Thanksgiving: More than a day

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

“Thanksgiving—More than just a day”

11/18/07

1 O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.

2Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.

3Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

4Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.

5Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,

6O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

7He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.

8He is mindful of his covenant forever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,

9the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac,

10which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant,

11saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.”

12When they were few in number, of little account, and strangers in it,

13wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people,

14he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account,

15saying, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”

    One day Dave and Fred were Deer Hunting, and they got lost.  Dave tells Fred “wait, don’t panic I learned what to do in case this happens.  Your supposed to shoot up into the air three times and someone will hear you and come with help,” “okay” said Fred.  So he shoots three times into the air.  They both wait an hour and no one shows up. So they shoot three times again and still no one shows up. Bewildered they try this again and again for the next couple of hours.  Fred starts to look a little worried, then he shouts “It better work this time, were down to our last three arrows!”

     Well I am thankful that none of our deer hunters got lost in the woods this weekend, and I am even more thankful that everyone was able to return safely without injury.  I am thankful for a lot of things.  I am thankful for a warm home to live in and I am thankful for the fact that I have plenty to eat.  And this is something that we as Americans tend to do every year at this time.  We remember what it is that we are thankful for.This Thursday we will celebrate Thanksgiving. 

     And I have some mixed feelings about this holiday.  Now I am not against Thanksgiving.  In fact I love the chance to get together with loved ones and share in a bounteous meal with one another while we reflect upon what we are thankful for.  But I do have a problem with Thanksgiving and that is that we need such a day to start with.  We should not need a national holiday to remind us to give thanks to God for the blessings that he has poured out upon us.  We should not need to have a single day set aside for us to give thanks.  But instead, we should be giving thanks to God for what he has done for us each and every day.  We should be living a life of gratitude.So it is not that I have a problem with Thanksgiving.  My problem is that we don’t give thanks more often.  And today I want to look at Psalm 105:1-15 to learn how we might be able to continually give thanks to God.  And I will give you two words that we can use everyday as we seek to give thanks to God on a more consistent basis: recite and reflect.  We will begin by looking at what it means to recite what God has done for us.

Verse 1 tells us, “O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.”  That is step one.  We need to recite what the Lord has done for us.  That is one way in which we can give thanks, by sharing out loud what God is doing and has done in our lives.  When we make known God’s works among the people, then we focus not on ourselves, but on what God has done.  Think about this, how much time do we spend talking about ourselves in conversations?  How much time do we spend telling about what we did today, who we saw, what we accomplished?  That is kind of the normal routine in our conversations.  We tell someone what we did and then we listen to what they did.

But where does the work of God fit into our conversations?  Do we make room for God in our dialogues or are we just filling our time together with idle chit chat?  Why not spend time talking about what God is doing in your life?  Maybe we can give thanks to God by telling others what God has done for us recently.  What if our conversations were less focused on ourselves and more focused on God?  It seems to me that when we talk about ourselves all the time, we are trying to make ourselves look better to someone else.  We try to build ourselves up in their eyes.  Essentially we are just bragging on ourselves.  Why don’t we brag on God?

Bragging on God or reciting what God had done in their lives was a very common practice in the Old Testament.  As we read throughout these ancient books we find stories time and time again about how God has delivered his people.  How he led them out of Egypt, how he provided food for them in the wilderness, how he has given them the Promised Land.  The people of Israel were not afraid to brag on God.  They knew that the blessings that they had received were from God and they wanted to make sure everyone else knew that these blessings came from God as well.

I too know that I have been blessed in so many ways.  And today I am not ashamed to brag on God.  I am willing to recite the ways that God has blessed me to all of you.  God has blessed me with a wonderful and caring family, including my in-laws.  God has blessed me with good health.  God has blessed me with a loving wife who has been kind enough to support me financially through Seminary.  God has blessed us financially so that we can afford our own home.  God has blessed Sonya and me with a church family that has been very supportive and willing to give me a chance to serve.

Now some people might say that I am just bragging on myself.  That I am just spewing off all of these things that I have saying “Look at me.  Aren’t I great?”  But believe me, I am not trying to hold these things over anybody else.  I don’t present these things to make myself look better.  I am not claiming that I am better than you or Joe Shmoe on the street.  But I am bragging, just like the apostle Paul was bragging.  I am bragging on God.  Because I had very little say in any of the things that I just mentioned.  I couldn’t choose to be born into a loving family.  God has blessed me.  And I know that we can all think of ways in which God has blessed us.  I am not afraid to brag on God.

And there are two different ways in which we can brag on God.  We can brag on God to God and we can brag on God to others.  When we brag on God to God we call that praise.  And when we brag on God to others we call that evangelism.  Both are ways in which we can give God thanks.  We can give God thanks through our praises to him and by sharing his blessings with other people and inviting them into a life with God as well.

But bragging on God isn’t the only way in which we can recite what God has done for us.  Another way is by singing to God.  Verse 2 says, “Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.”  When we tell of God’s wonderful works in song, we are reciting what he has done for us to a tune.  If you like music, you don’t just have to recite what God has done for you in a monotone voice.  No, you can sing it out!

When Moses crosses the Red Sea in Exodus we find the Song of Moses, and just after it we find the Song of Miriam.  Zechariah has a song at the birth of his son John the Baptist.  Mary sings a song of the upcoming birth of Jesus.  The book of Psalms is commonly divided into three categories, Psalms of praise, Psalms of lament, and Psalms of wisdom.  The Psalms of praise are bragging on God, telling of his wonderful deeds.  And these are just a few of the songs that we find in the Bible that are intended to give thanks to God.

