The power of giving thanks

Good morning, Friends!

Today’s Scripture reading comes from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, which is a book most people have never read. It’s about the time when God’s people were wandering in the desert for forty years, after they escaped from slavery in Egypt.

You see, they’d been slaves for four hundred years, and they forgot all about how to be free people. They forgot practically everything they ever knew about God. They had spent so long in a dog-eat-dog, hard-scrabble, do ANYTHING to survive slave world, that they didn’t even know how to pray any more.

They didn’t know how what normal, decent living was like. They didn’t know what fair treatment was like. They’d forgotten how to get along with their neighbor.

And even when they weren’t slaves any longer, they had to be reminded to remember what it was like – to treat everyone well, because you used to be slaves yourselves.

Today’s scripture was written down about 2,700 years ago. The story it tells, happened about 3,500 years ago. They’ve escaped from Pharaoh’s army, they’ve crossed the Red Sea, they’ve left Egypt behind them. They’re out in the desert, and here comes Moses, telling them they need to be thankful.

When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the first fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket.

Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”

The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.

Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.

But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”

Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

We have so many things to be thankful for. And most of the time, we don’t even say thank you.

So, I want to start by saying thank you to everyone who comes here. It means a lot that you’re here on Sunday.

  • I want to thank everyone who contributes throughout the year – your time, your work, your creative energy, your treasure.
  • I want to say a special thank you to everyone who visits or calls on somebody who can’t be here on Sunday – whether they’re ill, or busy, or discouraged. I hear about those calls and visits, and they mean so much to people.
  • I want to say thank you to everyone who teaches a class, or attends a class, whether you’re an adult or a child.
  • I want to thank all of our meeting leaders. You’re volunteers, and you put in so much time, because you love Springfield and want to see it doing well.
  • Thank you to everyone who gave blood this year.
  • Thank you to everyone who brought food for a meal. Thanks to everybody who set up for a meal, or stayed to clean up after one.
  • Thank you to everyone who sang or brought special music. You’re the heartbeat of the meeting!
  • Thank you to everyone who’s been a Secret Saint. Thanks to everyone who’s posted something good about the meeting on Facebook.
  • Thank you to every person who donated materials for a shoebox. Those went out last week! Thank you to everyone who brought food for COAT, or brought a scarf or a hat for Belinda to give away.
  • Thanks to everybody who told a joke – we always need more laughter around here!
  • Thanks to everybody who made a suggestion or shared an idea to make things better.
  • And thanks to everyone who helped to pick up trash, or came for a work day, or raked or planted flowers or did anything to share the beauty of this place.

You get my point – a place like Springfield runs on gratitude, for all the things people do. I’m just getting a head start on the thank-you’s!

Today’s Scripture starts out with Moses telling the people, “We used to be slaves. But no more! God has delivered us! We asked for help when we were suffering. God heard us crying. God saw what was going on. God saved us, and brought us to a good place. And now, God has set us aside to be a holy people, a people who know God, a people who give thanks every day!”

Moses told the people, “Here’s what you do. When you’re comfortable, when you’ve settled down in this new land that God is giving you, then every year, take some of the first fruit of all that the land produces – the wheat, the barley, the grapes, the figs, whatever the land bears that year.”

“Put it in a basket, and bring it to the priest. Hand the basket to the priest, and say out loud what God has done for you. It doesn’t count if you keep quiet about it. It only counts if you say it out loud, so that God and everyone else can hear you.”

“When the priest puts your offering down by the altar, you say: “My ancestors were homeless wanderers. My ancestors were slaves and foreigners. They were few in number, but now we are many. God was the one who saved us! God was the one who led us! God was the one who brought us to this pleasant place, to this good land where we live. So now, Lord, I’m bringing you some of the first fruits of the land you have given us.”

And then you give thanks, and pray, you and your whole house, and the priest, and the foreigners who live with you today. And celebrate everything that God has given to you and your family!”

