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Gratitude and Grace

Updated: Nov 15, 2023


a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

November 12, 2023


1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. 4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; 5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. 6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; 7 he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. 8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things. 35 He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. 36 And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in; 37 they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield. 38 By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their cattle decrease. 39 When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow, 40he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; 41 but he raises up the needy out of distress, and makes their families like flocks. 42 The upright see it and are glad; and all wickedness stops its mouth. 43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

“How can I ever thank you enough?” Have you ever had someone say that to you? Or have you ever said that to someone? I hope you have had the opportunity and taken the opportunity in both cases! If you have it means a couple of things: you have been blessed beyond expectation by someone and/or you have blessed someone beyond their expectations. What a great feeling! What a great thing to be able to do for someone, or have done for you, right?

As we talk about the “3 G’s of Faith – Grace, Gratitude, and Generosity” this Psalm is a fitting place to pause and reflect. As we come to this season when we observe, and I hope celebrate, Thanksgiving, it is a great piece of Scripture for us. I love to celebrate Thanksgiving for a couple of reasons. One, because I like pie and Thanksgiving always includes pie. One of my favorites, besides of course, Key Lime Pie, is pecan pie. But that’s beside the more important point. I like Thanksgiving because I like to say we’re the guys who invented Thanksgiving – the holiday, not the actual concept. What I mean is our spiritual ancestors, those Pilgrims who came over from England to start Congregational Churches, are the ones who allegedly held the famous “first” Thanksgiving. I know we have altered the historical narrative that many of us learned in school. I understand the actions of those illegal immigrants - the Pilgrims - towards the natives wasn’t always beneficial or benevolent. I’m saying I love the whole idea of giving thanks for any and all reasons we can find. Turkey is optional, I would be fine if we substituted lasagna, but pie is not optional.

So this passage of Scripture, this Psalm is a fitting place to focus our efforts to be thankful people today. It is a celebratory song. It lifts up all the reasons for the people to be thankful. It focused on God’s saving acts for them. This was written after they had come back to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. It reminds the people that God is always, and has always been, good - and God’s steadfast love has always been a blessing. The Psalm writer begins with gratitude for God’s grace:

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever.

I realize that there are many people who do not believe this or who feel God’s love has failed them or they have failed God. This is a word of assurance, though. It is a word of promise. God’s love does not fail, and God does not punish us or neglect us because we fail. I know all the arguments and “what-abouts.” But here’s what it comes down to: God’s steadfast love endures forever. What we do about it is the key. In many cases people lose trust in God because they have unrealistic expectations of God or themselves. We don’t really have time to break that down today. What I want to do is give you a couple of thoughts that come from this Psalm to take action on so you can grow in gratitude and grace.

The first is in Verse 2: 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble.

How can we ever thank God enough? Say it! Our job is to say thanks. There are lots of ways to do that. The first is to literally say “thanks.” That’s the work of worship, that’s why what we do here today is tremendously important. To a lot of people this seems like a waste of time. To anyone who knows what real gratitude is, and who is truly grateful for what God has done for them, this is as essential as breathing. This isn’t about whether we like the music, or enjoy the sermon, or anything else we do up here. It’s about what you do out there to express gratitude for God’s steadfast love. That’s what we call grace. Worship is a sign of our gratitude for God’s grace.

Showing gratitude is more than saying thanks though. And as those who have been “redeemed,” as the Psalmist says we are, we can do more. Rev. Kenneth Samuel, [ “Much Needed Voices,”, Nov. 7, 2023 ]. He reminds us Psalm 107.2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” But he means saying more than “thanks” to God.

He says, “So much public discourse is dominated by extreme voices. Outrageous expressions are the ones that get the most hits and the most likes and the most attention online.” Those online voices are often the most outrageous and extreme. “Consequently, our U.S. Congress is often guided by extreme voices that elevate rigid political ideologies over practical political compromises that could best serve the American people. And the recent horrific attack upon Israel by Hamas is yet another action perpetrated by extreme voices that do not serve the best interests of Palestinians or Israelis. If there is ever a time we need to hear from the redeemed, it’s now,” Rev. Samuel says. As he puts it, “Not just voices of political moderation, but voices of spiritual redemption.”

