“Set An Extra Place”

(Ephesians 1:15-23)

 

Billy D Strayhorn

INTRODUCTION:

      Leonard Sweet in his sermon, “The Exquisite Attitude of Gratitude” writes: “On a grey Friday in January 2007, during the peak of the early morning commuter rush, an unassuming young man entered the L’Enfant Plaza train station in Washington D.C.

      As the crowds rushed by, the man found a place to stand out of the way of the foot traffic. He opened the violin case he carried. He threw into the case a few coins and dollar bills to “prime the pump.” And then he proceeded to begin playing.

      But this was no ordinary street musician. The anonymous violinist in the train station was Joshua Bell, renowned virtuoso, star of the symphony circuit. Only three days earlier audiences had shelled out between 100.00 to 200.00 bucks for a ticket to watch him play at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Now, as he stood just a few feet from clueless commuters hurrying to work, Bell played his heart out on his multi-million dollar 1713 Stradivarius violin.

      Bell began with “Chaconne,” from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Bell calls this a “spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect.” By the way, “Chaconne” is also considered one of the most difficult violin solos ever written.

      Can you guess what happened?  Did busy commuters suddenly stop in their tracks, mesmerized by this master violinist, and drift towards the magical music?

      Not so much. For the first three minutes of Bell’s “concert” no one passing by acknowledged anything. Not the music. Not the musician. Nothing. Nada. Everyone hurried by, head down, fixated on their next destination.

      At four minutes one woman hurriedly tossed a dollar into Bell’s open violin case. Finally, after six minutes, one commuter stopped, leaned against a wall, and listened to the gift that was being poured out into that train station air.

      Bell played for 43 minutes. He made a grand total of $32.00 off of 27 donations. (“Better than minimum wage,” Bell noted later). Two people stopped to listen. The other 1,070 people who passed in front of him simply skittered by, oblivious, obsessed by their own agendas.

Here watch this clip:

      John Lake, author of Timeless Beauty: In The Arts and Everyday Life (2003), succinctly summed up what this missed moment revealed about all those busy commuters, and about us:

      “If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that, then what else are we missing!”

      Let me read that again: “If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that, then what else are we missing!”

      Obviously that “what else” is life itself. We’re called to take in the gifts of goodness, beauty, and truth when they are offered to us. It’s part of the heartbeat of life. And we’re called to take time to give thanks for those things as well. That’s what this Thursday is all about. At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul writes:

Ephesians 1:15-23 (NRSV)
[15] I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason
[16] I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
[17] I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,
[18] so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
[19] and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
[20] God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
[21] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
[22] And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,
[23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

      As we gather around the table with our family and friends, truly take a few moments to give God the Glory. Exhibit a little of that “spirit of wisdom and revelation” Paul talks about. Set An Extra Place at the table for that unseen guest who joins us for every meal and every outing; the unseen guest who promised to be with us always.

I. GIVE THANKS:

      And don’t just Set An Extra Place at the table, make sure there’s a place in your heart as well. If there’s a place in your heart then there will be that extra place at your table. Remind yourself and your family who it is who occupies that extra place. The Son of God, Jesus the Christ, our friend, our brother, our daily companion, our Lord and Savior. Honor Him and bring Glory to God by Giving Thanks.

      And not just any old thanks, the list of “stuff” but give thanks for “the hope to which he has called us.” And for the “riches of his glorious inheritance” which we have. And for the “immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” We’re not talking little gifts here. We’re talking about life changing gifts; gifts that we walk by every single day and hardly ever acknowledge.

      When we Give Thanks we humble ourselves and move ourselves out of the way so that we can see and hear the beauty of God’s way. We move ourselves out of the way and see the true created order of things. We’re not in charge. As much as we like to think we are, we’re NOT in charge. And that is a good thing. Because in the midst of times like these when the future is seems so uncertain for so many people, it’s good to know that no matter what happens God is STILL in charge.

      And when we Give Thanks it changes us. With every word of Thanksgiving, our hearts become more and more attuned to and in tune with the music of heaven.

      Don’t just get stuffed on Thanksgiving, Set An Extra Place and take time; make time to Give Thanks and Honor God.

II. GIVE HOPE:

      A.   But don’t the table be the only place you Set An Extra Place. Set An Extra Place in your heart as well. What do I mean by that? Set An Extra Place in your heart so you can Give Thanks but also take the time to Give Hope.   

      The internet is awesome, you can find out all kinds of things with just a little Googling. According to several Farm Bureau reports the average Thanksgiving meal for 10 costs between $44.61 and $52.81 or roughly $50. That’s really not a bad deal is it? You can’t go to any fastfood chain I know of and get as much food as we eat for that amount of money.

      But I got to thinking about some of the statistics on poverty that I’ve been reading lately. According to one site I found, The world’s poor spend at least half their income on food. Over 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. That’s 12.5% of the world’s population.