God told us to do that, thousands of years ago. That’s how Thanksgiving started. It didn’t start with the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. They’re just a recent example of how giving thanks needs to be done.

One of the things we forget, isn’t just to give thanks. We forget what a powerful thing being thankful is. The Bible shows us that giving thanks unlocks tremendous power. When we give thanks, that turns loose all kinds of power that God has available to share with us.

A couple of weeks ago at Bible study, we read the story about how Jesus fed a huge crowd one time. They’d followed Jesus, they’d been listening to him all day, and they were hungry.

Jesus’ friends asked around, and they found one little boy who still had his lunch with him – two small loaves of sourdough bread, and five little dried fish. Jesus asked the boy if he could have it, and the boy said yes.

Then Jesus gave thanks in front of the huge crowd for this tiny amount of food. It doesn’t say that Jesus said anything special. He just prayed the ordinary prayer of thanksgiving. Then he told his friends to start passing out the food. And something happened. Every time they passed it on, there was more. Five thousand people ate that one little boy’s lunch that day, and they carried home 12 big baskets full of leftovers.

That’s what giving thanks can do!

Another time, Jesus was at a wedding. It was a big party, and they ran out of wine. That would have been really embarrassing – to have to stop the party like that! Jesus’ mother Mary told him to do something.

There were some big water barrels standing by the door, for people to wash the dirt off their feet with. Nothing special. But Jesus gave thanks, and – well, you all know the rest of the story. The water turned into wine, and the party kept going till late that night! It was the best wine anybody had ever tasted! That’s what giving thanks can do.

If you read these Bible stories, they all involve giving thanks to God. When Jesus gave thanks for God’s power, people were healed. People were freed from things that had chained them and bound them for years. When Jesus gave thanks, blind people saw the light. People who couldn’t walk started dancing. Giving thanks is that powerful!

If you want to turn anything around, start by thanking God out loud. I don’t care what the situation is. When we thank God, things change.

When we thank God, we’re not so anxious. When we thank God, we’re not so burdened and scared. We realize that God is with us. We remember that God hears us. We remember how much God has done, and we start to hope again for our future.

Every time we thank God, our lives get better in some way. We’re more at peace. We start to look around to see what God is doing. We find hope, where things had seemed hopeless before. Because we thank God, our future suddenly opens up again.

God can help! God has helped us before. God still cares about us. God wants to help us. Thank you, Lord, for your power, love and grace! Thank you for lighting the way for us. Thank you for showing us that impossible things can be done. Thank you for being the pioneer of our faith. Thank you for all the blessings we’ve already received! Thank you for opening the door for us today!

Do we all understand this? It doesn’t matter about the things we think we don’t have. Giving thanks helped Jesus to feed a crowd, but he started with one young boy’s lunch.

Giving thanks helped Jesus to jump start a party that was about to fail. The water barrels were empty. Jesus told the kitchen helpers to fill them up, and while he was giving thanks, while they were drawing buckets of water and running back and forth, it turned into the best wine anybody there had ever tasted. And the party went on and on!

What matters isn’t who we are. What matters isn’t what we have, or what we start with. The people in today’s Scripture were former slaves, with the chain marks still on their hands and feet. They were homeless, foodless, and clueless. They didn’t have a clue where they were going next, or how they were going to live. They knew nothing.

But Moses told them to give thanks, and to say out loud what God had done for them. And we all know how that story worked out.

When we give thanks, it sets loose the power of God. When we give thanks every day, our eyes are opened, and we start seeing the power of God at work, all around us.

We grow. Our faith grows. Our hope grows. Our friendships grow. Everything about us grows, when we say how thankful we are.

That’s enough of a sermon. We pushed our open worship to the end of the service today, to allow some extra time for us to be thankful. Maybe you wrote something down already, on the paper that was in your bulletin today. Maybe you have something written in your heart, that you want to speak up and be thankful for. You may not feel like much. But your thanks can help to turn loose the power of God.

So, speak up, and share your thanks now and every day!

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