Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Sermon 2007

Isaiah 12

November 18, 2007

12th Sabbatical Sunday

Thanksgiving and Praise

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.” This simple song is an acknowledgment of the blessings in our lives and the source of those blessings, which is God. Christians have been singing this song since 1674, and we sing this song each week after the offering is collected, in our traditional service. God has been bestowing blessings on the earth since the beginning of creation, and one natural reaction to such blessings is to say “thank you.” Our Bible is full of thank- you’s to God. Particularly in the pages of the Psalms, we find page after page of praise to God for the good things that have blessed individuals and communities.

This morning’s scripture comes from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. We find in this chapter a prophecy that looks a lot like a psalm. Isaiah is making his prophecies to Judah and Jerusalem in a time of chaos and war. The cities have been besieged by foreign powers, and Isaiah tells of a time when war settles down and God’s peaceable kingdom will be a reality. He speaks of a time when the lion will lay down with the lamb. God’s peace will come to Jerusalem, or Zion, Isaiah says. And when peace does come, the people will give thanks as Isaiah describes in chapter 12. “Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.” Isaiah knows how to be thankful and to share his gratitude to God with others.

This time of year we are surrounded by reminders to be thankful. The fall leaves and pumpkins we see remind us of God’s provision, and even thought it was so dry this year, we can say thank you for crops and leaves. We know how to be thankful for the family members that will fill our homes this week, or whose homes we will fill, as we gather to share a meal of Thanksgiving. Even our magazines and television shows remind us about gratitude. This month my favorite magazine, Real Simple, had stories of one person lifting up thanks for another. Five different women were thanking others for being significant in their lives. These women thanked teachers, and mentors, and even big sisters for their significant role in their life’s journeys. One of the TV hosts of the morning show I watch said she liked Thanksgiving the best of any holiday because, “it isn’t about presents, its just about giving thanks.” It makes you feel kind of warm and fuzzy when the culture around you remembers to be grateful, and you can really feel like a million bucks if someone remembers to thank you personally.

I wonder sometimes why it is so hard for us to remember to say thank you on a daily basis? Particularly why is it so hard for us to remember to thank God when we are blessed? I read a fairy tale this week that gave me a little insight about our forgetfulness:

“This is an old story told about a far-off land which was ruled by a tyrant. The tyrant had an ironclad grip over all parts of his kingdom, except for one frustrating area. He was unable to destroy the people’s belief in God.

He summoned his counselors and put the question to them: ‘Where can I hide God so that the people will end up forgetting him?’

One counselor suggested that God be hidden on the dark side of the moon. This proposal was debated for some time, but voted down because it was believed that one day scientists would discover a means of space travel and God would end up being found again.

Another advisor to the tyrant came up with the idea of burying God beneath the depths of the ocean floor. This was voted down for basically the same reason- it was felt that scientific advancement would lead to the discovery of God even beneath the depths of the ocean floor.

Finally the oldest and wisest of the counselors had a flash of insight, ‘I know,’ he said, ‘why don’t we hide God where no one will ever think of finding him?’ He explained, ‘If we hide God in the ordinary events of people’s everyday lives they’ll never find him.’

And so it was done- and they say that people are still looking for God- even today.”

Do you think there is any truth to this tale? Do we take the blessings of God for granted because they are hidden in the disguises of the ordinary and the every day? Do we look for God all over and not even realize that we have been in the presence of the holy in a hundred different ways each day? Perhaps this is the reason we do not express more gratitude to God, maybe we are not looking in the right places for God’s blessings. What if I asked you a question like the women were asked in the magazine? If you had to pick one person in your life who has been truly significant to say “thank you” to, who would it be? Of course as you think about that person and what a blessing they have been to you, remember to express gratitude not only to the person whose name you thought of, but also to God, who created that person and allowed them to cross paths with you..

One of the things I notice from reading Isaiah’s song of praise to God is that gratitude is something that has to be practiced. Being thankful is easy to leave unexpressed, but being thankful is simply part of being a Christian and a child of God. In our youth room, we try to practice being grateful for the ordinary things. When we gather on Sunday morning, we take part of our Sunday school time to go around the room and answer three questions. These three questions help us look for God in the ordinary happenings in our lives. We ask: What am I most grateful for that happened this week? For what am I least grateful? And where did I see God this week? Sharing those insights out loud help us to practice gratitude and help us praise God for our day to day lives.

Another thing I notice in Isaiah’s hymn of praise is that it is fitting to give thanks as an individual, and it is also appropriate to give thanks as a community. Isaiah uses “I” language to give individual thanks to God when he says, “I will praise you, O Lord,” and when he says, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust the Lord and not be afraid. The Lord is my strength and my song.” We all have something to give thanks for as individuals. I made a list this week in my journal and was able to come up with several things I’m grateful for. My list includes a wonderful husband and new marriage, a family who loves me, and a job I love. Instead of taking these things for granted, it is an act of praise to stop and give God thanks for the blessings in our lives.

It is also clear to me from Isaiah’s song of praise that we should give thanks as a community. Isaiah says that we should make known among the nations what wonderful things God has done. “Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” If we were to make a list together as a church family, what would we have to be grateful for? I think most of all we can be thankful for each other. Especially while Dee has been gone I have had the opportunity to see you care for one another and it is amazing. I thank God for everyone who has visited this church in the last three months and been greeted and welcomed by your smiling faces. I thank God for every person who has been ill that has received the prayers and visits and love of this church family. I thank God that we have people who are willing to lead Bible Studies, and youth groups, and attend to property needs. We have much to be grateful for as a community- and we need to share our thanks for what God has done with everyone we meet.

Another amazing thing that happens in Isaiah’s song of praise is that he gives thanks even in the midst of struggle. Isaiah says, “I will praise you, O Lord, although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.” Even though Isaiah felt that God was angry with him, he continued to praise God. The book of Psalms is filled with the voices of those who praise God even in the midst of chaos and darkness. In the 40th Psalm, the Psalmist says in verse five, “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you.” Clearly the author is thankful for God’s care and concern, and yet just a few verses later it is revealed that the struggles he faces are not over. He says, “Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever. For evils have encompassed me without number; my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see; they are more than the number of hairs on my head, and my heart fails me.”

The writer of the Psalm is honest about what he faces, he feels overwhelmed and sacred. And yet it is fitting to give praise to God even in the midst of trials and grief. We can boldly declare that God is good even though we struggle. Recognizing God’s presence even in the midst of pain and being able to give thanks is a sign of a deep relationship with God. As William Nichols commented about the Psalm, “misfortune has more lives than a junkyard cat, and no sooner had David expressed his thanks for deliverance from that prior difficulty than he found himself once again trapped in some adversity, which brought him back to God saying, ‘O Lord, do it again!”

When telling others about your relationship with Christ, it would be nice to say, “Oh, once you become a Christian you will never struggle or feel any pain again.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t part of the deal. God did not promise that as soon as we begin to have a relationship with Christ we would get a pass from the experience of being human. In fact, maybe we get invited to be more fully human, with all the pain and joy that life brings. However, we are never abandoned or forsaken; God is with us in our deepest pits, and on top of our highest mountains. Most of the time we are surrounded by others who love us as well; I have seen you as a church family surround people time and time again in their darkest hours. Even when we feel we are in the “miry pit,” as Psalm 40 describes, I hope we can remember to give thanks and praise to God, our comforter and our deliverer.

Since 1674, the words of the doxology have reminded us of what is truly important. All good things come from God, or as the song puts it, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” God is the source of all good gifts. God is good, and because God is good, let the rocks and the animals and most of all the humans say, “Thanks be to God!”

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