not just to pig out on turkey and all the trimmings but gather together to give thanks for the bountiful gifts that God has given to us.
A few months ago, I was invited to a luncheon for one of our congregation’s outreach partners, and before we ate, the chair of their board made a few comments and ended with the words, “Now let us return thanks.” I had heard the phrase before, but I had never reflected on its meaning: giving thanks back to the God who has given us all that we have. Returning gratitude to its source. I think it’s such a beautiful way to describe the act of prayer, when we respond to God’s grace the only faithful way we are able: with gratitude and thanksgiving.
You know, it seems if we are not careful, we can find ourselves implying things that ought to be said. I believe this can be especially true when it comes to thanksgiving. Perhaps we think it is assumed, but I would encourage you this Thanksgiving week to say aloud the gratitude that comes to your heart. Say “thank you.” Say “I love you.” Say “my heart is full.” If you’re thankful and you know, say “amen.” Because the beauty of gratitude and thanksgiving is that it multiplies when it is shared. Gratitude grows among us when we refuse to keep it to ourselves.
And since I have issued the challenge, I will lead this morning: I am filled with causes to return thanks to God for this faithful, missional, caring, supportive community—for this place of grace. I return thanks to God each day for the gift of being your pastor, for the gift of witnessing the love and hospitality that you extend one to another, for the gift of the depth of your commitment to living the gospel you proclaim, for the gift of your generosity, for the gift of those who laid a firm foundation of faithfulness here over 60 years ago, and for the gift of people and new members who have heard the call of God to claim this community as their own.
With hearts full of gratitude, we will gather tonight in this church building for our annual Thanksgiving dinner, and we will return thanks to God, whose providence is the source of our life and of this community. Returning thanks and praise to God is a fitting way for us to respond to the many gifts among us, but our scripture passage this morning says that there is something more that we must do. You see gifts, while they are not to be earned, do come with some measure of expectation: to enjoy them and to participate in those gifts. I think we all understand this at some level, because the last thing we want is for a person to whom we will give a gift to unwrap that gift and say, “Oh great, there’s no obligation here” and throw it away. No; we delight when the recipient enjoys the gift and engages it.
The apostle Peter says to us, you’ve received gifts from God. Enjoy those gifts and participate in them. Dwell in the gift of God’s grace. And then Peter goes on to say, “Take the gifts you have received from God and re-gift them!” (And I just know you were looking for a permission to re-gift without guilt this holiday season!) Each year, many folks will rewrap some of their gifts and offer them to unsuspecting friends and coworkers. According to one survey, and my own personal experience in the matter, the most popular of those items being candles, gift cards, hand lotion, and fruitcakes. You’ll be pleased to know that the website Regiftable.com will offer you some proper etiquette for re-gifting presents, but the general guideline is “If it ain’t broke…give it to someone else!” And when it comes to God’s grace, it is paramount that we should re-gift it. It’s not something to be kept to one’s self or just between you and your besties. The late, great preacher, Fred Craddock said that it makes no sense and is ultimately of no value to think of the grace of God as simply something to wallow around in and feel good in, like a warm bath. He says “To talk about being saved by the grace of God and grace covers all our sins and all that. It’s true, it’s true, but that’s not all that’s true. It is also said that if you only love people who do good to you, where is the grace in that?”3
And this is what Peter says about what re-gifting grace looks like. He says it looks like maintaining constant love for one another, even when the tension around the Thanksgiving table is high. He says it looks like being hospitable to one another without complaining about it. It looks like being quick to give a meal to the hungry, or a bed to the homeless—and doing so cheerfully. It looks like being generous with the different talents that God has given you, sharing them with those around you, not because anyone has earned these things, but because you are stewarding the manifold grace of God, and you have the ability to bless others freely, the way that God has done so for you.
Now, I’m not going to discourage you from those bargain deals out there right now. And I hope your present shopping is successful, be it in the fury of Black Friday or further down the holiday stretch. But when it comes to gift giving this season, I can think of no greater gift to give to the world in 2019 than to simply re-gift the manifold grace of God. In a setting like ours when pressure is overwhelming and competition is relentless; where words are hurtful, when we are judged and evaluated and scored on everything from our dress, to our coffee brewing, to our portfolio size, how much freedom would the world outside these walls feel if it was to experience the gift of God’s grace?
I’m willing to imagine that some of you want to know what’s in this gift box. And honestly the answer is: I don’t know; Courtney wrapped it. But here’s what I do know, there are countless gifts here in this very room. They aren’t wrapped neatly in paper and tied with a bow, but they are far more precious. And my prayer is that this you will come to name those gifts this Thanksgiving, and like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, that you will share your life with those around you; share your possessions with those in need. That you will count your blessings and return thanks back to the Source from which all gifts flow. To Him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Kotter, John P. Leading Change. Harvard Business Review Press, 2012.
2 Concept for this telling comes from the DVD curriculum, For the Life of the World: Letters from the Exiles. The Acton Insitute.
3 Craddock, Fred B. The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock. “On being Gracious.” Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.