Habakkuk 3: 17-19
1 Timothy 6: 6-12

November 19, 2023

Do you remember THE FURBY? It was the MUST HAVE TOY in 1998; it WAS WHAT CHRISTMAS was meant to be that year! I remember when a woman from the church we were attending called Donna and asked her to wake up early on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The woman’s goal was to push and shove along with hundreds of others to get this toy because the toy would be the essential element for her children’s Christmas. Millions of Furby’s were sold and the price kept going higher and higher and higher all for a toy made popular on TV. A toy that this woman’s children HAD TO HAVE because it was Christmas after all. The priority of the season … a MUST BUY to pursue early in the hours after that last piece of Thanksgiving pie had been eaten. People literally fought at stores like Target and K-Mart to get one in their hands … CHRISTMAS … a toy … parents teaching their kids that being THANKFUL was not enough because they had to invest their money in a TOY that would be in a trash heap within a year or so … money that could have fed a hungry child or carried out a mission for God through a church where Jesus Christ still was the reason for the season.

Perhaps you rushed and pushed and shoved for Beanie Babies when they came out because they were a priority of Christmas one season. Bratz dolls maybe; they sold over $1 billion in their Christmas season when THEY WERE THE MUST under the TREE item rather than focusing the season on a candle-lit service the night before? Fights broke out on Black Friday 1996 at stores for TICKLE ME ELMO that red Sesame Street toy recreation with a silly laugh that soon was selling for $1500 or more each just to make sure a child’s Christmas needs were taken care of so they could be happy on CHRISTMAS DAY, which when translated means do better than the next house on the block day it seems … adults throwing other adults to the ground … makes you wonder what their Thanksgiving Day prayers were all about if they even bothered to pray at all … were they thankful for having enough or was THEIR FOCUS on the toy-lust? Did they even consider the poor, the needy, or supporting their church’s work to teach the lessons of Jesus Christ … the love story of Christmas and of God to the world? Or did they even share that story with their children? Maybe your essential toy purchase on Black Friday was the Tamagotchi or Sleep and Snore Ernie (My kids already had their sleep and snore daddy.). Pokémon became the hot item in 1998 … Hasbro spent $325 million to purchase the maker of Pokémon shortly after the 1998 Christmas rush because they knew what a priority cartoon figures on pieces of cardboard were to families across America … I wonder if A Charlie Brown’s Christmas still sells … Linus sharing the story from Luke’s Gospel … will you buy one copy … one DVD … watch it with the kids and mention that church still matters to you … this church … St. Paul’s … or will we join the trash heap of churches whose lack of financial support and the disappearance of people worshiping God closed their doors?

You do remember Jesus and the manger, don’t you church? Are you thankful with enough … all the stuff that you already have in your homes? The turkey and fixings on your Thanksgiving table? Are you having conversations with your family and friends about celebrating Christmas with the same degree of enthusiasm and finances that you are supporting St. Paul’s United Methodist Church with? Your church … your connection to God’s missions … our Food Pantry … our Red Bird Mission … our connection with Christ? Our church services and Bible studies? Will Thanksgiving Day be a time to strategize Black Friday shopping? Which choice, football games or being thankful for having enough so that you can share some of what God has given to you and your family … not with the merchandisers but with your church and God’s work?

Human nature has not changed one iota. And, sadly history does repeat itself even if we do our best to erase or WHITE-wash our history books. You heard in Paul’s letter to Timothy that “The Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal.” Pink Floyd in 1973 sang, “[1]Money, it’s a crime; share it fairly but don’t take my slice of my pie. Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.” Over on another radio station, the O’Jays were singing “[2]Don’t let money rule you. For the love of money. Money can change people.” And, Paul delivers the admonition for people of faith attempting to consider priorities … tied to God … directly related to being thankful for enough. Paul writes to his younger friend, “But as for you … man of God … run away from all these things pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness. GRAB HOLD of eternal live … make a good confession of it in the presence of many witnesses.

That’s a lot of hard cash reflection … I frankly don’t know what the hot toy is this season. I know the Xbox was a few years ago … do you consider yourself a connoisseur of the latest must haves … after church can you tell me what I should be focused in on this Black Friday … for Dax? A hot toy that will make his Christmas oh so special because the under the tree discoveries are so key to making sure this Christmas works.

