Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits
Psalm 103:1-2 NIV84
Today my daughter and her husband and our two grandchildren visited us. What a joy to hug them all. Even though we see them regularly, it is still a special gift to treasure their company.
This week I will be preaching on why Communion is called a means of grace among Methodists. One cannot reflect upon this topic without becoming profoundly grateful for all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The seemingly simple gift of this sacrament has become for us a magnificent mystery full of both theological and existential richness. Every time we partake it not only reminds us of the facts of Jesus’ act of initiation of the sacrament, but it becomes for us an acted symbol of our own participation in the greater realities which it represents. We are prompted toward ongoing repentance and faith. It is no wonder that in many Christian traditions, this sacrament is called “The Eucharist.” The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek meaning gratitude or thanksgiving. How appropriate.
As I was studying for this sermon I noticed an excellent paragraph of encouragement to praise from Spurgeon in one of the devotionals in my Bible program.
The Lord always deserves to be praised for what He is in Himself, for His works of creation and providence, for His goodness towards His creatures, and especially for the transcendent act of redemption, and all the marvelous blessing flowing therefrom. It is always beneficial to praise the Lord; it cheers the day and brightens the night; it lightens toil and softens sorrow; and over earthly gladness it sheds a sanctifying radiance which makes it less liable to blind us with its glare. Have we not something to sing about at this moment? Can we not weave a song out of our present joys, or our past deliverances, or our future hopes? Earth yields her summer fruits: the hay is housed, the golden grain invites the sickle, and the sun tarrying long to shine upon a fruitful earth, shortens the interval of shade that we may lengthen the hours of devout worship. By the love of Jesus, let us be stirred up to close the day with a psalm of sanctified gladness. (Charles Spurgeon – Evening Devotion for July 31)
Did I mention that I love old churches? If you have driven by the corner of routes 219 and 179 you have probably seen the old brick sanctuary of Washington Hill UMC on the corner. The sanctuary is a gem of early colonial Methodist church architecture. It has never been “modernized” with things like electric lights, bathrooms, sound amplification, or hidden heating systems. The building dates from 1834 and has a wrap-around balcony on three sides, all the better to seat more people within easy earshot of the preacher. Heat is from a great ancient wood stove in the rear center with a stove pipe running the length of the sanctuary to extract more heat. Lighting is by oil lamps along the sides. Music was originally by pump organ, which still is there. The church has two rear doors and the pews have a divider in the center. It makes me wonder if it was built for the very early colonial church seating arrangement of men on one side and women on the other.
Annual Thanksgiving Eve service
It is tradition in this area to hold a Thanksgiving Eve service there. My wife and I were privileged to attend this year. Luminaries had been placed in the lawn and the stove had been lit ahead to make it warm inside even though snow was falling outside as the elevation is higher there than here in West Granby. The antique oil lamps cast a warm glow over everything, but the lighting was dim enough that one needed a flashlight to read fine print easily away from a lamp. The service is sponsored by the North Canton UMC church which is linked with this parish and considers it its mother church. The pre-service tradition is a time of hymn-singing. The ground floor was full of people gathered to give thanks to God in this unique setting and there were some people in the balconies as well. Pastor Sandra Wanamaker led the service. Tonight a concession has been made to convenience and the organist plays a pump organ patch from a modern keyboard. I was invited to share the platform and participate in leading the service which I did, reading Scriptures and receiving the offering for an area food pantry. One other visible piece of time warp were the little LED flashlights in evidence as folks read from their hymnbooks.
I could not help but think about the nearly two centuries of people who have given thanks to God in this spot. As I looked out into the dimly lit faces, I thought of preachers in by-gone eras in our country and others who preached by lantern lights. Yet the message of God’s love displayed in Christ has not changed. The Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus has not changed. And certainly, the need of humankind to give thanks for the great gifts of the heavenly Father is, if anything, even greater today, when we enjoy so many blessings of extended life, material wealth, and technology that our forefathers never dreamed of. As the Bible says,
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Ps 100:4-5 NIV
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, today I am thankful first for the 7 years of good service that I have had from my 2005 Buick LeSabre. If memory serves, I purchased it late in the year in 2006 when it was a year old and had thirty-some thousand miles on it. Now it has 146,000 on it. I am thankful too for the safety we have enjoyed over all those miles. I have put very little money in it either beyond routine maintenance. It still purrs and eats up road well. It had been a rental car. But now it needs some work and its value has fallen far below the value of the work that needs to be done.