So these are some verbal ways in which we can recite what God has done for us.  We can brag on God to those around us, we can brag on God to God, or we can sing praises to God.  All three are ways in which we can give thanks year round.  All three are ways we can give thanks to God everyday.  By reciting what God has done we are able to give him thanks.

The second way in which we can give thanks to God every day is by reflecting on what he has done for us.  Verse 5 says, “Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered.”  Reflecting is remembering what God has done for us and really thinking about these blessings.  And this differs from the first R, reciting, because reciting is speaking it out loud for others to hear.  Reflecting upon what God has done for us is something that we do within ourselves to really move to a deeper understanding of these blessings.

This is when we dive deep into the things that God has done for us.  This is when we get out our journals and our diaries and we write things down and wonder why God has chosen to give us certain things while other people are going without.  This is when we ask the difficult questions of why. 

I find myself reflecting on these blessings from God at the weirdest times.  Perhaps God puts these thoughts in my head.  Like this past Friday night, Sonya and I went to a restaurant to eat and we had pretty poor service.  The waitress must have thought we looked like very indecisive people.  We were seated and she thought she would wait about 5 minutes before she came and asked us what we wanted to drink.  Well, we almost always get the same thing to drink; water with lemon.  We had enough time to think about what we wanted to eat before she had taken our drink order.  But she didn’t ask what we wanted to eat.  She went and got our glasses of water and then came back after what was probably another 5 minutes.  Then she asked if we wanted an appetizer and we knew that the appetizers were half off, so yes, we got an order of the nachos.  She didn’t ask for our main entrée order yet, even though we actually knew what we wanted before we came that day.

Another five minutes pass and the waitress comes back.  Fifteen minutes after we walk into the restaurant we are able to order our meal, even though we came already knowing what we wanted.  Now we would have to wait for her to put the order in, for the kitchen to make the meal, and then who knows how long it would be until she brought out our main entrées.  And of course, when she brought out our entrées, she tried to take away my nachos when I think it was clear that I was still working on them.  I wasn’t about to give up my nachos.

Now I don’t mean to be too hard on the waitress, but it was far from the best service I had ever received.  And we probably all know what it is like to get bad service, but then I began reflecting on all that God had blessed us with.  I didn’t have anywhere to go that evening.  I was in no hurry.  So what if that waitress took a little extra time?  I got a good meal that evening.

And then I really started to reflect on what God had given me.  I don’t go hungry for long or too often.  We always have food in our home.  But did you know that 27,000 children die worldwide each day because of malnourishment?  I complain about never having enough money, but ½ of the world lives on less than $2/day.  How many people do we hear complaining about their jobs everyday?  How many people work for the weekend?  Once Monday rolls around they are already looking forward to the next Friday.  But 1 Billion people in the world are unemployed.  And I bet that there are plenty of people that would love to have a job like the ones that so many Americans complain about every day.

We complain about the cost of healthcare.  We complain about the long lines at the pharmacy and in the emergency room.  We hate to have to wait to see the doctor and we hate to get the bills in the mail.  But did you know that 200,000 people die each day from curable diseases?  What do we really have to complain about?

This is when I reflect upon what the Lord has given to me.  Sometimes I write it down and sometimes I ask difficult questions like “Why me?”  Why have I been blessed in so many ways, with health, a home, family, and plenty of money to make ends meet?  And why does God allow the orphans in Uganda to starve to death?  Why does God protect me from tragedy and then we hear of the weather in Bangladesh wiping out so many people?

Am I a better person then these people that are suffering?  Does God love me more than he loves the poor, the homeless, those that have had their lives turned upside down by a natural disaster?  I don’t know why God has chosen to bless me and you in so many ways, but he has.  And it likely isn’t because we are better people or better Christians than these people that have not been dealt such a good hand.

As we read the story of Job, we find that he is described as a righteous man.  But all of his possessions were taken from him, including his family and his health.  And many people accused him of sinning.  God must have been punishing him because of what he had done.  But that wasn’t the case at all, was it?  The story of Job teaches us that we cannot assume that our suffering in this world is because of our sin.  Sometimes God allows those that are closest to him to suffer.  If you don’t believe me, just look at his the story of God’s own son that he sent to this earth.  Jesus suffered greatly.  He was persecuted, tortured, and eventually he died a slow and painful death.  Does this mean that God didn’t love Jesus?  No way.  Does it mean that Jesus had sinned against God and that God was punishing him?  Nope.  But the stories of Job and Jesus teach us that sometimes God’s people will suffer on this earth.  And there isn’t always a good reason for this suffering.

So for those of us whose biggest problem is having to wait 30 minutes for our food at a restaurant, we need to reflect on all that God has given to us.  We didn’t do anything to deserve what we have been given.  But God chooses who he will bless with health and wealth and we must not take what he has given to us for granted.  I encourage you to think critically, reflect upon what God has given to you every day.  Remember that there are other people, other Christians that have not been given what we have been given.  That doesn’t mean that we are better Christians, that we are better servants of Jesus Christ.  I don’t know why God chose to bless you and me as he has.  But I am thankful for his blessings and I hope to share those blessings with others as well.  We need to reflect on the blessings of God so that we can give him thanks every day.

     So these are my two R’s for giving thanks to God everyday, “recite” and “reflect”.  When we recite what God has given to us we are either praising God or sharing with others his blessings, or both.  And this bragging on God is a way we can give him thanks.  When we reflect on what God has given us, we are thinking critically and asking questions about why God has given us the things that he has given to us. 

Let’s move past this idea that we only give thanks once a year.  Let’s make the day of Thanksgiving unnecessary.  Let’s give thanks to God every day.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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