Message for October 9, 2022
Thanksgiving Sunday
Mark 10:17-27
There was once a blind boy who was sitting on the steps of a building with
a hat by his feet and a sign which read, “I am blind, please help me”. Very few
people however chose to help him and there were only a few coins in the hat. A
man who was walking by took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them in.
He then took the boy’s sign, wrote on it, and put it back. Before long the hat
began to fill up with money. Later in the afternoon the man who had changed
the sign came back to see how things were going. The boy asked him, “Were
you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?” The
man said, “I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way. I
wrote ‘Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it’”. Both of the messages told
the people that the boy was blind but while the first simply said that the boy was,
the second reminded the people that they were so fortunate that they could see
what the boy could not. This filled them with such a sense of gratitude that in
response they gave. And that of course is what today and this very weekend
are all about; being grateful and giving thanks for the blessings we have.
In today’s scripture passage Mark tells us that one day Jesus was
approached by a young man who was both very wealthy and very religious. He
was however also very troubled. He realized that there was something missing
in his life and thought that Jesus might know the answer. He asked Jesus,
“what do I have to do to inherit the life everlasting?” Jesus’ answer was to tell
him to keep the Ten Commandments. “But I have, and I know that it’s not
enough!” he replied. Impressed by the young man, Jesus then told him that
there was one more thing that he had to do; he had to sell his goods, give the
money to the poor, and then come and follow him. As Mark tells us though, the
young man didn’t accept Jesus’ invitation. Yes, he knew that there was
something missing in his life but how could he possibly give up all that he had?
He decided that he would not, and sadly walked away.
It is easy enough perhaps for us to pass over this episode without realizing
the significance of what just happened. Through the years Jesus had asked
other people to follow him and they had invariably said yes. This however is the
one and only time in his entire ministry when Jesus invited someone to follow
him and was turned down flat. Mark clearly implies that the twelve disciples
were absolutely shocked by this, and so Jesus felt that he had to give an
explanation why.
“How hard it is for those with riches to enter the kingdom of God”, he said.
Far from being a blessing, that young man’s wealth was a barrier between him
and God. Well, if the disciples were dumbfounded by this statement, then they
must have been absolutely flabbergasted by what Jesus said next. “It is easier
for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for someone who is
rich to enter the kingdom of God”. But why were the disciples so shocked?
Because they, like virtually everyone else back then and a lot of people
since, equated material wealth with God’s favour. It was thought that if a person
was well off, then God obviously loved them. And if a person was not quite so
materially blessed, then it was equally obvious that God didn’t love them as
much. A person’s material blessings were, in a manner of speaking, a
barometer reflecting their standing with God. This was conventional wisdom but
here was Jesus saying that this wasn’t true, and far from being a blessing, a
person’s so-called ‘blessings’ could even be a barrier between them and God!
Mark tells us that the disciples were shocked by this and asked, “who then could
be saved?” Jesus’ reassuring answer was to say that with God anything is
With God all things are possible: these are words of reassurance to be
sure but we are still left in a bit of an awkward spot. This is the day set aside for
thanking God for all of our blessings and yet here we have Jesus himself saying
that our so-called blessings might not really be blessings at all and are in fact
the exact opposite. But then again, it is up to us to decide whether life’s good
things are truly blessings or not.
As I know I have said before in previous Thanksgiving sermons, the word
Thanksgiving isn’t just a noun, an occasion that we celebrate, the word is also a
verb, and it is what we do. At Thanksgiving we give thanks. We do this in
different ways too. In this morning’s worship service for example we are giving
thanks in song and prayer, but we are also giving thanks through the offering.
Whether it be used here in the service of our own church family or in the larger
church of which we are a part, it is a gift of thanks. We are also giving thanks
today through our gifts of money for the Salvation Army’s food bank, gifts that
will enable them to buy needed food items that have not been donated. And it is
through actions such as these that we ensure that our blessings really are
blessings, and not barriers between us and God. Our blessings only truly
become blessings when they are shared, and that is the message of this story
that I would like to share with you now. Some of you may recognize it from a
Thanksgiving sermon that I preached years ago but to me this story captures
what this weekend is really all about. It is taken from Robert Fulghum’s book
“You might as well know now. A cigar is the centrepiece of what follows.