Late twentieth century car shopping
So, I have been car shopping. What a difference between car shopping today and car shopping even just fifteen years ago. Before, I would have first checked newspaper ads, especially those big auto sections in the weekly Sunday papers. Then I would have driven through the lots of dealers that I knew to see what I could find that I liked. Third, I would have called a couple trusted dealers I knew to see what they had and suggest models I had been thinking about. To check on values, I would have visited the bank and asked at the counter to see a copy of their little Kelley Blue book so I could look up the value of my trade-in and of the car I was considering. Interest rates might have been six or seven percent.
Internet car shopping is so different
But this time around, having recently moved, I did not even know where the dealers were. I just started searching on the internet. I just picked a price range and set a couple search engines going. Soon I was looking at details on cars and trucks for sale in that price range within 75 miles of my house. In the process, I learned where some of the major car and truck dealers are too. I emailed for more info right from my chair or desk. Once, I was called back within minutes. Other times I was contacted by email. I could then schedule a time to test drive the vehicle if I wanted to. What a difference over how I would have done it just a decade ago. And what is more, I’m so used to the new ways already that it just seemed like the intuitive way to do it. That’s the really scary part. Back in May when I found a new car for my wife, I had found the car on the internet also. I reflected that my feeling of naturalness about this new internet way of car shopping was an even greater measure of how truly our culture has thoroughly changed in how it does business.
I’m thankful to be getting an Equinox very soon
Now on to the news. I am also thankful to have found a car that I believe will serve us well in the future. We have chosen a 2012 Equinox LTZ AWD which I found on the internet. It is also a vehicle coming out of the rental fleets with thirty-some thousand miles. The LTZ trim will be especially helpful to me as it supplies a higher grade front seat that is six-way adjustable, a helpful feature for my chronic lower back issues. The crossover style, with its fold down rear seats will also give me room to put stuff into the car that I need to carry for projects. (I told the salesman that I can’t remember all the times I’ve had eight foot lumber inside my Buick.) I test drove the Equinox twice, once by myself and once with JoAnne along. It impressed. It is white, one of my favorite car colors. I hope to pick it up next week.
November 20th, my Mom, Dorothy I. Jones, went to be with her Savior. She had turned 90 in August. Though she had been declining for months as a consequence of slow congestive heart failure, the end happened quite suddenly and unexpectedly. I’ve been working on this Thanksgiving tribute to Mom for a couple days. Also, here’s a link to her obituary.
When I think of my Mom, one of the first blessings that comes to mind is our phone conversations. The chain of them began when I was a freshman at the University of Rochester. Late at night I would sit at the hallway telephone and talk to Mom. Our conversations have never been short and that habit goes back to that year too. Recent years I would get on my cell phone while sitting in my big chair and converse. It was not unusual to be an hour on the phone. We covered a lot of subjects; family news, farm news, church news and upcoming schedules. But Mom also talked about Bible verses she was studying or teaching from, articles or books she had read, things from gardening in the summer and feeding birds in the winter, and even news items of note—she loved Paul Harvey especially. I will miss those conversations.
Our Big Bible Bonanza reading contest has been very successful in encouraging daily Bible reading. Though people could choose to read any passage of at least five verses that they wanted to, many chose to follow the sermon coordinated outline series that we prepared for the contest time. At least one person wondered aloud what he would do when that schedule came to an end.
I have good news. I am supplying a sermon coordinated list for the next sermon series as well. The up-coming series is on Gratitude and Giving. I also hope to supply a reading schedule for the Christmas series. At the turn of the year, we can help people choose from the many yearly plans that are available. Hopefully we will all have greatly strengthened the discipline of daily Bible reading in the process.
