“The pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men . . .’” Luke 18:11
“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” Luke 17:15-16
“Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wonderful works to the sons of men.” Psalm 107:8
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”
I Corinthians 11:23-24
Let’s talk turkey! And since that old bird isn’t saying much these days let’s allow the Bible to speak to Thanksgiving.
If you go down to the hardware store you will find that stepladders come in several sizes– short, medium, tall, and tallest. Thanksgiving celebrations come in a number of sizes as well.
The first text represents a self-satisfied kind of thanksgiving. A pharisee went into the temple to pray. “God,” he said, “I thank Thee that I am not like other men.” This is the lowest form of thanksgiving. It represents a kind of selfish and conceited form of gratitude. And the text says that this form of gratitude never reaches God. He “stood and prayed thus with himself,” the text says. He wasn’t talking to God. He was praying with himself.
Certainly this form of thanksgiving will be widespread this year. People will sit at their tables and say, “I’m glad I’m not poor, ignorant and jobless. I’m thankful I’m not sick, hungry and a sinner. I thank God I’m not a South Africa Negro copper miner under apartheid. Yes, I’m glad I’m a fine, rich citizen of the most powerful United States.” People might not say it so clearly but that’s what they’ll mean.
Archie Bunker of television’s All In The Family was celebrating Thanksgiving once. His daughter Gloria was going to have a baby, and as you know, Michael, her husband, is Polish. Archie was elated until Michael pointed out that Archie’s grandson was going to be half polish. “No more dumb Polock jokes, hey Archie?” Michael ribbed. Archie was crestfallen. Immediately he and Michael got into an argument over race. Archie was saying how superior he was to Spics, Whops, Chicanos and Blacks. “I’m grateful to be Angelo Saxon”, he said. Michael retorted, “Sure, Arch, you really had a lot to do with where and what you were born, didn’t you?” “Sure I did,” Archie said seriously. “You don’t think God would want to waste me on no off-breed do you? I’m thankful, Meathead! Thankful!” This is the kind of conceited, self-satisfied thanksgiving that we’re talking about. It’s like the nursery rhyme, Little Jack Horner. He sat in his corner eating his Christmas pie. When he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plumb he didn’t thank God. He congratulated himself. “What a good boy am I,” he said.
A second form of thanksgiving is found in our second text. It represents a higher expression of gratitude. You remember the story! Ten men with incurable Leprosy, ten men with no place to go, ten men condemned to live lives a social outcasts. And Jesus came by and healed them. Immediately the ten cleansed lepers sprinted for the city. “I’m going home,” one said. “To my former job,” another thought. It was a time of glad feelings. Yet one leper came to himself in his headlong dash back to the city. In the text we are told, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” Simple courtesy would demand this sort of thanksgiving , yet only one out of ten was courteous. Nine men felt “lucky.” Only one felt grateful. And it was just this grateful man that not only was healed, but who got to know the healer as well.
Our second text points out quite clearly how discourteous we all can be. A man can get so caught up in his blessings he forgets to thank the Blesser. Our fortunes, our healings, our plans can sweep us away. They can make us feel lucky and we forget gratitude to God. French author, Colette, once attended a film which was the story of her life. Afterwards an acquaintance said to her, “It looked as if you were a very happy child.” Colette replied, “Yes, it is too bad that I didn’t realize it at the time.” Isn’t this just the way of us? We sit in the lap of luxury and don’t know it.
Gratitude is love looking at the past. It is making known to God and to other people how they benefited us. One family I know has Thanksgiving meals not once but several times a year. They’ll call you up and say, “Come to a Thanksgiving meal this Tuesday night.” They might not have turkey, but hamburgers instead, yet I tell you it is a banquet of gratitude. Anytime one of the family members is thankful for something he says, “Let’s have a Thanksgiving!” And all the family joins in. Last year this family had seven such thanksgivings. One for a new house, others for medical reports, a promotion, a college degree, a new grandson, a report card, etc. What about you? Does simple courtesy drive you to say thanks often enough?
Thanks for Being You!
Yes, you can give thanks in a self-satisfied way. You can even give thanks for your own personal material blessings. But there is a third and still higher form of gratitude to be found in our third text. The psalmist said, “Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wonderful works to the sons of men.” This sort of gratitude is not for personal blessings. Nor is it for material gifts. Instead, the psalmist of 107 is giving thanks for who God is. He is giving thanks not for the gifts but for the Giver. Read Psalm 107. See if the author is not thanking God for who He is and how He acted.
