WE HAVE ALL THE MORE REASON TO GIVE THANKS!
Thanksgiving today is often a mild-mannered holiday full of football, hot apple pie, and family reunions. Those things are nice, but they don’t really paint an accurate picture of thankfulness. Thanksgiving is more often born of adversity and difficult times. Many of the greatest expressions of thankfulness have occurred under circumstances so devastating that we might wonder how people could even give thanks. It would seem more reasonable to respond with bitterness and ingratitude.
A particular hymn comes to mind. Martin Reinkardht wrote it in 1607. The name of the hymn is "Now Thank We All Our God." In the year that Rinkardht wrote that hymn it’s important to note that over 6000 people in his German village, including his wife and his children, died of the Bubonic plague. Yet, in the midst of that catastrophic loss Reinkardht set down to pen this great hymn of praise: “Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices.” The Christian faith affirms that in the midst of everything--in death, in loss, in hardship--we can turn to God in praise.
Out of great suffering have come the greatest expressions of gratitude. And so I suggest to you this morning that in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the afghan war, the anthrax attacks, and the economic slump WE HAVE ALL THE MORE REASON TO GIVE THANKS! 1) We Have a Mighty God, and 2) His Love Endures Forever.
1) We Have a Mighty God
Reading through this psalm we find an accurate picture of adversity. This psalmist certainly wasn’t a stranger to adversity. In fact, adversity and trouble plagued him much of his life. The psalm says, “In my anguish, I called out to the LORD.” This fellow knew hardships.
I’m sure we can all relate to this writer up to a point. We know what it’s like to call out to God in anguish. But this writer learned he had all the more reason to give thanks to God, especially in time of hardship. I believe we often fail to understand that. We think that when things are going fine, then, that’s the only time to give God thanks. What happens then is that we’re often tempted to just give thanks for the things we think are important. We give thanks for our jobs when we get a raise. We give thanks for our families when they don’t cause troubles. We give thanks for our stock portfolios when the economy is up. We give thanks for our homes when they’re full of nice stuff.
What about those other times; the times when things don’t go so great? You find out your father is diagnosed with cancer, and so, you cry out! Your husband comes home and tells you that he just lost his job. And you cry out! You hear about your neighbor whose wife had another miscarriage. You cry out! The phone rings, “your grandma just passed away” or “ your niece just broke her arm.” In anguish, you go to God and pour your heart out. You throw yourself at him. You tell him how much it hurts. And it does. The hurt is real as you try to catch your breath because you’ve been crying so hard. The hurt is all too real as you see the pain in your loved ones’ eyes.
And so we wonder why there could even be a holiday called Thanksgiving. So many people don’t seem to have a reason to give thanks. And yet, did you notice how this psalmist begins? He pens those familiar words; words we often use when we sit down at our dinner tables: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” He learned he had all the more reason to give thanks to God, especially in time of hardship. Again and again, he states this with confidence. “The LORD is with me … the LORD is with me!” he declares. He talks about how the LORD is his refuge and his source of strength. Finally, he sums it all up by saying that the Lord’s mighty hand is the reason for his deliverance.
“The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things. The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!” What could this writer possibly have had in mind as he considered all the misery that surrounded him? He obviously focused on the purer, greater blessings which come from God’s hand; blessings that prove he is mighty. Instead of just focusing on that paycheck, think about the value of our health. A healthy body is proof of God’s might. He is ultimately responsible for it. How about the sun? What is all the money and wealth of the world in comparison to one sunny day? What about our friends? We might be able to find a way to have a faster modem for our e-mail, but God makes it possible for us to have people to e-mail in the first place. The LORD is mighty. He makes it possible for us to have a Thanksgiving holiday with all the trimmings. His blessings abound.