Bible Reading Suggestions for Sermons series on Gratitude and Giving
I haven’t blogged in a couple weeks because I have been traveling part of each week. But now that the schedule has returned a little more to normal, I will try to catch up a little. As you can see, the plan below is already in progress. Our October series was planned to go with election season when our country is talking about values and issues. The church needs to be relevant and enter the conversation. But my take is a little different ffom some. Here is a quote from the introduction to the series on Christian Values for Today.
“I believe that Christians are called to tell the truth about the chaos of values today. Our task is to call our country back to the values of the Bible. As we undertake this task, we cannot help but seem political at times. But that is not our first intention. As one person has put it, ‘God is not a Democrat or Republican.’ God’s values apply equally to Democrats and Republicans. He calls both parties to forsake their sins and walk in his paths. It is up to us as followers of Christ to use our discernment and our influence to encourage all parties to take stands on contemporary issues that reflect the teaching of the Word of God. Using our vote as best we can is part of our responsibility to use our influence. At times in this series, I expect that the Republicans will feel somewhat smug. But at other times I expect that the Democrats will feel the same way. But that is not my issue. My responsibility is to preach the word of God wherever the chips fall. My responsibility is to pick issues that I feel are of extreme importance in the Bible, our lives, and in our country and preach on them. And God helping us that is what we will do in this series called Christian Values for Today.”
The November series will focus on the close relationship between the Thanksgiving season and the Christian value and practice of generosity and stewardship. It will also be a great lead-in to the Christmas season with its emphasis upon giving.
I’ve been reflecting more about Thanksgiving and thinking about all its benefits. I have observed something as I have read what my friends and acquaintances have written on Facebook. Those who have been actively giving thanks seem very happy and joyful. While I’m sure it is true that when one is joyful, it is easy to also be thankful, I believe the opposite is also true. When one disciplines themselves to be thankful, even when circumstances are contrary, joy rises inside and surprises us. The more we give thanks, the happier we seem to be. So it is not an accident that those giving thanks are also bubbling with joy.
Thanksgiving encourages faith
This leads to a second salutary effect of Thanksgiving– a positive outlook. As we count our blessings, enumerating the people, circumstances, and things for which we are thankful, our outlook toward the future becomes much more sanguine. When our focus is on the good things that have already happened, it is easier to expect more of the same. Sincere Thanksgiving to God leads to growing optimism and greater faith in God.
Another major value of the Thanksgiving holiday is its emphasis upon family togetherness. In the entire year, only Christmas outranks Thanksgiving in magnetism for drawing families together. Witness the traffic on this weekend both on the ground and in the air, and you see demonstrated the desire of people to be with loved ones on Thanksgiving. How wonderful it is to have this holiday, one big feature of which is helping to bring families together. There is so much in our culture that pulls in the opposite direction. Thanksgiving reminds us of the value of family, both nuclear family and extended family.
In addition to these, Thanksgiving spurs generosity and charity. People are moved to contribute to food pantries, church turkey giveaways, etc. because they are thinking about how God has been so good to them and they want to share. This is an attitude that we should have all year long. Hopefully, such actions help make Thanksgiving a time of blessing for the poor also, as it should be.
So when I think of the holidays of the year, Thanksgiving rates high on my list–just behind Christmas and Easter.
Thanksgiving Sunday is a significant milestone in the landscape of the year for me. In my first church it was often designated as friend Sunday and it was a time of great celebration. At Community Wesleyan Church is has always been the time for our Thanksgiving dinner, a time when the family of God gathers for one of the biggest social events of our year.
It is usually also a time of significant ministry for our church. It marks the end of the Thanksgiving message series; it is the day for handing out Thanksgiving dinners to those in need; and on it we enjoy the first contribution of the season from one of our special performing groups. In addition, in the evening, for many years, I and others have been a part of the ecumenical Chittenango area Thanksgiving service. This event is a unique sacrifice of praise that adds a glow to the season. The glow comes from the smooth cooperation of almost all the Christian churches in the Chittenango area joining together in praise to God as well as from the privilege of being a participant both as clergy and as a singer in the mass choir.
