This is a Thanksgiving sermon that I preached at Seed Church on November 25, 2018. You can listen here.
Happy Thanksgiving Seed Church! Did you all have an enjoyable holiday?
Well, this morning we have decided to stick with the occasion and talk a little about this idea of Thanksgiving.
In the USA, we can trace this day all the way back to 1619 when a group of 38 English colonizers arrived in Charles City County Virginia and upon arrival, per their charter, they were required to ‘that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned…in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.’ The technical first Thanksgiving may have been in 1621 after the first Harvest in Plymouth where the Pilgrim’s landed while aboard the Mayflower. Michelle and I got a chance to be at that spot back in 2015 which was pretty cool. In 1621, there were 53 colonists and 90 Native Americans and the feast lasted 3 days.
Thanksgiving became a federal holiday under Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and you will note, this was even before Christmas became an official federal holiday which would be in 1870.
So we have had this idea, this set aside holiday to give thanks to almighty God generally. We uphold this, theoretically, as a paramount virtue in our culture. This is a big, giant date on the calendar every year. But are we as a people actually thankful? Do people in our society have a mentality or lifestyle of Thanksgiving?
Don’t get me wrong. I love this holiday. Love it. I get to hang out with family, get into loud shouting matches about politics that evolve into food fights (just kidding…my family is like a hippie commune. We agree on a lot of those things), lose to my uncle Ron in chess, eat turkey and pass out watching the Cowboys lose. Or the Lions. It’s a great day.
If people were thankful beyond this day, what would change in our communities? How would people’s lives change? If we are to be thankful, to who or what should we be thankful too? I’ll never forget reading one of Bart Ehrman’s books and him discussing a tragic loss of faith in his life. After it happened, he became haunted because when he would feel immense gratitude during his life, he would be unsure who to be thankful too for those moments.
Well, a Psalmist is going to help us toward a target of Thanksgiving this morning. An ultimate target. A target that can bring hope and meaning to our life while empowering us toward a lifestyle of Thanksgiving.
Let’s dive into Psalm 100. As a bit of background, this hymn is for worshippers to sing about the Lord (Yahweh) and His covenantal relationship with his people (at this point in history, the Israelites). This may have likely been a song that was sung at one of Israel’s religious festivals but there is no way to really know for sure. It comes after Psalms 96-99 which are considered to be Psalms proclaiming Yahweh’s kingship. It comes in a stanza that is relatively simple. A call to give thanks and then a celebration of the covenant and then repeat.
Psalm 100:1 ‘Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!’
An invitation goes out to all the earth. Come and shout for joy before Yahweh, the Great King. Notice that this invitation is free. There are no prerequisites. There is nothing that anyone has to pay. And this invitation, this call, was not just for Israel but the whole earth. All the kingdoms. Yes, this would have included Israel’s enemies. This submission to God should come out of a heartfelt response of joy, not necessarily duty or obligation (though there sometimes is maybe a place for those in life).
100:2 ‘Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
The word gladness here (Simha) speaks to a joy of living in harmony with Yahweh the Creator. Worship Yahweh with gladness which is a sense of living in harmony and peace with God. The Israelites were obviously followers of the Biblical Law. They would follow the Torah as closely as possible and memorize many of the Torah’s commands. I don’t know about you but that sounds hard and like it is a path of shame and guilt. But this Psalmist says in this verse that this service of the Lord should come with a harmony with God. As we are all Image bearers of God, a closeness with God reflects a love, peace and meaning exclusively in Him that will be noticeable to other people in your life.
And then it says, ‘come into his presence with singing’ or other translations, ‘come before Him with joyful songs.’ Instead of coming before him with burnt offerings or sacrifices (as they would do in this culture and in the nation of Israel for atonement for their sins), the Psalmist is inviting people to come before Yahweh with songs. Joyful songs.
100:3 ‘Know that the Lord, He is God. It is He who made us, and we are his; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.’
