Good morning, Friends! Thank you all again for being here today. It’s coming up on Thanksgiving. I’ll bet you expect me to tell you all to be thankful!
Well, OK. But before we all go crazy shopping, before we turn on the TV for the parades and the football games, before we all eat too much on Thursday, let’s back things up a bit.
The Bible, in so many places, tells us to be thankful. Remember God’s blessings. Remember that God gave us everything we have. Remember our freedom from slavery, the Bible says. Remember our deliverance from enemies. Remember the food we eat, the children we have. Give thanks for life itself, for daily bread, for all the things we take for granted.
Everything we have is a gift and a blessing. Sometimes even the things we don’t like turn out to be blessings instead!
Jesus gave thanks, many times. So should we. The apostle Paul gave thanks, in every letter he wrote. He thanked God for every church he started. He gave thanks for their faith, for their love, for their prayers. Paul even gave thanks when he was in prison. He was chained to the prison wall, but he gave thanks for the opportunity to tell his fellow prisoners about the gospel.
There really is no where that we can’t find something to be thankful for. There is always something where we can really and sincerely give thanks.
The Bible talks at great length about our blessings. A blessing is a gift from God. We don’t earn blessings. God gives them, freely.
The very fact that we’re here, today, is a gift. We are blessed. We don’t always say thank you to God, but we’re blessed. We have hundreds of blessings, every single week. And we don’t even think about most of them.
Today’s Scripture reading isn’t about turkey, or gravy, or even pumpkin pie. It’s about all of our blessings.
It’s from one of the oldest books in the Bible, the book of Deuteronomy. It’s part of a sermon that Jews believe was given by Moses, just as they were about to enter the Promised Land.
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:
• You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
• The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
• Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
• You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
• The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.
• The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.
• The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you.
• The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.
• The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.
• The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.
Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.Deuteronomy 28:1-14
Thanksgiving is not about turkey, or stuffing, or cranberry sauce, any more than Christmas is about holly, or mistletoe, or Hallmark TV specials.
Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for life. And Thanksgiving is about being aware of our blessings.
I want to ask you something. You don’t have to answer out loud. You don’t have to stick up your hand, or anything. How many of you said thank you to God, when you woke up this morning? The first thing, before you did anything else? Did you thank God for the new day? Did you thank God for giving you life, and your breath? Just asking.
We all have an absolutely ridiculous number of blessings. I was thinking this week about all the cars I’ve had over the years. The early part of our marriage, we had some real clunkers.
We had cars that wouldn’t start whenever it rained. We had a car once where the doors fell off. We had a car where the catalytic converter caught fire, in the middle of a snow storm, at night, on the thruway. The car just coasted to a stop. I pulled over, got out, looked under the car, and there were flames coming out of it. We snatched our daughter out of her car seat – she was only two at the time – pulled our luggage out, and put our thumbs out by the side of the road, with the snow piling up all around us.
And a Good Samaritan stopped, and took us to the bus station in the next town. We caught the last bus to leave, and made it home almost at midnight.
There were no taxis that night, with almost two feet of snow. Even the snow plows weren’t out yet. We walked home, a mile and a half, with me carrying Elizabeth on my back, breaking a path through the snow, carrying one suitcase while Joyce carried the other.
I don’t know how we made it home that night. We both collapsed when we got in the door. But we were so thankful.
We got rid of that car right away. But we had cars that kept having flat tires, We had cars with no air conditioning. We had cars that just up and died.
I remember one car my parents had, back when I was a boy. We were on the Interstate, and the gear shift lever broke off, right in my father’s hand. I don’t remember how we got out of that one. But we made it home, safe at last.
So, OK. Are you all going to thank God for your car today, when you leave here? Whether it’s a great car, or an old beat-up car, are you going to be thankful that it gets you there? And are you all going to be thankful, for the people who made the roads, and for the people who try to drive safely on either side of you?
Have you ever been thankful that you stopped to look, first one way and then the other, before you stepped on the gas? Hands up, everyone here who has ever been grateful that you just missed being in an accident? And that’s just cars. One of the many things we take for granted, every day.
You know, for all the money and attention we give to cars, it’s like they say – the only thing that really matters is that you keep the four round things on the ground, and the shiny side up.
What else are we thankful for, that we don’t always remember every day?
Well, last year I had two cataract operations. I couldn’t believe, when the bandages came off, how much clearer my vision was. The way the cataracts had been growing, I didn’t realize it, but it was like a dirty, yellow fog that had blurred my vision. After the surgery, it was like seeing a brand-new world again. I couldn’t believe it. Now, I try to give thanks to God as often as I can, for how beautiful the world is, and what a gift it is to be able to see it, every day.
My wife and I were down at the North Carolina Zoo last week. We went there on our day off. We’re always amazed at the creatures there, how beautiful they all are. The otters, the polar bears swimming around. The great big grizzly bear, sunning himself happily on a rock.
All the wonderful, amazing animals which God has made, each one of them unique and special and adapted for a particular environment. Do you ever give thanks for the incredible variety of life in the world? Do you realize what a blessing it is?
How many people here take medicine on a regular basis? How many of you take pills for pain, or for blood pressure, or other conditions? Hands up!
How much research do you think went into that? How much study, to train the doctors and scientists? How many people dedicated their lives, so that you and I could be healthy and free from pain? Is that a blessing?
God is so incredibly generous to us. And we pay so little attention to our blessings.
I remember a conversation once, many years ago, with a person who suffered terribly from mental illness. They said, “You don’t know what it’s like. Every day is such a struggle. I would give anything, just to be able to be calm for a little while. I would give anything, just to be able to think clearly!”
I’ve added that to my list of things to be thankful for, ever since. Never take for granted the fact that you can think clearly. And be compassionate and patient, with all the people who can’t. It’s not a given. It’s a gift.
Giving thanks isn’t about keeping track or keeping score. It’s not about checking off a list of boxes of things to thank God for.
It’s an attitude. It’s a way of life. Being thankful is a way of turning our lives around. It’s a way of seeing God, every day. God is very real. And we know that God is real, because we experience God, in every blessing we have.
Being forgiven is a blessing. Most of the time, we just forget about all the piddly mistakes we make. But every now and then, we make a big one. We have to beg God to forgive us. And God generally does.
But Jesus also said, that if we want to be forgiven, we need to forgive others. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us . .” It’s right there in the Lord’s Prayer.
Jesus didn’t say to forget things. He said to forgive them. That’s a whole sermon in itself. But as we walk with Jesus, we learn that not only is being forgiven a blessing, but forgiving other people is a blessing, too.
It’s such a relief not to carry the burden of being angry all the time. And it really turns our heads around, when we remember how much we are forgiven, and how much we need to forgive.
Do you know what a blessing it is, to realize that God loves you? Unconditionally, all the time. God is crazy about you! If God had a refrigerator, God would have your picture on it.
God would remember every piece of work you ever brought home. God is proud of you, every time you try, and every time you fall and get up and try again.
This week, it’s OK to be thankful for the turkey and the pumpkin pie. They’re delicious! But look beyond that. You are so deeply blessed. You have so much to be thankful for. God blesses you every day, and we all need to be more aware of all those blessings.
Knowing that you are loved and blessed will change your life. It really will. And being thankful, every day, will change it even more.