Greetings from the Moderator NOVEMBER 2020
Thanksgiving is always a good topic for meditation, and appropriate today as we look forward to our national day of Thanksgiving and give thanks for the faithfulness of our congregations as they conclude their annual focus on stewardship.
We give thanks in response to something received - a material gift, an action performed, a written or spoken word. Thanksgiving and praise go together. We praise God for Who God is, and for what God has done. We praise God’s attributes of love, holiness, justice, righteousness, faithfulness, and for God’s mercy, grace, and salvation offered to all who believe and accept them. Thanks are more personal. I thank God for his salvation of me; for healing my friend, my husband, my child; for a specific job offer, for this church in which to worship and serve. We also give thanks corporately - that the hurricane spared our church buildings, for God’s call of a pastor for our congregation, for being able to worship together virtually even while physically apart during this pandemic.
The psalms sometimes express thanksgiving implicitly with words of wonder, triumph, and praise. The simple words “thank you” are just not enough to express the psalmist’s gratitude, joy, and even amazement. The words, however, leave no doubt that they are in response to God’s actions, not boasts about the deeds of men. David wrote Psalm 18 as a song of thanksgiving when God delivered him from Saul and other enemies. It is a triumphant, celebrating a mighty deliverance. David recounts his peril in detail and enumerates God’s decisive acts which delivered him “from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.” (Psalm 18:17) The word “thanks” does not appear until verse 49 (of 50), where David says, “Therefore I will give thanks to Thee among the nations, O LORD, and I will sing praises to Thy name.” Note that thanksgiving is not a private matter between David and God, but a witness to others. Thanks and praise must be offered “before the nations” so that the whole world sees and acknowledges the mighty acts of God. Throughout the psalms and the prophets, phrases such as “and the world shall know”, or “and they shall know” declare that even unbelievers will see what has happened and declare that it is God who did this.
In Leviticus 7:11-15, we read about the sacrifice of thanksgiving or thank offering, a special instance of the (voluntary) peace offering. When animal sacrifices became meaningless rituals, God told Israel that righteousness was more important than sacrifice. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all it contains. . . Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High; and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (Psalm 50:12, 14-15). God wants grateful hearts, not the blood and burnt flesh of cattle, sheep, and goats.
Psalm 116 has another take on thanksgiving: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord…To Thee I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:12-13, 17) God wants us to offer thanks for all we have received and God wants us to continue to call upon Him. We tend to thank God and then go our own way - perhaps so as to not “bother” God with our daily trivia. We are to render (give back, offer) thanks to God by calling upon Him! To “call on” another person doesn’t always mean asking for something; the call may be an occasion to visit a friend. If we only call on a friend when we need help, the friendship will remain shallow. God wants us to call when we are in trouble but God also wants us to spend time in relationship. Each time we experience God’s presence and action in our lives and offer thanks, we are encouraged to call on God again in an unending circle of experiences, gratitude, and a deepening faith relationship.
Christ’s one-time perfect sacrifice ended the Old Testament animal sacrifices that could not save us. Now we offer a new sacrifice, one of praise, as explained in Hebrews 13:15: “Through Him (Jesus) then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” That is an interesting concept - words of thanks being a sacrifice of praise. A sacrifice involves personal cost. Sacrifices were to be the best animals, without physical imperfections. The prophet Gad told David to erect an altar to God on Araunah’s threshing floor; when David asked to purchase it, Araunah offered the king everything needed - the threshing floor, oxen for the burnt offering, and threshing sledges and yokes for the wood. David told him, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.” (II Samuel 24:24)
The Old Testament peace offerings weren’t continual or even regularly scheduled. In contrast, we are to “continually” offer a sacrifice of praise. It takes effort to continually praise God, and that may be one aspect of sacrifice. What does it cost me to cultivate a continual attitude of thanksgiving? One cost is the discipline to remain faithful in little things like spending time in God’s word. Another might be to share hope with a neighbor instead of just commiserating with them. I could sacrifice more of my time to pray for Christians living under persecution; their worship and words of thanks are a great sacrifice of praise, at the potential cost of their lives.
Paul’s exhorts us to give thanks “in everything” (I Thess. 5:18) and “for all things” (Eph. 5:20). I can give thanks “in everything” (i.e. in every situation) because I know God is with me even if my world is falling apart around me. But giving thanks “for all things” when that includes COVID-19, poverty, racism, and political turmoil? I can only give thanks for those by faith: praying for God to act as I give thanks that God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and love will one day make all things new and wipe away every tear (Rev. 21-22). In this way, I can offer thanks in advance as an act of faith and hope. Maybe that’s also a sacrifice - thanking God for answers not yet received.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this month with friends and family, whether physically together or remote, I encourage you to lay your doubts and fears on the altar of sacrifice and give thanks to our faithful God for God’s saving acts of the past and for those acts we have yet to see.
Giving thanks in faith and hope,