The psalmist knew this firsthand. He understood the power of God. He couldn’t help but say: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things.” He had other blessings in mind when he said that; blessings far greater than anything thing in this world. The phrase -- the LORD’s right hand -- is really a code name for the Messiah. Here he’s talking about the Son of God – the Second Person of the Trinity – Christ Jesus! The psalmist is really focusing on the blessings that come from him. When you think about it that’s an accurate name – the LORD’s right hand. The right hand is often viewed as the stronger of the two hands. (Sorry left-handed friends!) It’s the hand most people rely on. And if you have somebody you can really trust and count on; you might call him your “right-hand man.” Jesus Christ is the LORD’s right hand because he is the one who accomplished our salvation. He is the LORD; the King of kings. This is the best reason the psalm writer could think of for thanksgiving.
We have a mighty God who is greater than all our suffering. He provides more than our puny minds could ever imagine. This psalm proves it. While, its true that a mere human wrote these words, it’s also true that the Holy Spirit led him to write these things. With that said, we realize that this psalm is more than just a picture of this writer’s life. It’s really a picture of the Messiah’s life and work. Consider how it describes adversity: All the nations surrounded me; they surrounded me on every side; they swarmed around me like bees; I was pushed back and about to fall.” Jesus’ enemies constantly surrounded him. They longed to kill him. And when they finally had him crucified, what did they do? They circled around him and mocked him. Yet, our Lord proved his might by suffering in our place. He took on our adversity and shame and has given us a reason to truly be thankful.
2) His Love Endures Forever
Christ is able to do this because he is eternal. As the psalm says, “I will not die, but live.” He’s the Savior who conquered the grave because his love is from everlasting to everlasting. And that’s a message our Lord wants all people to know. Time and again, God had proven his enduring love to the Israelites. The Passover made the biggest impression on them. It’s still celebrated. Remember the Passover was a special meal commemorating Israel’s release from Egypt. The Passover lamb was sacrificed and it’s blood sprinkled on the doorposts of the Israelite’s homes. Within those homes, the people ate this special meal; consisting of the lamb, unleavened bread, some bitter herbs and wine. This was all to symbolize the adversity and pain they had felt.
Keep in mind, that this is also a picture of our Savior. He is Lamb of God who was sacrificed in our place. God would be faithful to himself. He’d give us a reason to be truly thankful by securing our salvation. Through his adversity and suffering, he conquered death and hell, so we’d have a reason to be thankful; not just now, not just tomorrow, but thankful forever.
The Gospel writers tell us that once Jesus and his disciples finished celebrating the Passover on Maundy Thursday, they sang a hymn. Then they went out to the Garden of Gethsemane. Now, keep in mind is that this psalm was eventually read every year as part of the annual Passover celebration. So, Psalm 118 was probably the hymn they sang that night. Just imagine Jesus singing, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever”, knowing that he was the fulfillment of those words – he is enduring love made flesh -- and then he went to the cross to prove it. God is good; his love endures forever. Jesus became the sacrifice offered in our place. He atoned for all of our sins. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection we find true thanksgiving, even when things aren’t going so well.
So, when you go home and sit down to have your annual Thanksgiving dinner, remember you have so much for which to be thankful. Christ has made it possible for us to enjoy all the blessings of this life by first giving us true life. The turkey will taste that much better, the pumpkin pie that much sweeter, as you realize that your salvation is complete in Christ. Heaven is yours. We can enjoy God’s blessings now and forever. We have all the more reason to give thanks.
By the way, the psalm writer proves that we have double the reason to give thanks. Notice how he begins and ends this psalm. The opening verse and closing verse are the same: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever”. They are like bookends to the psalm. These are two bookends from my office. I use them on my desk. They help keep some of my books in order. The bookends allow my books to stand up straight, so that everything in-between is at my finger’s tips. It’s the same with that simple opening and closing verse. From the beginning to the end, we see that this psalm tells us we have every reason to give God thanks. All our blessings, physical and spiritual, are at our finger’s tips. The next time you use these words as your closing dinner prayer, remember you’re not just saying thank-you for that slice of pizza or that large order of fries. You’re giving God thanks for everything, especially for your Savior’s love. We have all the more reason to give God thanks. He is good; his love endures forever. Amen.