Click on the play button above to hear audio of this Sermon.
In case you missed it, we had our own little loaves-and-fishes miracle here at First Church yesterday. Overnight we went from no working restrooms on this floor to two brand spanking new ones—and that’s twice as many as we used to have.
It was so very exciting that I was inspired to go looking for a bathroom blessing or a special prayer of thanksgiving for toilets. Surely there would be something in the Book of Common Prayer, a book of Jewish blessings I have, or maybe something New Age-ish and Irish-sounding by John O’Donohue.
But . . . nothing! Can you believe it?
Well, not to worry: On January 7 we’re going to have a grand celebration of our Widening the Welcome project. We’re going to bless the new lift and all sorts of wonderful things—maybe even the bathrooms.
Until then, on behalf of us all, and especially those of us who work in this building and have been, um, using a porta-potty for almost six months now, and for whom said port-potty seat has been downright freezing as of late, let me just say,
THANK YOU, JESUS!
But seriously, . . .
If you were here yesterday for the Cranberry Fair and got a chance to watch people’s awe-struck reactions as they walked into the connector from the back door, or if you have been here for the demolition, construction and renovation phase of the past six months (and it’s still ongoing), or if you have been here for the past several years of praying and talking and meeting and wondering about what to do with a very generous bequest, . . . of if you walked through our doors for the very first time this morning . . .
You just might be feeling thankful. You just might be feeling a little bowled over with gratitude for some of the good things a small church can do.
Here’s a little something you may not have realized about the Cranberry Fair: Amid all the frivolity and fellowship, somewhere between the White Elephants and the silent auction, the books and the clothing and the gallery and the cafe, the bargaining and money-counting, . . . ministry was happening. Love was happening. Right here.
People were checking in with one another, asking about aches and pains, sending greetings to dear ones who couldn’t make it, catching up, sharing joys and disappointments, working hard, laughing harder, listening and lending a hand. If you looked carefully you might have noticed a couple people who were looking extra-vigilant, and how, despite the seriousness of their responsibility to keep our brother Lucio safe, they couldn’t help smiling. You might have noticed a donation box on the outreach table in the connector, and how more than a few people stopped and reached into their pockets or purses or pulled out their checkbooks to make a contribution to Lucio and his family.
Just one more thing about the Fair: As some of you may remember, we almost didn’t have a fair this year. With all the construction going on, the lack of space to receive items, the uncertainty about when the project would be finished, we thought we just wouldn’t be able to do it this year. So be it, we thought. And then, we thought again. We began re-considering what might be possible. Then a college student, a leader among us, reminded us of the importance to the Fair—for our sense of community as much as our budget. Then the college student, Skyler Keiter, said they would be willing to oversee it if others would pitch in. And so they did, and so you did. We made it happen, together.
All of this—and much, much more—is who we are and what we do here at First Church Amherst. It is part of who we are and what we do as followers of Jesus, as the body of Christ, as a community of faith. It is who we are and what we do—whether we are working the Fair, choosing paint colors and working with contractors, teaching our children, praying for the sick, singing the offertory, baking bread for visitors, volunteering at Not Bread Alone, reading scripture or preparing communion, maintaining our website, serving on a ministry team, soliciting donations for the silent auction, making buttons, welcoming new people, marching for justice, educating for understanding and inclusion, sharing vacation homes, encouraging one another, pledging a portion of our income, sharing our self and our wealth, or raising, budgeting, counting, and stewarding our resources, including this big old building.
I have heard of your faith, I have seen your love in action, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
I have seen your love in action.
The events and projects of this year have been have been a heavy lift for our little church—from the inconvenience of the construction project to going from immigrant-welcoming to sanctuary church almost overnight, from filling in for John Aierstuck while he and Sara and others were bicycling across the country to encouraging new leadership, from walking all the way around the building to get in because there were no stairs between floors to walking all the way around the building to get in because we’re committed to keeping our brother safe.
I have heard of your faith. I have seen your love. How could I not give thanks for you? How could we not hope and pray for the very best for one another?
In letter after letter to brand-new Christians in brand-new churches, Paul says he is so thankful for their faith and love that just thinking about it gives him great joy. His joy sounds a little like what we feel at the end of the Fair, a little what we feel like when we do any great work together—the joy of living in and being blessed by a community of love, the gratitude and joy that comes from being blessed by a church and blessing it in return.
Paul’s gratitude leads him to to prayer—that these dear ones whose lives have already been transformed by love and faith will continue to grow in the knowledge of how deeply they are loved, that they will continue to grow in closeness to the God, that they will be filled with hope, that they will draw on the immeasurable greatness of God’s power.
As we gather this week with family or friends, as we pause to reflect on all that we have been given, as we give thanks for love, purpose, homes, meaning, and all things beautiful and life-giving, let us also give thanks for the gift of this church. Let us also give thanks for the Jesus, our brother, who shows us the way to the fullness of life. And let us give thanks to God the Ground and Source of all that is, that One in whom we live and move and have our being. Let our thankfulness lead us to prayers of thanksgiving and intention for still more wholeness, purer love, richer community, deeper joy, and truer justice.
Thanks be to God!