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the sermon for

the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

19 November 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Grace: the beginning, the end, and everything between!

by Gretchen Shults, deaconess

11192017Another church year is about to end. And with that comes the scripture readings that include words about the end times. The Old Testament reading from Zephaniah says, "Be silent before the LORD God! For the day of the LORD is at hand... That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish... ."

Lutherans don't dwell on the end times. We are all about living in God's grace. We have a God who is "for us," who continues to act graciously in our favor. We leave the End Times to him and trust his promises. I wish our reading would have included these words from Zephaniah. "The LORD your God is in your midst. He will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing!" Exult means 'to jump up with great joy'! How wonderful is that! Recently, this scripture came to life for me. From time to time, I get to rock our Paisley Jo to sleep. She's such a happy, special child. As I rock her, I sing a hymn or two and, then, I hum. Well, lo and behold, just when I thought she was asleep, she began to hum! She hummed and hummed until, at last, she was fast asleep! I felt the LORD was in our midst! Her humming was God's song over me! I treasure that moment!

God's singing over us can come at various times and in various ways to renew and remind us he is always in our midst! His presence takes away our fears. Often, at this time of the year, we do hear some say, "Where has the time gone? It just seems to fly by!" But what is time? The Psalmist says, "For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past... ." Therefore we prayed, "So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom." There is a great and deep difference between counting our days by the years of life or by the days and years of God's grace. Jesus entered into time for us.

Each day, each year, is marked, begun, and ended by his grace. God's grace fiercely pursues us. His gracious love is poured over our stumbling journey through time. The forgiving love of God watches our feet and holds our hands. Remember! God is with us always! From the manger to the cross! We are known and res cued so that we can belong to him forever! And we are the reason for his coming and for his staying! It's all about Jesus and we are the people of his grace! With confidence we prayed in the prayer of the day, "Merciful God, prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming!" Prepare us for the JOY of the day of your coming!

But then, our gospel reading for today tells us otherwise. Matthew's gospel is, certainly, influenced by the Old Testament. Today's reading speaks of being thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In the parable concerning the Second Coming, we are told God gives talents to be used! Hiding them is not an option! Talents to be used OR ELSE!

In the twenty-plus years with these women of the ELCA, this is the part of scripture that brings complete silence! And this is a rowdy group! In our studies, from time to time, we are asked to name our talents, the talents that God gives us and the response is always the same. Silence. These women have many talents! They just won't name them! They're hidden with silence! But together, we name them for each other! And together we use our talents to serve those who need help! By God's grace, our silence is changed into thanksgiving to God and ThankOfferings to care for others! Each month, we use our offerings to help others in our community! Like the Soup Kitchen! Like Family Promise! Like Safe Place and TeenChallenge! And we use our offerings for the care of this congregation! One woman, recently, suggested that we use our offerings to remove that dead tree in the entryway and all those ugly stumps! And that's just what we did! Another woman suggested we use our offerings to give an ELCA gift. Together, a micro-loan was given to a mother to start a business that would help her family escape poverty! This mother paid back the loan which was, then, used to help another woman. No one is ever beyond the reach of God's love! God's love or our compassion!

Today, we bring our special ThankOfferings, once again, to worship. These offerings will be combined with the ThankOfferings of women from thousands of other congregations which support life-changing ministries of the church! Together, we do more than we could ever do by ourselves. We are part of something much bigger than ourselves. And all this giving isn't about us. It's about what Christ has given us! He brings new life to us! His life! We are forgiven and we are free to give our ThankOfferings to help others!

Our Second Reading tells us what God is doing for us. It says, "For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him!" We don't worry about the End Times! Judgment is dangerous if uprooted from the context of mercy! Jesus has saved us from all the wrath and darkness and gnashing of teeth! He's here and holds us close! His grace and mercy is on the way even before we reach for the Cheerios, first thing in the morning! It arrives before we deserve it!

In the gospel for Thanksgiving Day, we see Jesus daring to get close. He arrives just in time as he was on his way to Jerusalem – on his way to the Cross – where he would take on the world's sickness and sin and give, instead, wholeness and salvation. But as he enters a village, ten lepers stand at a distance warning Jesus to stay away. They know they cannot approach him. The lepers have more than a disease; they are outcasts. But, still, they call out to Jesus for mercy! And with those few words, Jesus can tell what is churching inside them. His boundary-crossing compassion reaches out. And he dares to come close with mercy and healing. Boundaries no longer define these ten lepers! Jesus directs them to go to the priest who would announce them cured! They take off fast – except for one, the foreigner. A Samaritan is the only one who turns around and falls down at Jesus' feet to thank hum. Jesus says, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well!" In Greek, there's a difference in the meaning of 'being cured' and 'being made well.' 'Being made well' is translated 'salvation'! 'SALVATION' came to this Samaritan! And I have often wondered could this one who returned and gave thanks have been a woman?

Today, we come before God to give thanks and praise. The Holy Spirit hovers and stirs our baptismal waters. The gospel ignites us to serve the lowest and forgotten ones. Christ's presence in Holy Communion is healing and lifesaving. His cross on our foreheads never lets us forget that by HIS offering we are loved!

"Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us, and keep us all in grace, and guide us when perplexed, and free us from all harm, in this world and the next." Amen!

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