November 23, 2014 – Thanks be to God

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

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Pentecost 24 November 23, 2014 Psalm 65, Deuteronomy 8:7-18, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Luke 17:11-19 – Thanks be to God

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Happy Thanksgiving Sunday. We’re starting our Thanksgiving celebration a little early maybe. But the pilgrims and Native Americans who began this North American tradition together, didn’t plan it to always fall on the last Thursday of this month, or celebrate it on the same day, every year. And most accounts say the first Thanksgiving went on for three days. (It probably helped that there wasn’t football on tv to compete with, yet… but… )

Anyway, according to the bible, every day should be Thanksgiving. We should be praising God and saying “thank you, Jesus” every day – because God has blessed us with blessings beyond measure, every day.

That’s why we sing –

This is the day – this is the day – that the Lord has made – that the Lord has made.

Let us rejoice – let us rejoice – let us rejoice and be glad in it – and be glad in it.

This is the day that the Lord has made – let us rejoice and be glad in it.

This is the day – this is the day – that the Lord has made…

Thanks and praise go together… And Psalm 150 (last psalm in the psalter) tells us praising God is something everyone everywhere should be doing…

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary – praise him in his mighty firmament! Praise him for his mighty deeds – praise him according to his surpassing greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound – praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance – praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with clanging cymbals – praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Psalm 65 reminds us of God’s blessings in creation – and all creation joins in blessing God – as the psalmist says to God, with gratitude –

You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy – the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain – they shout and sing together for joy.

The psalms, as also our Deuteronomy reading – highlight the blessings of God’s good creation. Heaven and nature shout and sing together for joy. We too ought to join them in thanking God, every day, for the beauty of the earth – and for earth’s role in providing food and water, shade and shelter. The bible tell us to praise God for the gift of good land – always to be cared for, never to be taken for granted.

The pilgrims and Native Americans of course didn’t invent Thanksgiving. Harvest Thanksgiving festivals were celebrated by Israel from it’s earliest times. Indians and Pilgrims alike had traditions of thanksgiving feasts. Both knew we should be thanking God every day for all our blessings – and giving special thanks for harvests that feed our bodies, and for all the ways God feeds and nourishes our souls.

We need to be practicing, daily, and on special occasions all the more – the anciet traditions of praise and thanksgiving. Praising and thanking God may not always come naturally. I may forget to say my proper thanks sometimes…

So I’ve learned to make a habit of thanking God and praising God, every day, to try to cultivate better habits. I know I need to practice daily. There are still days when, though I know God has blessed me, I wake up cranky, not feeling like giving thanks. (Even though I know I should.) So I’ve been learning to practice becoming more thankful – memorizing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs – praying and singing and saying psalms and other scriptures that remind me to be thanking God – every morning, feel-like-it-or-not. Which helps me to become more genuinely grateful. Thankfulness comes easier with practice. And I’m learning that an attitude of gratitude leads to beatitude – another word for blessing. When our praises go up, the blessings come down. It’s like a force of nature… set in motion by God…

We need reminding to be thankful. We live in a fallen world. We tend to forget, when things aren’t going just right – (when things aren’t going too well – or when things seem to be going too well – either way, we tend to forget –) the importance of thankfulness …and appreciation of all God’s blessings.

In our reading from Deuteronomy, we’re told to remember to give God all the credit – all the thanks and praise – when we come into the promised land of milk and honey. Deuteronomy reminds us Israel had to wander in the wilderness forty years to learn proper gratitude. And we still don’t always appreciate… the new land we’ve been given. We have often failed to appreciate the extremely generous immigration policies of indigenous Americans 400 years ago – who welcomed our ancestors to these shores – even though we were all undocumented – not one of us with even a temporary work permit.

The first Americans didn’t have to be so hospitable. And I’m sure there have been some regrets expressed among the Wampanoag, for making it so easy for hordes of immigrant foreigners to settle here… So often ungrateful for the gift of the good land. (I’ve been remembering a friend and former parishioner, Dick Becker, rock-ribbed conservative with a healthy sense of history – and humor – wearing a sweat shirt with a picture of a band of Native Americans holding rifles, with the caption – “Defending Homeland Security and Fighting Terrorism for 400 years.” ) We benefit when we see things from the other person’s perspective.

