“A Few Reasons” a message by Dr. Bruce Havens Coral Isles Church, UCC November 20, 2020 Psalm 46 1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. 4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 8Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
I hope that in this season of Thanksgiving, you have a few reasons to be thankful. Only you know. But if you are looking around for a few reasons, or a few more than you already have, then maybe the writer of this Psalm can help you out this morning.
The writer tells us wonderful news: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. For people of faith there are about four reasons to give thanks right there. Break it down phrase by phrase. First, “God is.” In a world where many doubt there is a God, and even we might wonder, at times, the Psalm writer proclaims, “God is.” Not may be. Not “is a theological possibility.” God IS. Say it with me: “God IS!” And not only is God, but reason two for thanksgiving is: God is OUR refuge and strength. God is not against us, God is not on someone else’s side. God is OUR refuge and strength. We have a place of refuge, a Being of refuge. It makes me think of being a child again and having a big old lap to crawl up into and curl up and go to sleep knowing you are safe and loved and held. And God is our strength. When we are weak, when we are weary, when we are unable to change things or even keep going another step, God is our strength. Fourth, God is a very present help in trouble. This refuge, this strength is “very present.” Not some distant, dour, unreachable angry deity. God is very present help in trouble.
So as we gather with others, or maybe simply sit for a moment and reflect sometime this week, these things give me reasons for thanksgiving. And when I think about that word, I am often inspired to do more than just express thanks to God in prayer. I am often inspired to do something more concrete.
An old Methodist preacher named Tom shared a story of his days in college that also speaks to how THANKS AND GIVING come together. He says that in the middle of the winter quarter of his first year in college he completely ran out of money. He thought he would have to leave school and go home for good. He didn’t have a nickel to buy a Coca-Cola, back when that’s what a Coke cost. He was living in a Methodist Parsonage while serving as a student pastor of small churches around that area. There were three of them living there. Tom had already packed his clothes that cold January night and had asked his roommate Charlie to drive him out to the main highway the next day so he could hitchhike home. The bachelors shared household duties. It was Tom’s night to wash dishes. He was standing at the sink finishing up when Charlie came through the back door, walked behind him and reached over his shoulder, slipped something into his shirt pocket, and kept walking. Tom dried his hands and reached to see what he had put in his pocket. It was a twenty-dollar bill! That was a lot of money! Like $100 today, at least. Tom says he ran after Charlie protesting that he could not take it because he had no way of repaying him. Charlie said that it was not a loan but a gift. Tom asked where Charlie got it and he said, ‘It’s none of your business.’ Tom unpacked his bags. He says he knew if he had gone home that night his educational career and his dream of going into the ministry would have been over.
The postscript to this story is that years later Tom tried to repay the twenty dollars, but Charlie would not accept it. He repeated, ‘It was not a loan, it was a gift.’ Then Tom says this: “There are some things you can never repay, but you can pass it on. I have given that twenty-dollar bill to literally hundreds of students in the past 60 years of my ministry, and I have still not repaid it. Charlie’s twenty-dollar bill is a gift that keeps on giving. Help somebody today. It may start something that will still be giving even after you are no longer living.”
The Psalmist says, “God is a very present help” in times and places of trouble. But I hear so many say, “why doesn’t God do something about ‘such-and-such’ situation, or tragedy, or problem. And as the wise person said in response, why don’t we? God is willing to be OUR strength and then it is our job to use that strength to respond on God’s behalf. There are many problems in our world, and each of us has our own. But the good news is that we have a God who is not only our refuge and strength, we have a God who is more than a very present help in trouble. It is often up to us to be that very present help for someone else. When we can give something, whether it is something concrete like money, or something as simple as time and attention to encourage them, then that is a very good reason for us as the giver to give thanks to God.
The Psalm writer goes on to say even if the very foundations of the world shake, if everything in the world is changing, if nations are in an uproar and kingdoms totter we WILL NOT FEAR, because God, the “Lord of Hosts is with us.” That’s a powerful proclamation. The writer repeats this affirmation twice to emphasize it. If we believe God is WITH us, then what can keep us from doing what God needs us to do?
When we give to ministries and missions of this church we bring God’s presence to people who need to know that God is their refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Certainly, there are things only God can do, and we cannot. But there are a whole lot of things we can do WITH God if WE are willing. We all know the saying, “where there is a will there is a way.” Well one of those “wills” is will we give to keep this church going, to keep lifting up a vision of a God who welcomes all, a God who is loving and not hateful. Will we give so that this church doesn’t become a memory but continues to be a powerful sign of God’s presence in this community? When it comes to thanksgiving, I want to point out it takes “giving” to complete the act of being thankful. I might suggest that if we are “thank-FULL” then we realize we have plenty to give and that makes it thanks-giving.
When we think back on those who have given us a reason to be encouraged or have done something for us that made a difference in our lives, we understand another reason to be thankful. Have you ever heard the story about the time Fred Rogers--“Mr. Rogers” -- spoke at a National Press Club luncheon? Rev. Thomas Long tells the story: “When Fred Rogers stood up to speak, he said that he knew the room was filled with many of the best reporters in the nation, men and women who had achieved much. Rogers then took out a pocket watch and announced that he was going to keep two minutes of silence, and he invited everybody in the room to remember people in their past—parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and others—who had made it possible for them to accomplish so much. And then Mister Rogers stood there, looked at his watch and saying nothing.
“The room grew quiet, and as the seconds ticked away and before Fred Rogers tucked away his watch, one could hear all around the room people sniffling as they were moved by the memories of those who had made sacrifices on their behalf and who had given them many gifts.”
Mr. Rogers call to remember was a gift to everyone in attendance. The tears shed were of gratitude for the memories. We often focus only on the good our generosity will accomplish out in the world. Our gifts truly make a difference. But these gifts also have an impact on us; to make a gift touches our heart too.
I invite you to remember the people in this church who have touched your life, made your life richer and more blessed. Let that memory give you even more reasons to be thankFULL. Who has been that blessing for you? How will you give thanks for that memory? What can each of us give to others to bless them so that they know the God we know – a God who is with us, who is a very present help, and who is a refuge for us and for them?
Thanksgiving is a great holiday. But more than that it is an opportunity to act on our faith. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving, whether it is with people or alone, whether it is with tofurkey or lobster or a traditional turkey – or a can of beans. I hope the spirit of Thanksgiving isn’t tied to a Norman Rockwell ideal. I hope it is not a reason to be sad or disappointed that it isn’t this or it isn’t that. I hope your thanksgiving is based on what is.
I hope it is tied to a memory of all the ways God has given you reasons to be thankful. I hope it is a time to give thanks and to remember it is God who says to us: 10“Be still, and know that I am God!” and to remember, “11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” I pray you have more than a few reasons to give thanks this and every day. AMEN.