Summary: November 1989: We are at bottom grateful for spiritual values rather than material ones. Ultimate thanksgiving will be to sing praises in a global community and in recognition of our deliverance.
On the surface, Thanksgiving seems like a holiday designed to celebrate the American experience of material fulfillment. On the surface, at least, it would appear that what we do at Thanksgiving is to celebrate our wealth, our material prosperity, and our achievements. We indulge in an orgy of eating, telling ourselves that just once won’t hurt (although we will say the same thing at Christmas and at New Year’s and on just about any other occasion when the goodies come out of the oven). We give at least a nod in the direction of the poor and wonder aloud how it could be that in prosperous America there would be the homeless and the hungry. It would appear, on the surface, that Thanksgiving is designed to express to God our pleasure that we are well off, and to remind the Almighty that it would be awfully nice if He would do the same thing for us again another year.
But, I say, that’s just on the surface. Yes, we are grateful for the material blessings we have, and yes, we are concerned about those who do not enjoy them, but I have listened carefully to you over these three years, I have heard what you really care for, and I have found out that there is something else for which you are far more grateful than all the material goods you may have. I have discovered that when all is said and done, there are other things for which you are more thankful than the bank balance, the groaning table, and the calorie count.
I have discovered that it is the spiritual and emotional side of life that matters most to you. When I visit with you in your homes or at your hospital bed, especially in times of stress, you begin to talk about the persons that matter to you, you speak of the experiences of meaning which have come your way, you talk of your relationship with a God who has been intimately involved with your life. And while in a few instances that may have been because you thought that was the kind of thing you were supposed to say to the pastor, I would say that nine times out of ten you were expressing the authentic feelings of your hearts, you were telling the rock-bottom truth, that what gives you the most cause to be thankful has nothing to do with bank accounts, houses and lands, or even those new cars into which so many of you have climbed this year.
What gives you reason to be thankful is the richness and variety of your emotional and spiritual life. What prompts the greatest thanksgiving from most of us is the power of the bonds that hold us together as families, as church, as communities, as believers. The emotional and the spiritual.
“Pastor, I can’t tell you what my wife has meant to me for all these years.”
“Preacher, my father has been a rock of dependability for me.”
“I thank God for the people in my Sunday School class, who stood by me during my surgery.”
“What would I have done without the people of this church to help me when I didn’t have a job and couldn’t pay my bills?”
“When my husband died … when my wife left me … when my son got in trouble … when my daughter lost her way … God’s people were there for me, and I am grateful.”
That’s the kind of thing you say, at rock bottom. That’s the kind of gratitude you really have. Material things are fine and prosperity is wonderful, but, in the end, we are most thankful for that which is emotional and spiritual.
If that be so, then, let me offer you a glimpse this morning of the ultimate thanksgiving. A thanksgiving to surpass all thanksgivings. An expression of gratitude that goes well beyond any you have experienced or could experience in this life. Let me offer you a glimpse into that ultimate thanksgiving which the seer of the Book of Revelation envisions for us.
Remember as I read this exalted passage for you what the Book of Revelation is really all about. It is a vision of the completion of God’s purpose in history. It says, through all kinds of strange and wonderful symbols, that God is in charge of history. Don’t worry about all the peculiar images in the book; they are an exalted way of saying one simple thing: that our God is a victorious God who is bringing all of human history to a climactic moment. The message of the Book of Revelation is simply that the purposes of our God will ultimately be achieved.
With that in mind, hear the word of God and this ecstatic vision of the ultimate thanksgiving: Revelation 7:9-17