ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OCTOBER 13, 2019
Rev Sabrina Ingram Thanksgiving Sunday
THANKING THE GIVER
Psalm 65: 8 – 13; Romans 8: 15 – 17 & 26 – 28; Matthew 7: 7 – 11
We live in interesting times when former religions are being cast out and a “Secular Religion” is rising. People are highlighting and often ritualizing the themes they deem important. Sometimes there are elaborate rites; on “Remembrance Day” we gather around a cenotaph to honour war veterans. Other days like “Labour Day” and “Victoria Day” have rituals like going to the cottage or setting off fire works. Some of these themes are significant; others are playful; some mark the struggle for human rights, still others are an excuse to drink a lot of beer. This list now includes, December 25th also known as “Holiday”, and “Thanksgiving” or “Turkey Day”. It’s strange for me to think of those two events as “secular” days. While people can enjoy family get togethers with presents and turkey, without reference to anything beyond that or themselves, for Christians, these days have a distinct spiritual quality to them. For us, the richness of those days is lost without God. We celebrate these events to worship the Giver of all, for all the love and grace that he has poured out on us.
Before Thanksgiving, a Kindergarten class was asked to draw something for which they were thankful. Many children drew turkeys and tables laden with food. Some drew thier family. A few drew a favorite sport, or toy or a pet. One little boy drew nothing but a hand. So, the teacher showed the class the picture and asked whose hand it could be. One child said, “A Mom because she cooks with her hands”. Another said, “A farmer who uses his hands to feed the turkeys”. A third guessed, “Mrs. Brown, the crossing guard, because she uses her hand to keep us safe.” Another called out, “A Dad. My Dad holds my hand in busy places, so I won’t get lost.” Finally, the teacher asked the boy why he drew a hand. The boy said, “It’s the hand of God, because everything I’m thankful for, comes from Him.” We can be thankful for many good things, but gratitude towards the giver makes thanksgiving more meaningful because it’s personal. I can be thankful for a working blender, but it means more when I remember it was a gift from my mother. Scripture reminds us, “Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light” (James 1: 17). Our gratitude is profound when we remember that the desirable and beneficial things of life are gifts from the God.
We are doubly blessed because God is not only the Giver, he’s generous in his giving. God gives abundantly. God gives from a heart overflowing with love. Why? Because we’re his children. In our reading from Matthew, Jesus encouraged us by comparing God to a human father. “If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate?” (Matthew 7: 9 & 10). It’s beyond the imagination of any sane parent not to give their children what they need, and if we can and it’s good for them, what they want. Jesus then asked, “So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?” (vs. 11). God’s love pours out of him towards us. God’s ultimate gift, of course, is Jesus whose death and resurrection bring us eternal life. Through Christ, we not only know we are children of God, we take our place as his rightful heirs. Paul rejoiced, “God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!” (Romans 8: 16 & 17). Just as God gifts are rivers of light cascading down on us, when we’re in the flow of the Spirit our gift of gratitude gushes like an eternal spring back to God; we shower our Father with praise and thanksgiving. When that happens the bond between God and us in unbreakable.
What is thanksgiving? It’s our continual gift of worship to our God. It’s a bond of love. When my children were young, it filled my heart when they would thank me for something and tell me they loved me. Now that they’re older, what I value most from them is their time and attention. Worship is the flow of our time and our hearts moving towards God. The trouble with any ritual is that it’s always in danger of losing it’s meaning. We either ignore it, taking it for granted or it becomes a duty which we do because we’re told to do it. When we set aside one day for giving thanks, it can become an empty practice. When we ask our children to be with us and they ignore our request, it hurts. When we give them something and they don’t acknowledge it, it grieves us. When we tell them to do something and they do we’re pleased, but if they’re always obedient only out of obligation, if they go through the paces without being engaged in what they’re doing, if they act as we wish out of fear, we ache with sadness. We want their actions to be flooded with love. We want them to act because they want to do it. Ravi Zacharias writes, “’Gratitude’ comes from the same word as freedom (gratis = free). Gratitude is the freeing expression of a free heart toward one who freely gave.”
Because gratitude isn’t just the muttering of words but a bond of intimacy, it says something about both the giver and the receiver. Jonathan Edwards speaks of what he calls “gracious gratitude” Gracious gratitude gives thanks not for goods received, but for who God is, for His character, for His goodness, love, power, excellencies.” John MacArthur believes, “A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. It fortifies the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer’s heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord.” Gratitude isn’t dependant on what we receive. Gratitude is about relationship. It’s that relational gratitude which frees us to be thankful regardless of circumstances. In relationship with God, we realize that what we want and need most, is God himself. And God is more than willing to give us our desire.
While gratitude is a continual expression, it happens moment by moment. How often do we miss the moment? Terry and I were in the car recently. He was deep in thought, mulling over a meeting he’d attended. We came around a bend and I exclaimed, “Wow! Look at those trees!” He snapped out of his trance and looked. Then he said, “Thank you for pointing out the trees, I hadn’t seen them.” How often in life do we miss the thing that’s right in front of us, because we’re preoccupied? God’s gifts are everywhere if we watch for them.
Sometimes we fail to give thanks because we’re dissatisfied or jealous. A year ago, our grandchildren got a large dog and their neighbours got a small dog. Our granddaughter came home in tears begging for a small dog. Her mom explained that they just got a dog. When she started stamping and pouting, her Mom tried to calm her by calling their dog over and petting it. She’d have none of it. It’s generally my spiritual practice to keep my inside my head thoughts inside my head, but at this point I said to the girl, “Do you know what makes us happy in life?” Her mother sarcastically interjected, “Oh, this should be good!” I pressed on, “it’s to be grateful for what we do have, instead of wanting what we don’t have.” She thought for a moment and went back to wailing. Finally, her Mom caved and soothed her with the promise of a small dog in a year’s time. Despite that, Thomas Merton backs me up, “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us — and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.”
What are some ways we can be thankful people? While we’re thankful for everything – for the gift of life itself and the Giver himself, it also helps to be thankful for particular things. What if you went through your day giving thanks in detail? We’d begin by thanking God we’re alive and we have the gift of the day ahead. We’d get up and thank God for bathrobes and slippers, for a home with a floor, for the health of our body and bathrooms and toothbrushes. We’d thank God for the coffee maker, the aroma, the gift of anticipation, the taste of the coffee and the buzz it gives us. You’ve only been awake for 3 minutes, so I won’t complete the day. I’m not suggesting we go through the same list every day, but we can make it a practice to notice small details throughout the day.
The ancient Israelites also had a harvest thanksgiving, called the Festival of Ingathering, when they’d reap their crops and bring the first fruits to the Temple. It was a time to offer hospitality. As in the wilderness, people welcomed others into their tent and shared their food, which God provided. They showed hospitality to strangers, remembering they were once strangers in a foreign land. Today, many people invite others to share a meal at Thanksgiving. Hospitality speaks of an openness to others and a generosity of heart. In life, we’re given many opportunities to welcome people – new neighbours, the new kid at school or the new tenant in the building, the person no one includes, new Canadians, a person going through the same door. There are endless opportunities, big and small, to welcome others. We can also share what we’ve received, whether that’s our home or a shovel, books or vegetables, our attentiveness or even our faith.
Sometimes it’s hard to give thanks. We’re human. Circumstances affect us. When we’re going through rough times, we may not be flowing with the Spirit or overflowing with love or gratitude. Even in those times, God is the giver. Paul assures us, “the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans” (Romans 8: 27). The Spirit is always moving to keep us in her current. God is always generous and available to his children. No matter what, we can turn to the Father of Lights, and that is always something to be thankful for.