How Do We Say Thank You?
Throughout the history of the church, Christians have argued over the role of "works," or deeds, in salvation. To simplify, one side (while acknowledging that it is Christ who saves) has held that actions matter, that good works or lack of them can lead to eternal salvation or damnation. This side upholds the importance of following God's commands and loving neighbor, but at its most extreme turns into "works righteousness": the idea that we can earn our way into heaven through good behavior, in a sense saving ourselves. The other side (while acknowledging we should do good works) has insisted that salvation belongs solely to God, that we can't "control" God, or make God save us through our deeds. This side upholds the grace and power of God in Christ, but at its most extreme turns into the doctrine of double predestination: people are chosen to be saved or damned before they're born, and nothing they do can change that. Reform churches who follow John Calvin (such as Presbyterians!) have tended to err in that direction.
There's no easy way to resolve the tension between grace and works, but happily most Christians - in all churches - live somewhere in the middle. We know we're capable of doing good, that our actions matter, that we can't expect to side with evil or be indifferent to neighbors without consequences. At the same time, we recognize that we're dependent on God's grace not only for salvation but also for the good we do. That our tendency to sin is so stubborn, even the most virtuous among us are always in need of forgiveness and help.
The good news is that God's forgiveness is always there. That Christ stands waiting, in love, to guide us back on the right path. So how do we say thanks? Through word and song and prayer, especially in worship together. But also - completing the circle - through good works. Good works are the concrete expression of our thanks, and are irrepressible when we're grateful. The "Thanksgiving Hymns" at the back of our hymnal testify to this connection between gratitude and works, between saying thanks and rendering thanks through deeds of love and service: "Lord, teach us all an attitude that thanks You all our days, a love that shows our gratitude through deeds that live our praise." (#556)
This month we offer thanksgiving through prayer and song but also through deed, by bringing food to the Germantown Avenue Crisis Ministry and by making a financial pledge for the work of the church. Please bring cans of food and other non-perishables through the month of November, and on the 22nd, I invite everyone to come with their pledge card and a frozen turkey! (Or at least a box of brownie mix).
Grace and Peace,