‘Know’ signifies confession or a total acknowledgment. Yahweh is the only God. Monotheism. Every other civilization or culture on the earth in this day believed in multiple gods. Sometimes hundreds or thousands of gods out there. The Psalmist recognizes that Yahweh is exclusively the God. Forget about any of these other gods. Israel had likely heard myths from other civilizations. Perhaps Enuma Elish or the epic of Gilgamesh or about Egyptian gods when they were slaves in Egypt. But Israel was privileged to be the representative of God on earth. They knew in Genesis that the True God had made them. They also knew through the covenants established by Noah, Abraham, Moses and others revealed that they belonged to an all powerful but loving God who was very near.
The Israelites or people of God are the sheep. Sheep are not known for being the brightest animals and they don’t have much defense against fierce predators. They are small and weak so in other words, they need a shepherd who can guide them to pastures that will quench their hunger. The shepherd needs to keep wolves from praying on the sheep. Protection is a top priority as sheep often cannot protect themselves.
So we confess that He is the shepherd that guides us.
100:4 ‘Enter His gates with Thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name.’
Now, the gates are the entryways into the walled and fortified city. In God’s kingdom, the unclean are often left outside the gates but in this Psalm, the gates are thrown open to all who will come. The invitation has gone out not just to Israelites but also to the whole world as we have seen. All may come to know God and worship and praise Him as the Lord.
And the invitation is not just to enter the gates but to venture further into the kingdom to the courts which likely would have been the outer courts.
The thanksgiving that flows from the lips of people in this Psalm is the joyous noise of people who have been invited into the sacred. Invited in to more fully know God. Outside the city are people who are begging and pleading to get into the large walled city where they can be sustained and protected. God, as the King, flings His gates open and enthusiastically asks everyone to come in.
100:5 ‘For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.’
God is good and His love endures forever. These are His characteristics. He has made a covenant with Israel and has every intention of keeping this covenant and celebrating this promise with the people He has made these promises too. Later, the writer of 1 John would tell us that God is love. Agape or unconditional love being a defining and central characteristic of God. What a reason to offer worship, to praise and go crazy with joyful offerings. The God who created all, is totally other and all-powerful has drawn near to His people by flinging open the gates of His kingdom for all to come and hang out. What a glorious reason to be thankful.
Now, a culture like ours may acknowledge the importance of a message like this but I think our big issue is that our understanding of thankfulness and gratitude is very shallow.. As much as we value Thanksgiving on paper in our country by designating a very popular holiday for its celebration, are we really that thankful? Or are we more entitled?
How much would our culture or we as individuals change if we had a mindset of thankfulness? Would our culture, known for people being increasingly isolated, lonely, depressed change if we truly had a general perspective of thankfulness that was greater than just a holiday on the calendar but was an encompassing mark of our lives?
How do we cultivate a general level of thankfulness with all the awful stuff that happens in this world?
Thesis: When we come to Jesus and surrender our lives to Him, he wants to sow in us a heart of gratitude based on Him giving us this gift of life and dying for us on the cross so we can know God.
Having a perspective of thankfulness is hard because this world that we find ourselves living in. From the time we are toddlers, we are bombarded with advertisements saying that we are not complete or won’t be satisfied until we have this certain product. There is a mass consumeristic brainwashing going on that leaves us discontent and rather then being grateful for what we do have, we are always yearning for more, more, more. It is more then a little ironic that after the holiday that is designated as a day to be thankful, we have a mass shopping day where we are ultimate fighting our way through retail shops in order to fill our shopping carts up with stuff for the next holiday. Or you can fill up a cyber cart on cyber shopping Monday.
And it’s not that shopping is bad or shopping for family and friends gifts for Christmas is wrong. It is more a question of what is going on in our souls. What is the main central thing that we are bowing too in our heart of hearts and what is the impact on how we see life? Are we generally thankful and grateful for what God has given to us? Or are we discontent, entitled, always yearning for more?
