Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: "Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you."
A preacher was into his sermon. He would stop now and then and ask, "Are you with me? Are you with me?" He was still going strong after about 90 minutes and he stopped and asked, "Are you with me?"
One fellow in the back yelled, "We wouldn't be if we could find our way back!"
I assure you that for this Thanksgiving Sunday I shall not preach for ninety minutes. I won't get us lost. You shall be able to find your way back.
Today I want to ask the question, "For what shall I give thanks?" That is probably a question you would like to have answered for yourself.
The challenges of everyday life are unrelenting and there are times when they become too much. Sometimes we find it is difficult to be thankful. Then we have the added pressure of the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! We are supposed to be happy and merry and thankful, but when circumstances overshadow the expectations of the season, we find that we are even less thankful, even unthankful.
More suicide attempts occur during this season than any other in part because of the sense of failure or loss or missed opportunity or emptiness that many experience during this time. We not only respond to the expectations and stress of the season, but we also respond to the lack of sunlight and physical exercise that brings us down. We are taken down during these times physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually.
Thanksgiving is not a simple matter at all, you see. It is rather difficult to be thankful sometimes. If I give thanks for health and home and food and family, the moment I do, I remember that there are those who are sick and homeless and hungry and alone. We feel a sense of guilt when we come to this season when we find we are giving thanks for things others do not have. When we analyze the situation psychologically, we are giving thanks because we have something and we know that either there was a chance that we would not have had it or can lose it, or that there are those who do not have what we do.
If I give thanks for opportunity and security and freedom, I fall into the same trap because there are those persons who are denied those things. So, Thanksgiving usually falls into expressing gratitude for things that I have. Unless I stop and think, I often don't realize that I am giving thanks for what someone else does not have.
To be truly thankful, though, is not a statement of what we have in a material way, or what we possess. To be truly thankful is to say that we believe that there are things in this world that are good and positive. There are things worth having.
To be truly thankful also means that I recognize that I am responsible to someone or something somewhere for these good and positive things. After all, to whom do we give thanks?
Thanksgiving is a spirit or attitude of life. We give thanks to something outside ourselves and beyond ourselves and by whom we are responsible for these things we are given.
So I hope my Thanksgiving will not center on appreciation for good luck in life. I hope my Thanksgiving will not be given in order to insure that the good things keep coming. I hope Thanksgiving will cause me to look at a dimension beyond things, and I will feel the presence of that which is holy.
Ralph Waldo Emerson summarized the feeling of the presence of the holy when he wrote, "Great persons are those who see that the spiritual is mightier than the material force."
In order to have that kind of attitude in our Thanksgiving I want to suggest three ideas:
Thank God things are no worse than they are.
Thank God we still know the way home.
Thank God that He has matched us a against this time.
I would ask us to look at this time of Thanksgiving first in terms of a statement by King George III of England. If you remember your American history, George III was the king of England during the American Revolution. The British had lost their American colonies, their economy was in a wreck. The King ordered a day of national thanksgiving. One of his advisers asked why. The king said, "Thank God things are no worse than they are."
Let me tell you, that is a good reason for thanksgiving. We are in a war. We have some economic challenges. There are assaults against morality and challenges to the Church and this church. Thank God things are no worse than they are.
There are two stories. One is about a relative of Andrew Carnegie. This relative was left with one million dollars by Carnegie in his will, but the relative cursed his memory because, he said, "Andy left $365 million to charity and left me a lousy one million!" Now that is one way to look at things.
The other story is about a man in Braden, Mississippi. A tornado had come through the community around Thanksgiving time. He said, "I am really thankful. My house was blown away, but I found my refrigerator and the Thanksgiving turkey was still in it. It will be a good Thanksgiving."
Thank God things are no worse than they are. One guy complains about a million dollars, and the other guy is happy is turkey is still there.
