31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 20, 2016, Thanksgiving Sunday
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
As people of faith, Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to give thanks to God for our families, our jobs, our homes, our friends, our health, our freedoms, our peace.
As Congregationalists, Thanksgiving is also our opportunity to remember and honor our religious forebears, the Pilgrims, who left their homeland in England to sail across the ocean, all for the sake of being able to praise God and Jesus Christ without persecution.
Can you imagine the faith it took to leave England for the Netherlands and then to leave again for an unknown new world?
Can you imagine the faith it took to get on an aging merchant vessel the size of this Sanctuary and travel through the turbulent waters of the North Atlantic for three months?
Can you imagine the faith it took to get off the Mayflower, not in warm Virginia, but in a cold and barren land, unsettled by Europeans?
In Colossians, the writer says, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father” (Colossians 1:11-12)
It took tremendous faith, strength, endurance and patience to take this journey, to live months squished below deck with 100 other passengers, to live with the possibility that they might be attacked by another ship or that the next storm might take them under or that their supplies might give out before they reached land.
The Pilgrims’ journey to America was filled with hardship, uncertainty and loss. Half of their party died before the first winter was over, and yet, they endured everything with patience, joyfully giving thanks to God.
Their faith is an inspiration to us. The Pilgrims embodied these words from Colossians. They were strong with a strength that comes only from God; they endured much and still joyfully gave thanks.
Whenever I meet or hear about someone who displays such tremendous faith and trust in God, I wonder how they got such strength. Is there something about their genetic code that makes them able to rely so fully on God? Was it something about their upbringing that they are able to “endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father”? (Colossians 1:12) Are they somehow more naturally strong, patient, resilient and faithful than others? What is their special secret? What do they have that others do not?
They put Jesus first. They know to the depth of their souls that God has rescued them from the power of darkness and transferred them into the kingdom of his beloved Son, a kingdom not built on coercion or fear, a kingdom built on mutuality, love, compassion, and acceptance.
What is the special secret of those who are able to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God? It’s no secret. They put Jesus first in their lives.
And so can we.
One of the blessings of this renovation is that Century Nursery School is right across the hall from my office now. In addition to laughter and happy voices, I get to hear singing. Every Monday, Miss Leslie comes to sing with the 4 year olds, and last week, she taught them this song, “I don’t sing because I’m happy. I’m happy because I sing.”
“I don’t sing because I’m happy. I’m happy because I sing.”
How do some people rely so fully on God? How do they put Christ first in their lives? They act like it. They don’t just say or believe our Christian faith. They practice and live our Christian faith. They turn to God in prayer when things are good, when things are scary, when things are overwhelming. They ask God’s blessing upon their food when they sit down to eat – thanking God for the blessing of this sustenance, for the earth which produced it, for all the hands that brought it to our tables.
The spiritual practice of prayer transforms our hearts as do acts of love in Christ’s name. Sometimes, that love in action is a hug or a comforting presence in a time of need. Sometimes, that love in action is standing up to hate, calmly and firmly saying, “I will not tolerate you speaking about that person, that group of people, in a disrespectful way.” Love in action is volunteering our time: volunteering our time as a greeter or usher, as a school volunteer, to help with homeless ministries, to advocate for the least of these in the halls of power. And sometimes, love in action is what we do not say, it our calm, our peace, our smile, our refusal to give an insult for an insult.
How do some people rely so fully on God? How do they put Christ first in their lives? They act like it. They live and practice our Christian faith by developing their relationship with God through Bible study, spiritual devotions, quiet times of meditation.
And they gather with the faith community to praise God. They worship.
Have you ever skipped worship because you did not feel like it? Because you were tired, sad, mad, not feeling particularly faithful? “I don’t sing because I’m happy. I’m happy because I sing.”
We don’t worship because we are always faithful. We are faithful because we worship. Because we pray, because we serve, because we nurture our relationships with God through God’s Word, because we speak and act with love.
We cannot underestimate how living as a person of faith, behaving as a person of faith, will make us people of faith.
We cannot underestimate how living as a person of faith will make us people of faith. “I don’t sing because I’m happy. I’m happy because I sing.”
Want to be strong with the strength that comes from God’s glorious power? Want the ability to endure everything with patience, joyfully giving thanks to God? Want to put Christ first in your life, living in his kingdom of light and love, fully trusting in God? Live the life of faith with each action you make.
The Pilgrims were amazingly faithful people. They trusted fully in God to bring them to a place where they could praise God and follow Jesus Christ without persecution. They endured hardship and loss and still joyfully gave thanks to God for the blessings that were theirs. Their faith was strong and enduring because they lived their faith, because they practiced their faith, because they followed the way of Jesus Christ.
As we remember and honor the Pilgrims this Thursday, may you be inspired by their faith; may you daily practice putting Christ first; “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father” (Colossians 1:11-12)