Give Thanks to The Lord
Our scripture this morning is found in 1 Chronicles, 16th chapter, beginning with the 23rd verse. Here is the Word of God
Honor and majesty are before Him. Strength and joy are in His place. Ascribe to the Lord, o, families of the peoples. Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory. Do His name. Bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in holy splendor. Trimble before Him all the earth. The world is firmly established. It shall never be moved. Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations the Lord is king. Let the sea roar and all that fills it, let the field exalt and everything in it. Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy, because the Lord, he, comes to judge the earth. O. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. Say also save us, o, god of our salvation, and gather and rescue us from among the nations that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Will you pray with me? Gracious God, open our minds to these words and open our hearts to the living Word of Christ, that we may be changed today and forever, amen.
So King David was establishing Jerusalem as his new capital city for his new kingdom, and he was in the process of bringing into town the Ark of the Covenant, the core place that the Word of the Lord, the Ten Commandments, was kept for the people of Israel, and he was going to set up a permanent place of worship for the Israelites. There is a celebration in progress, sort of an early thanksgiving, but instead of turkey and dressing and pie, they were having roasted meat and bread and raisin cakes. How about that for thanksgiving, raisin cakes.
There was a vocal ensemble assigned to sing and there was a praise band with strings and percussion guitars and drums who led the music. And then David instructed the music director, a guy by the name of Shawn, I'm sorry Asaph to lead a piece that had been specially composed for the occasion. It was a combination of three different Psalms and it created a whole new Psalm of Thanksgiving for a day of Thanksgiving.
Now we Americans, of course, have our own Thanksgiving Day and, as we've already heard, it's coming up this Thursday. In case, somehow you forgot. Now, Thanksgiving is a unique day in our nation. It is the only true civil religious day that we have. This Thursday, all across this great land, people who never pray together will gather around a table and make some attempt at a table blessing, giving thanks to God.
Sort of like the young man who was asked to say grace at his people's Thanksgiving table, and while the rest of the family waited patiently, the young boy eyed every dish that was laid out across this great feast that his mother had prepared and, after careful examination, he bowed his head and prayed honestly, "Lord, I don't like the looks of it, but thanks anyway, amen."
Thanksgiving was always intended to be a religious day. When our brand new government began to set up shop, they authorized the first Thanksgiving day in 1789. And President George Washington proclaimed it as a day for us to give thanks to the Lord in a public manner for the blessings he had bestowed upon America. And this is what he said. "Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is and that will be that we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere thanks for his kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to them becoming a nation."
Wow, hard to believe in this day and age, but there it is a government sponsored religious event. Without question, Thanksgiving was intended to be more than a day off. It's more than watching the Macy's Thanksgiving parade or sitting on the couch watching Dak and the Cowboys. It's more than a day to stuff a turkey and then stuff ourselves.
Thanksgiving is not just a holiday. It was, and should be always primarily a holy day. Well, let's see why.
First and foremost, thanksgiving is a day for honoring God, primarily because of who God is. God is worthy to receive our praise and Thanksgiving because our God is a great God. Verse 34 declared "O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good and his steadfast love endures forever." That is a phrase repeated over and over and over throughout the scriptures.
And then, when we come to the very end of the Bible and the book of the revelation, we read things like "worthy are you, o Lord and our God," and "blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks giving, and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever."
The people of God are called to give thanks to God because of His wonderful characteristics, and it is both our privilege and our responsibility to do so as His children.
In fact, failure to do so is not only negligent, but it begins to border on sinful. In Romans, chapter one, Paul writes that since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so men are without excuse, for although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him.
Paul is talking about the sinfulness of humanity and about how, although we know better, all too often we ignore God and fail to acknowledge God. And if we deny the hand of God and the blessings of the world and the blessings of our lives, well then we are committing sin and we are relying on ourselves, not relying on the God who created us. We don't need God anymore. We become self-sufficient, self-serving, we're exhibiting the very sin of Adam and Eve, and that's not a good thing. So if failure to thank God is bad, that seems we ought to make a good thing out of that and develop a spirit of thankfulness, and it ought to be not just one day a year, it ought to be every day, in all circumstances, good and bad.