Thanksgiving is a perspective on life. It is a spiritual matter. It is a matter of being thankful to someone or something beyond us to whom we are responsible. No matter how bad thing get, nothing can rob me of the faith that views all things in the context of God's love for me and His provision of the best life for me.
What if I do have very little? What if I do have less than I had? Certainly I speak from a perspective of not having to suffer very much compared to most people in this world. Whatever my circumstances I can still have a spirit that no one can erode unless I allow it to be eroded.
Thank God things are not worse than they are.
Next I go from King George III of England to Edgar Greer of Meade County, Kentucky. You can see I am pulling out all the stops this morning. Dad always told this story about Edgar.
One day Edgar's wife said to him, "Edgar, there's and old Tom cat hanging around here. It is keeping me awake at night. I want you to get rid of it."
So Edgar took the cat about two miles out and dropped him. The cat beat Edgar home. Three different times Edgar took that cat out and dropped him. Each time he would take the cat a longer distance. Each time the cat beat him back.
Finally, Edgar said, 'I am going to take that cat so far that he will never get back." He was gone all day and all night. He came in late the next morning covered with mud and brambles, scratched and bruised.
His wife said, "Edgar, did you lose the cat?"
Ed said, "No! And thank God for the cat! I had to follow him home."
For lack of a better way to say it. Thank God for the cat. The cat knows the way home.
I am thankful that as difficult or challenging that things seem to be; as we gradually seem to be separating God from all of our society; and as confusing as life seems to be; there are still those among us who know that know the way home. Maybe you are one of them.
Some among us - in our church, our family, our community - know where the foundation is. No matter how blurred things become we still know that truth is preferable to lies, that privilege implies responsibility, that love is always superior to hatred, that integrity is nobler than expediency, that purity is more admirable than pornography, that home and church is still the nurturing place of the character.
About a century ago when our nation was facing challenges similar to today's, a truly great Episcopal bishop, Phillips Brooks, said, "Things are shaking, so they say. I say, 'let them shake. And let us see what remains when the shaking is done.'"
I would say the same thing to us today. People tell me that things are challenging. Things are changing. We live in shaky times. I say, let them shake, and let us see what remains when the shaking is done.
Thank God for the cat. The cat knows the way home. Francis Shaffer, the theologian, wrote, "There is no way to have real morals without a moral absolute. Without an absolute - without God - morals cease to exist. We still know where to find these things. We still know where home is. For that I give thanks."
Thank God things are no worse. Thank God for the cat.
Last, let me quote a statement from Anthony Eden. Eden was in the British cabinet in the opening days of the Second World War. It was a time of gloom and disaster and battle losses that were tremendous. In the midst of one cabinet meeting, Eden said, "I thank God that He has seen fit to match us against this time."
Rather than to see the negatives of our time, let us give thanks that we live in such exciting days and that you and I are called to match these times - the most exciting times in history. Thank God that He has seen fit to match us against this hour.
There is too much tendency to feel that circumstances are fearful rather than challenging - even in our personal lives.
Let me make an observation as an aside. You and I are going to face all kinds of struggles in our personal lives that are overwhelming at times. But allow me to remind us that this struggle in itself is a complement. You and I have been chosen to match these times and you and I can do it. We can do it as individuals, as families, as a church, and as a nation.
Winston Churchill was speaking in 1941 during World War Two when he was Prime Minister of Great Britain. By this time his country had almost been brought to its knees. This is what he said, "Do not let us speak of darker days, let us instead speak of sterner days. These are not dark days, these are great days - the greatest days our country has ever seen - and we must thank God that we have been allowed to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of the human race."
We have a lot for which to be thankful. Thank God that things are no worse than they are. Thank God that we still know the way home. Thank God that He has matched us against this moment in history - in our own lives and in our nation.
Before circumstances, hardship, difficulties get to you; let God get to you. And you will be able to say with the prophet Isaiah, "Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song."
In that day you will say: "Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted."
Thanks for visiting. Come back soon! Yours in Christ, John