By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | November 19, 2023
Click here to listen to the service
Read 2 Corinthians 9:6 – 15 (NIV)
I am sure most people were not too incredibly surprised to see that the title of this morning’s sermon is GIVE THANKS.
After all, in just a few short days, most of us will gather around a table laden with foods that have become symbolic of the Thanksgiving holiday… with everything from turkey and dressing to mashed potatoes with gravy… not to mention cranberry sauce (fresh not canned, of course!) and green bean casserole as well as pumpkin, sweet potato, and apple pies.
But for as much as we have come to equate the Thanksgiving holiday with the fixins of a phenomenal feast… we must not lose sight of its true foundation… of the real reason we are called to celebrate… which is the opportunity for us to GIVE THANKS.
Now a quick search on the Internet provides no shortage of information regarding the origins of what we now know as the Thanksgiving holiday. Some of the stories are familiar to us… the pilgrims coming over on the Mayflower and landing at Plymouth Rock in the early 1600s… those pilgrims then sharing a meal with the Indigenous people who helped them to survive…
But there are some other parts of the story that we do not hear about as often… for instance, did you know that the same woman who wrote the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” is the person who is credited with lobbying for a federal thanksgiving holiday for 36 years between 1827 and 1863?
Her name was Sarah Josepha Hale… but because of her unwavering efforts to establish a national Thanksgiving holiday, she earned the nickname, “The Mother of Thanksgiving.”
And in 1863, as a result of those efforts, President Abraham Lincoln relented and issued a proclamation encouraging all Americans to “ask God to commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He then declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. (Source: Thanksgiving 2023 - Tradition, Origins & Meaning | HISTORY)
And that was the case until 1939, when a turn of events that some have dubbed, “Franksgiving,” took place… it was then that President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the Thanksgiving holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. However, just two years later, as a result of much opposition to this change in the date of the holiday, FDR signed the bill that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.
Now, in spite of the celebratory stories that we have come to associate with Thanksgiving… there is also a more solemn and somber component to the history of this holiday. Each year since 1970, protestors have gathered on the day designated as Thanksgiving to commemorate a “National Day of Mourning” …as a way of recognizing the loss of life and the long and bloody history of conflict that arose between the Indigenous people and the European settlers.
But along this continuum that runs between the joyous feasts that leave many of us sitting on our couches in food comas watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and various football matchups… and the protests that take place in various parts of the country… there are also ample opportunities for us to pause and GIVE THANKS to God.
And it is with that thought in mind, that I want to turn our attention to our text for the morning from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church.
Now, I feel fairly confident that at least one verse from this passage is familiar to most, if not all, of us… considering most Sundays during the offering meditation, I encourage us to put big smiles on our faces… followed by the response… because the Lord “loves a cheerful giver.”
And while this passage of Scripture is often used in the context of giving generously of one’s treasure as it pertains to offering time… I want to invite us to consider more than just the giving of financial or monetary gifts as we reflect on what it means for us to GIVE THANKS.
The other day as I was driving back from an event in Warren, Ohio, I heard a sermon on the radio that was preached by Alistair Begg, who is the pastor of Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls.
It was a sermon entitled, “Restructuring Our Finances,” and Pastor Begg (no pun intended!) was discussing how money has become the primary focus for so many people…
He went on to comment that although money can buy medicine, it cannot buy health… money can buy a house but not a home… it can buy companionship but not friends… entertainment but not happiness… food but not an appetite… a bed but not sleep… a cross but not a Savior… good life but not eternal life… (Source: Restructuring Our Finances (Part 2 of 2) - Programs - Truth For Life)
He then quoted a Roman statesman by the name of Seneca, who said, “Money has never yet made anyone rich.”
Let that sink in for just a moment… “Money has never yet made anyone rich.”
In other words, it is not the amassing of financial resources that makes someone rich… so then what does make someone rich?
Well, let me suggest that we become rich not from the getting but rather from our giving.
And that brought me back to Paul’s words of encouragement to the Corinthians [and by extension to us] about what it means to give generously… whether we are giving of our time, our talent, or our treasure.
Everything that we have is a gift that we have received from God… and these gifts were meant to be shared… not hoarded.
Imagine a closed fist… clasped tightly… grasping whatever it may be… holding on for dear life…
However, when our hands are wrapped so securely around our checkbooks or our wallets or some other personal possession… it is virtually impossible for us to receive anything else…
And yet many of us still do our very best to keep holding on… afraid that if we give anything away… we won’t have enough left to take care of our own needs.
But there is really no need for us to be afraid…
Rather than clutching our gifts and holding them close to our chest… we ought to open our hands and GIVE THANKS for God’s provision… because if we look at verse 8 of the text we read, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
We find these words reflected in Paul’s letter to the Philippian church where we read, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (4:19).
So, with open hands, let us GIVE THANKS for God’s provision…
Now, in the first half of our text for this morning, Paul makes multiple references to seeds and sowing… reminding us that the resources we have been given are to be cultivated so that we can produce even more that can be used to bring glory to God as we are serving the people of God.
Listen to verses 10 and 11 from the text as they appear in the Message Paraphrase:
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.God gives things to us so we can in turn give things away… God blesses us so we can be generous in every way… all for the purpose of giving praise to God.
So, as we open our hands and GIVE THANKS to God for His provision… let us also lift our voices in praise, and GIVE THANKS for all that God produces.
Now, while it may have been the date on the calendar that initially drew our attention to this idea of giving thanks today… let me suggest that every day ought to be a day of thanksgiving.
In fact, there is a song that was written by the Gospel Music Workshop of America entitled, “Every Day Is a Day of Thanksgiving.” The lyrics to the chorus simply say:
Every day is a day of thanksgiving.Regardless of what may be going on in the world around us… there ought to be something that we can GIVE THANKS for each and every day.
God’s been so good to me, everyday He’s blessing me.
Every day is a day of thanksgiving;
take the time to glorify the Lord today.
It’s like the story told about a Scottish minister, named Alexander Whyte, who was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful.
One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” (Obviously, he must have been in Cleveland.) Much to the man’s surprise, however, Whyte began by simply praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.” (Daily Bread, August 26, 1989)Even in the midst of chaos and confusion, devastation and destruction, trials and tribulation… there is always something for which we can GIVE THANKS.
As the lyrics to a song written by Henry Smith say:
Give thanks with a grateful heartAnd let me just say this, the fact that God has given us His Son is more than reason enough for us to GIVE THANKS each and every day.
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son
And yet, God continues to bless us beyond measure.
In John 10:10, we read these words of Jesus, “…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
Or as it reads in the Message, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
Paul explained it like this in his letter to the Ephesians (3:16 – 20):
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.And he went on to say:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.God’s love for us surpasses any and everything we could ever dream of.
It is wider, and higher, and longer, and deeper, than anything we could ever imagine.
What is so truly amazing is that God’s love has no beginning and it has no end… it is ours for all of eternity.
And as Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:38-39) assures us:
…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Nothing… nada… zip… zilch… absolutely no thing that we have done, are doing, or will do… none of it will ever separate us from God’s love.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that is definitely something for us to GIVE THANKS for… and not just today… or even this coming Thursday… but each and every day from here to eternity.
As the writer of the book of James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
Which is why we should be intentional in taking time to pause and GIVE THANKS in all circumstances, because as Paul said, this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus
(1 Thessalonians 5:18).
So, with that thought in mind, let us stand now and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: Now Thank We All Our God #715