GRATITUDE WITH ATTITUDE
"Thanksgiving Day is a jewel to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude" - a quote by author E.P. Powell.
"The loneliest flower that blooms in the garden of the heart is the flower of gratitude; and when gratitude dies on the altar of a man's heart, he is well nigh gone."
We are not born thankful. A little baby never thanks his mother for changing his diaper. A young toddler never thanks her Daddy for giving her a bath. We have to be taught thankfulness. When my children were small, all the kids would come upstairs after Sunday School, when the church service was over, and there, waiting at the door, was the "Jelly Bean Lady.' Mrs. Hooker gave each child a jelly bean for attending Sunday School and I would tell my children to say 'thank you.' Eventually it came automatically to them, without the reminder, but it shows that we, as parents, need to teach our children thankfulness.
Most of us have learned to say thank you to people who help us or are kind to us. But most of us have not learned to be truly thankful to God. We need to thank God for everything. As Canadians, and Christians,' we ought to be the most thankful for the things that we possess, not only materially, but spiritually. As Christians, we are blessed, because we are able to have a personal relationship with the Lord. Think of it, a personal relationship, one on one, with the creator of the universe!
I know that God is always with me: helping, guiding, teaching, correcting me. And if you have let God into your heart, you have Him there with you always, helping, guiding, teaching and correcting you. Knowing this, we should all be shouting here today, because we are so blessed. We should be shouting "Thank you, God, for being there for me!"
I remember a sermon John McPhadden once gave, in which he urged us all to keep a daily journal of all the things that happened to us each day that we were thankful for. And he said that we would be surprised at how full the pages would be, even after one week. He was right! I no longer keep the written journal, but I have continued to silently say thank you for everything that happens each day, even if I wake up to a sunny day, or see children laughing and playing together, or when my batch of cookies doesn't burn. And the best part of saying thank you is that it doesn't cost a thing!
What's the first thing you do when you get a great gift or a new car? You call, tell or drive that baby to your friends homes to show them and say - "Look what I just got!" We're proud of our possessions. We take pictures of our latest acquisitions and post them on Facebook. We tell of our great negotiation skills in the battle of options and price. Don't worry - it's okay to have fruits from your labour. You work hard for these blessings.
So how much more should we be proud about the precious gifts God gives us? If we can get so excited about a new car, what about eternal life? How excited should we be about that?
Psalm 103: 1-5 reads: "Bless the Lord, 0 my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle'S." We should aspire to be like the Christians of old, a people with passion and a fire in their bellies.
We need to rejoice in our salvation and look to our future prospect in heaven. Think about it: streets of gold, gates of pearl, walls of jasper. No sickness, disease or pain. A family reunion with loved ones, and most of all, getting to see Jesus!
If we are thankful, our love for God and others will deepen. Thanksgiving is a fundamental feature of the great religions of the world. Through the Word revealed, nature and human life are understood to have a purpose, a destiny and a direction. Our end is with God. Thanksgiving reminds us that pumpkins and squash, cucumbers and corn, apples and pears, are all part of that spiritual end and purpose that belongs to creation itself.
A celebration of the fruits of harvest is one of the oldest forms of man's offering of thanks to his maker. Apart from Christmas Eve and Easter, Thanksgiving is one of the most popular services in the church's calendar. It may be that saying thank you to God for something tangible is easier and more satisfying than offering gratitude for things that are more vague and tenuous. It may be that the fruits of the harvest, displayed in great profundity in our churches, give a real, physical sense of making an offering to God.
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, let's think about re-affirming and re-cultivating the Christian virtue of thankfulness. Through the symbolism of Harvest Thanksgiving, we remember to give thanks. And that's the purpose of today's service - to give thanks. We must pause in our daily routines and common tasks. We must pause and say "Thank you!' Thank you for all those good things that have come our way this year!
