Give Thanks, But How?
On the north side of Chicago is Evanston, Northwestern University, and Garrett Theological Seminary from which I graduated, all of which are located on the western shore of beautiful Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is usually a calm, blue, restful lake; but when storms strike, the lake can become fierce and destructive. Many years ago during a violent storm, a student at Northwestern University, Edward Spencer, personally rescued seventeen people from a shipwreck. When they carried him to his room the exhausted young man kept asking over and over, “Did I do my best? Do you think I did my best?” Years later at a convocation in Los Angeles, a speaker was describing the shipwreck and Edward Spencer’s heroic lifesaving, when someone called out that Spencer was in the audience. Now elderly and white-haired, he was invited to the platform and asked what he remembered of the incident. He said,” I remember that of the seventeen people I saved, no one of them ever thanked me.”
This Thanksgiving, be generous with your thank yous. Give the gift of appreciation. Gifts do not need to be monetary, nor things. Write some thank you notes this Thanksgiving to people who have blessed your life.
One Thanksgiving Day years ago, I wrote a thank you letter to my fifth, sixth and seventh grade teacher. My school was so small; we had two grades in one room. I had Mrs. Stewart in fifth and sixth grades, and when I went to seventh grade, they had reorganized the classes. Sixth and seventh grades were now together, and there she was again. We all groaned! She was one of those tough teachers who put up with no nonsense. She made us behave, and she made us learn, whether we wanted to or not! Being that kind of teacher, she did not receive many thanks at the time.
I realized years later what an excellent teacher she was, and how she had influenced my life. So one Thanksgiving morning I sat down and wrote her a letter. Years later, when I saw her, she remembered the letter, and how she was deeply moved by it. She had delighted in telling how she received a letter with the return address of some Methodist Church. As she was a faithful Roman Catholic, she thought, “Now, what are these Methodists trying to do?” But what a surprise when she opened it and read my thank you.
After I encouraged my Merced congregation to write thank you letters, Ralph went home and wrote a letter of gratitude to his parents. Three weeks later, without any warning, his mother died. He went to Michigan for her funeral, and neighbors told him how much the letter meant to his parents. Give the gift of gratitude this Thanksgiving.
How about Jesus? Is Jesus waiting for you to say thank you? Can you think of anything you have which isn’t a gift from God, and deserving of your heartfelt thanks? Everything you have is a gift from God. Your birth is a gift from God. Your second birth—your salvation—is a gift from God. Your relationship with God is a gift. You didn’t earn or deserve it. Grace is a gift.
What God expects in return is your thanks. You thank God by offering your praise. The choir and the Jazz Band lead us today, and make it easy to praise, to hold nothing back, sing with all your body, give thanks and praise. In 1 Thessalonians 5.18, Paul wrote, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Note it doesn’t say “for all circumstances,” but “in”. Likewise, in Romans 5.3, Paul wrote, “Rejoice in our sufferings.” Again, “in” not “for”. We don’t praise God for evil or destruction or pain. We give thanks and praise God for transforming and healing. We give thanks because nothing can separate us from the love of God. We praise God because God works in all things for good. Our hope is grounded in the actions of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we praise, rejoice, and give thanks.
But praise is not only verbal, it is physical. We not only lift up our voices in songs of praise, but we also bring financial offerings, giving out of the abundance that we have received. Paul laid it out in 2 Corinthians 9.10-11, reading from The Message, “This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in everyway, so that you can be generous in everyway, producing...abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God.”
We are in the midst of our Pony Express Financial Campaign. So far, pledges for 2008 exceed the total of those received for 2007, and cards are still coming in. Praise God! Thank you for your faithfulness. We thank God by sharing our abundance.
Last week Flo Oishi was buying groceries to make brown bag lunches for the homeless. She noticed the man behind her had only one item, so she invited him to go ahead of her in line. Then they began to visit. He asked why she had so much bread and bologna in her basket. When he found out it was for the homeless, the hungry, he insisted on paying for the groceries! He said there was a time in his life when he had to choose between paying the rent and purchasing food. Now he wanted to help those who are hungry.
And, we thank God by serving, by offering not only our gifts, but our time and talents to do God’s work. In Walnut Creek, we live in Rossmoor, a retirement community. Every Thursday afternoon, a group of volunteers travel for an hour-long bus ride to Boys’ Ranch, a youth rehabilitation facility (a jail!), where they spend two hours on a one-on-one basis tutoring a boy. 92-year-old Barbara had volunteered for 14 years, when she recently fell, and is now in a care facility. Let me read excerpts from a letter her boy at the Ranch sent her when he learned she could no longer come, “Hello, how are you doing. Just fine I am hoping. As for me a little mad and upset about the news...I think we have become the best of friends. You have always been there when I wanted to talk to someone and no matter what you always listened…I will write you more letters and I wont forget you ever…Take care of yourself lady and don’t hurt yourself no more. World’s Love Always Best Tutor! Your Friend CHARLIE.”
Give thanks. Give thanks in all circumstances. Give thanks to God in praise. Give thanks to those who bless you.
Please take a pencil, a corner of the bulletin, or some piece of paper. Please look back to a time when someone did something significant for you, and you have not yet thanked him/her. Parents, a teacher, a neighbor, a Sunday School teacher, a friend? While the band is setting up, write the name down, and make a plan as to how you will express gratitude. Write a letter? Call on the phone? If he/she is in this room now, plan to talk during the fellowship time after the service.
Then, when you have finished, we will joyfully, robustly, thankfully sing!
© 2007 Douglas I. Norris