A Celtic Thanksgiving
Two friends met each other at a class reunion. They hadn’t seen each other in years.
Mabel said, “I have married since we last met.”
Mildred said, “Oh, that’s good.”
“Oh it’s not good at all. My husband is very old.”
“Well, that’s not too bad.
“Oh it’s not too bad. He’s worth millions of dollars.”
“Well, that sounds good.”
“Oh, not really. He’s a cheapskate and won’t give me a cent.
“That’s too bad.”
“But he did build me a house worth a million dollars.”
“Well, that’s great.”
“But, the house burned down last week.”
“Well, that’s terrible.”
“Oh I don’t know. He was in the house.”
That’s a variation of the classic good news/bad news joke. My favorite was the one about the old Roman Galley ship. The captives are chained to their oars, rowing the massive boat through the sea, when the big guy with the whip says, “Gentlemen, today I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the captain has ordered double rations for all of you. The bad news…the captain wants to go water skiing.
The theme of this whole genre of jokes rests on the assumption that something good will always be followed by something bad. If we have a warm October, then we’ll have a cold November. Hopes are raised, then dashed, then raised again. When this happens in a joke it can be quite funny. When it happens in life it is no joke.
Let us pray:
O God, light of the minds that know you, life of the souls that love you, strength of the thoughts that seek you: Help us to know you that we may truly love you, so to love you that we may fully serve you, who service is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our scripture today begins with the good news.
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” How do we know this? How do we know God is good? How do we know his steadfast love endures forever?
The Psalmist continues, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble, those he gathered from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.”
So, who are these people? They are the ones whom God has helped in times of trouble. They are the ones who are grateful for the blessings they have received by God. They are the ones who on Thanksgiving will remember that the day is about more than Turkey and trimmings, about more than football and family.
They can come from anywhere, north, south, east, west. They can cross a great ocean on a tiny ship called the Mayflower to begin a new life in a new land because they believed God called them to a place where they would be free to worship according to their beliefs. They can gather from many lands around their fundamental faith and belief that with God all things are possible.
That’s the good news. Now the bad. It would not always be easy.
The next couple of verses in this Psalm Eugene Peterson paraphrased in this way:
Some of you wandered for years in the desert,
looking but not finding a good place to live,
Half-starved and parched with thirst,
staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion.
Then, in your desperate condition, you called out to God.
Doesn’t that sound like the Pilgrim’s first winter in the year 16201. During those cold brutal months the colonists suffered greatly from diseases like scurvy, lack of shelter, and general conditions on board ship. Forty-five of the 102 immigrants died the first winter and were buried on Cole’s Hill.
They were staggering, and stumbling and on the brink of exhaustion. In their desperate condition they called to God because that’s what you do in a time like that.
Last week Marcella Kinard shared a minute for mission about her work at the Bell Shelter in downtown York. It is the only place that provides refuge for mothers and children and there a lot more than you think.
Between services I invited her to speak to our youth. I began by passing around this box and asked the kids, how many of these boxes would it take to pack up all of your stuff, all of your clothes and all of your shoes and games and toys; everything that is yours. Each one made their best guess, but no one thought they could do it with less than twenty. Then I asked Marella how many boxes would the kids in your shelter need to pack up all of their stuff, all of their clothes, all of their shoes and games and toys? She said, maybe one, maybe none. That’s the bad news and now the good.
You can do something about that. You can be part of the good news. You can take a bell off the glass window in the back and help to provide a real Christmas for kids who might otherwise not have one.
That’s the Psalmist’ prayer in the next few verses. He believes God will “put your feet on a wonderful road
that take you straight to a good place to live.
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
That’s the good news. Now the bad.
Some of you were locked in a dark cell,
cruelly confined behind bars, Punished for defying God’s Word, for turning your back on the High God’s counsel—
A hard sentence, and your hearts so heavy, and not a soul in sight to help.”
At no time of year is that more evident than now. Those in the field psychology and counseling will tell that this is the time of year when people feel most lonely and most cut off. The Halmark movies of happy families gathered around a holiday table bending under the weight of a massive turkey with all the trimmings stands in stark contrast to their reality, alone before a Swanson’s T.V. dinner. They feel like they are locked in a dark cell and their hearts are so heavy and there is not a soul in sight to help.
Mother Theresa spent her life ministering to people like that in Calcutta India. She saw more than her share of poverty and desperation, but she once said, “To die for lack of food is terrible, but to die for lack of love is worse.”
That’s the bad news. Now the good.
God can lead you out of your darkness and gloom and deliver you from your distress. So thank God for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
God does that in many ways, through power and promise found in his Word, through the comfort that may be experience by his Spirit, and through us. That’s why the Deacons will have a card in the Narthex for someone who is alone and homebound. They encourage you to sign it and include a little message if you want.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a home visit to one of these folks and they point to this card which stands in a place of prominence, on their mantel or coffee table. Almost every Sunday the Deacons deliver the chancel flowers to these folks. They are appreciated not only for their beauty but also because they convey the message that someone cares. Someone remembers. They are not alone. God is with them and so are his people. That’s the good news. Now the bad.
