Black Friday, Gratitude, and Christ the King: Sermon for November 25, 2012

Copyright, UCC

Matthew 6:25-33
6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

6:27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

6:28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,

6:29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?

6:31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’

6:32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

6:33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

I’m not a big Black Friday shopper. The few times in my life that I have shopped on Black Friday I’ve done so under duress, and I’ve never liked it much. People have swarmed into stores, fought over toys and TVs, and spent more money than they had trying to make this the best Christmas ever.

This year Black Friday started early. Wal Mart opened at 8pm on Thursday. Other stores opened at midnight. And once again crowds swarmed into stores. Last year a crowd walked over a man who was having a heart attack, ignoring him. This year, a man pulled a gun on another man who had cut in line.

All this to celebrate Christmas. Which is ironic in many ways, not least of which is that we are not in the Christmas season yet. In fact, we aren’t even in the Advent season, the season of waiting and preparing for Christmas, yet. In the church year calendar, we are today celebrating the last Sunday of the year, a day called Christ the King Sunday. Today is the day where we proclaim as Christians that our allegiance is to nothing less than the power of Christ’s love. Christ is king, not Black Friday.

And at the same time, we who are Americans are celebrating another holiday: Thanksgiving. It’s a few days after the fact, but this weekend we are supposed to reflect on all that we have been given, and give God thanks for it. It’s supposed to be a celebration of our gratitude. Yes, we eat the bird and the potatoes and dressing and pie. We spend time with family and watch football. But more than anything else, we are called to look around at our lives and look at what is good, and to say to God, quite simply, thank you.

But in our cultural rewrite of Thanksgiving, gratitude is slowly being replaced by the desire for more, and the one day a year we set aside for giving thanks is literally losing time to the one day of the year when we bow down to the pressure to try to buy our Christmas joy.

Which is why texts like the one we read today are such a powerful reminder of what it means to claim Christ as your king. Jesus is telling the people not to worry. He’s telling them to not worry about food, or clothing, or anything else. He tells them to “consider the lillies of the field” and how beautiful they are. He says, if God clothes them like this, how much more will he give to you?

Instead of worrying about what you do not have, he tells them, instead do this: But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. In other words, don’t let your anxieties about what you don’t have consume your life. Instead, focus your mind on God, and creating God’s kingdom here on earth, and you will find true peace and never want for anything.

Put that in modern terms. Don’t worry about the store with the better sale. Don’t concern yourself with Black Friday ads and big screen TVs. Don’t join the crowds that trample one another on the quest for 20% discounts. Instead, consider what God has already given you, and have faith that God will provide what you need.

It’s pretty counter-cultural, isn’t it? While the world worries about finding the best deal, Christ calls us to give thanks for what we’ve been given for free. When the world asks us to crown retail king, Christ instead reminds us of the reign of God. When the world asks “how can we get more”, Christ tells us we will always have enough.

But that’s not always a popular sentiment, even if you don’t bring religion into it. In Massachusetts there was a fight between some of the big box stores and the state because the old blue laws there, dating back from colonial times, prohibit stores to open on Thanksgiving. That’s because there, in the home of the first Thanksgiving, the day was set aside as a day of worship and thanks. But some large national retailers don’t agree with that, and want lawmakers to change the laws to allow their stores to open early on Thursdays. Instead, this year, they had to settle for 1am on Friday. And they weren’t happy about it.

The irony is not lost on me that the whole point of Black Friday is to prepare for Christmas, the birth of Christ, the same Christ who speaks to us in today’s passage telling us to not worry about material things and to instead focus on helping to create God’s kingdom here on earth. I don’t think that’s done by rushing the doors of the mall when it opens, but more than that, I don’t think that’s done by cutting short the one day of the year we set aside for gratitude.

That’s too bad, because gratitude can change everything. People in early recovery from addiction who hit a hard point where they feel miserable about the world around them are often told by sponsors to make a “gratitude list”. They’re told to take a piece of paper, look around at their life, and list everything that they are grateful for. And usually the list starts pretty basically: I’m thankful I have enough to eat, that I can sleep in a warm bed, that I can make ends meet. But as the list goes on, more and more is added: I’m grateful for people who love me, for family who care about me, for a chance to make a difference with my life.

By the time most people are done, it’s hard to turn around and look at their life and feel anything but gratitude. More than that, it’s hard to feel gratitude and not realized that the good in our life is far greater than anything we have worked for. And what has been freely given to us is grace. And that grace comes from God.

In seminary we were taught that grace and gratitude always went together. We were taught that grace came from God and the only proper response to grace was to say “thank you”. Because of that, the measure of the Christian life is only this: how well you say thank you. And if you really feel that gratitude, if you really understand what God has done in your life, you will say thank you by passing on God’s grace to everyone you meet. It’s impossible to truly feel God’s grace and to not be so thankful that you don’t pass it on.

But if you’re here, you probably already know that. It has been a hard year for many people in our country. We are living in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Many are out of work, some have lost homes, others just can’t make ends meet. We are at war with others, and we are fighting one another.  One might think that it would be easy to look around and say, “The world is a mess. What is there to be thankful for?”

And yet, you’re here. And let’s be clear, you’re not here because you don’t have anything else to do. You could be home eating turkey sandwiches. You could be home with family and friends who have come to join you. You could be out hunting or skiing. And yet, you came to this church because you wanted to say thank you. And you wouldn’t be here saying “thank you” if you couldn’t look around and see grace.

I’ve heard gratitude lately in some of the most unexpected places. Yesterday I heard it from small business owners in Wilmington who thanked people for coming out and giving their business to their neighbors, instead of saving a few dollars by buying something of lesser quality down the road. I head it from Rich Werner who, despite all his daughter is facing right now, talks about how grateful he is to have so many friends and a community like ours. I’ve even heard it expressed at the end of life, when we’ve said goodbye to people we love simply by saying “thank you”. Being able to say thank you, even in the midst of our times of greatest fear, or anxiety, or worry, is a true testament to God’s grace in us.

It’s what Thanksgiving is really about. And it’s what declaring Christ as the king of your life is really about too.

Thanksgiving is not a church holiday, you know. It’s a national one. It’s not in the Bible or on any church calendar, but it’s in our hearts and so we gather. But the reality is that for people of faith, Thanksgiving Day doesn’t come once a year. Thanksgiving Day is every day because we are called to live in gratitude for what God has already given us.

Between this Thanksgiving and next, I give you this challenge: how many days will be Thanksgiving for you? You don’t need a turkey or pie or mashed potatoes. You don’t need football on the TV or even a church service. You just need eyes for seeing grace, and a heart for gratitude. And then all you have to do is find a way to say “thank you”. Do that, let Christ’s love and assurance reign in your heart, and you will being celebrating Thanksgiving all year. May it be so. Amen.

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