      One sixth of the world’s population lives on less than $1 a day. About Forty percent of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day and economists are speculating that number will increase sharply, possibly by as many as 100 million. Which means those who had absolutely nothing to do with the Wall Street crisis, a crisis of the wealthy, will suffer the most. There is something drastically wrong with that picture. And the Bible is clear what our response should be. In Zechariah 7:10 God says: “do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”  In Matthew 25:40 Jesus clearly said: 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

      B.   So, what can we do? We can GIVE HOPE.

Let me give some examples of what the $50 we spend on the average Thanksgiving meal can do and how you and I can GIVE HOPE as well as Give Thanks this Thanksgiving.

      Let’s start with something simple. Methodist Holy Water, Coffee. I have found two sites where you can be in missions, help feed the hungry and support economic growth for the poor by drinking coffee.

      1.   The first site can be found through the General Board of Global Ministries web site or directly through their own website http://www.equalexchange.coop/coffee, an Interfaith Fair Trade Coop which sells fairly traded organic coffee plus chocolate, cocoa, teas, sugar, almonds, pecans and dried cranberries. Here you can buy 5 lbs of ground Fellowship blend for about $32.00. And 10 lbs of beans for between $52 to $83, depending on the blend. Compare that to what you pay for coffee at Starbucks, Central Market or the grocery store.

      2.   My favorite coffee, though, is Saints Coffee at www.saintscoffee.com. Here’s why. It’s $11.00 a pound or 5 lbs for $50. It’s Fair Trade and organic. It is ‘fluid bed’ air roasted not pan roasted. It is fresh roasted, usually within 2 days of your order. And one third of the net profit goes to feed some of the poorest children in the world, orphans, many of whom are HIV positive. The profit from each pound of coffee will feed an orphan for a month. How great is that?

      3.   If you’re not a coffee drinker, then how about Nothing But Nets? Remember them? Ten dollars buys a mosquito net that will help at least one child or one adult in Africa from getting malaria thus giving them life and hope.

      Watch this:

      Members of the UN Foundation and 35 United Methodists from Texas distributed 855, 000 in Cote d’Ivoire. (The Ivory Coast) which has a population of 18 million. Plus 3 million children received the measles vaccine, vitamin A and de-worming medicine. They did all of this just a little over a week ago between November 11th and 15th.

      4.   Forty million people are infected with HIV.  In Africa alone there are nearly 16 million AIDS orphans, and 8,000 AIDS-related deaths every day."  Such staggering numbers are often so overwhelming and impersonal, that they keep us from seeing the faces of people affected by the AIDS pandemic.

      You can be a part of a PMTCT program. Preventing Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV through Advance Specials like Community Integrated Aids-Time Initiative, Maua Methodist Hospital in Kenya. It is Advance project #140160. I’m told that one treatment costs only $10 and will save one newborn child from contracting HIV/AIDS from his/her mother. Just Google Advance Special and it will lead you to the site where you can make a donation for any number of projects here and abroad.

      5.   And then there is one of my favorite charities which the children of our church are involved with, Heifer International. Fifty dollars to Heifer International will purchase a flock of chicks, ducks or geese and hive of bees. Or it will buy a Heifer Hope Basket with rabbits and chicks

      Those are just five ways that you can Give Hope while Giving Thanks.

CONCLUSION:

      You and I have the privilege of living in the greatest country in the world. We live in the wealthiest country in the world. We have been blessed beyond measure. But with that blessing come responsibility.

      As we look around the world and see the poverty around us, I know that it can overwhelm us. There is so much that needs to be done and we think to ourselves, “What can I do? What can one person do?” Well, one person can’t change the world. Two people can’t change the world. But each of us can change the circumstances for at least one other person. We can give someone else hope and a future with hope. If we do it and inspire others to do it, not only we are making a difference but it won’t be long before we’ve changed the world.

      Now isn’t that something for which to be Thankful? Isn’t that a way of giving thanks for “the hope to which he has called us,” the “riches of his glorious inheritance” and for the “immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

      I challenge you this Thanksgiving to Give Thanks but also Give Hope. Set An Extra Place  at your table and in your heart. Ask your family and friends to join you in spending the same amount you spent on Thanksgiving this year, in order to Give Hope to someone else which will give them something for which to Give Thanks.

 

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

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Bibliography

1.    www.sermons.com

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Other References Consulted

 

 

Philippians 4:4-9 (NRSV)
[4] Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
[5] Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
[6] Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
[7] And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
[8] Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
[9] Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Ephesians 1:15-23 (NRSV)
[15] I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason
[16] I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
[17] I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,
[18] so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
[19] and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
[20] God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
[21] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
[22] And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,
[23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

Isaiah 58:6-8 (NRSV)
[6] Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
[7] Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
[8] Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

 

Isaiah 58:6-8 (MSG)
"This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage.

 

Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
[40] And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'