Thankful for the mess

A consumer reporter for one of the morning talk shows got in a bit of trouble last week. The reporter said that because everything is more expensive these days, one way to save money was to not serve turkey for Thanksgiving. The reporter said that might have an added benefit: some guests might not show up.

The reporter’s advice wasn’t well received.

Does anyone need a reporter to tell us that we can save money by buying cheaper entrees?

Isn’t the point of Thanksgiving to give thanks together?

Aren’t the ones we get together with the ones we’re most thankful for?

In the movie Christmas Vacation, Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold drove has family crazy trying to have a “Fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.” He nearly destroyed his house in the process.

But we all know from experience that things would have been a mess even if Clark had not been trying way, way too hard.

Relationships are messy, especially family relationships, and most especially when family relationships are combined with high stress and high expectations. 

And yet long ago, when God walked the earth, Jesus was always eating with his friends in high stress situations: 

A wedding where the wine had run out.

In the home of a man he’d just raised from the dead.

In a locked upper room with disciples afraid they were next to be crucified.

The Apostle Paul said that God demonstrated his love for us this way: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Let’s be thankful for the mess.

Maybe we can even spot Jesus there too.

Thanksgiving precedes the miracle

Two years I ago I did a sermon series on the book 1000 Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp. It was her story of going from a life of self-doubt to finding joy in all things.

Ann’s earliest memory was from age four, when her baby sister died in an accident in front of their farmhouse. The tragedy defined her family’s life.  

Many years later, someone suggested that she make a list of 1000 things she was thankful for:

Consider the blessings in your life.

Write them down.

Give thanks for them.

She did, and inventorying her blessings became a habit. She began to see the blessing in the simplest, everyday things.

Ann Voskamp came to understand that “Thanksgiving precedes the miracle.”

Jesus gave thanks, and a few loaves and fish were enough to feed 5000.

Jesus gave thanks, and Lazarus came out of the tomb.

And on the night of his betrayal, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and shared it with the disciples, and that preceded the greatest miracle of all, the cross and the empty tomb.

Giving thanks is not a way of conjuring up a miracle, of course.

Giving thanks is a practice of the heart that makes God’s blessings real to us.

This Sunday after worship, our church family is going to do an exercise called Asset Mapping to help us discover some of the gifts with which God has blessed us.

We just might discover gifts we’ve overlooked in ourselves and each other. We just might discover ways to honor God by putting those gifts to use in ways we never imagined.

This is also the week set aside for giving thanks for our gifts, so let’s be sure to do that.

Thanksgiving, after all, precedes the miracle.


Years ago, Jana and I belonged to a Corvette Club. You could join the Corvette club if you owned, say, a Mustang, but why would you? You’d probably prefer to join a club made up of Mustang owners.

On election night recently, Democrats and Republicans could have saved money by renting one hotel ballroom and partying together. But why didn’t they? They preferred to hold separate rallies for their candidates.

Consider all the relationships we have in life. All of them are based on some common interest, belief, or trait.

Every relationship we have is based on some criteria that includes some people and excludes others.

The things that unite us with some people separate us from others.

But there is one exception: our relationship with Jesus Christ.

In John 17, Jesus was praying to his Father just before he was betrayed. He prayed for himself and for his disciples. Last, he prayed for the people who would believe in him after he was gone, based on hearing the disciples’ message alone. He asked his Father that, “All of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

Jesus Christ made an exclusive claim to be one with God. He’s the only person in history who’s gotten away with that. Every other person claiming to be God was forgotten long ago.

But Jesus is also the most inclusive person who ever lived. He transcends all barriers of culture, nationality, language, gender, race, and more. 

If Jesus is the source of your relationship; if you’ve been welcomed into God’s family by grace alone; it doesn’t matter where you live or what kind of car you drive or if you drive at all.

We are all one in him.

Abuse of office

One of the privileges we have as a church is to raise up new pastors. For over two centuries, people who’ve gotten their start in ministry here have gone on to make inestimable contributions to God’s kingdom.

But it’s not getting easier to raise up pastors.

I recently read an account of why churches have been splintering. One phrase seemed to sum up the problem: “Catechized by the culture.”

Church members might go to church for an hour a week, but for the remaining 167 hours they’re steeped in the culture.

How do churches compete?

In many cases, they don’t. They capitulate.

Some adopt the solutions of the culture.

Some adopt politicians as saviors.

The late Eugene Peterson, in his memoir, The Pastor, wrote about how he and other pastors were invited to receive weekly training in mental health by the county health department. The instructor was a prominent psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins. The idea was that pastors would be better equipped to respond to a growing mental health crisis. At first, Peterson appreciated the training. It was heady stuff. But slowly he realized that he was seeing his parishioners as “problems.” Instead of someone beloved by God, he saw “depression” or “anxiety.”

Peterson wrote: “By reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as a pastor. I was trading in the complexities of spiritual growth in congregation for the reduced dimension of addressing a problem that could be named and understood.

“Would I embrace the emotional gratification of solving a problem that could be diagnosed and dealt with head-on, rather than give myself as companion in searching out the sacred mysteries of salvation and holiness?”

This week I took part in seminary training for supervisors of field education students. It was on trauma, something we face in our downtown neighborhood every day. We’ve offered similar training here before.

But this training was solely from a secular perspective. “Meditation” and “mindfulness” were offered as ways to deal with trauma, but not prayer.

When I pointed out that there was nothing about Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, it wasn’t well received. One field education supervisor told me that my comments were, “An abuse of my office.”

When Jesus prayed his great prayer in John 17, it was in the context of the greatest trauma in history, his own. He said, “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

The culture offers lots of tools to help pastors cope with trauma, their own, and the trauma of those they serve. I use them often.

But if I were to leave out Jesus, that would be abuse of my office.