We are the voices of spiritual redemption. We are “The Redeemed.” Rev. Samuels suggests we “are not given to any extremes except grace and mercy, because [we] believe [our] own lives have been saved with a price [we] could never fully pay [ourselves].” He says as people who are “redeemed” we “eschew extreme judgements and condemnations because [we] are cognizant of [our] own sins and shortcomings. We are “not prone to indiscriminate violent retaliation for wrongs committed against [us] because the peace [we] have is founded upon the incarnation of love and reconciliation.”

He goes on to say, “The redeemed are not blinded by partisan rivalries because they are committed to universal principles of justice that transcend religion, politics and nationality,” and he reminds us that a “wise person said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.’”

This morning we are going to give anyone who wants an opportunity to speak their thanks by speaking on behalf of those who may not be feeling God’s steadfast love so much. As our impotent and functionally challenged Congress teeters on the edge of defunding our government – OURS, not “theirs,” – there are people who will suffer disproportionately and unjustly. Among those are families and children. SNAP and WIC are government programs that provide funding for food that millions depend on to eat. These programs become unfunded when Congress plays politics with the budget. This morning we have computers with prewritten emails to send to express our concern for those who do not have enough to eat. We don’t want Congress playing political chicken with other people’s lives. All you have to do is read the email, and if you agree, add your name and email, and push send to speak up – to show gratitude for all that God has given you, by speaking up for others don’t have as much or enough to even eat.

Finally, I want to point out that “giving” thanks is exactly that. An act of giving. And sometimes that takes more than words. Sometimes we are led to do more than simply say thanks or even speak up for others. The Psalm this morning reminds us –

8 Let them thank the Lord for God’s steadfast love, for the wonderful works of God to humankind.

Professor Walter Brueggemann, one of the great theologians of our time, in his writing says that in, the Book of Psalms, “ thank is to give a verbal account of that for which one is grateful. In a thank offering, however, the narrative is accompanied by a material presentation of something of worth. Thus, thanking properly concerns both utterance and gesture .... In other words, if we are genuinely thankful for any gift, especially a gift from God, a simple “Thank you, God” is not always enough. One is expected to return to God something tangible. [Brueggemann, & Bellinger Jr, “Psalm,” p. 466.].

We are inviting you to follow suit by participating in one of these new digital age events that has begun recently. Giving Tuesday is described as an effort “to restore some balance to the flurry of buying sprees around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28th, is a ‘giving day’ to causes that bring forward a more just and compassionate world. It’s a day to proclaim that hope is alive and well, despite the many forces of cynicism, division, and destruction.”

We at Coral Isles Church are going to be part of the Giving Tuesday movement! We are inviting you and anyone we reach online to strengthen the mission of Coral Isles Church on Giving Tuesday. We have a goal of 20 gifts. To inspire our generosity, lead donors have committed to matching dollar-for-dollar the first $1,000 offered. Your gift makes possible the many ministries here at Coral Isles Church including ministries that serve adults with disabilities, assistance to new mothers and their babies, a coordinating office for assistance in the Upper Keys, food and gas cards for neighbors in need as well as opportunities for worship, spiritual growth, building community and welcoming persons and families with mental and spiritual health needs, and providing safe, welcoming, and engaging worship and community for LGBTQ+ people of all ages. Ten percent of the donations will also go out to support the wider Church mission through the United Church of Christ.

So as the “redeemed” people of God these are some ways we can say “thanks!” These are ways we can do more than say “how can I ever thank you enough?” God is good. God’s steadfast love endures forever. The people of God would say “Hosanna” to praise God. Say a “hosanna” with me now! “Hosanna!” You see praise is rising and through it, thanksgiving to God for steadfast love that never fails or ends.” Hosanna! Praise is rising! AMEN.

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