Sunday, November 23, 2008

Make a Joyful Noise -- A Thanksgiving Sermon


I am sharing with you the sermon I preached this morning at Central Woodward Christian Church. Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, but today for us this was the day of celebration. My sermons appear each work at my sermon blog -- Words of Welcome.

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Psalm 100


The news is bad. Jobs are being lost, homes foreclosed, there are wars on two fronts – of course gas prices have gone down. Things have gotten so bad that this might be a good year to cancel Thanksgiving. I mean, how do you give thanks when the world seems to be crumbling in around you? And yet, giving thanks is something we should do only when the news is good?

Whether or not we feel in the Thanksgiving mood, the holiday is upon us and we’re being asked to give thanks. The truth is, if we’re willing to pay attention to our lives, I expect that every day produces something for which we can give thanks. Consider this statement by Jimmy Carter:
When we wake up in the morning, when we meet a friend, when someone lends us a hand, when one of our children or grandchildren expresses love, when we go to a job that is gratifying, when an unanticipated opportunity arises, when we see a beautiful sky, or when we have any kind of exciting experience -- all of these are opportunities to give God the credit and acknowledge God's greatness. It's a good habit to develop.1


I. CALLED TO CELEBRATE

The 100th Psalm begins with a command:

"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!"
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

The invitation is clear and bold. Come and join with all of God’s creation in giving praise and thanksgiving to God. And what better way is there to give praise than to break out in song? Perhaps, with Isaiah, we could join with "the mountains and the hills [that] will break forth before you and all the trees of the field will clap, will clap their hands" (Based on Is. 55). Today and every day, we can join with the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the streams, the deer and the antelope, the elephant and the mouse, in giving praise to God
“We may plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground, but it is God who feeds and waters them by sending snow in winter and warmth to swell the grain.”
We give thanks today, because “all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.”2

It is true, there is a time for silence, but today is not that time. Today is the day to make a joyful noise before God. To paraphrase the 150th Psalm, let’s not just shout out our songs, but let’s break out the trumpet and the trombone, the lute and the harp, the guitar and the saxophone, the drums and the cymbals, the organ and the piano, because, the Psalmist says "let everything that breathes praise the Lord!" (Ps. 150)

II. BECAUSE WE BELONG TO GOD!

But again, things aren’t going so well, so why should we make a joyful noise? Here is the answer from the Psalmist: “Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his” (Ps. 100:3). We come to give thanks because God is our creator. He is the potter and we’re the clay. We’re the sheep of God’s pasture and we live under God’s care. We may be free, but true freedom is found not in self-fulfillment but in submission to God. As Paul said:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; Therefore, glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

As we worship and give thanks to God, we are acknowledging God's claim on our lives. Worship reminds us that we must trust our hopes for the future to the care of another who is the creator of all things. In worship we acknowledge that God is the source of our identity. Or, as Augustine said: “our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in God.”


III. BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL

The reason we come today to give thanks to God is that God is faithful. As the Psalmist puts it: “God’s steadfast love will endure forever.” As we’ve been hearing lately, God’s timing might be different from ours, but God is faithful to God’s promises.

To put this another way, consider the parable of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to go out and look for the one that has strayed. Why would the shepherd do this? I think that the reason is that the shepherd doesn’t want to lose even one lamb. This lamb needs to be brought back into the fold so that the flock can be made whole once again (Matthew 18:10:14). In another place Jesus says that God sends down the rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). What does that mean? Doesn’t it mean that God is faithful and that wherever there is life, God is already present. In this there is blessing and a reason to give thanks.

IV. LET US WORSHIP AND CELEBRATE!

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: “What is humankind's chief end? “ In other words, what’s our purpose in life? The answer is simple, yet profound: “The chief end of human kind is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.” Nothing else takes precedence over our calling to glorify God and enjoy God’s presence forever.

I like to think of the Christian life in terms of a journey. To be a Christian is to set out on an adventure, an adventure that can be challenging, but rarely boring. It has its quiet moments, of course, but it’s a journey into lands unknown. At times this journey can be a bit overwhelming, but the promise of God is this: Despite the odds, we won’t be tested beyond God’s abilities.

For this we give thanks. It is, as theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it: We should give thanks for the Christian community in which we find ourselves, “even when there are no great experiences, no noticeable riches, but much weakness, difficulty and little faith.” And, if we complain that life is miserable, that it doesn’t measure up to our expectations, then “we hinder God from letting our community grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” 3

The good news is this: As we take this journey of life, a journey that can be both dull and overwhelming, we travel in the company of the community of faith. This community, can and will support us and encourage us along the way. In the moment that we understand this truth, we can break out in songs of praise and thanksgiving. As we do this, we will begin to recognize the movement of God in our midst.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. I don’t know what your plans are. Maybe you’ll stay home and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade or watch a few football games. Or, maybe you’ll head downtown and take in the 82nd America’s Thanksgiving Parade. Perhaps you’ll be gathering at a table for some Turkey and Dressing. Whatever you decide to do on Thursday, won’t you join me in giving thanks to God with a joyful heart. Why? Because God is faithful and will be present with us.

As you break forth in praise, maybe you’ll begin singing the Doxology – which is after all a song of Thanksgiving.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.


1. Jimmy Carter, Sources of Strength, (New York: Times Books, 1997), 168-69.
2. Stephen Schwartz, “All Good Gifts,” in Chalice Praise, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2005), 110.
3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press), 5:37.


Preached by:
The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Thanksgiving Sunday
November 23, 2008

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