Thankfulness is an attitude central to Christian belief. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 26, thankfulness was part of Moses' main address to the people of Israel. Following the commands to offer thanksgiving to God, are instructions for the people once they enter into the Promised Land. The occasion was the harvest pilgrimage festival when the worshippers gave thanks for God's generosity, his gift of land which produced food abundantly, a land we are told, 'flowing with milk and honey.' Moses urged the people to be thankful. The act of thankfulness was to give back to God the first and best of the produce of the land. It is clear that the overwhelming message here is one of deep thankfulness for what God has done for them. This is shown in the words of a Thanksgiving hymn. "Give thanks my soul for harvest, for store of fruit and grain, but know the owner gives so that we may share again. Where people suffer hunger, or little children cry, with gifts from God's rich bounty, may thankfulness reply."
A medieval mystic once said, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." It's an easy prayer to remember. To say thank you is simple and straight forward, but if the truth be told, it's a prayer we so often forget.
Yet, is saying thank you enough? On one hand, it is enough, but it's hardly a complete fulfillment of what thankfulness is all about. Thanksgiving is both a mental attitude and a physical response. Thankfulness is both faith and works. Some verses in the Book of Leviticus note that the ancient Hebrews were told to leave the remnants of their harvest for the poor and the stranger in their midst. The harvest Thanksgiving in Israel wasn't complete if the people gathered up all their crops and kept it for themselves. Gratitude without sharing was no gratitude at all.
We so often don't appreciate what we have and we need to be reminded of this. I came across a little story, or modern parable if you will, that is worth sharing.
One afternoon, a shopper at a local mall, felt the need for a coffee break. She bought herself a little bag of cookies and put them in her shopping bag. She then got in line for coffee, found a place to sit at one of the crowded tables, and then, taking the lid off her coffee and taking out a magazine, she began to sip her coffee and read. Across the table from her was a man reading a newspaper.
After a minute or two, she reached out and took a cookie. As she did, the man seated across the table reached out and took one too. This put her off, but she didn't say anything.
A few moments later she took another cookie. Once again the man did so too. Now she was getting a bit upset, but still she did not say anything.
After having a couple of sips of coffee she once again took another cookie. So did the man. She was really upset by this - especially since now there was only one cookie left. Apparently the man also realized that only one cookie was remained. Before she could say anything, he took it, broke it in half, offered half to her, and proceeded to eat the other half himself. Then he smiled at her and, putting his paper under his arm, rose and walked off.
Was she steamed! Her coffee ruined, already thinking of how she would tell this offense to her family, she folded her magazine, opened her shopping bag, and there discovered her own unopened bag of cookies.
I like the story because it reminds me of how well God treats us even when we don't treat Him well or think badly about Him. The Book of Deuteronomy tells us that everything we have is a gift from God. If we would remember this all the time, it would make our lives so much easier, and it would bless everyone around us, and it would bless God. A couple of years ago, famous people all over the world were polled by a magazine which asked them: "If you could be granted one wish that will come true right now, what would that be?" There were some very interesting responses, but one response impressed the magazine's editor so much that they commented on it. That one response was this: "I wish that I could be given an even greater ability to appreciate all that I already have."
When we allow a difficult situation that we are in swallow us up and to swallow all thought of God's power and goodness, when we begin to think we have earned and deserve all the good things we have, and when we forget that God is able to help us in the midst of all the bad things that occur, life becomes bleaker, and true virtue becomes harder to find. God wants us to celebrate His love and to give thanks in everything. He wants this because it will bless us, and because it will bless the world He has made. He wants us to remember what He has done. He wants us to remember and give thanks to Him and to those around us.
Today we need to remember that we are celebrating thanks-giving and not thanks-getting. We need to reclaim the attitude and actions expressed by the ancient Hebrews. Let us thank God for life; thank God for food; thank God for family and friends; thank God for the opportunity of living our lives in this rich and beautiful land, a land that could be said to be "flowing with milk and honey." Let us thank God for being able to express our gratitude in acts of love, sharing and giving. Only then will we be able to gather in church, stand before God, and, like the valleys that stand so thick with corn, and with the Psalmist, laugh and sing. "It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to His name."
I'd like to leave you with a quote by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not just to utter words, but to live by them."
Praise be to God and thanksgiving for His many blessings.