This morning we begin with a couple of anonymous poems that speak to a recent experience many of us can relate to from this past week.
Thanksgiving 8000 Calorie Poem
May your stuffing be tasty,
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!
The last piece of apple pie is gone;
How did it disappear?
The bowl of delicious stuffing
Has also vanished, I fear.
It happens each Thanksgiving,
When leftover goodies flee,
And each of us knows the responsible one
Couldn’t be you or me.
The only way it could happen
Is readily diagnosed;
It must be the crafty, incredibly sneaky,
Still hungry Thanksgiving ghost.
Welcome to the season of carbing.
I can think of no other time of year when we celebrate the carbohydrate more than Thanksgiving Day through The Epiphany. From that fourth Thursday of November through the first week of January we Americans keep White Lily flour, Swiss Colony, and Sara Lee in business for the rest of the year. While I enjoy ham, turkey, and other meats, nothing excites me more at the table than the side dishes and desserts; things like dressing, sweet potato casserole, peanut butter candies, and hot fruit pies. I eat and eat for the better part of about six or seven weeks with little or no regard for my general health and well-being.
But then, The Moment comes.
The Moment is that place in time where my body, though grateful for the bounty of carbs that I have received, says, “Enough.” My body rebels and demands protein, lean meats and vegetables that haven’t been buried in cheese or gravy, fruit that has not been sweetened to the point of being candied and baked between two flaky crusts. It is a time when I must seek a restoration of the mind and body in order to survive long enough the make Easter Sunday dinner fun. It is penance for careless eating and damaging the temple I have been given to house the soul I have.
Both of these things, the mad month or so long feast and The Moment, are both things that I am immensely glad for when they come. They are both things of joy, one for the celebration and one for the relief that celebration has ended. They what you might regard as the good things in life, those things looked forward to and desired for their goodness and they are received with gratitude.
This morning I want to talk about something we can all easily identify with, being thankful for the good things.
A Psalm of Thanksgiving
The title above Psalm 100 calls it a psalm of thanks but it is an imperative of thanks, an accurate statement of its content and intent. According to Walter Brueggemann, “It breathes a faith of simple trust, glad surrender, and faithful responsiveness. It is not sung by newcomers who are only now embracing the faith but by those who are seasoned and at home in their faith and piety.” The psalm has eight imperative statements that call for a response of gratitude as a well as explanations as to why we should be thankful, divided up into two sections with four imperatives followed by a ‘why’ explanation. These two sections or stanzas could easily stand on their own as separate psalms but have been collected together as a single element of praise.
The first part says that we should, “Shout triumphantly to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with celebration! Come before him with shouts of joy! Know that the LORD is God—” Why should we do this? Because “he made us; we belong to him. We are his people, the sheep of his own pasture.” The second part says that are to “Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise! Thank him! Bless his name!” Again, why? “Because the LORD is good, his loyal love lasts forever; his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.”
Both of these sections have a series of command like statements for worship: shout, come, serve, enter, thank, bless. What these commands tell us is (1) for the writer of the psalm, worship is an expectation and (2) worship is an active not passive expression of faith. Any time you use an imperative statement, you do so with the expectation that the person hearing will respond. For instance, the statement, “Children, clean your rooms” is a statement that the expectation of two or more minors, currently abiding under the roof where this is spoken, going into their rooms, and doing something more than hiding things in a closet or under the bed. In this case, the psalmist, who is speaking to fellow Israelites as they are gathering to worship, has the expectation that the hearers will respond to these declarations by offering the appropriate expressions of praise called for by the psalmist. The second thing we notice about these words is that they are all active, not passive commands. They are words which imply that something is to be done when the words are heard rather than simply hearing them and absorbing their meaning.
The actions called for in the first part of each section is an action in response to something that God has already done for his people. According to the end of each section, God has “…made us; we belong to him. We are his people, the sheep of his own pasture” and “the LORD is good, his loyal love lasts forever; his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.” The acts of worship are responses of worship born out of thankfulness for what God has done for his people, a recognition of the gratitude that the worshipers feel for the work of God in their life. Throughout the story of Israel, God is the rescuer of his children. When they are made to be slaves in Egypt, he sends Moses to lead them to freedom, performing miracle after miracle to provide for them. When the people wander in the wilderness, God provides for them and their needs until they are ready to enter the promised land. When the people fall into captivity in Babylon, once more, God speaks through a foreign king to send them home. And when Israel once again lost its way under the yoke of Roman rule, Jesus, a Nazarene carpenter, steps onto the stage and offers once again, a way of redemption from God.
The knowledge of these things leads one to the idea of gratitude, of a spirit of thankfulness. Thankfulness, in its truest sense, can come only from a sense of grounding your being in the being of God through a life of worship and connectedness to God. When we are a people grounded in the way and being of God, a way that finds its best expression in that of Jesus, we find these acts of worship described in Psalm 100 to be natural responses to the loving kindness that God has shown to us.
The opposing option is that of self-groundedness…which may lead to cynicism, anxiety, or pride, all of which are grounded in the finite existence of the individual rather than the eternal existence of God. When the focus of the individual becomes too self-directed, the mind of the person begins to develop a sort of spiritual narcissism, an unhealthy focus on self-appeasement and self-directed interest. This is not an indictment against taking care of oneself and one’s needs but against a focus on self that neglects the spiritual dimension of life and the need of community and involvement with the needs of others.
Gratitude and Benevolence
Gratitude, then, is a recognition of the lovingkindness directed to us from God and a call to humility as we accept these gifts. It is knowing and acknowledging that God is the giver of these things and that worship is response of gratitude from those to whom the gift has been given. In his sermon The Unity of the Divine Being, John Wesley writes,
“True religion is right tempers towards God and man. It is, in two words, gratitude and benevolence; gratitude to our Creator and supreme Benefactor, and benevolence to our fellow creatures. In other words, it is the loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves. It is in consequence of our knowing God loves us, that we love him, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Gratitude towards our Creator cannot but produce benevolence to our fellow creatures.”
I believe Wesley is making a case that our gratitude should give rise to communal well-being. We who have been the recipients of God’s love expressed in his care and nurture of us are called to respond not only in worship to God but in benevolence or the active well wishing toward others. Our response to receiving then should be giving, our acceptance of grace calls our offering of it to the community around us.
For continuity sake, we will end as we began with a poem, albeit a bit more serious in tone, by Alberto Rios from 1952 entitled When Giving is All We Have. I believe this echoes the sentiment of John Wesley and speaks a truth about what it is to experience gratitude together.
One river gives its journey to the next.
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
Brueggemann, W. (1985, Jan). Psalm 100. Interpretation, 39(1), 65-69. Retrieved 06 05, 2017
Mays, J. L. (1994). Psalms. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.
Wesley, J. (2014). The Sermons of John Wesley: The Complete Collection of 141 Sermons. (M. R. Martin, Ed.) Sarnac Lake, NY: Cedar Eden Books.