This Thanksgiving I’m taking stock of everything for which I am thankful, and topping the list is the Body of Christ at Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park, where I have the privilege of serving as Pastor.
My own gratitude for the community at Calvary was especially stirred-up after reading some choice sections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. May they have a similar effect on your own heart this Thanksgiving.
Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive. We thank God for what God has done for us. We thank God for giving us other Christians who live by God’s call, forgiveness, and promise. We do not complain about what God does not give us; rather we are thankful for what God does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: other believers who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of God’s grace?
Thankfulness works in the Christian community as it usually does in the Christian life. Only those who give thanks for little things receive the great things as well. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.
If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian community in which we have been placed, even when there are no great experiences, no noticeable riches, but much weakness, difficulty, and little faith – and if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so miserable and so insignificant and does not at all live up to our expectations – then we hinder God from letting our community grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us all in Jesus Christ.
And a final word that really struck a cord with me, a rather direct word to pastors:
Pastors should not complain about their congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. Congregations have not been entrusted to them in order that they should become accusers of their congregations before God and their fellow human beings. When pastors lose faith in a Christian community in which they have been placed and begin to make accusations against it, they had better examine themselves whether the underlying problem is not their own idealized image, which should be shattered by God. And if they find that to be true, let them thank God for leading them into this predicament. But if they find that it is not true, let them nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of those whom God has gathered together. Instead, let them accuse themselves of their unbelief, let them ask for an understanding of their own failure and their particular sin, and pray that they may not wrong other Christians. Let such pastors, recognizing their own guilt, make intercession for those charged to their care. Let them do what they have been instructed to do and thank God.
Humbled, prayerful, and grateful this Thanksgiving for the Body of Christ at Calvary!