Stop and think for a moment. Where would you be without God? You’d probably have never been born. Even if you were you’d be unsaved. There’d be no church. No pastor would ever have come here to preach. You’d have no Bible, no life after death, no answered prayers, and no hope. Have you ever given thanks for who God is? Have you ever thanked Him for being loving? Have you thanked Him for His creativity, for Christmas and Easter and Ascension and Pentecost? Have you thanked Him for walking in the cool of the evening to search for us when we were fallen?
This kind of gratitude is rare, for we mortals are more interested in the blessings than in the Blesser. If you take a trip for a few days and return home, your children will meet you at the door. In merriment the kids will cry, “Daddy! Daddy! What did you bring me?” They’re not thankful Daddy is home. They want to know what’s in it for them. The gift and not the giver enthralls them most. This Thanksgiving why not crawl up into your heavenly Father’s lap and say, “Dear Father, I am indeed thankful for all your gifts to me. But what I am most grateful for is You. Thanks for being who You are!”
Thanks and Giving
Yes, stepladders come in numerous sizes. And so do Thanksgivings. “I thank Thee God that I am not as other men.” “Seeing that he was he fell at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” “Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love.” Our fourth text represents still another form of thanksgiving. It is the highest form of all. St. Paul in I Corinthians 11 tells us of Christ’s thanksgiving, saying, “The Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you.’” That’s beautiful, isn’t it? To think that the Lord was so in tune with God’s mind that He saw a meaning in a cup of sorrow and death! And He thanked God for it.
St. Paul was this kind of a thanksgiving person as well. In Acts 16 a vision is given Paul. “Come over into Macedonia and help us,” the man in the vision cried. Confident that this was a call of the Lord to preach the gospel in Macedonia, Paul and Silas left at once for their new mission field. But what a reception awaited them! The record of Acts tells us that a “multitude rose up together against them,” and when they had been beaten with many stripes, they were “thrust . . . into the inner prison.” Now the question: what did Paul and Silas do while in jail? Did they curse? Did they moan in self-pity? No. Acts 16 tells us that around about midnight they sang hymns of praise!
Christian ministry is still a risky business today. People haven’t changed much in their response to the gospel. When a man accepts Christ and a call to minister he takes his own body and says, “This is broken for you.” Calls of God to serve people still lead to beatings and jail. A close friend of mine in the preaching ministry wrote me a letter in the past year. His church was eating him alive and he was asking for my prayers. Some were grumbling that his salary was too high, that he was using too much electricity and they were paying the bill, that he was meddling in their affairs by preaching on adultery, justice and race. But you know what most impressed me about Toms letter? With all the pain he was bearing, there was a current of praise and gratitude throughout his letter. Here Tom was giving his life and also giving thanks about it.
I remind you that the first Thanksgiving held here in America did not come from ideal circumstances either. Back in 1621, after a morning worship service, Elder Brewster suggested that beginning Tuesday and continuing through
Saturday there would be a Festival of Thanksgiving. Such an announcement must have caught people by surprise because it had been a ghastly winter. Exactly half of the colonists had died the first winter. You will remember that they made their graves flat so that the Indians, in case they were hostile, would not know how many of their number had died. When Martin Rinkart wrote the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God” it was not because everything was pleasant. He had just lived through a terrible plague. From our point of view the pilgrims Rinkart, Paul, Tom, and Jesus had little for which to give thanks. Chances are, however, that the gratitude of those early pilgrims was much more genuine than ours. Affluence has rendered us flabby and self-satisfied. And as a result, we are much more prone to complain about what we lack than give thanks for what we have.
Yes, our fourth text tells us that Jesus, seeing His own crucifixion, broke bread and gave thanks. That’s thanksgiving in the highest form! The first three texts really tell us about thanksgetting. But here in the fourth text Jesus shows us about thanksgiving. Thankful that His body would be broken, thankful for the atonement of the cross, thankful his blood would bring a new covenant, Jesus gave thanks and gave his life. Is there any real thanksgiving in you today? You’ve been quite willing to sit her each week and take and give thanks. Will you be willing to come and give and offer thanks as well? Will you only sit and gorge yourself this Thursday and offer a smattering of thanksgetting prayers? Or will you find some way to do as Jesus and thanksgive your life?
The Size of Thanksgiving
Yes, stepladders come short, medium, tall, and tallest. And so do Thanksgiving celebrations. What size will you celebrate this year?
For what you’ve given me, I give Thee thanks, O God. For who you are and how you’ve acted, I am filled with grateful praise. And for the many ways you allow me to thanksgive my life, thank you Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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