Thanksgiving: a tonic for the soul
Sunday February 12, 2012. St Petri. Nuriootpa
1 Timothy 2:1-7, Matthew 6:25-33
Give thanks to God
A godly tonic
1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone…….., that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour. 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Lord, give us a hearing heart
Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make it.
Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”
John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.”
“But you must!” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.”
“All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.'”
Yes, may the Lord make us truly thankful!
According to St Paul in our text, giving thanks to God and to each other is one of the things we are meant to do when we get together in worship. Paul says,
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone “.
We are directed to give thanks to God for the things he gives – even “for kings and all those in authority”. Paul directs us to pray our thanks to God for the reason that it will go well for us if we do! He obviously knows that if our community is governed by people who have justice, fairness and ALL people’s well-being at the very core, then we will all have a better chance to live in peace.
I guess this is why we as a Lutheran Church have always prayed for our elected leaders, for national leaders and for pastors, teachers and our own local church leaders. I guess this is why we, (and in fact, Israel, right throughout the Old Testament years), have this long-held practice of thanking the Lord for all his gifts in a special way at harvest time.
But giving thanks for all we are and have does not always come easy. How many times have I heard a parent say,
“Gee, I do all this stuff for the kids – cook them meals, take them here, there and everywhere, fix their clothes, cover their books etc, etc, etc and I never get any thanks for it!”.
What about thanklessness between husbands and wives? “I do all the garden stuff, keep the cars on the road, mow the lawn, fix the house – and what thanks do I get?!”
And then of course, there is the church volunteer lament: “I spend half my life at church, leading Sunday school, cleaning the church building, fixing things, painting things, decorating things…. and what thank do I get?!
It is easy to see that thanklessness can add to ill-feeling and conflict. It is not that we do things for others to get thanks, but it is nice to at least occasionally hear a word of thanks. No wonder Paul directs us to practice the art of praying and saying thanks to God and to each other!
In the Scriptures, giving thanks to God and to others is not just about being nice or having nice manners (although manners are important). Thankfulness is a way of life for Christians. It is a way of life that keeps us together in peace and helps us avoid a lot of trouble. Thankfulness is a stance with which to face the day and relate to God. Hear these words of God on thankfulness;
You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.2 Corinthians 9:11
God gives us life, possessions, vocation, earning ability, wealth for one purpose – so that we practice generosity to him and others. This one thing results in another thing: thankfulness.
Giving thanks breeds generosity of spirit and leads to more thankfulness. So, thanksgiving begets thanksgiving. It builds upon itself.
Thanksgiving is an active thing that creates life and generosity and peace between people. ….
“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving”. Ephesians 5:4
Thanksgiving words are the words that are meant to dominate our speech and help us steer clear of other words that create fear and hatred and hurt. Thankful words are a tonic. They heal. They build up.
What does Luther say in his explanation of the Second Commandment – the one about keeping God’s name holy?
“We are to honour and love God so that we do not use his name to curse, swear, lie or deceive, but gladly use his name to praise and thank him”.
And there is even a deeper level to this Christian way called thanksgiving. We get a hint of it in the word Jesus speaks in the gospel reading from Matthew.
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33
“Worry” is not thankfulness. Worry is being fearful about one’s situation. We worry because we are not sure of our well-being. Worry comes from doubting God’s promises; doubting that he really does have your life and well-being in his hands and at the centre of his heart. Worry is turning our back on the promise that we are more beautiful than the magnificent beauty of the things we see and love in nature. Worry is placing our trust in lots of other things for our well-being.
Worry is a sign that we are clinging to other things for our life and well-being. Instead of giving thanks to God for his presence and peace that is beyond all human peace, we “run around” trying to put an end to our worry, searching here, there and everywhere but still worrying about what we eat, what we drink and what clothes we wear.
We trust our wealth to get us through. We trust medicine to save us. We trust science to show us the way. We trust power over others to make our way. We trust our own intellect and personality to have a great life.
Worry is a sign of idolatry in our heart. Remember Luther’s understanding of the first commandment, the one about loving the Lord with all our heart and mind and soul and strength? He says,
“anything you rely on (above the Lord) is your god (your idol). A god (an idol) is whatever (or whoever) a person looks to for all good things and runs to for help in trouble” (large Catechism, First Commandment, p18).
So, where do you run when it gets hard? Where do you turn? More clothes,. More food,. More drink?
Jesus invites you to run to him. He considers you more precious than the beauty we see in God’s creation. You are not here today and gone tomorrow in his sight. His cross will show you that. That’s the place to run when worry, idols, fear and doubt gather in force to make the day dark. Jesus is the Mediator we need to turn our worry and fear, which leads to idolatry and doubt, into faith and peace and hope, and most of all thankfulness for who he is, who we are in him and what he gives to us daily.
Friends, I am hearing today that thanksgiving is a way of life. As we practice it by saying thanks to God and thanks to each other, it creates more thankfulness and leads to peace among us – and more and more. Not only this, but saying thank you to God and others daily is the way we remain faithful in serving only one Master – loving Jesus and actually despising our own self-serving. By practicing the art of praying and saying thanks we live out trust in Jesus’ promises to sustain us and keep us in his goodness and grace, no matter what. We put a check on our natural tendency to be self-centred, to doubt the Lord’s love for us, to constantly worry about ourselves and our families.
Here’s a challenge for us all. Could we say thank you to at least two people after worship today for something – anything.
Then could we make a goal to say thanks to our partner once a day until next Sunday (then stop!! We can’t have too much of a good thing!!)
Could we say thanks to our boss once this week – for something? Could we say thanks for something to each of our employees this week and see what happens?
Friends, give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his kindness does last – it is new every morning and God’s faithfulness to us is immense and it is trustworthy and we have seen and heard it in the living, dying and rising of Jesus.
He is worth it and so are they. And so are you.
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