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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

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Isaiah 65:17-25

Isaiah 65:17-25 New Revised Standard Version

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. 24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

Many years ago, I was on an airplane flight. In the seat pocket I found a copy of a magazine that someone had left – Martha Stewart’s Living. It was the Thanksgiving issue containing everything you needed to know to have a perfect holiday meal.

The recipes to make the perfect roast turkey (brined for 24 hours and basted with herb butter), cranberry-ginger relish, and garlic mashed potatoes caught my eye. Then, of course, were the handmade table decorations, the coordinated napkins and tablecloth, perfect seasonal décor, and pictures of the precise layout of the place settings. Finally, there were suggestions for table conversation focused on being appropriately thankful. Oh, and the perfect wine for each course.

I realized that I have failed Thanksgiving! In my house, once grace is said, everyone fills their plates with food. We don’t linger at the table, or we just take the plates to the family room to watch football (there is a bit more lingering now to teach the grandkids that a family meal ought to have some together time). We have paper napkins, maybe even Thanksgiving ones. Sparkling cider, milk, or apple juice are served along with the wine (not course related). Dessert is quick – grab a piece of pie, add whipped cream, and sit wherever you want to eat it.

Thanksgiving is that one day of the year that is “officially” designated to give thanks. At the table folks share memories and things for which they are thankful.

Most people have traditions for the day – food served, people who usually are invited, helping at a soup kitchen, activities for the day – touch football, going to a movie, games played, (we usually make little gingerbread houses, although I am thinking about going off script to do something else).

On Friday, everything Thanksgiving related is stored away, and we start preparations for Christmas while we eat turkey sandwiches and reheat leftovers. We may even go shopping, although that isn’t as big a thing anymore since you can shop online, and Black Friday deals start earlier than ever.

Of course, Martha Stewart’s Friday is probably very different. The Thanksgiving leftovers were carefully packaged for the guests to take home so there aren’t remnants to eat. The linens (after being cleaned and ironed) and décor are put away in their designated place – or discarded because next year’s theme will be different.

Jokingly, some have said that Martha even reuses the turkey carcass. She blanches it, spray paints it gold, turns it upside down, and uses it as a sleigh to hold Christmas cards.

Thanksgiving is the time of year we focus on blessings – past, present, and anticipated in the future. We talk about what and for whom we are grateful. We thank God for all God has provided for us.

I recognize that Thanksgiving is not a Norman Rockwell painting for most people. For many this time of year is especially difficult. Identifying blessings is hard when life is not going well, when memories aren’t ones you want to share, when grief overwhelms you, or when you are alone while others share a meal with loved ones. My hope and prayer are that you will have one experience this year that shows you that you are loved by God in all circumstances.

Past blessings are usually the easiest ones to identify. These are the memories that stand out in our minds. The ones recorded in cards, pictures, and warm thoughts. These blessings may also have been in unexpected circumstances – extra family time or time to read books, do puzzles, or complete projects around the house during the pandemic are a few examples.

Present blessings can be more challenging to see at the moment. Life moves at a fast pace, especially this time of year. Time to stop and smell the roses is hard to come by. Yet, taking that time allows us to take a breath and step out of the chaos for a few moments. When we do, we can experience God’s blessings in the here and now. Vacations, traveling to be with family and friends, or entertaining guests for the holidays can become more than the headache of preparations. Taking a breath allows us to find the joy in the moment.

Future blessings are the most difficult to identify. How can we know what will come in the days, months, and years to come? It seems like opening a book to the first chapter and expecting to know how it will end without even reading a word. Although we don’t know for certain what is to come, we can anticipate the possibilities – family events, the vacation of a lifetime, retirement, a move to the place you always wanted to live.

Blessings, we know, are gifts from God. Identifying them helps us to see God’s presence in our lives. Knowing God is with us can give us confidence to step out in faith – to live the life God has given us. To be those who are what we live and live what we are in Christ.

There is a difference between living and living the life God has given us. Living can mean getting from one day to the next, one event to another. Life can be exciting and fulfilling or disappointing. Life is impacted by our choices, schedules, and desires.

Living the life God has given us, doing life is driven by God’s calling. Our understanding of being chosen by God to do the work of faith, the labor of love, and the steadfastness of hope. Doing life is not a personal choice but a God choice. Doing life changes you and changes others.

Randy Pausch, a professor of Computer Science was asked to give the Last Lecture, a Carnegie Mellon tradition in which the speaker is to give what would be his last speech before he or she retires. The book of the same name records Randy’s lecture, the last one he gave before he died of pancreatic cancer.

His lecture was entitled “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” He describes how he decided to do life by fulfilling those dreams. Randy’s dreams were simple:

· Be in zero gravity

· Play in the NFL

· Authoring an article in World Book Encyclopedia

· Be Captain Kirk

· Winning a huge stuffed animal

· Be a Disney Imagineer

Randy described his past blessings:

· He won the parent lottery

· He had many mentors and friends who guided him

· He accomplished most of his dreams (except playing in the NFL – he was too short and skinny)

And his present blessings:

· Family, friends, and students

· Enabling the dreams of others which led to future blessings

One of those others was Tommy. His dream was to work on the next Star Wars film. But it was then 1993. The last one was made in 1983. The word on the street was there wouldn’t be any more in the series. Tommy was absolutely confident that his dream would come true. He was inspired by his mentor, Randy, who expected to be able to do the impossible.

Tommy pursued his dream. He was eventually hired by George Lucas’ company and became the lead technical director for the second film in the new series of Star Wars.

Randy showed others how to do life.

Doing the life God’s way is much better than living life our way. God’s way is never stuck in the past or stagnant. Isaiah tells us that God is always creating including new heavens and a new earth so that we will be glad and rejoice forever. That creating continues to generate blessings in our lives.

Along the way there continues to be challenges and blessings as we seek to follow Christ and live the life that God has given us. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to do this on our own.

Paul describes in Philippians the characteristics of the life we have been given through Christ when he writes that we are to focus on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, whatever is pleasing, and commendable. He concludes the passage with the encouraging and meaningful statement, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” The reminder that we are in this life with God.


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