“BIG Thanks!” a message by Dr. Bruce Havens Coral Isles Church November 21, 2021 PSALM 147 NRSV 1 Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. 2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem; God gathers the outcasts of Israel. 3 God heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. 4 The Lord determines the number of the stars; and gives to all of them their names. 5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; God’s understanding is beyond measure. 6 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; and God casts the wicked to the ground. 7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre. 8 God covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. 9 The Lord gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry. 10 The Lord delights not in the strength of the horse, nor takes pleasure in the speed of a runner; 11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who live in awe of him, in those who hope in God’s steadfast love. 12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! 13 For God strengthens the bars of your gates, and blesses your children within you. 14 The Lord grants peace within your borders; and fills you with the finest of wheat. 15 God sends out a command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. 16 The Creator God gives snow like wool; and scatters frost like ashes. 17 and hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before his cold? 18 It is God who sends out his word, and melts them; God makes the wind blow, and the waters flow. 19 The Lord declares his word to Jacob, as well as statutes and ordinances to Israel. 20 God has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know the ordinances of our God. Praise the Lord!
Last week, in the lead up to Thanksgiving, I shared a message titled, “No Thanks.” I emphasized how that might be my first response to Jesus’ “appointing” his followers to go out with nothing to build relationships with others. Upon further reflection I decided, who would say no thanks to such an opportunity. This morning I want to reverse course and explore the opportunity that our national holiday – this one we call “Thanksgiving,” gives me an opportunity to say a “BIG thanks.”
Why the difference? Well, I spent some time reading and studying and reflecting on this wonderful Psalm we read this morning. It gives reason upon reason to give God a BIG thanks for, well, everything. So let me do my best to point out all the reasons the Psalm writer gives us to be thankful, and maybe make some suggestions about what gratitude does for us, and just to be sure I complete the preacher’s task of three points, add a bit of whipped cream on top of the pumpkin pie of gratitude with some suggestions about who we can increase our sense of gratitude.
As I begin though, I want to warn you that I want to make this an “audience participation” or “congregational participation” message. I want you to take a moment to think about one of the possible ways you can share your thinking with us this morning. What is your most recent experience or awareness of gratitude, or sense of thanksgiving? What is something you anticipate being thankful for this coming Thanksgiving Day? Or perhaps, what is your earliest or most profound experience of gratitude? So as I asked you to think about this during the pastoral prayer, I hope you won’t miss too much of what I want to say thinking about what you want to say. However, I have done this knowing that I take the risk that you are listening more to your internal dialogue than me. I do so believing that ultimately your sermon to yourself might be more important than mine to you.
As I think back to last week’s message and my pointing toward “building relationships” as the key to doing what Jesus sends us out to do and this week’s invitation to be filled with a BIG sense of thanksgiving I do so aware of a big hurdle. Neither building relationships with others or being filled with a sense of gratitude seem to be in vogue these days. Instead of building relationships we seem to be intent on destroying relationships through the wonderful blessing of social media, and the more traditionally divisive medium of politics. We seem intent on devouring ourselves with hatred and fear. I listen as I hear both sides claim the other side is being autocratic, demanding allegiance to their way or the highway, and describing the other side as violent and destructive to the democracy of our nation. Wow! Hard to build relationships when we have been led to see each other that way. So why are we listening to those voices? Why are we giving them the power to define ourselves or our neighbors that way? Who benefits? I would suggest it is the people who are manipulating us to do this. And it isn’t just the political professionals within our own nation who care nothing about actual values, or higher ideals, but only about winning, power, and lining their own pockets with the profits. People from outside our nation are using social media to spread misinformation, division, and even attempting and perhaps succeeding in literally changing the outcomes of elections. Just this week I read about 2 Middle Eastern men who were charged with these actions in court. They had not only spread misinformation and divisive falsehoods online they had attempted to hack into local election office computers to change votes and outcomes. So we are at each other’s throats not only because of internal strife but strife energized and created by foreigners who would manipulate us to destroy our democracy.
So how do we find a way to give “BIG Thanks” in the face of this? Let me point out all the reasons our Scripture gave us today. The Psalms, of course, are the “hymnal” of the Jewish people. These poems and writings are the lyrics for worship for the synagogue. Sure they are read as well as sung, but they were written originally for worship. So the writer begins appropriately by urging us to sing, but more specifically, to sing praise. You can’t sing songs of praise and not feel gratitude! Here’s the list of things the songwriter tells us to sing praise for:
1. God builds up the city – let us be grateful that God wants to build up the places where we live! God wants the places we live to a blessing and God works to see that happen.