But, if Paul was writing a text or email to you this morning would he be calling you a woman or man of God instead?

This year in my season of mourning, I turned frequently to the written works of Henri Nouwen. I keep a volume of this Jesuit faith leader’s writing in the kitchen right next to what I call my ‘kitchen Bible.’ Nouwen offers readers a perspective of faith connection that I believe we all need to be reminded of from time to time. In his book, ‘Making All Things New,’ Henri writes about the challenge we as Christians face if we are sincerely praying the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday, like we will in a few moments, or every day as part of our faith journey. He writes how we as people of faith need to realize that when we pray we are basically creating assignments for our lives and also for the lives of whatever faith community we belong to. He suggests that when we pray “Thy Kingdom Come on Earth” we are are volunteering “[3]to set our hearts on the Kingdom and make the life of the Spirit (of God) within and among us the center of all we think, say, or do.”

And, friends… since we are blessed with the Holy Spirit through our faith… our belief in Jesus Christ that changed our lives to follow Him rather than the world… isn’t that a clarion call to us to start how to discover that we can be thankful with the enough we already have therefore opening the door for us to share with others? Paul, whose name by the way is on this church, writes to the church in Corinth that “God is able to provide you with EVERY blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything , you may share abundantly in every good work.” Scripture from start to finish teaches us that God’s expectations for God’s people … believers, like us, … are rooted in sharing and giving not hoarding nor lusting for the latest goodies because as we heard Jesus teach last week, “You cannot serve both God and money. … CANNOT SERVE were the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God … the One whose birth we will celebrate on Christmas Day but on that hillside Jesus also reminded us, “DO NOT STORE up your treasures on earth but store up treasures in heaven; for where your treasure is that is also where your heart is.

THANKFUL with ENOUGH … mmmm the prophet Habakkuk talks about rejoicing in God calling God, “the LORD GOD of my strength who lets me walk upon the heights.” That same God wants to lead us beside still waters and restore our souls but perhaps we need to realize that can’t and won’d happen until we allow God to be God and to adjust our priorities … get ourselves comforted by God so that God’s goodness and mercy are part of our lives rather than afterthoughts relegated to perhaps a family prayer at the Thanksgiving table while knowing that church finances are hurting, people are hungry, and church services are being curtailed.

Last night as I drove back to West Deptford I was listening to an episode of Old Time Radio, which I often do when driving for any length of time. An episode of SAM SPADE was playing. Sam was filing his report about how he solved the episode’s intrigue with his secretary Effie when together they provided the exact message that I wanted to share with you this morning … [4]Effie asks, “Sam, do you think the world will ever get to the time where everybody has all that it wants? Instead of trying to get more everyone tries to spend time to enjoy life?” Sam replies, “Well you know best Effie, you have to believe something.” Effie replies, “I have a theory Sam, if everyone in the world picks someone else to be nice to there will never be any more trouble, anywhere. Before you can be nice to someone you have to think nice thoughts and once you start thinking nice thoughts you will see how silly the bad ones are.”

So Thanksgiving is coming … we will worship again at 5pm this afternoon with friends from National Park, Westville, and Colonial Manor. I wonder if this is the season when we actually pay close attention to the Scriptural teaching of Jesus or listen to what Paul’s advice to Timothy was a few years after Jesus left the tomb empty and we were able to declare that He is Risen (He is Risen Indeed!) … “Godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have. We didn’t bring anything into the world so we can’t take anything out of it.”

You should be receiving your Thanksgiving letter this week where I share some more thoughts … I am so thankful for this church, and it is my prayer that St. Paul’s thrives for years to come but that can only happen if we work together to ensure it. Despite all of my life challenges and losses this year and all of the world’s conflict … I stand here today THANKFUL for all that I have … I hope you are too and I don’t need to know what the hot toy is because I have Jesus Christ, God and this incredible church in my life. AMEN

[1] ‘Money’ written by Roger Waters and Uni Sol; Beatstars Publishing Worldwide
[2] ‘For the Love of Money; written by Anthony Jackson, Kenneth Gamble, and Leon Huff, ATV Music Publishing
[3] ‘Making All Things New’ by Henri Nouwen; ‘The Spiritual Life’ by Henri Nouwen; Harper One Publishing
[4] Sam Spade: The Vendetta Caper

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