November 24, 2013 Psalm 100
When you think about thanksgiving, what comes to mind? - pilgrims and
native Americans, turkey, cranberries, yams, green bean casserole (if you
happen to be from the mid-west), pumpkin pie, five extra pounds, football,
Macy's parade, crowded airports, clogged highways, men snoring on
couches and recliners in the living room, and gatherings with family and
What is missing here? Giving thanks. After all, this national holiday was
called Thanksgiving for a reason. It's a day set aside to give thanks to God
- an essential element that seems to get lost in all the commerciality, just as
the birth of Jesus has taken second place to Santa Claus in many people's
Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday. It began in 1621 with the
Pilgrims, after suffering a terrible winter during which 55 of the 101 people
who arrived the year before had died. Every family was touched by
sickness and death. The 46 who survived planted their crops that spring
and prayed. When their prayers were answered and the harvest was
abundant, Governor Bradford, in thanksgiving to God declared a three day
holiday. Their Native American friends were invited (they provided much of
the food by some accounts), and the first Thanksgiving was celebrated.
But the tradition didn't catch on right away - not for 168 years, to be precise
- not until George Washington revived the day with a Presidential
Proclamation in 1789. Here's what he said: “It is the duty of all nations to
acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be
grateful to God for his benefits and to implore his protection and favor. May
we unite in Thanksgiving this year for God's care and protection, for the
conclusion of the Revolutionary War, for tranquility and peace, for civil and
religious liberty, and for all God's great and various favors.”
In 1863, in the midst of the civil war, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed
a national Thanksgiving Day to be held on the fourth Thursday of each
We have been celebrating Thanksgiving ever since, through times of war
and times of peace, through times of hardship and times of abundance.
All of the major world religions have celebrations and rituals around the act
of giving thanks. In the Jewish faith it started some 4500 years ago, in
about 2500 BCE. The Israelites had a festival of ingathering, similar to our
festival of Thanksgiving. Leviticus tells us, “when you gather in the fruit of
the land in the fall, you shall have a feast unto the Lord and you should
rejoice and be happy for seven days.” Not a bad idea.
Moses, in Deuteronomy writes; “After you gather in from the threshing floor
and the wine press, you should rejoice in the Lord and the Lord will bless
you for your increase, and your daily work, and you shall be altogether
The ancient Israelites understood that abundance was a sign of God's
abundant goodness. When they looked at creation they saw glimpses of
the Creator. And they saw that it was good.
I counted 139 references to giving thanks in the Bible. That alone speaks of
it's importance. Psalm 100 is probably one of the most famous psalms of
praise or thanksgiving. These were hymns used in liturgy. The original
context for the hymn was the congregation's entrance into the temple for
the festival of the covenant - making a joyful noise. There's a song we used
to sing in my last church: “I will enter God's gates with thanksgiving in my
heart. I will enter God's courts with praise. I will say this is the day the Lord
has made. I will rejoice for God has made me glad.”
We are instructed to praise God for four reasons: because God made us,
because God loves us, because we belong to God, and because God is all
So we've come here today to give thanks. When reading the proclamation
by our first president after our nation had won their freedom, or thinking
about the pilgrims who survived that first harsh winter, I couldn't help but
think “those people had good reason to give thanks.” They had come
through incredibly difficult times and they had survived.
The same might be said of the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan or the tornados
in the midwest. Some of them might not have a permanent roof over their
head, but more important, they survived.
Be it a typhoon, a tornado, the loss of a job, or health issues, these are not
easy times for many of us in this country, let alone our world. But it is in
times such as these that it is most essential to give thanks. It's good for our
health, our well being. It is so easy to get sucked into fear, negativity,
cynicism, frustration, despair and anger, directing it not only to our fellow
human beings, but to God. The lens through which we view the world
determines what we see, our emotional state, how we live, the decisions
I have a little book of wisdom sitting by my bed, written by Henri Nouwen,
one of my favorite spiritual writers. Listen to his insight:
“People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness,
but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the
darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of
light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light
here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real
presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each
other's wounds, forgive each other's offenses, share their possessions,
foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and
live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God's glory.
Every moment of each day I have the chance to choose between cynicism
and joy. Every thought I have can be cynical or joyful. Every word I speak
can be cynical or joyful. Every action can be cynical or joyful. Increasingly I
discover that every choice for joy in turn reveals more joy and offers more
reason to make life a true celebration in the house of (God).”
What excellent advice. Psalm 100 invites us to choose joy, like Henri
Nouwen suggests - get our souls in tune with God and join in the
It's easy to be thankful for the good things in life: a loving family, caring
friends, a windfall in the stock market, that car you've always wanted, a
beautiful walk in nature. Doesn't take much effort to thank God for our
abundance, and there is plenty of abundance in this country.
What's not so easy is to give thanks for the setbacks, for the difficult times.
Years ago I met a woman who had been through one physical ailment after
another: reoccurring bouts with cancer, injuries from a car accident - and
through it all she had this incredible joy and attitude about life. She told me
one day that she always blessed her medicines, even her chemotherapy.
She knew it would make her weak and sick, but she thanked God for that
medicine, because she realized it was a gift that could make her well and
extend her life. She walked through the darkness, but ultimately she chose
joy and it changed her life.
I found a rather unconventional list of things to be thankful for, compiled by
a Rev. Joel Lohn. It gave me food for thought.
- Be thankful that you don't already have everything you want. If you did, what would there be to look forward to.
- Be thankful when you don't know something. This gives you the opportunity to learn.
- Be thankful for the difficult times. During these times you grow.
- Be thankful for your limitations, because they give you opportunities for improvement.
- Be thankful for each new challenge, because it will build strength and character.
- Be thankful for your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons.
- Be thankful when you're tired and weary, because it means you've made a difference.
It's not an easy task, to give thanks for our troubles, but in doing so, they
can sometimes become our blessings. Giving thanks helps us to become
more aware of those blessings.
In an article by John Buchanan, the editor of The Christian Century, he
talks about his resistance as a young boy to saying thank you. His mother,
after weeks of prodding, had to nearly drag him to the telephone to call and
thank his grandmother for a birthday card stuffed with cash. He says, “In
time, the feeling of gratitude caught up with the practice of it - in fact, I've
always thought that perhaps it's the habit of gratitude that generates the
It feels real good to be thanked, especially when someone takes the time to
call or write a note expressing their gratitude. I set thank you cards and
notes I've received where I can see them as a reminder- you did something
So this morning I'm giving you an opportunity to generate that feeling of
gratitude this week. In each of your bulletins is a thank you note. It's blank
inside for you to write to someone in your life who you'd like to thank - for
something - anything. Then send it, or hand it to them, or put it under their
pillow. Please don't put it in our recycling bins. If you don't want to write
one, leave it for me to use later. Ava took time making these for us.
You might address it during the offertory and begin to write - more
motivation to follow through. Let's get our souls in tune with God and make
this a week of thanksgiving.