In our culture this is a week of seasonal change too. Hunting season starts. Often the first significant snows fall. In the stores, Black Friday is this week; by next Sunday everyone will be thinking about Christmas shopping.
Liturgical year end
Liturgically, too, Thanksgiving Sunday is usually the last Sunday of the church year—not the fiscal year but the liturgical year. In most years, the following Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, which is the beginning of the new liturgical year. While our church does not formally follow a liturgical year, I have always observed Advent, so this change is always noted with a change of décor, the use of the advent wreath, and the beginning of a new message series.
Outside, my attention turns from gardening to wood for the fireplace stove insert. My father always said, “Wood should warm you twice; once when you gather it and once when you burn it.” So I try never to work on wood for the fireplace insert until it’s cold outside so that it has a chance to warm me when I do the work, even it if it’s only gathering and cutting kindling from what has fallen from the maple trees in the yard.
I love Thanksgiving Sunday
As I was reflecting on all this, I decided that the events of Thanksgiving Sunday have become important to me as a marker in my own calendar of the year. They help me mark the changeover of the seasons. Thanksgiving Sunday for me has become a very important transition point from fall into Christmas. Celebrating on this day is important to me.
At our extended family Thanksgiving dinner for the Jones clan yesterday, I received a couple really neat ideas for young families.
1. My niece, Pat, and her family who hosted this year and did a great job, have a tradition called the Thanksgiving box. Each year, each member of the family writes down the thing or things they are most thankful for on a piece of paper with their name and the year. Then they put it in a special box labeled “The Thanksgiving Box” and save it. Then in following years, if the family wishes, they can look at what each person gave thanks for. It provides a kind of family history of Thanksgiving.
2. My nephew, Doug, and his family have a different variation on the same idea. They have a designated Thanksgiving tablecloth that is only used on Thanksgiving. Each year they get out markers and each family member writes on the tablecloth what they are thankful for. Then they have Thanksgiving dinner using that tablecloth. This idea sounds like a real children’s delight to me.
I thought these were wonderful ideas to help children participate in the true meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday and build family togetherness at the same time. .
Thanksgiving is one of the great holidays of the year. These days when so much is determined by commercial value, it is being swallowed up between Halloween and Christmas. I will do my best to see that never happens because Thanksgiving has so much to contribute to our lives.
So the question is how do we keep Thanksgiving real and prevent it from going by in a blur between November busyness and Black Friday shopping sprees. Here are my suggestions.
Don’t let the busyness of the season crowd out the family dimension. Thanksgiving is still one of the holidays of the year most associated with family togetherness. Let’s take advantage of that by sharing activities together in addition to the meal.
Decorate for Thanksgiving, not just for fall or Christmas. Even if you are starting to put Christmas things up afterwards, let the Thanksgiving table decoration remain for a few days to remind everyone.
We also must remember the sacred dimension of the season. Thanksgiving requires that we humble ourselves before God and honor the bounty of his hand, both spiritual and physical. Thanksgiving is an attitude commanded for all seasons anyway so in this season we remind ourselves of those commands and we take special care to practice them. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1 NIV). “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts” (Ps 105:1-2 NIV). This leads to two more suggestions.
Attend a service at your church that is especially set aside to celebrate Thanksgiving. Our service is tonight at 7 pm.
At your Thanksgiving Table, take time to give thanks to God by sharing things you are thankful for and then having a prayer of thanksgiving. Many families go around the table quickly before the table grace and have each one share one thing they are thankful for.
Another dimension of true thanksgiving is generosity. If we are truly thankful to God for all that we have, we will want to share with others. So another great part of every Thanksgiving is giving. I wonder if Christmas would be as powerful in giving if it were not preceded by Thanksgiving. So more suggestions come to mind.
At Thanksgiving, share with someone locally who is in need. Many local churches give baskets to those in need. I also highly recommend the Syracuse Rescue Mission at http://www.rmsyr.org/Home/Main_Page.htm.
Help someone in the third world. We in the United States have so much that our Thanksgiving should overflow to help others in our big world who suffer. I recommend World Hope at https://www.worldhope.org/.