Make Us Truly Thankful

Deut. 26:1-11

After you have occupied the land that the Lord your God is giving you and have settled there, each of you must place in a basket the first part of each crop that you harvest and you must take it with you to the one place of worship. Go to the priest in charge at that time and say to him, I now acknowledge to the lord my God that I have entered the land that he promised our ancestors to give us.
The priest will take the basket from you and place it before the altar of the lord your God. Then, in the Lord’s presence you will recite these words:
My ancestor was a wandering Aramean, who took his family to Egypt to live. They were few in number when they went there, but they became a large and powerful nation. The Egyptians treated us harshly and forced us to work as slaves. Then we cried out for help to the Lord, the God of our ancestors. He heard us and saw our suffering, hardship, and misery. By his great power and strength he rescued us from Egypt. He worked miracles and wonders, and caused terrifying things to happen. He brought us here and gave us this rich and fertile land. So now I bring to the
the first part of the harvest that he has given me.
Then set the basket down in the Lord’s presence and worship there. Be grateful for the good things that the
your God has given you and your family; and let the Levites and the foreigners who live among you join in the celebration.

 

John 1:1-17 (NRSV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b]
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

 

 

“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.”
That is what we said before our meals when I was a child in New Brunswick. That was a common prayer. I don’t know that it was just a New Brunswick prayer, but that was the prayer the kids said in the Currie household before meals.

Grandpa had his own prayer which none of us could understand because he said it so quickly and in hushed terms. All I could make out were the words: “Lord” “beseech” “mercies” and “us”. Grandpa said that it didn’t matter if we heard it because he wasn’t speaking to us.

Anyway we prayed normally for grace: “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.”
Now that’s interesting. Why should we pray to God, “Make us thankful.” Are we not already thankful?

On Thanksgiving Sunday are we not Thankful? Are we?

I don’t know. It seems to me over the years that gratitude has waned. People do not like to admit they are beholding to anyone. Children do not have the same manners as they used to and to hear the phrase “thank you” while not non-existent, it is at least becoming an endangered species.

It could be that society has become more ruthless, more dog eat dog and to survive one tries to compete with the best and in that climate saying thank you sounds like weakness.
It could be that there is a lot more distrust for government and management and leaders and so we do not say thank you because we believe these people are just out for their own interests anyway.

“Make us thankful” we pray. There is in that prayer an admission that we are not thankful enough.

Not thankful enough to our parents.
and not thankful enough to our spouses
and not thankful enough to our employers
and our teachers and our friends and the crossing guard
and our police officers and our governments
and on and on.
And not thankful enough to God too.

And it isn’t enough to just say “Be thankful.” Oh yes, you can teach your children to say “please” and “thank you.” But you will find it difficult to make them truly thankful.

Ministers can stand up in the pulpit and give orders:
“Today is Thanksgiving. Be Thankful.”
But you know and I know it doesn’t work that way. You cannot order someone to change their heart.

Well how does a thankful heart come?

I believe it comes as a result of the stories we have been taught. The stories from Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Mac and Aunt Mimi and all those relatives and friends who tell you the stories of their lives.

If their stories, the stories you hear are full of thanksgiving then you too will have thanksgiving.

That’s what happened way back in the early days of Israel.
It was harvest time. It is time for Thanksgiving. The worshipper comes into the sanctuary of the Most High God and lays the basket down before the altar. And then the worshipper repeats a story:

“A wandering Aramean was my Father. My ancestral father was Jacob the rascal who ended up wrestling with God until he was given a blessing. He ended up through his son Joseph in Egypt and there we became a great and numerous people. But there we were enslaved by the Egyptians. As we toiled under the hot sun, nothing seemed so hopeless. We had no future, so, we cried out to God, the God of our Fathers and mothers. And God remembered us and with mighty signs and wonders God brought us out of slavery and through the wilderness to this good land. Now I give the first of my harvest to say thank you to God and to feed the priests and the strangers and the widows and the orphans.”

The worshipper comes to praise God and the worshipper tells a story. We have heard these stories ourselves. Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his Amazing technicolour dreamcoat; Moses and the 10 commandments. And throughout all these stories the same theme is there. God met him. God blessed her. God delivered them. God was with them.

Thank you God is the logical response to these stories.

We forget that the story could be told another way.
The story could go like this.

My father was a clever conqueror full of cunning and guile. He was able to get a birthright and a blessing from stupid Esau. We ended up as slaves in Egypt but we outfoxed that lowlife Pharaoh and our cleverness was our salvation and his demise. We wandered in the wilderness and the weak were weeded out, whereupon we entered Canaan and conquered. For years we fought until everyone was subjugated beneath us. We started from the bottom and now we are at the top. The land is ours because we won it with brain and brawn.

That is quite a different way of telling the story. The events are roughly the same, but they have been transformed in the storyteller’s perspective. This is not the way we have heard this story but we have heard stories like that.

We know people who tell their stories:

I was nothing but I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. I am a self-made person. If you want something, go get it. The power is within you. You can do anything you put your mind to. Look what I have done. Look what
have accomplished.

This kind of story is very common and it is a story that makes up the psyche of so many people. Is it any wonder they are not much for thanksgiving. The only way they say
thank you is by looking in the mirror.

