Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Community Giving Thanks

I'm a free man! Hello there. My name is Jedadiah, but most folks call me “Jed.” Well, as I said, I am free, and it feels great to be free! I can go anywhere I want to go! I even climbed Masada (before anyone else knew what Masada was)! I am so excited, because, well, I haven’t always been free. In fact, just a few years ago, I was a member of an Egyptian chain gang! That means I was a slave! Have you ever been outside in the Egyptian sun? Let me tell you, it’s no picnic! But I wasn’t only in the sun, I was working! Making bricks to be exact. Throwing mud and straw together to make bricks, just so the Egyptians can enjoy their mansions, their palaces, their enormous structures, at our expense. Not a fun thing to do in the shade tree near the Mediterranean, much less in the Egyptian desert!

But, I was not alone. My people and I have been doing this for, well, I don’t know how long. My whole lifetime, my parents’ whole lifetime, and even my grandparents’ lifetime. There are millions of us! We call ourselves the “people of God.” But, really, we’ve just been slaves! But just a few months ago, this guy Moses showed up. Ever heard of him? He was born a Hebrew just like me. But he didn’t grow up that way. No, he grew up in the palace with Pharaoh’s household. He wasn’t a slave. He was a prince!

A number of years ago, he got into some trouble. He left for awhile. I think someone said he was running from the law. I don’t know much about his past, but I do know how things have changed since he arrived! Ever since he’s been back, some amazing things have happened. I could tell you all of the details. But I know you wouldn’t believe me! Well, let’s just say that for a while no one would drink the water! And for a while, no one wanted to eat any Egyptian steak! Moses did a number on the Egyptian people. But we were unaffected! It was kind of strange! Our neighbors were dying all around us, but not us.

Anyway, Moses threatened Pharaoh! I know it sounds crazy! How could a lowly Hebrew threaten a king? But he did! He said these things would keep happening until he let us go. Eventually Pharaoh had no choice! So, we all left! Moses led all of us out of Egypt! We packed as soon as we could. And we headed out. But no sooner had we left than Pharaoh changed his mind. He sent his soldiers after us. You see, he didn’t want to let his slaves go that easy! After all, if we left, who would make the bricks?

Imagine that scene: Slaves, no training, no weapons, being chased by the largest and most powerful army in the world! The chariots, the horses, the armor—it was quite a sight! So, they chased us as far as the Red Sea. I thought we were trapped! There was nowhere to go! The water in front of us, the army behind us! But just then, man, then it happened! Moses stood up on a rock and prayed to God. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. But finally he swung his staff over the water, and there before us, DRY GROUND! I’m not lying. We just walked right across! And as soon as we got to the other side, the waters closed again! Right on top of the Egyptian army! God’s people were saved! I’ve never seen anything like it!

Well, I tell you, I was ready to get out of there! What if Pharaoh sent more soldiers? We needed to get as far away as possible! But, then something really remarkable happened! I wanted to get out of there! But Moses and his sister, they had other plans! They stopped us all. They looked to heaven. And they thanked God for what He had just done! Look, that prayer was so good, someone even wrote it down.

READ EXODUS 15

It never would have occurred to me to be thankful. I was just ready to move on! To start our new life! I guess thanksgiving doesn’t come as easy as receiving the gift!

As I think about this story of the Exodus, I wonder, “Who would I have been?” Moses? So thankful that I stopped to pray, so obviously grateful that I could do nothing else but give thanks. Or the Israelite telling this story? Ready to get on with life, not wanting to risk my blessings by stopping too long.

This time of the year forces us to be aware of our blessings! So what are we thankful for? As a community? As residents of Tyler, Texas? As members of the Glenwood family? When you say your prayers at night, for what do you thank God? I think we all have some tremendous blessings to be thankful for! I think of the many ways God has blessed this body of believers here at Glenwood. A beautiful, warm building to worship in week in and week out. A godly group of men to serve as our shepherds. Missionaries that are spreading God’s message all over the globe. The work being done by this church: Downtown at the Gathering, around the block at Rice Elementary, the ministry taking place with Christian Homes and Family Services, the spiritual formation that takes place in our classes and Connection Groups! The miracle God performs every week in our assembly, bringing people with varied opinions, bringing people with different backgrounds, bringing this disparate group of people and creating one, single “Body”! Church, let us not forget to stop long enough to get on our knees to bow before the throne of God and thank the One responsible for the miracles in our midst!

Max Lucado tells a wonderful story about a tiny Brazilian village. The hot air hung thickly in the small cemetery chapel. Those who had fans used them to stir the stillness. It was crowded. The few chairs that had been set out were quickly taken. The young missionary found an empty corner. It was off to one side. He just stood quietly. It was his first Brazilian funeral. On a stand in the middle of the chapel rested the coffin. It contained a woman who had been killed the day before in a car accident. Her name was Dona Neusa. He knew her because she was the mother of one the first converts to that area, Cesar Conchito. Beside the casket stood a group of people. Cesar, his sister, other relatives. And someone very special by the name of Carmelita.*

She was a tall woman. She was dark. Almost black skin. Very beautiful. On this day, her dress was simple. Her face was solemn. She just stared at the casket with her deep brown eyes. There was something noble about the way she stood there. She didn’t weep openly like the rest. She didn’t seek comfort from the other mourners. She just stood there, curiously quiet. The night before, the young missionary had accompanied Cesar to tell Camelita the news. It was not an enviable task. As they drove, he explained Carmelita’s story. He told how Carmelita had been adopted into their family.

It all began over 20 years earlier. Cesar’s family had visited a small town in the interior of Brazil. It was there they first saw the young orphan named Carmelita. She was only seven years old, living with poverty-stricken relatives. Her mother was a prostitute. She never knew her father. Upon seeing the child, Dona Neusa was touched. She knew that unless someone intervened this child’s life was over. She would never have any attention. She would never be loved. Because of Dona’s compassion, the family returned home with a new family member. This missionary stood in the funeral chapel and looked at Carmelita’s face. He tried to imagine the emotions she was feeling. How her life had changed. What was she thinking? He wondered if she was reliving the childhood memory of climbing into a car and driving away with a new family. One moment she had been without love, a home, or a future. The next moment she had all three.

His thoughts were interrupted by the noise of shuffling feet. The funeral was over and people were leaving the chapel for burial. Because of his position in the corner, he was the last to file out. Or at least he thought he was the last one. As he was leaving, he heard a voice behind him. He turned and saw Carmelita weeping silently. She was still standing beside the coffin. He stood silently behind and watched this sad farewell. Carmelita was alone for the last time with her adopted mother. There was an earnestness in her eyes. It was as if she had one final task to perform. She didn’t wail. She didn’t scream with grief. She simply leaned over the casket. She caressed it tenderly. It was as if it were the face of her mother. With silent teardrops splashing on the polished wood she spoke. “Obrigada, obrigada” “Thank you, thank you.” A final farewell of gratitude.

We are in many ways like Carmelita. We too were frightened orphans. We too were without tenderness or acceptance. And we too were rescued by a Compassionate Visitor. A Generous Parent who offered us a home and a name. And our response should be the same as that of Carmelita. A stirring response of heartfelt gratitude for our deliverance, when no one else would even give us the time of day, The Son of God gave us a brand new life. We too should stand in the quiet company of Him who saved us. We too should weep tears of gratitude and offer words of thanksgiving. For it is not our bodies that have been rescued, but our souls!

And so, let us together speak these powerful words to our own father, God we thank you!

* “Carmelita” adapted from Max Lucado’s God Came Near, p. 155

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