Give Thanks with a Joyful Heart: A Sermon for Thanksgiving

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Deuteronomy 26: 1-11

Some of the richest farmland in this country is in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  The topsoil is some of the richest and the deepest you will find.  Each fall I looked forward to the harvest, which was something to behold.  Each day there were wagon loads of tobacco, corn, hay and wheat being carted by the Amish from their fields to their barns.  Harvest also brought apples aplenty to the farmer’s markets.  Every farm and every family was busy “bringing in the sheaves,” so to speak.

To harvest crops is to bring them in, out of the cold and storms. Harvesting is a sheltering, a keeping after growing is done and a celebration at year’s end. In the Old Testament, the harvest was observed by the feast of Succoth or the Feast of Booths.  The feast was a reminder of God’s bountiful goodness and the blessing of God’s providence in the lives of his people.

This Thanksgiving Sunday, as farmers are giving thanks for a bountiful yield, as in the days of old, we pause to ask ourselves:

  • What, in our lives, by divine grace, has been safely gathered in, sheltered from the storms of life?
  • What relationships have been restored?
  • What financial difficulties have been resolved?
  • What health problems have been cleared up?

I’m sure some of you are nodding and saying, “Yes! Yes! Thanks be to God for all God has done!” To those who are celebrating I say, AMEN! But while we celebrate, others are mourning and asking themselves, “How long, O Lord, must I endure?”  If that’s your situation, I want to tell you today, do not be discouraged!

Psalm 125:6 promises, “Those who go out weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”  In one translation[NRSV], this Psalm is subtitled, “A Harvest of Joy.”  Because if the seed we sow is according to God’s commandments, then it is fed and watered by God’s faithfulness and love, not our own.  We will each reap a harvest of joy–but in God’s time, not ours.

One thing I’ve learned about farming is that different crops have different rates of growth. Some take longer and bear fruit later than others. But no matter how long it takes, our God is in the business of bringing in the sheaves–through the healing, restoring work of Jesus Christ.  I Corinthians 9:10 encourages us: “Whoever plows should plow in hope, and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop.” We can “plow” and “thresh” “in hope” because God will fulfill God’s promises for God is the source of all good things.

Giving thanks is remembering God is the source of all good things.

The ability to give thanks with a joyful heart begins with recognizing God as the source of all good things and that God is always faithful toward his children.  Remembering what God has done, made possible, or mercifully prevented doesn’t just provide us with a sense of self-satisfied gratitude.  Rather, the Deuteronomist teaches to remember, which is the point of today’s reading.  We are to remember God is the one who is faithful and provides, not us.  Giving thanks is an important corrective to our own egos.  Giving thanks helps us remember who is in charge (hint: not us!). Giving thanks helps us remember God is the landowner and we are only stewards.

Human nature hasn’t changed much since the days of ancient Israel. Humans being still feel the need to pat ourselves on the back when things go well, but blame God when they go wrong.  The Bible warns us never to forget that God and God alone is the source of all that we have, all that we are, and all that is to come.  Because of this, it is our spiritual duty to share God’s gifts and our blessings with others.

Giving thanks is sharing God’s gifts and blessings with others.

Few farmers hoard what they harvest. They must part with their crops so that both they and their neighbor may eat. As Christians, we can’t hold on to what isn’t ours to start with. Psalm 24 declares, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and they that dwell therein.” And if everything we have really belongs to God, how can we not share God’s things with those whom God created, loved, and for whom God sent Jesus to die? Paul emphasizes that it is God who makes it possible for us to be as generous with others as God has been with us, so that, through our generosity, thankfulness to God will abound all the more.

A generosity of spirit is vital to Christian discipleship. Not only do we need to thank God, but we need to express appreciation to one another. How often do you thank the garbage man? The store clerk? Your kids? Your spouse? Thank someone today for who they are, or for making your life what it is.We are called to be generous with our thanks, and to give of ourselves in love and kindness, in thoughtfulness, compassion, and self-sacrifice. It is these traits of Jesus that we need to offer abundantly to 
one another. We have so much for which to give thanks.

Two missionaries in Kenya, Steve and Alene Burgert, helped me to realized how blessed we are in this country.  We don’t have to plan our meals around shopping trips to a large city.  We don’t have to wash every vegetable, every piece of fruit once we begin preparing a meal.  We don’t have to re-wash our laundry because the water isn’t as clean or wear stained clothing because of the water.  We don’t have to share internet time with an entire community. And, we certainly don’t have to walk everywhere.

When was the last time you simply thanked God for electricity?  Or flush toilets? Or a bed to sleep in?  Or the car, cell phone, TV, computer, you not only take for granted, but are usually annoyed with?  Like those early immigrants from England to this land, we too would have nothing, without God’s providence, overflowing generosity, kindness, and love.  We have much to thank God for in this life.

Sharing God’s generosity with others is the very act of giving thanks. We give thanks every time we put an extra can or two of veggies in our grocery cart for the food bank. We give thanks when we offer scholarships for young adults to go on mission trips so that they might experience their faith in action in the world.  We give thanks every time we place our tithe in the offering plate and remember God has been gracious to us.  Giving thanks is sharing God’s blessings with others.

Giving thanks means thanking God with a joyful heart.

We’ve all heard said, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).  But we rarely quote all of what Paul originally wrote to the Corinthian church, “Each one of you must make up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  We too are compelled to make up our minds to offer what we have with joyful heart.  If we thank God out of bitterness or conceit we are not thanking God.  We thank God out of the sheer joy of having received abundantly.

Our God is an abundant God offering abundant life to all.  Remember how Jesus said, “I have come that you might have abundant life” (John 10:10).  We need only open our eyes, our hearts to hear his invitation to receive that abundant life. When we have accepted God’s gracious offer of life everlasting, we know the joy that comes from deep within and bubbles up as thanksgiving. Give thanks then with a joyful heart now and always.

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Dr. Jane Riecke is the senior minister of University United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, LA and brings her vast experience in sustaining effective spiritual leadership to the art of preaching. Jane is a spiritual leadership coach and regularly leads seminars in spiritual formation for clergy. Jane is a writer, preacher, wife and mother of two adult sons. She currently blogs at http://janeyoutzriecke.typepad.com/.

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