There are other ways to tell the story too:

My father was always a lucky man. He lucked out into an inheritance without ever working for it. He was favoured by the people he met. When my people were in Egypt we were lucky enough to sneak away under a plague and even more fortunate when we reached the sea. We walked across the mud flats and the Egyptian Army’s chariots bogged down in the mud. We wandered around not really knowing where we were going and happened upon water more than once. We hit the land of Canaan at the right time, and somehow the stories of luck seemed to proceed us and most peoples gave up pretty easily and we were able to take over without too much trouble.

Those same events hardly make a story. One thing happens after another without much connection. Everything just happens.
But we know that way of telling stories too.

I don’t know how I got where I am. Just luck I guess. I started a business and it just took off. The oil prices were good and before long I was driving a $100,000 sports car and I had a string of businesses. The luck of the Irish I guess. Just being in the right place at the right time.

We know this kind of story. I lucked out in the lottery, or in business or in real estate or whatever. And we also know the ones who say they have bad luck.

It is hard to be thankful if you believe that everything is just chance. It just happens.

So what about us today?

Do we believe in hard work, in conquering or in luck?

Or in our story is there this phrase. And God…
And God… was there for me.
Or God taught me.
Or God helped me.
Or God changed me.
Or God touched me.

In John’s gospel it starts: In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God and the word was God. And this Word became human and lived among us. And the name we call this Word come to life is Jesus.

The Greek word for “Word” is “logos.” It is translated “word” but means more than just “a word”. You find “logos” in words like biology and geography and psychology: The study of, or logic of: life, the earth and the mind, respectively

So to call Jesus the word it means that Jesus is the logic or meaning or wisdom of this world.
That when we look at Jesus it is a study of God. That Jesus birth and life and death is God’s words, God’s message God’s logic here and now.
If we look at this poor man and what he said and how he lived, healing and helping, telling stories and sharing wisdom, confronting injustice and lifting up the weak…
that this is a story to live
And it is my personal testimony today that I am thankful for this logic. This meaning, this way of living life.

God reached out to me and touched me through Jesus. God changed me through Jesus.
And so powerful is this word, this logic, this meaning, this person Jesus
That whenever I tell his story, whenever I help the needy, whenever I fight injustice, whenever and wherever I love, I feel that logic, that wisdom, that Jesus inside me.

And so today I am thankful.
God reached out to me in Jesus and I believe the way to live is by the logic of Jesus, which oversimplified might be this: Love God and love one another.

Some live by the logic of science.
Some live by the logic of competition.
Some live by the logic of hard work.
Some live by the logic of compliance. Go along to get along.
Some live by the logic of the economy.
Some live by the logic of power.
Some live by the logic of money.

I want to live by the logic of Jesus which is love.

 

Let me tell you a story.

A family is out for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. It is a pleasant day as they leisurely motor along a country road.
It starts to rain and dad decides to head the car home. Suddenly the two children strapped in the back seat shout out:
Daddy, daddy, stop the car. There’s a kitten back there on the side of the road.

Dad just keeps on driving.

Daddy, daddy, oh please daddy, daddy, stop the car. If you don’t the poor kitten will die.
And Dad protests:
“We already have a dog and a hamster and some goldfish. We can’t have another animal. We are not a zoo.”
And then the kids played the trump card.
“mommy, we never thought our dad would be so cruel”
Dad turns to mom who says:
“Oh, you might as well just turn the car around and go get the kitten. You’re not going to leave it to die.
So Dad turns the car around as the rain is coming down forcefully now.

He pulls the car over to the side of the road near the kitten.

“You kids stay here while I go get the little varmint. “
He gets out and the rain is teeming down, so he can hardly see. He stoops down to get the kitten. The mangy little thing is just skin and bones, soaked, and cold, it wouldn’t have lasted long.

As dad reaches for it the frightened little kitten who with its last bit of energy, hisses and darts out a claw to scratch dad, drawing blood.

Dad grabs the ingrate by the scruff of the neck and throws it in the back of the car.
“Don’t touch it, it might have fleas or leprosy or something, Dad barks.

When they get home, the kids give it a bath and wrap it in a warm fluffy towel. They get some cream and feed it tuna. They fix a bed fit for a queen and treat the cat as if it were the prodigal son returned home.

Several weeks later Dad comes home from work. He sits down and picks up the paper. As he sits there he feels this thing brush up against his leg. He reaches down to pet a sleek, well fed, beautiful kitten, which is purring like a souped up V8 motor.

The cat arches its back to receive the caress.

Is that the same cat? Is that the same cat that was on the side of the road. Well yes and no. Yes it was the cat that was on the side of the road, but no, it is not the same.

It is not the same as that frightened, starved hissing emaciated kitten.

And we know what the difference is, don’t we.
The difference is love.

Now if the cat could speak it might say:
I am the luckiest cat around. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Boy was I lucky.

Or the cat might say.
Boy, was I a tough little kitten. Any other kitten would have thrown in the towel, but I was tough. I hung in there. I knew someone would come along.

Or that cat might say: I outsmarted those dumb humans and took advantage of them and have them under my thumb, oops claw.

But maybe the cat should say:

if the father hadn’t reached down his hand to save me, I wouldn’t be here.
Thank you. Thank you.
It is all in the way we tell our story.

Today we hold up our hands to God because the story that is central to our life is this:

My father was a wandering Aramean and God reached down to him to bless him.

And God the Father reached down his hand again to me in Jesus Christ
to love me and accept me
and who I am, and how I live, and the grace and forgiveness I have received, and the logic that gives meaning to my life, I owe to Jesus.

Thank you God. Amen.