In his book Gracias, the late Henri Nouwen wrote about his ministry among the poor in Latin America, and he says this: "In many of the families I visited nothing was certain, nothing was secure. Maybe there would be food tomorrow, maybe there would be work tomorrow, maybe there would be no sickness tomorrow, maybe not. But whatever came to these people, they still greeted life with joy and with gracias. What I presumed from God is my rightful claim my friends in Peru and Bolivia received as a precious gift what I treated as commonplace was for them a joyful surprise, what I trivialized as ordinary. They celebrated with reverence and said gracias, and slowly I learned what I had all but forgotten and dismissed. All is grace, all is God's gift; Light and water, shelter and food, a smile and a hug, work and leisure, pain and shadows, children, parents, grandparents, birth and death. They are all given to us freely by the God of love in Jesus Christ. And so I prayed and lived my gracias, gracias Dios (thank you, God.)
Each of us knows how good it feels when we do something to help somebody else and they respond with a thank you, maybe a word, maybe a note, but they are appreciative of what we have done. How much more it must gladden the heart of God, who gave us His Son, when we say thank you. Thank you, God, for being the kind of God you are. But if one side of thanksgiving is praising God for who He is, the other side is thanking God for what He has done. Thanksgiving is for remembering.
Now, our national day of thanksgiving is such that we are taught across our nation the collective story of the pilgrim fathers and mothers. But you know, we can have a blurry idea of how all those pieces fit together. I know this did not happen in one of our fine, Starkville schools, but one student who was asked to describe the event of the first thanksgiving on a history exam wrote: "The pilgrims crossed the ocean and this was called pilgrims progress. The winter of 1620 was a hard one for the settlers. Many people died and many babies were born. Captain John Smith was responsible for all of this. Thus the beginnings of thanksgiving."
But the fact of the matter is, very few of us can trace our roots all the way back to the Mayflower. As for me, my Italian side of the family came over in the late 1800s on a freighter from southern Italy as economic refugees. The other side of my family sailed over from Ireland a couple of decades earlier, staying just one step ahead of the law the whole way.
Some of our ancestors came over to America on rickety boats from Latin America or slave ships from Africa or immigrant liners from Asia. But while the story of Plymouth Rock may not be our story, we all share the story of God's grace extended to all His people and especially this time of year, his grace extended to the people of the United States of America. And it is good for all of us to recall how God has acted on our behalf, that even in the midst of hard times we can fall back on that and draw strength for the present and hope for the future. And what is true for a country is true for a church.
We often call the people and the prayers that we share at Thanksgiving as returning thanks, thanking God for His blessing bestowed upon us. And as believers we need to acknowledge that God, in goodness and faithfulness, has provided and has cared for us spiritually as well as physically. Most of all, we give thanks to God for His gift of the Son, Jesus Christ.
At the end of that verse that we read earlier, the passage from 1 Chronicles, it says "thank you, God, for rescuing us from among the nations that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise." The people of Israel remembered how God had rescued them from bondage to slavery in Egypt, brought them to the promised land and the people of God, as Christians, remember how God had rescued us from slavery to sin and brought us through to safety in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Our God is one who saves, and for that we should always and everywhere give thanks to the Lord.
A few years ago, I was celebrating worship with a United Methodist congregation in Krasnodar Russia, southern Russia, and during this service it was a church that we had helped plant in this community. During the service, a Russian teenage girl offered up a song that we know as Give Thanks, and as she sang it, she did it in beautiful, flowing Russian, and then she sang it also in stuttering English. Most of all, she sang it from her heart, and it was only later that the pastor explained to me her story.
It seemed that this girl had moved to Southern Russia from Ukraine, where her family had had to escape the environmental disaster that happened after the Chernobyl plant explosion and the scattering of radiation across Ukraine and Belarus in 1986. This young lady, in addition to losing her home and possessions and way of life, had also lost her younger sister as a result of radiation sickness and its secondary effects.
It was then that the words of the song she sang became even more meaningful. Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the Holy One. Give thanks because he's given Jesus Christ His Son. Let's join with her as we lift our hearts and our voices and song together.