2. God gathers “outcasts” – give thanks if you are feeling like an outsider, if you have been excluded, treated unjustly, or left out because God has and will gather you into God’s own community, God’s family, and in so doing God also
3. Will heal and bind up the broken and broken-hearted and lifts up the downtrodden. Our God is not one who ignores our suffering or celebrates our defeats or our oppression. God is not automatically “on the side of the victor” – a sentiment too often used to excuse violent, unjust, or ungodly actions; you know, it is the attitude that “our victory is proof that God loves us more than you.” One we have practiced far too often in the past. More recent outcomes should help clarify that this is not proof of God’s blessing. In fact, we should be grateful for the cautionary note that “God casts down the wicked.” Maybe a little humility would be a good thing for some, hmmm? A bit later in the Psalm the writer affirms that God will “strengthen the gates” of the city. This is a bit of anthropomorphism, portraying God as a sentry at the walls of our lives protecting us from harm, but it reminds us our security in God is greater than all the bombs, guns, walls, and other defenses we can buy or build for ourselves. In addition God seeks to bless our children, grant peace, and sends the seasons to make possible all that creation provides for us. And this leads us to remember and give thanks for the fact that…
4. God is an abundant God. How often do we act as if God’s blessings are small, insufficient, inadequate for our needs? The Psalm writer emphasizes that God’s power is more than sufficient to bless fully, completely, and abundantly. The writer reminds us that God’s understanding is a wisdom that goes beyond the things humans often think are wise.
There is more, but this is just intended to be a summary reminder of the Psalm writer’s reasons for giving a BIG thanks to God. The writer is inviting us to remember reasons for gratitude. So can someone share an early memory of a moment of gratitude, a time when you gave a BIG thanks to God?
One of my earliest memories of gratitude for being given an abundance may be more of a Christmas story than a Thanksgiving story but here’s what came to mind. When I was little, youngest of four, presents from family were wrapped and under the tree. Santa’s presents were left unwrapped on the sofa. Each child has their one space so they knew that place, those presents were ours from Santa. I remember being so grateful, I think the year I was in second or third grade, when I was overwhelmed with gratitude that Santa had given me a box of 64 crayons and huge pad of coloring paper! It seemed like the most extravagant gift! I wish I had that child=like sense of gratitude for the simplest things these days. It was more than I ever imagined or hoped for that year, in my memory.
So why bother with gratitude? Why bother thanking anyone including, or even especially God? Well, if you have ever experienced any sense of gratitude in your life you know as well as I do what a wonderful feeling that is! If you haven’t I am so sorry for you! Gratitude is a powerful thing. It can change your life. When someone truly experiences something that makes them thankful it is like a flood of energy! It brings more than a moment of pleasure, it creates a memory that can last a lifetime. That memory can bring hope in times of loss and hopelessness. And even more it is the true gateway to joy. If you are wondering why your life seems unhappy, or more difficult than it should; if you are wishing things were better in your life I believe gratitude is the key that unlocks the floodgates of joy. When we discover reasons to be thankful joy naturally floods in with those reasons and fills our hearts and souls.
Having said that, who has a story of something you are grateful for as you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Mine is the prospect of having my daughter and her husband here for the holiday. I haven’t seen her since we left Jacksonville and I haven’t seen her since her hospitalization last month; so I want to give God a BIG thanks for that and pray for a safe journey for them and a good time Thanksgiving Day.
How do you increase your sense of gratitude, a feeling of being thankful? Too many people are trying to be happy. Too many people believe that happiness comes from having more; or that happiness can be found by focusing on their happiness. Real joy comes when we discover reasons to be grateful. The first and best way I can think of to increase this is to remember and choose to be grateful. If we mentally and spiritually remind ourselves to focus on reasons for thanksgiving it can transform our day, our attitudes, our lives. The word “mindfulness” is one used in different ways. I want to strive to have a “mind full” of gratitude not just for this holiday, but everyday. I want to work spiritually on being more thankful to God.
One of the things that helps me to be grateful, to have a sense of being thankful may sound odd. For me, giving makes me thankful. It works in multiple ways. Giving makes me thankful for what I have, instead of worried about what I don’t have. Giving brings joy which then returns me to giving thanks to God for having something to give and for all that I have which is really an abundance. And finally giving is a way to experience the blessing that blessing others gives. I give to the church because I have a lot of gratitude for what God and the church does for me and for others. I give to others when I can because feeling generous gives me a great feeling of gratitude.
This Thanksgiving I hope you experience the blessing of gratitude. I also hope if you haven’t tried growing in your generosity to God and to others, you will. If you do, I believe you will discover yet another reason to give BIG thanks to God not just for a day, but for a lifetime! May God bless you with many reasons for gratitude this Thanksgiving Day and always! Amen.