Another struggle we have with thankfulness is more weighty. What about all the bad things that happen in our lives? The grief, the pain, the heartbreak. What happens when we lose a job or don’t get the job we wanted? What about when a loved one or a friend passes away? What about if we get sick or develop a condition where we are constantly in physical pain?
Michelle and I know a family that has a 4 year old going through hell on earth. She has a rare disease in her liver and doctors are struggling with how to treat her. She is constantly sick and in pain. How do we approach an attitude of thankfulness with this situation? Can you imagine someone walking up to a family going through this and tritely saying, ‘whelp! Just be thankful.’
When things don’t go the way they should, it is hard to be thankful and even more difficult to consider where an attitude on thankfulness comes in.
How do we develop this when life is brutal and painful? When there is another shooting on the news? A store that runs a guy out because he is a specific race? Another war breaking out? Homeless people struggling for shelter and food?
How do we develop a mindset of Thanksgiving in a dark, dark world?
To develop that mindset, we have to come to Jesus. Beyond just being inspirational, Jesus empowers us to be thankful by the nature of who He is and what He has done for us on the cross.
There is a nuanced approach here to the trials of life that come. On the one hand, we have to deal honestly with pain and grief. We have to face it. We cannot dress up in plastic smiles and walk around pretending everything is ok. We have to be honest about where we are at with the immense difficulties on life. But here is what we have to realize. If we do not have any hope, nothing to be thankful for, then we will be on the path to complete despair. To deal honestly and realistically with pain and grief but also to try and cling to things in your life that you are thankful for.
Even outside of painful experience, we can get distracted from moments that make us thankful. The other night I was cleaning up after dinner, focused on my tasks and my son Reuben is over by our front window. And Reuben is saying, ‘Daddy, daddy! Look! Moon.’ I’m thinking, ‘what is this kids? I got stuff to do. I have my house chores.’ Reuben says the same thing again. So, I gave in and said ‘fine’ and walked over to the window. There was the moon. A thin crescent moon right up there in a very dark night sky. Reuben and I were looking out our window looking up and through these bare branches from a tree in our front yard. It was perfectly framed and radiating this light. Reuben was transfixed and I stood there and said, ‘God made that’ and Reuben said, ‘Yeah.’ It became a moment I was thankful for.
The Psalmist exhorts us in this passage to know God. The God that made that moon. The God that gave that moment to Reuben and me. We can know God. Know that God made us and know that we are His people. Nothing that can happen to us in life or to our church can change that. We are His people that can know Him and what a thing to be thankful for.
And this God whose love endures forever and whose faithfulness extends to all generations, His gates are always open so that you and I can come into His kingdom and into His courts so we can know Him. For sure, the road to get to those gates may be narrow, like Jesus says, as opposed to broad like the path of destruction. But people from all over the world are a part of that kingdom. People from all races, ethnicities that speak all kinds of languages and people from all different backgrounds. People who have committed all kinds of different sins. The gates are open for all of them.
The gates are open to all of us here. The gates are open for you. This is what we can be thankful for. This is why we can enter those gates with Thanksgiving.
For those struggling with physical pain and hardship, the gates are always open,
For people wrecked with depression and anxiety struggles, the gates are always open.
For people who have been assaulted, abused or bullied, the gates are always open.
For those who are struggling to find a job or let go from one, the gates are always open.
For those struggling with the loss of loved ones or friends, the gates are always open.
For a church struggling to find a pastor, the gates are always open.
And the gates are open for people to come and find the True God, Christ Jesus, who is the ultimate monarch of this Kingdom in people’s hearts. Thanksgiving can come to your heart when we are impacted not just intellectually but to the core of our beings that Jesus died for us as a demonstration of His love and then beat one of our greatest foes and feared enemies-the grave.
True, the Psalmist did not know the specific name of Jesus but the Psalmist knew the True God and in this Psalm, overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness.