Safely Gathered In

What's your favorite Thanksgiving memory?… I can tell you at least one of mine. Micah was little, Meghan just not-yet. We were serving a little rural village church in then sleepy Carroll County. It was actually the day before Thanksgiving and I had just finished preparing for the Thanksgiving Eve Services. About 4 in the afternoon, sun low in the red-orange sky. As I walked from the church to the parsonage, the farmer next door was harvesting his corn to end the season. I watched. The stalks that had stood picket duty all summer disappeared and only the stubble remained. The corn went into the picker whole and came out ready to be laid store all winter to feed the stock. And the line from the hymn just flooded my mind and my soul. A very warm feeling caressed me. And over and over the words played on my heart, "All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin." This morning, let me invite you to experience and thank God-the-Gatherer. It's surprising what he takes in, and a blessing, what he does with it.

Oh yes, thank God. He takes in all of our day in his holy way. Darkness and light. Sorrow and sighing. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. We've heard from the kids. Let me ask you. What are your top three thanks? It's OK. I'll wait. Name them in your heart…………
Be brave. (Two or three respondents.) Amen to all of that! Now, let me add a thanks of my own. I'm glad God is more present than picky. God is not a dainty Deity! He comes around and comes to stay with me, and with you, not just in the day, but in the night. I find in the words of David's psalm a real comfort, worthy of gratitude to God. He is with us in the shadowed and the lonely moments, working to bring a new day. (More about that in a moment.)

If you want a reason for an attitude of gratitude, not just Thursday, but every day, here it is. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Hard times come to pass, but God in Christ sees to it they do not come to stay. Light gathers in the dark, as sure as evening turns to dawn. David's psalm says it so perfectly, "O Lord my God, I cried to thee for help, and thou hast healed me." All is safely gathered in. God does not stand afar off when we are plucked from the field like a blade of corn. He is with us 'til we come out on the other side. And he is on our side. Why is it little ones and older ones always seem sickest in the night. Will morning never get here? Only cry out, and he will come. 'Ever had some thing going on in your life? A rough job? A sorrow-filled relationship? Some vexing problem of health or heartache that just seemed would never go away? (If your answer's no, sad to say, it's likely your night'll be comin'.) Well, in such times when it seems there's no end to it, here's a promise. The night doesn't get to last all day. Never. Whether you spell it sun or Son, the good news is, God absolutely always brings sun/Son up! God literally harvests the darkness every day. What a comfort. To know there's a morning-after headed for you, headed for me. I hope you will be convinced of this. Remember it. It's a key to a grateful heart and a faithful life.

Thank God he not only takes in, but he also turns things around. On a day when our children step and whirl around us, we dare not miss this word. "Thou [Lord,] hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness." Here's the Old Testament's Easter message in a single sentence. God's been all about moving from Friday to Sunday for a very long time. Sadly, we have too many chances to see on the news how middle-eastern people mourn. They weep. They wail. They throw themselves down, they rend their garments. No little corner of their body or soul is allowed not to gather in the loss. But when they dance, oh how they dance. Everything and everybody shakes. It's often a community thing, where the whole people are gathered up in the unrestrained joy of a single heart. Go to a wedding, join in the Hava… it's an exhilarating thing. Well… that's the promise we receive here. Even utter, crushing loss, God has the will and the power to turn completely around. We don't go from bad to neutral, but from defeat to victory. Calvary's hill, awful as it is, is no match for the garden's empty tomb or the mountain from which Jesus is "taken up" to an eternal home!

Now we dare not be abstract. Sharp and long-pained loss can get married in joy. Ask Jerry and Irene! Ask my friends Tom and Kathy about a vocation as foster parents following the loss of their own beloved children. It's not that the pain isn't painful, the ruin, real, just that neither is final. And they are convertible by the power of God, especially in his Son, Jesus Christ. Oh, come Thursday, I'll be into the turkey that ate that bread again this year, just like the rest of us. But I'll be thankful for something more. That God is so good, so able, so willing to be nothing less than Lord of the Dance. It is the sweetest conversion this side of heaven. Praise God, he is not only gracious enough to gather all things safely in, but determined to turn all things around!

And, thank God, he gives back with a question attached. "Now, what are you going to do with this gift of mine?" It was true in David's day, in Jesus' day. It's still true in our day. Even as our Gospel reports, God in Christ is still in the habit of curing the incurable, reclaiming the outcasts (even the Pittsburgh fans at the Ravens game today), remaking the broken in our everyday lives. [3 e.g.s] And Jesus still wants to know, "This gracious new gift. What are you going to do with it?" Look what happens in the Gospel account. Ten go away to be cleansed of their hideous disease. All are. But only one comes back to say thanks. Jesus says to him that his faith has made him well. Included are both his trust in Jesus' restoring power and his thanks in Jesus' healing word. It's this that makes this Samaritan "well". Actually, complete or whole would be a better translation. The others were disease free, but only the thankful soul was free to live a new (eternal) life. He was truly a new person.

Almost all of us have had 10-Moments in our lives. Marvelous times when we got a gift of grace, a reprieve, a renewal, a second or a seventieth chance. (Can you RE-call some of yours? I pray you'll have one this very week.) When you have, when you do, what will you do with it, with them? Will you return for a Just-1-Minute, a time alone to give thanks to God in Christ Jesus? If you will do that with your moment, Jesus will do wonders with your new life. He will make it whole. Will you make it holy?… There's a harvest coming. A safe gathering. Night to morning. A harvest, a safe gathering, mourning to dancing. A healing, a safe gathering, old ways to new life. What will you do with it: when it comes to you?

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