New Ways to be Thankful
By Barb Certa-Werner ( North West District Superintendent)
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
Matthew 25: 31-46 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Last week, we received a piece of mail addressed to Joel, my husband, but in his own handwriting. I wondered, “why would Joel be sending himself mail?” I patiently waited until he came home. He looked at the envelope and wondered the same thing! He ripped it open and it was a thank you card! I asked, “why are you sending yourself a thank you card?” Again, we were perplexed. Upon opening it, the thank you was for a baby shower party/gift that we gave. He completely forgot that he had addressed his own envelope!
“Thank you” cards have been an important point of inspiration for me to receive as well as to give. I have a desk drawer full of different kinds of thank you cards for me to send out as well as a folder of ones that I have received. Thank you cards express appreciation but do so much more – they encourage generosity, inspire us, and give joy.
I recently joined Facebook group called Day Springs Ministry of Card Encouragement, it is from the Day Springs Company which produces Christian cards/gifts/and devotionals. This group’s purpose is to encourage people to connect with others. Every week there is a STOP and SHARE question for us to answer. This past week’s question, “Tell us something you are grateful for today!”
Some of the comments:
- God’s grace
- Family, friends, my dog
- My amazing daughter
- The ability to talk and pray with friends
- Quality time with family despite COVID
- God’s sovereignty
- My salvation
- Card Ministry
- My spouse
- God’s love and blessing
- To be alive
- Ability to work from home
- God’s leading
This is such a basic question but one worth asking, “what are you grateful for?” If you are on Facebook or YouTube, please comment.
While we name the things in which we are grateful, there is a much deeper question, “what do you thank God for today?” It is this act of offering God our praise and thanksgiving that connects us to God and to each other.
There are so many things give our thanks and our scripture text gives us a framework. The prophet Ezekiel proclaims:
- God seeks us out
- God rescues us when we are lost, broken, scattered
- God will lead us to nourishment and rest
- God restores us and heals us
- God will lead us
- God will give us strength
- God will provide justice and judgement
- God will be our God.
This is a lot to offer God thanks and praise! We live in a deeply wounded world in which it is oh too easy to get lost, hurt, scattered, and broken. We may, especially during this time of COVID be struggling with finding thankfulness. We may find ourselves grumpy, angry, tired, frustrated, depressed, lonely, and these are just a few of the emotions we may be experiencing.
So, the question is how do we get from feeling all these negative feelings turn our hearts to being grateful to God? Our answer comes in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus tells gives us clear instructions about “giving”, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
As you all know, I have a deep passion for social justice ministry with the poor and this scripture has always been foundational for the “why,” because I am to treat others as I would treat Christ. But I want to push us further – it is out of gratefulness to God that we give to others.
Let me give you an example, when I was attending college at the University of Illinois- Chicago Campus, I was active at my home church, Grace United Methodist Church of Logan Square. My home church was committed to working at a homeless shelter for men and many other mission projects. One night when I was at the homeless men’s shelter serving supper, I met an older woman who had been living on the streets for a long time. Since this was a men’s shelter, they made special arrangements to accommodate her, and she had a little room to herself. I remember bringing her some soup and crackers with a piece of fruit. As I walked in, I watched her take off her worn out shoes, peel off her holey socks and then she looked up at me, slightly embarrassed that I witnessed her condition. Her feet were in horrible condition. Her nails needed to be trimmed, her feet were cracked and bleeding, and her legs were in no better shape.
As our eyes met, I recognized her “beloved -ness” as God’s child. The wonderful people from my church worked hard that evening, looking for toe-nail clippers, finding a tub for her to soak her feet, getting some better socks and shoes, and securing some lotion for her skin. As we worked, we chatted, we laughed, and we connected. And then with tears in her eyes, she quietly said a simple, “thank you.”
And in that moment, I was so grateful that God provided me this blessing. I was blessed by this woman’s resiliency; her tenacity; her laughter; her willingness to let me serve; her gratefulness.
Over the years, I have thought of this woman and continue to offer God my thanks for this encounter. It is this one and so many more that helped me discern my call into ordained ministry. I realized something significant, I am more fully who God created me to be when I am serving others in Christ’s name.
Ultimately, we serve others in gratitude for all that Christ has done for us and treat others as we would Christ. While expressing our gratitude in service may have been easier pre-pandemic, there are still so many ways to do so.
Here are some ideas that I hope spurs your imagination, inspires you, and propels you to be a grateful servant:
- Donate to UMCOR for disaster relief. This year we have had record breaking numbers for hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters.
- Collect food for the local food banks/food pantries.
- Volunteer to safely distribute food (there are drive-up food pantries)
- Write a note of appreciation
- Send a text to someone saying “thank you for being who God created”
- Give thanks to God in prayer, your journaling, your Facebook, or twitter posts
- Call someone who is isolated or lives alone and pray together
- Adopt a family or a person in need
- Look up scriptures about thankfulness and commit to memorizing one as a daily prayer
- Make a care package for a college student
- Send a note of encouragement to parents of children who are virtually learning
- Send a note to a community teacher, expressing gratitude
- Make some Christmas Cookies to deliver to the local hospitals and EMT’s
- Worship regularly, giving God thanks for all things
As the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1: 16, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” May we continue this legacy of giving thanks and with grateful hearts serve those who Christ loves. Amen.