Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
“Praise waits for you, O God, in Zion.” King David, the psalm writer, describes the position of God’s people before him. Because we are saved, we wait silently for him to come to us. We are ready to offer him praise. We give him thanks. Thanksgiving is part of every Christian’s life. Someone said that our thanks rise up automatically from the spirit of joy that distinguishes God’s people. Our Heavenly Father created us to rejoice in his works and to receive his gifts with humble and hearty thanks. We thank him every day as well as on the special day that comes once a year. It’s not hard to think of reasons to give thanks that we all have in common – physical blessings such as a place to live, enough food to eat, the benefits we receive from living in Canada. We give thanks for loving friends and family and the support of a stable community. We thank God, too, for his word, our faith, and the church. We thank him for his Son, who died for our sins, and for the hope of eternal happiness in heaven. We thank him for the willingness to hear our prayers and for the promise that he will sustain our faith so that we don’t fear that we’ll lose hope tomorrow or fall into despair. His blessings to us will continue and for this we give him thanks.
A wiser Christian than I said that our thanks are echoes of the praise and thanks that the heavenly choirs place before the throne of heaven. Our thanks come from our close fellowship with the Lord. Thanksgiving completes our enjoyment of God. When he commands us to thank him, the Father invites us to enjoy him.
Let’s have a look for a moment at Psalm 65, which draws us into an atmosphere of thanksgiving, for we have many of the same reasons for giving thanks as King David. He praises God for the strength that created the mountains and the power that quiets roaring seas and ends turmoil among nations. Storms come, but they are the exception rather than the rule. God calls us away from harmful violence to peace and rest in him; he quiets the ambitions of rulers and nations. We ask him to bring peace where conflict and fighting are taking place. We’re grateful for the Lord’s steadying hand. Without him, the turbulence of the world would be much worse than it is.
David thanked God for the care he gives to the land and the bounty he brings from the earth. He described the prosperity of his own nation, Israel – an abundance of rain, plentiful harvests, and enough grazing land for livestock. He said that the meadows were covered with flocks and the valleys with grain. Then he tells us that God thinks differently from the way we do.
Jesus sees the parts of creation that seem speechless to us as shouting and singing for joy. We can find the same picture in Psalm 96, “Let the seas resound...let the fields be jubilant...then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.” The author of Psalm 148 invites the sun and moon and shining stars to praise God. “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals, cattle, small creatures and flying birds...let them praise the name of the Lord.”
We could find quite a bit in the Toronto area to include in the list of thankful, rejoicing nature – trees and parklands, rivers, one of the Great Lakes, a wonderful zoo, sun and stars, clouds and rain, the four seasons, and lovely twilights typical of northern places. To the eyes of God, all his creatures praise and thank him and testify to his great power.
We know from our own experience as well as the news that the world is fractured and full of sin, but God sees all creation as unified under his rule through the restoring work of Christ. The whole world exists because of his gracious willingness to restore and renew. He sees in the unity he created a wonderful hymn of praise and thanksgiving to him. God’s faithful people join all creation in a chorus of thanksgiving. There is joy at the center of the universe, and Jesus invites you and me, all people everywhere, to take part in it. He delights in our praise and worship; the joy of his people pleases him. He is happy with the gratitude that rises up to him even though we may be passing through a time of trouble and testing. Paul once wrote that he was glad and rejoiced even though he might be poured out as a sacrificial offering. The thanksgiving of God’s Christian people that takes place every day soars above trials and tribulations like fragrant smoke that rises above a pile of burning leaves. We rejoice that God has given us the habit of thanks and praise. We praise him for his plentiful supply. We thank him for Christ’s death and resurrection, which brings hope and meaning to every moment of our lives.
The thanksgiving of Christians expresses our faith that God is good and that he brings plenty of good things and that he turns every evil into good in his own way, not just in general but for ourselves, each one of us. The parable in this morning’s gospel, however, gives an example of the opposite of faith and thanksgiving. Some guests invited to a certain king’s wedding were too busy to attend. They were absorbed in their own private affairs. Some even had murder on their minds. They didn’t care that their king had honored them. The parable draws a picture of the selfish world, with people wrapped up in comfort and material gain, even to the point of committing a crime. Anyone who lives only for material things builds a house on quicksand. No one can say when earthly things will be taken away. Materialism dishonors God. It shrivels souls and cheats neighbors and cancels the blessings of salvation, but God’s justice will prevail. The parable reminds us that the Lord will reverse all wickedness on the last day. Those who repent of their sins and keep the faith and live in thanksgiving will receive an eternal reward. The rest will not, because it will be too late. We are thankful that God sees things differently from worldly minds. Faith toward him and love for our neighbors is what counts with him. He sees deeply into every heart and rejoices when one of his own recognizes his or her need and reaches out in faith to take hold of his promises.
What a witness to God’s love his people make as we live day by day in faith. We are not perfect. We always need the forgiveness he provides. At the same time, he uses our lives to make a statement. Material things don’t shape us. Jesus does. He uses us to show that even in a tarnished world it is possible to live for him and to be generous to him even before we are generous to ourselves. He molds us so that materialism doesn’t capture our souls. We don’t fret about nice things we may lack. Though temptations abound, we don’t envy the rich or covet their worldly success. Jesus teaches us how to be content with what we have. He forms us so that we don’t respond to material things with greed for more, but with joy and thanksgiving.
How easy it is to be caught in a conflict between desire for worldly goods and the repose of spirit that brings thanksgiving. Jesus uses his thankful people to help folks who are still struggling find the trust in God to let go of the world. Without your knowing it, your spirit of praise and rejoicing may give someone close to you just the environment he or she needs to seek God. We testify that Jesus works miracles of contentment and thanksgiving even in today’s world.
Jesus once met a rich young man who wanted heaven but not at the expense of his good life on earth. His soul was caught in a terrific tug of war. He needed God, but it seemed impossible that he could ever live with him. Impossible for him, that is, but not impossible for Christ. All things are possible with God. His people give a witness to our neighbors that Jesus can solve all human dilemmas – including those of the rich young man – by giving us faith in the value of his life and death and resurrection.
It’s not that we’re better than others but that we live in the assurance of our Lord’s forgiveness. “Praise is due you, O God in Zion,” David wrote, “you who hear prayer. To you shall all flesh come on account of sins. When our transgressions prevail over us, you do forgive them.”
Heaven’s pardon washes us clean every day: it renews us. The heavenly Father declares us to be righteous in his sight because of Jesus’ death on the cross. He has adopted us as his sons and daughters. David affirms that the people whom God brings near him are blessed, and we are chiefly blessed because the good Lord has brought us full and abundant lives through the gift of his forgiveness.
So, to conclude, we remember that Thanksgiving as a holiday in North America began among native people, and early Christian settlers adopted their custom. Our thanks delight the Heavenly Father. Giving thanks helps to clear our brains and free us from the vice of tunnel vision. The spirit of thanks lifts us up. It works to strengthen our relationship with the Lord. The more we thank him, the easier it becomes to give thanks. We find, like St. Paul, that we can thank him in every situation. With the assurance that he will hear us, we ask the Lord Jesus to lift us up and keep us his thankful people every day...day after day, now and always. In his Name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.