Back to Index

A Big Thank You
November 20, 2022

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto


This is the season of Thanksgiving, a season reminding us to be thankful, a season of giving and receiving. Receiving? Because…

1. Giving thanks improves your health. 

It blocks toxic emotions—envy, resentment, regret, depression. Giving thanks decreases stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity, decreases inflammation, and promotes greater cardiovascular health, alleviation of depression, and improved mental resilience. Giving thanks provides an increased overall sense of wellbeing. What a big thank you!

2. Giving thanks boosts your memory.

Anxiety and depression decrease. Gratitude actually rewires the brain!

3. Giving thanks helps you sleep.

 Having trouble sleeping? Write down what you are thankful for. Researchers have discovered if you record what you’re grateful for 15 minutes before bedtime, you’ll fall asleep faster, sleep longer and better.

4. Giving thanks boosts joy.

It reduces a variety of negative emotions, effectively boosts happiness and reduces feelings of sadness. What a big thank you!

How do we give thanks?

The pilgrims had a big feast and invited the Indians who had helped them survive. Do you know someone who will be alone this Thanksgiving? Invite him/her to share your feast.

Next, give thanks by saying “thank you.” After a group of women prepared and served a delicious luncheon, I went into the kitchen and thanked them. One of the women, with tears in her eyes, said, “I can’t remember the last time a pastor came into the kitchen and thanked us!” Some find it difficult to say “thank you.” Let’s practice.  It’s easy!

Next, give thanks by writing a letter or an email.

One Thanksgiving Day years ago, I wrote a thank you letter to my fifth, sixth and seventh grade teacher. My school was so small, there were 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 strict teachers who put up with no nonsense. She made us behave, and she made us learn, whether we wanted to or not!

She was tough. One spring day, after a long Minnesota winter, the class was restless. When the closing bell rang, she wouldn’t dismiss us until we sat quietly. By the time we settled down, my bus had left and I had to walk 3 1/2 miles home. I sputtered to fellow walkers, “My Dad is on the School Board. Wait until he hears what she did!” When I got home, what did my Mother say? “Serves you right!” Parents responded differently in those days: the teacher was supported!

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 delighted in telling how she received a letter with the return address of a Methodist Church, and as 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 a big thank you 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 a big thank you. 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 suffering or pain. We give thanks and praise God for being with us, 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. We praise, rejoice, and give thanks.

How do we give a big thank you to God? We thank God by worshiping. We come to church to give thanks. “I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to praise the Lord.” We give thanks by praying and singing. When you sing the hymns, hold nothing back. Sing with gusto. If you can’t sing, make a joyful noise! Our choir praises God. They are not singing for our entertainment, they are praising God on our behalf.

We worship by bringing 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. God gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing...abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God.”

Flo 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 who were 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. He gave thanks by giving.

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 lived in Rossmoor, a retirement community. Every Thursday afternoon, a group of residents traveled for an hour-long bus ride to Boys’ Ranch, a youth rehabilitation facility (a jail!), where they spent two hours volunteering one-on-one tutoring. Our church offers tutoring opportunities through English Together where one-on-one tutors help those learning English. For more information, ask Mike McCartney.

92-year-old Barbara (don’t think you are too old!) had volunteered for 14 years when she fell, and went to a care facility. Let me read excerpts from a letter her boy at Boys’ 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.”

Imagine what the letter meant to her! When you are the recipient of a big thank you, how do you feel? Ellie and I are still overwhelmed and humbled by the love gift you gave us! Thank you. 

Give a big thank you this Thanksgiving. 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. 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? Write the name down, and make a plan as to how you will express a big thank you. Write a letter, an email, a text? Call on the phone? Give a big thank you.

© 2022 Douglas I. Norris