Since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, this is the reason that 16 I don’t stop giving thanks to God for you when I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, 19 and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. 20 God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens, 21 far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future. 22 God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, 23 which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.
Is it just me, or does Christmas start earlier and earlier every year? This year, I realized this when I saw a huge reindeer with Christmas lights and a Christmas tree in the middle of the Johannesburg airport in South Africa…and it was was mid-October. These days it’s no surprise to see Christmas decorations alongside Halloween costumes. There’s just something not right about that. And now we are less than a week away from Thanksgiving…and of course, Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Take a look at some of these ads.
Confession time: any Black Friday shoppers in here? I confess that I usually enjoy shopping on Black Friday, but not until later in the day when most of the crazy people who get up at 4 am have gone home! Another question: if you are a Black Friday shopper, do you remember anything you have bought over the years on Black Friday? I could make a list of maybe 3 or 4 items, but everything else I’ve forgotten about. It’s so easy to piddle away money on things and then not even know what you spent money on. Why? Because it’s just stuff. And many of us are guilty of going at great lengths to get this “stuff” that we will forget about days, months, or years down the road, and we forget about what is really important.
A few years ago, I confess to you that I went with Corey and his family to Walmart on Thanksgiving night for their big pre-black Friday sale. As I was standing in the frozen food section, waiting in line for a deal on a flat screen TV, I realized that I had hit my low point. I thought of this picture I had seen just days before,
and I began to feel like one of those crazy ladies from the ads! I thought to myself, “if we spent as much time and energy on our relationship with God as we do preparing for Christmas or Black Friday shopping (like the crazy Target lady!), just think of what we could do! Just think of the people we could be!”
Yet here we are, so focused on Christmas and Black Friday sales, surrounded by messages that tell us to shop and get ready for the season, that it seems as if Thanksgiving has just been passed over and our culture has neglected it altogether. So let’s take the crucial time this week to actually celebrate Thanksgiving before Christmas literally takes over!
Thanksgiving, of course, is a time to count your blessings. If you have food in the fridge, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep, then you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, a few dollars in your wallet, and a spare change jar at home, then you are in the top 8% of the world’s wealthiest people. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more fortunate than the million who will not survive this week. If you can attend this worship service without fear or harassment or death, then you are fortunate because billions of people cannot (Homiletics). It’s not difficult to count our blessings. I could ask each of you to jot down a few things that you are thankful for. But if we lack these things, then we cannot give thanks for them because we can only count our blessings if we have things to count.
But the apostle Paul, in his opening sentences to the Ephesians, encourages us to give thanks for nothing. Instead, he offers an example of his own thanksgiving list of nothing at all- not one physical, material, or tangible thing. Instead, he gives thanks for things that are not things, and wishes for blessings that are not seen or heard. He gives us not a Christmas wish list of items for perhaps a Black Friday shopping spree, but a Thanksgiving wish list for the community of believers. He first gives thanks for the people and their unfailing faith in Jesus as he prays for them. He then wishes for them the hope of God’s call, for love, a spirit of wisdom, a spirit of revelation, God’s inheritance, and God’s power working among all believers. This is Paul’s thanksgiving wish list for this community. His wish list is made up of absolutely nothing you can buy, and nothing you can own. He gives thanks for their unwavering faith in Christ, who has shaped them as a faithful community up to this point.
I’ve been asked several times over the past few weeks by friends and family about my Christmas wish list, and I can easily give them some ideas. But what if this week, we were to ask our friends and family about what would be on their Thanksgiving wish list. What would be on it? This past week, Margrit Figg came to my office, sat across from me in the chair like she meant business, and then told me that she simply had to come by just to tell me how blessed she felt about several things. The first blessing was the outpouring of donations that she received for the food pantry. The pantry was in a time of need, and this being a crucial time of year, people stepped up and helped this vital ministry of our community. She also felt blessed by an encounter she had with a woman sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store who had waited in her car just to tell Margrit that she had spotted a nail in her tire. The generosity of people is a blessing, and should be on all of our Thanksgiving wish lists, along with compassion, friendship, and random acts of kindness. This little visit with Margrit was certainly a highlight of my week. In the midst of all of the violence and brokenness in the world, it’s nice to be reminded of the kindness of people and that we are encouraged to be kind as well.
The kindness of people would certainly top my Thanksgiving wish list, but I would also have to copy off of Paul’s wish list for the church in Ephesus, especially if I were to come up with a Thanksgiving wish list for all of you. I would certainly wish for all of us that we have faith, a hope of God’s call, love for God and one another, a spirit of wisdom, a spirit of revelation, and God’s power working among us as believers. The first wish is simple: we have to begin with having faith– the kind of faith that hopes in the things not seen- the kind of faith that steps out into the unknown, yet trusts in God to lead us- the kind of faith that encourages us and moves us forward and grows throughout our lives. That is the kind of faith I wish for you. The second wish is a hope of God’s call– that we have to hold on to hope, especially in the midst of troubled times or the unknown. When we have hope, we have a future. We have something to believe in. And the hope of God’s call means that we find the courage within ourselves to know that God calls each of us for a good purpose, and we are to listen for that call in our lives. Hope in God’s call means that we open our hearts to answer the call when it comes- to not run away from it.
The third wish is that we would have love for God and love for one another. I would add to this wish that we not only love God and one another, but that we build each other up in love, constantly reaching out to those known and unknown, and that we continually seek ways to deepen our relationships with God through Jesus Christ. When we have love among us, anything is possible. I also wish for the spirits of revelation and wisdom. We are to have eyes to see what God is doing and what God is guiding us to do. We hope for wisdom and that means that we have to have the discernment to know what is good and right and pleasing to God, both in our actions and decisions as individuals and as a community. We can grow in wisdom together. And finally, I wish for God’s power working among believers. I pray for our church community to be strong and vibrant as we use the power of God among us to accomplish great things in the name of Jesus. I pray that God’s power will be felt among us as we pray, learn, discern, reach out, and love and accept all who enter this place. I pray that God’s power will be revealed to us in new and exciting ways. I pray that God’s power will open our eyes to the possibilities that are right in front of us, but that we cannot yet see. I pray that we will experience the power of God in this place and celebrate it together. I would also wish for all of us that we would give thanks for this church and that we pray continually for it.
In Paul’s wisdom, he made a wish list that includes a list of absolutely nothing we can buy and nothing we can own. But this thanksgiving wish list is a reminder of exactly everything we can hope for and everything that we need for a vital church community. This wish list includes everything we need in order to be followers of Jesus.
“It is as followers of Jesus that we experience the divine life and power of God that fills all things.
• It is as followers of Jesus that we are able to endure incredible hardship and overcome enormous personal obstacles.
• It is as followers of Jesus that we are able to share the love and grace and hope and peace and forgiveness of our Lord.
• It is as followers of Jesus that we are able to step out in mission and share the gospel in both our words and our deeds” (Homiletics).
So before you make out your Christmas wish list this year or hit the Black Friday sales, stop for a time this week and count your blessings, especially those that are not seen, except with the heart. Make your Thanksgiving wish list with humble thanks and adoration to God, and make sure to throw in the things that you hope and pray for as well. And may you find that the things you wish for really are not things at all! Paul gives us a good start with his list of: faith, a hope of God’s call, love for God and one another, a spirit of wisdom, a spirit of revelation, and God’s power working among us as believers. May we count our blessings this Thanksgiving so that we can honestly say to God, “thanks for everything.” Amen.