Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thank you, Lord.

Isaiah 12 Common English Bible (CEB)

12 You will say on that day:
“I thank you, Lord.
Though you were angry with me,
    your anger turned away and you comforted me.
2 God is indeed my salvation;
    I will trust and won’t be afraid.
Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my shield;
    he has become my salvation.”
3 You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.
4 And you will say on that day:
“Thank the Lord; call on God’s name;
    proclaim God’s deeds among the peoples;
    declare that God’s name is exalted.
5 Sing to the Lord, who has done glorious things;
    proclaim this throughout all the earth.”
6 Shout and sing for joy, city of Zion,
    because the holy one of Israel is great among you.

Thank you.  Such a simple phrase.  For some of us saying thank you is almost automatic in response to any act of kindness or service.  The waiter brings our meal.  “Thank you.”    Someone says “Bless you” when we have sneezed.  “Thank you.”  Someone holds a door for us.  “Thank you.”   We do that, usually, because our parents have taught us that Please and Thank You are magic words.  They make things happen for us that wouldn’t happen without them.  “I want a cookie!”  “What’s the magic word?”  When we receive a gift, we are prompted with, “What do you say?” and hopefully we will remember that “Thank you”  is the correct response.    

The Prophet Isaiah tells the people of Israel that there will come a day when they say to the Lord their God, “Thank you.”   And that day will be after all of Israel has been reunited, when all of the tribes are reconciled with one another, when Israel and Judah are again one nation, when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”  (Isaiah 11:9b)  It will be the time of the Peaceful Kingdom, when the lion lays down with the lamb, and the child will put his hand on the snake without being bitten.  Imagine.  After all that God has done for the people of Israel, Isaiah tells them they will finally get around to saying “Thank you” only after the entire earth is at peace with itself.   Only after the Messiah has come.  Only after there is justice for the poor.  Only after there is equity for the low in status.  Only after righteousness and faithfulness have become the order of the day.  

This is the part where we pat ourselves on the back because we’re always appropriately thankful, right?  We pray prayers of thanksgiving in worship.  We say prayers of thanks before our meals.  We sing hymns of thanksgiving after the offering is collected.  We even have an entire day once a year called Thanksgiving, a day we traditionally spend giving thanks to God for our freedoms and for all the good things we receive throughout the year.  (I will not say a single word about our tendency to spend Thanksgiving Day engaging in conspicuous over-consumption, watching televised sports and parades obsessively, and planning our forays into consumerism at the Black Friday sales events.)  We are seriously thankful people!  I mean, we say “Thank you” for everything, right?   

Well, you see, the Hebrew people to whom Isaiah spoke that day did all those things, too.   Well, except for TV watching and Black Friday sales, of course.  They had days of celebration and thanksgiving.  They spoke words of thanks before meals.  They prayed thankfully to God in their worship services, even as we do.    What they didn’t do was remain thankful even in adversity. What they didn’t do was remember that God was blessing them even when bad things were happening.   They put their faith in humans and not in God, and that is why God became angry.  They neglected to trust that God would bring them through even the most difficult times.  That is why they felt estranged and deserted.   

I love reading Geneva's posts on Facebook.  I love them because even when she is talking about a less than wonderful thing that happened, something that's painful or irritating or frightening, she always also names something in that is a blessing.  A co-worker is being a pain in the neck, but Geneva is grateful she has a job.  Her car breaks down, but she is able to get it fixed.  She is exhausted and in pain, but she gets to spend time with her family and that energizes her.  Her gratitude is a constant, her faith in God's grace and goodness shines forth in every post.  Geneva’s posts always lift me up when I am down, and for that I am  very grateful.  

I think I have mentioned before that one of my spiritual practices is a daily gratitude list.  Every morning I sit down and make a list of 10 things I am grateful for.  Coffee often makes the list.  So do Cats.  All of the things one would expect to see are there.  A comfortable home.  Friends. The ability to pay my bills. Good health.  Warm socks.  Fall leaves.  Wind chimes.  Rain.  My gratitude list also  includes things that might not be expected.   Having God in my life, which is something that was lacking for many years. Having the flu, which forces me to rest.  Pain, because that makes me pay attention to what I am doing.  When I have finished my list each morning, I send it to a friend, a person to whom I am accountable to make sure it gets done.   When she receives my list, she gets motivated to write her own.  It's similar to the idea behind the CWF’s Blessing Box.  We put money in the box every time we are blessed so that our blessing can help others.  That is much more than just a collection box for charity. It is gratitude in action.

In many Twelve Step Groups, November is known as Gratitude Month, a time during which every meeting has gratitude as the topic for discussion.  We are often directed to think of things that we are grateful for that could not have happened if we were still drinking and using drugs.  So people talk about things like going back to school, keeping a job for more than a couple of months, reconciling with family, improved health, and being of service to others.  Being of service is a huge source of gratitude.  Some, for example, will talk about the gratitude that overwhelms them every time they walk into a prison to carry a message to the inmates there.   We are taught that gratitude is an action word.  It’s not just something we say.  It is something we do.  “My gratitude speaks when I care.”     

Speaking of things we do . . . I would like to take a moment to talk about tomatoes.  Over here you can see a table with cans of tomatoes on it.  These tomatoes are going to be our contribution to the Selma Cares annual holiday food distribution event.   Selma Cares hopes to collect enough food to fill 550 boxes for families with children and for elderly folks in need.   Now, I don’t want to cause any of you to feel guilty when I tell you that the Church of the Redeemer has already collected two pallets of green beans, or that First Baptist is on track to getting enough corn to put four cans in every one of those 550 boxes, but . . .  What I am going to tell you though, is that collecting enough tomatoes to add a couple of cans to each of those boxes is not an act of charity.  It is an act of gratitude.  It is a very visible way of saying, “Thank you, Lord, for all that I have received.”   It is a prayer made physical.  I would make two suggestions about the tomatoes.  One, you could buy extra cans of tomatoes every time you go to the grocery store between now and December 11th.  Or you could put some money in an envelope, write “tomatoes” on it, and we (somebody) will purchase tomatoes to add to the congregation’s donation to Selma Cares.   

Isaiah told the people of Israel, when the time comes, you will say “Thank you, Lord”.  You will finally realize that God never deserted you, never left your side, never left you orphaned or alone.  Even though you made bad choices. Even though you trusted in human governments instead of in God.  Even though you tried to run your lives on your own instead of relying on God to guide you.  God was always there, always waiting to comfort you, always waiting for you to turn back to His ways.  There will come a day when you begin to understand what it means to love all of God’s children. There will come a day when your greatest concern is for all persons to be treated with justice and righteousness.  When you will stop worrying so much about your own well being and seek to serve those who need your help.  There will come a day when your greatest desire is for all persons on earth to be reconciled with each other and with the Lord. On that day your exile will be ended for all time.  On that day you will say, “God is indeed my salvation; I will trust and won’t be afraid.”   On that day you will truly say, Thank you, Lord.”

As we enter into this week of Thanksgiving, let each of us find ways and places to make our gratitude felt.  Let each of us serve as the hands and feet of the Lord, our God to the best of our ability, so that all who we encounter will see God’s love through us.  Let each of us say, “Thank you, Lord,” with our lives.   

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