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When Israel first comes out from Egypt, land of slavery, all they know is slavery…It takes forty years to learn proper gratitude for what God has done in setting them free. Many today are still living as slaves – slaves to material wealth, slaves to the almighty dollar, slaves to habit. Slaves to all manner of addictions. Slaves to artificially inflated concepts of self-importance.

And when we are enslaved – to anything – it takes a while, usually, to learn proper gratitude. The only lasting cure for ingratitude is to know God. And one of the most powerful ways to find release and freedom from whatever plagues and afflicts us… is by giving God, freely, our thanks and praise…

God warns us in Deuteronomy not to be thinking life is good because of our own efforts. Not to think wealth and well-being come to us as a reward for our own goodness, intelligence, and hard work. (Of course we try to be good and cultivate a healthy work ethic. But that’s not why God blesses us.) The holy scriptures remind us again and again, never to think we’ve ever earned prosperity. Always give all the credit to God. Because in truth we can’t really do anything without God’s grace…

And there’s great spiritual power released – in naming our absolute need for God. Power for healing is released, when we give God all thanks and praise. Healing power flows when we sing – Thank you Jesus, amen!

For when the praises go up, the blessings come down… And as Second Corinthians teaches – We do have power, by faith and grace, to change lives and reap blessings. Whenever we’re truly thankful for what God gives, we reap God’s blessings.

And whatever we sow, we reap. When we sow blessings, we reap blessings. When we sow blessings abundantly, we reap in abundance. St Paul is writing, in context, about giving offerings for the poor – still part of our Thanksgiving legacy – exemplified in our annual Thanksgiving meal at Cataumet, where everyone’s welcome, no charge, ever, and the spirit of gratitude fills the whole neighborhood. When we give generously, we’re blessed abundantly. And the same principle applies to giving thanks to God. When we give thanks unstintingly from the heart, we’re blessed abundantly from the very heart of God…

Now to be clear, God isn’t telling us to always make nice – put on a happy face, no matter how we’re feeling. God isn’t saying to pretend to be happy, when we’re really feeling sad. God isn’t saying to make believe something is right when it isn’t…

What God is saying – is to be looking and listening always… Noticing all the ways we truly are blessed. Even when some of our blessings aren’t always so obvious. Thanking and praising God… Till our vision clarifies, and we’re reminded of God’s many past blessings…And God’s deep present faithfulness.

Thanking God is like priming a pump. It gets the blessings flowing… I don’t understand the mechanics of how it works. But it works… And we know we sometimes need reminding… Because–

In our gospel reading from Luke, here’s ten lepers – suffering from a condition that kept people apart from everyone, even their own families. Lepers, in those days, meaning anyone with various skin diseases, were kept segregated from others around them. But word’s out that Jesus can heal. And ten lepers come to him – and with just a word from Jesus, all ten are healed and cleansed.

But only one turns back and give thanks. Only one, and this one a foreigner – someone whose double-minority status as a leper and foreigner perhaps makes him more aware of blessings received – but whatever the reason – only one in ten remembers to say thank you, Jesus! for making me whole. And

I’m reminded of those we worship with at Bourne Manor every third Wednesday. Who we might think have very little to thank God for… Nearly all of them are in wheelchairs, and living apart from families. But when we sing “Thank you Jesus, amen!”– they sing it from the heart.

So we practice our attitude of gratitude – so we too will be ready, always, to make a proper response – whenever we notice God blessing… We practice being ready, always, to sing – Thank you Jesus, amen!

Because as the psalmist says – let everything that breathes, praise the Lord! So as long as we’re breathing, we should be praising God – thanking Jesus – Because in Christ our Lord we receive, as we believe – all the blessings of life and grace – food and clothing for body and soul, shelter from the storm… People who love and care for us…For whom we should also, always be thanking God…

And best of all, believing and following Jesus… We are welcomed, graciously, generously, into his glorious kingdom of life in the love of God, forever… The greatest blessing of all…. For which we should always be saying –

Thanks be to God. Amen.