Monday, December 1, 2014

It Is Good to Give thanks to the Lord

Preached on November 25, 2014, Tuesday before Thanksgiving
Scripture ReadingsPsalm 92; Colossians 3:1-17

It was the first day of school, and a kindergarten teacher was explaining some of her rules to her new class. The teacher said, “If you feel like you really have to go to the bathroom, raise your hand with two fingers.”
A little voice spoke up from the back, and said, “How will that help?”
Photos taken near Desert Aire WA: November 2014
The Psalm (92) says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord…” But you might ask, “How will that help?” How will that make things better?
Well, the choice of whether to give thanks (or not) is really the choice of whether to vote for happiness or not. I think that a lot of people believe, in their heart, that they don’t have any choice in the matter; that is they don’t believe that they can vote for what side they are on: happiness or not.
We can’t always choose what we feel, but we can choose what side we are on.
Now there are times when it is right for us not to be happy. There are times when it is right to be sad, or angry, or discouraged. And there are times when we really can’t help it.
But there are times when we can make a choice. And, if it seems impossible to make a choice, then it is the time to look for help in making the choice that seems beyond our power.
We know that there are people who choose unhappiness, and they get what they choose. Small children do this when they throw a tantrum. They are choosing unhappiness, and they are using it as a weapon against others.
Grown-ups do this too. We see people who go out of their way to make themselves unlovable. We see that they have made a choice, and that they are making the wrong choice. If only we could, we would like to shake them and say, “Just look at what you’re doing to yourself!”
Sometimes God hedges me in about this (about things that I want to complain about, about things I have thought were unfair). And the Lord seems to take pleasure in robbing me of the things I like to complain about, bit by bit, until I see that I have to stop it.
When you choose to give thanks, you might think that you choose to live with your head in the clouds. And doesn’t Paul say, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth?” (Col. 3:2) But maybe giving thanks is like being in love, where all you can think about is what you want to say or do when you see that person you love. Thanksgiving is just a matter of priorities.
Some elementary school children were interviewed about love, and one said, “Love is when a girl tells a boy that she likes the shirt he is wearing, and so he wears it every day.”
Giving thanks comes from a feeling like that, because Paul talks as if all the personality traits, and all the attitudes that are from above, are like spiritual clothing (clothing that we wear all the time, if we belong to Christ): “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience…” and so on.
“Setting your mind on things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” has nothing to do with being “so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good,” because it is the things that are above that are the truly useful and practical things.
Look at the things that belong to life below. How practical are they? What does Paul say they are: Immorality…greed…rage…malice…slander…
filthy talk…?” Do these make life better? Is the world a better place, and do people prosper more, because of them?
What are the things that are from above: “Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another…” These are the useful things.
The people who have their head in the clouds don’t bear anything at all, because they don’t notice anything. It’s the people who see reality as it is who do the bearing.
God is the one who truly sees things from above, who truly sees things as they are, and he has the courage to face it (all the mess in people’s lives, and all the mess of a fallen world). God sees reality and God bears the burden and penalty of it, and he bears the remedy for it, on the cross.
Knowing this God, who faces reality this way, has a practical effect on our lives. He has made himself into a gift to us. This makes us thankful. And, when we are thankful, then we have a practical effect on the world and the people around us.
The Hebrews were earthy people, and they thought of thanks as something that gave them roots. “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” (Psalm 92:12-14)
For several years, when I was a kid, we lived in an old farm house on the edge of town, and it had lots of interesting plants in the yard and on the acreage around it. There was an old tree rose that grew under the kitchen window, under the eaves, on the north side of the house.
It was not a good place for roses. I have no idea how old it was. The union, the graft at the base, must have been bigger than a baseball, bigger than a soft ball. The bush was scraggly, and mildewed, and the roots were in such bad shape that the bush would have fallen over if it hadn’t been staked up. It bore tiny pink roses, and it only bloomed for a few weeks in the year. But when it bloomed, and the window was open, the fragrance of roses filled the kitchen. If we had been in a hurry, when we bought the house, we might have torn out that old rose tree without ever finding out what a miracle it was. A thankful heart gives that person a lasting value to everyone who knows them, because giving thanks puts their roots in God, and they always bear fruit.
I like music. And both the Psalm and Paul say that being thankful and making music go together naturally. Being with a thankful person is like listening to a song. Being thankful is like having a song in your heart.
That same old farm house had a huge Turkish cedar tree in the front yard, more than seventy feet tall. When the summer days were a hundred degrees, the shadow under that tree was full of a sweet and spicy smell, like music for the nose.
When things get so hot you think you will suffocate, when you feel like you’re going to boil over, a thankful person is like the shadow of that cedar tree. It is a gift from God. The choice of whether to be thankful, or not, is the choice of whether to be a gift or not.
Do you want to be a gift? What kind of gift do you want to be, for God and the people around you? We can’t always be what we would like, but we can be thankful, we can vote for thanks.
But then, maybe we can’t just do it. Maybe we need help. Paul says that thankfulness has a source. He says that thankfulness comes, “if you have been raised with Christ.”
The Lord has a way of showing himself to us. The Lord shows us our personal need for something we cannot give ourselves. The Lord shows us our sin, our hollowness, our falseness.
Then the Lord shows us his faithfulness, his answers, his sacrificial love on the cross. The Lord shows us his resurrection: that is, he shows us his victory.
When we see what he has done for us, this causes us to die to ourselves, and we find that the Lord has given us a new life. And that life is just the beginning of good things to come. The people who know this have the power to be thankful. It feels good to give thanks; and it does good, too.

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