Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I Give You Thanks (Psalm 100) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

You may have heard this story before, but I think it’s worth hearing again.   A couple days before Thanksgiving, a father living in Phoenix telephones his son in New York and says: “I hate to ruin your day son, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing.  45 years of misery is enough.”  “Dad,” his son shouts, “what do you mean, what are you talking about?”  “We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,” the father says.  “We’re sick of each other and I’m tired of talking about this so you can call your sister in Chicago and tell her.”  Frantic, the son calls his sister who explodes on the phone.  “Like heck they’re getting divorced, she shouts, I’ll take care of this.”  She phones her Father and says: “You’re not getting divorced.  Don’t do anything. We’ll both be there tomorrow.”  The father hangs up, turns to his wife and says: “It’s OK honey, they’re both coming out for Thanksgiving and paying their own fares.”

Thanksgiving, our national fall festival, will soon be upon us, a day set aside for our nation to pause and give thanks.   Let’s go back for a moment in history.  We remember the Pilgrims, who sailed from England to Plymouth Mass, in 1620.  A year later they celebrated a feast in the autumn of 1621, after a year of sickness and scarcity. They celebrated together with the local Indians, to give thanks to God for their first successful harvest.  Half their number had died, they were people without a country, but to these people of strong Christian faith, this was a joyous outpouring of gratitude to God.

In the midst of a brutal Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, established a special day called Thanksgiving.  He wrote: “I invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.  And I recommend that they fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty’s hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as may be consistent with the Divine purpose to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”

Clearly, the origin of Thanksgiving Day was not merely a generic day of gratitude, but a day to specifically give thanks and praise to God and to seek God’s intervention in bringing reconciliation and healing amidst our War Between the States.

I, like you, am grateful for many things.  For my wife, for my family, for friends, for serving as pastor at PBPC.   What are you thankful for?   I am also thankful for our American time tested process of changing the highest office of the land, the President of the United States.  It is an orderly and peaceful transition.  Yes, the campaigns by both candidates were spirited, to say the least.  But rather than power being changed by a coup, by assassination, by wars, by violence, we heard how President Obama and President-elect Trump met for a private conversation for over an hour.  Power is handed over from the current president to the incoming president.  And now as one administration is moving out of the White House and another is moving in, we await the final step, the inauguration scheduled for January 20, 2017.  However you feel about the outcome of the election, you must respect the orderly and smooth transfer of power in some 73 days.

The Bible exhorts you and me as people of faith to give thanks to God.  Psalm 100 says: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise, give thanks to him, bless his name for the lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever.”  We are to give thanks because the God we worship is good and because his love is steadfast.  In Psalm 138, listen to how this poet jubilantly expresses his faith: “I give you thanks O Lord, with my whole heart, before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness.  On the day I called, you answered me; you increased my strength of soul.”  This psalmist had prayed to God for inner-strength, for God to lift his soul, and deliver him from some ordeal and God answered his prayer.  Has God answered a prayer you have made for inner-strength and courage in a difficult situation?  Has God ever delivered you from a threatening or troubling situation?

In the letter of I Thessalonians, we hear this exhortation: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Why have a thankful heart in all circumstances?   God knows that giving thanks and being thankful is good for our character as human beings and for our faith as God’s people.  If we have a thankful spirit, we can perceive special blessings, small miracles, new possibilities, second chances, hints and flashes of God’s amazing grace through unexpected people and events.     If we lack a grateful heart, we miss these things.

How does God desire for us to give thanks?  To worship Him, to pray, to express thankfulness in words and actions.  It is after-all Thanks-giving, not Thanks-taking.  One example is churches which are planting community gardens all around the country including Northminster Presbyterian Church in Clairemont.  Some churches in New Jersey have become part-time farmers, growing more than 300,000 pounds of food for needy people last year.  Christians are supplying a critical need for families who rely on food banks and soup kitchens, where fresh fruits and vegetables are often in short supply.   What a glorious way of giving thanks.

Reflect for a moment on these key biblical truths.  First, a thankful heart can reduce stress in your life by making you more content with who you are and what you have.  You will be freer from the anxiety that goes with being resentful and dissatisfied.  Second, a grateful heart can increase joy by enlarging your sense of God’s abundant blessings.  Focusing on blessings, for which you are grateful, helps to develop a sense of just how much there is to be thankful for.  Third, a grateful heart builds relationships.  Thank-less, ungrateful people repel; thankful, appreciative people attract other peoples.  Expressing our gratitude to others draws us closer to people and them to us.  Fourth, giving thanks for the gift of life brings us ever closer to the Giver of life, to God.   Fifth, if we cannot learn to be a thankful person, we can become bitter and callous and insensitive toward others. Further, we can become totally self-absorbed and thereby develop an attitude of entitlement and narcissism.  Praying steadily to God, walking humbly with God, sharing with others builds a thankful spirit.

A thankful heart can positively affect the people around you.  It can influence their attitudes, their identity, their spirit, their self esteem, their behavior.   Like the story about a couple named Larry and Jo Ann.   The author writes:

“One day, a most extraordinary event took place.  The husband Larry said to his wife: “Jo Ann, I’ve got a magic chest of drawers.  Every time I open them, they’re full of socks and t-shirts and underwear.  I want to thank you for filling them all these years.   Jo Ann stared at her husband over the top of her glasses.  “What do you want, Larry?”  “Nothing, I just want you to know I appreciate those magic drawers.”  This wasn’t the first time Larry had done something odd, so Jo Ann pushed the incident out of her mind until a few days later.

Jo Ann, that was a great dinner,” Larry said one evening.  I appreciate all your effort.  Why, in the past 15 years, I’ll bet you’ve fixed over 14,000 meals for me and the kids.”  A few days later, Larry said: “Jo Ann, the house looks spiffy.  You’ve really worked hard to get it looking so good. Thanks Jo Ann, for just being you.”

Jo Ann was now growing worried.  Where’s the sarcasm, the criticism, the impatience she wondered.  Whatever was wrong, Larry didn’t get over it.  Day in and day out he continued focusing on the positive.  Jo Ann’s step was now a little lighter, her self-confidence higher and once in a while she hummed.  She didn’t seem to have as many blue moods anymore.  She rather liked Larry’s new behavior.  That would be the end of the story except one day another most extraordinary event took place.  This time it was Jo Ann who spoke. “Larry, I want to thank you for going to work and providing for us all these years.  I don’t think I’ve ever told you how much I appreciate it.”

The author continues: “Larry has never revealed the reason for his dramatic change of behavior.  No matter how hard I pushed for an answer; it will likely remain one of life’s mysteries.  But it’s one I’m thankful to live with.  You see, the author writes, I am Jo Ann.”

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise, give thanks to him, bless his name for the lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”   May God bless you and yours on this Thanksgiving!  Amen

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