And you might as well know that I have been known to smoke one of those
things from time to time, despite what I know about all the good reasons not to.
Moreover, I only had one puff from this cigar. Yet it was the cigar I will never
One fine fall morning in San Francisco. In a great mood. A week of hard
work had gone well, and now I had a couple of days off to myself. So I had
gone into Dunhill’s and bought the finest cigar in the shop.
After a few blocks’ walk, it was cigar time. One puff, and I said aloud to
myself: ‘Now that, that, is some cigar!’
It so happened that I had been standing in front of a coffee house. A cup
of fine espresso would add the final right ingredient to a recipe for a memorable
morning. Placing the lit cigar carefully on the brick window ledge of the coffee
house, I went inside to order. While waiting at the counter, I glanced out the
window to check on my cigar. Gone. My cigar was gone.
Abandoning my coffee, I rushed to the door. And stopped short. There on
the other side of the glass was an old man examining my cigar. He held the
cigar with respect under his nose and smelled it with eyes closed. He smiled.
Looking carefully up and down the street, he took a puff. And smiled again.
With a heavenward salute with the cigar, he set off down the street. Smoking
my cigar. I followed, not knowing quite what to do.
The old man. Italian. First generation immigrant probably. As were the
friends he visited to report the good news of the cigar that fate had prepared for
him that fine day. I got a tour of the old Italian quarter. At each stop, in
passionate terms, he exalted his cigar, his good fortune, and this lovely day.
Each friend was offered a sample puff. The fruit vendor squeezed the cigar and
approved its ripeness. The baker puffed twice and pronounced the cigar ‘primo,
primo’. The priest gave the cigar a mock blessing.
In time the old man turned toward the bocce ball courts … and when he
arrived, he repeated his ritual celebration of the cigar and his good luck. The
cigar burned down to a short stub. As it came his turn to play, the old man
meditated on the end of the cigar with clear regret. He did not toss it to the
ground and grind it underfoot as I might have done. No. Solemnly he walked
over to a flower bed, scooped a small hole beneath a rosebush, laid the cigar
butt to rest, covered it with dirt, and patted the small grave smooth with his
hands. Pausing, he raised his cap in respect, smiled, and returned to playing
the game.” Fulghum concludes:
“The old man may have smoked it, but I’ve not enjoyed a cigar more. It
remains the very finest cigar I never had”.
The best cigar that Fulghum ever had was the one that he never had; it
was the one that he, however inadvertently, had shared. And there is a
message in this episode for us on this Thanksgiving Sunday. We have so much
that we can and should be grateful for, but our blessings can only truly become
blessings when we are prepared to share them. And so I wonder on this day of
thanksgiving: are the things that we are giving thanks for today truly blessings?
Pastoral Prayer
Gracious God, on this Thanksgiving Sunday we give you thanks for the
earth, the lakes and oceans, all teeming with riches. We thank you for this land
in which we live, blessed as it is with peace, security, and prosperity.
We thank you for our families and friends and everyone else who touches
our lives for the better.
We thank you for the holy mysterious wonder that is you. You are the
Father who created us. You are the Son who saves us. You are the Spirit who
guides us. On this day of Thanksgiving we thank you, for truly you have blessed
us with so much in so many different ways. Even as we give you thanks though,
we remember and pray for all who, with good reason, may not feel so blessed
and inclined to give thanks.
We pray this day for all who are ill. On this weekend when so many
families get together, we pray for all who are unable to do so, and for those who,
for whatever reason, will not. We pray for all who miss a loved one, facing their
first Thanksgiving without their presence.
We pray this day for all who hunger or have no place to call home and
must rely on the charity of others for even the most basic of life’s necessities.
We pray for everyone, both in our own land and elsewhere, who are
picking up the pieces of their lives after the recent destructive hurricanes.
We pray for your church and her ministry throughout the world, that she
and we may truly be a source of caring, shining in the darkness as beacons of
light in what is so often a dark and hurting world.
We ask these things in your Son’s name. Amen