Some of you set sail in big ships; you put to sea to do business in faraway ports. Out at sea you saw God in action,
saw his breathtaking ways with the ocean:
With a word he called up the wind— an ocean storm, towering waves! You shot high in the sky, then the bottom dropped out;
your hearts were stuck in your throats. You were spun like a top, you reeled like a drunk, you didn’t know which end was up.”
Does that sound familiar? Does your life sometimes feel like the bottom has dropped out, that your heart is stuck in your throat, and you don’t know which end is up?
John Wesley did. Some of you may know him as the founder of the Methodist Church. He became a great preacher and leader in the church with great courage and conviction, but that came later.
In late 1735, he made his way by ship to the New World from England. He had been invited to serve as a pastor to British colonists in Savannah, Georgia. When the weather went sour, the ship found itself in serious trouble. Wesley, who was also chaplain of the vessel, became very afraid.
But he noticed that the group of German Moravians, who were on their way to preach to American Indians, were not afraid at all. In fact, throughout the storm, they sang calmly sang praises of thanksgiving. When the trip ended, he asked the Moravian leader about his serenity, and the Moravian responded with a question: Did he, Wesley, have faith in Christ? Wesley said he did, but later reflected, “I fear they were vain words.”
Then one night in a Bible study, Wesley said, “My heart was strangely warmed.” He gave thanks to God for his unfailing love.
The Psalmist put it this way:
“God quieted the wind down to a whisper, put a muzzle on all the big waves. And you were so glad when the storm died down, and he led you safely back to harbor.”
That’s the good news.
So, what should our response be?
So thank God for his marvelous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
Lift high your praises when the people assemble,
shout Hallelujah when the elders meet!
How hard can that be? How hard can it be to say thank you?
Last year my wife Charlotte received a grant to fund a project and study that she was doing for her work at the University of Maryland. The money had come from a donor who made a large enough contribution to insure that the interest alone would perpetually provide this kind of opportunity every year. This program has been going on for a long time.
Charlotte sent her a thank you note and this week she received a thank you note for her thank you note. The donor who is now over a hundred years old told Charlotte that this was the first time anyone thanked her for the sacrifice she had made. She just wanted Charlotte to know how much she appreciated her appreciation.
Now, it took Charlotte all of five minutes to write the note and address the envelope, but it clearly made a difference.
You can as well. In a good news bad news world you have a choice. You can be one of those people of whom others say behind your back, “Watch out, he’s bad news!” Or you can be the opposite. He can share the good news of Jesus Christ and daily offer your thanksgiving to God for his many blessings.
Lloyd Ogilvie is a Presbyterian pastor and once served as Chaplain in the United States Senate. On the importance of giving thanks in prayer he said, “Thanksgiving is a necessary attitude to release our faith. The attitude of gratitude increases our aptitude. They go together. Being thankful breaks the bond of our dogged insistence that we are self-sufficient. It recognizes that we are not in control, that life and our talents are gifts given to us; that what we have, and what we have become, are evidences of God’s providential care. Thankfulness prepare us to receive more of what God has to give.”
At the end of our worship service, before you depart you will be asked to sing the last verse of a hymn usually associated with Thanksgiving, but it was not written for that holiday. It was written by a German pastor Martin Rinkart in the years 1636 in Eilenberg. The time and the town is significant, because it was during that year the people of that village suffered their most severe catastrophe. That was the bad news. They stood in the middle of a battlefield in the middle of the Thirty Years War. They were surrounded. There was famine, pestilence and disease. Martin Rinkart’s wife was one of the victims. She perished that year. Another pastor also died and the only other pastor fled. Rinkart was the only one left. It was said that he was conducting 50 funerals a day and four thousand that year.
Yet, somehow one night, exhausted he hunched over his desk and he found some good news:
Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices.
Who wondrous things hath done, in whom the world rejoices.
Who from our mothers arms hath blessed us on our way,
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Where did those words come from? They didn’t come from his circumstance. They didn’t come from his situation, his loss, or his grief. He was not rejoicing in war and pestilence in sickness or sorrow. He was rejoicing in the Lord. He rejoiced in the Lord all the time and every day because God remains constant. His love endures forever. His grace is amazing.
Later you will sing:
All praise and thanks to God, Who reigns in highest heaven,
To Father and to Son and Spirit now be given.
Te one eternal God, whom heaven and earth adore,
The God who was and is and shall be ever more.
Let them be your prayer this Thanksgiving and always.
 Psalm 107:1-2
 Psalm 107:4-6
 Psalm 107:10-12
 Psalm 107
 Psalm 107:23-25
 Psalm 107:28-30
 Ogilvie, Lloyd John: Conversation with God. Pg 48.
 Psalm 118:1