Thank you (notes)

Philippians 1:1-18a                 May 25, 2014

tumblr_llmpeoYkNo1qi8j7qo1_500 Jimmy Fallon, the newest host of the Tonight Show, does a weekly segment called Thank You Notes.  The melancholy music kicks in and with a dramatic sweep of Jimmy’s hand, pen goes to paper as we thanks people and inanimate objects alike.  Poignantly hilarious. Some of them way not safe for work or church.  Google it.  You’ll laugh.

So, I started Sunday’s sermon with River of Hope Thank You Notes, with Jim Nelson playing that same familiar piano line.

Thank you spring, for finally showing up as summer in Minnesota.  We’ve been waiting. We earned this one. Thank you.

Thank you people sitting in front of me, for not going to the lake. Or if you did, thanks for coming back this morning.

Thank you, school, for soon coming to an end and for long holiday weekends, even if we’re not at the lake.

Philippians is a letter of joy.  It’s why I asked the kids to help me do a happy dance during the reading today.  Paul is joyful and hopeful, Snoopy_Happy_Danceconfident in what God is doing through Jesus Christ.  And he’s got to tell them what he sees.

Paul is not writing from a cozy writing corner in his home or anyone else’s home.  He’s not writing from a desk, tucked away in an office somewhere.  He’s writing from jail.  He’s imprisoned for telling people about Jesus.  That’s what makes this joy so authentic. It’s what grounds it.  Paul is writing from a joyless location, a joyless situation, yet that’s all his letter exudes.  Hope and promise, love and joy.  The good news he sees in people because of what God is doing through Jesus Christ.

But you probably know that this isn’t so strange.  You’ve probably experienced life when it’s had its way with you – as an experience painfully cracks you right open.  A loved one dies so quickly and unexpectedly.  A betrayal. A dying friendship, a broken family, an addiction comfortably in a rut.  And after you’ve been steam rolled, something happens.  Hope dares to sprout out of your dark heart.  You start to see new possibilities, actual potential.  The sunsets start to look deeper, darker, more beautiful than you’ve ever imagined. You can hardly believe it.

And do you know why that is?  It’s not because of your strength. It’s not because of your ability to creatively problem solve.  It’s not because you deserve one thing over another.  No, it’s because God is at work making something new out of something you thought was dead and gone.  God is alive and well, working with the painful and the ugly and the given up for dead.  God has helped you see the hope, the new tomorrow, the blessed and beautiful possibility in the midst of darkness.

One of my good friends from seminary hosted a retreat last weekend.  There were about 10 of us in attendance.  She invited us together to mark her divorce.  She had gotten married quick and the marriage ended quickly.  It is painful to watch someone you love go through something like this. I imagine all of us in this room can identify with in some way, shape or form. This retreat, however, was not to rake her ex over the coals.  It was not to say, “I told you so.”  It took great courage for her to gather her closest friends around her to mark this ending and to acknowledge the new beginning emerging from it.  We had a worship service together that she modeled after a Jewish rite called a “Get” that involves the couple.  We spent time crying and told her things we hoped she could let go of; said things we needed to let go of about it all.  We spoke words of hope and promise and blessing to her for what we know God will do with her life in the future.  But the hardest part for my friend was to bless her ex, to speak words of hope and promise and future for him. She told us, when this part of the service came up, that she thought it was impossible to do. That she wouldn’t be able to do it.  That she couldn’t write anything down.  But she found the words that night.  She cried through them but she said them. And somewhere deep down and far away, she meant what she said.

And you know what?  There was joy in that retreat.  She had worked hard to get to that spot.  And she continuously pointed to what God was able to work out in her because of it.  The retreat, the gathering of us, was a thank you note, a love letter to the power God has to make things new, to never give up on us.

1653533_10153805987400564_1645833007_nAbout once a week, I pray through the list of people who call River of Hope home.  And I pray for visitors and friends of this community.  And so often, my heart swells as I read your names and give thanks for knowing you, for watching you live your lives and share Christ through that living.  I give thanks for the ways you reach out to me and for the ways I see you reach for others.  I give thanks to God for working in the hopeless messes of your lives, in the tragedy, in the secrets, in your callings as parents, teachers, doctors, retired folks, grandparents, lawyers, paras, caregivers of all kinds.  I give thanks to God for the way you bless this community, for your smart minds and quick wits and huge hearts.


Today’s letter from Paul is a love letter. It’s a thank you note.  And he’s thanking the people for being open to what God can so mysteriously accomplish through them. Plain ol flesh and blood. Just like you and me.

I remember having to write thank you notes as a kid, and I hated it.  But there is something so powerful in expressing thanks to someone who has given something to you- a gift that you can unwrap or an expression of unwarranted grace.  Being raised to express thankfulness has only helped to cultivate a spirit of gratitude. Thanking someone for who they are to you or something they’ve done that they are clueless about.

traditionalthankyouToday’s sermon is going to end with us writing thank you notes.  If you’ve got a phone and are a texter, text someone right now and thank them.  Then put pen to paper and say thank you.  Write a thank you note. Write a love letter. Use awkward words. Use grace-filled words.  Just say thank you, knowing that God is not done with us, ever.