A Matter of Gratitude
Dr. Philip W. McLarty
Psalm 100 ranks second only to the 23rd Psalm in popularity. Many of us memorized it as children in Sunday School. It’s brief, concrete and straightforward; plus, it gives us specific direction as to what God would have us to do:
• Shout for joy to Yahweh…
• Serve Yahweh with gladness …
• Know that Yahweh is God …
• Enter into his gates with thanksgiving.
They’re all action verbs, well within our ability. Let’s use them as an outline as we delve into the psalm more deeply this morning.
First, “Shout for joy to Yahweh, all you lands.”
In his book, The Twelve, Walter Underwood tells of going to a Dallas Cowboys game. He said he was seated in one of the end zones and could hardly see the players on the field. Frustrated, he started watching a man sitting a few rows in front of him. On just about every play, the man would jump up out of his seat, point to the officials or some player and scream at the top of his lungs.
Late in the 4th quarter, the score was tied, and the Cowboys had the ball. It was now or never. All of a sudden, the man turned to the fans seated behind him and started leading a cheer! Dr. Underwood said he saw the man’s face for the first time, and he recognized him as a member of his own congregation. He said, “I can’t remember ever seeing him that animated on Sunday morning!”
Make a joyful noise, the psalmist says. Don’t just whisper or mumble or stir around, afraid you’re going to disturb the person next to you – shout with all your might! Let the whole world know that the sovereign God of all creation is with us, he loves us, he’s on our side.
That’s what Heather Entrekin would have us to do. She says her husband went back to his alma mater for a football game. With two minutes to go, and the final outcome hanging in the balance, he called her and held the cell phone up to the crowd noise.
There were 108,000 fans in the stadium, mostly rooting for Penn State, the home team. Everyone on one side of the stadium yelled, “WE ARE!” And everyone on the other side of the stadium yelled back, “PENN STATE!” Back and forth it went – WE ARE … PENN STATE, WE ARE … PENN STATE – until the final buzzer sounded and the game was over. Penn State beat Michigan State by four points. The crowd left the stadium in triumph.
Heather writes, “I got teary listening to all those people yell. There’s something about thousands of fans shouting out who they are, claiming their heritage, their colors, their mascot, their school. There’s something thrilling about shouting that declaration of belonging.
“Psalm 100 shouts about an even bigger kind of belonging. It says, ‘We are — God’s.’ It might not be quite as catchy as the Penn State cheer, but it means a whole lot more. We are — God’s.” (www.lectionary.org)
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“Shout for joy to Yahweh.” That’s the first step. And the second is this: Serve Yahweh with gladness. And before you nod your head and say, “O.K.,” think about the implications:
• God is all-powerful. What can you possibly do for God that God can’t do for himself?
• God is all-knowing. What tidbit of wisdom could you possibly share with God that God doesn’t already know far better than you?
• All creation belongs to God, from the highest mountain range to the deepest ocean; from whole continents to the tiniest molecules. What can you possibly give to God that God doesn’t already own?
So, what does it mean to serve God? First, it means to give what you have as a symbol of your gratitude and devotion. In the words of an old hymn,
Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth.
Throw your soul’s fresh, glowing ardor
Into the battle for truth.
Jesus has set the example,
Dauntless was He, young and brave.
Give Him your loyal devotion;
Give Him the best that you have.
Think of it this way: A three-year-old painstakingly colors a picture to give to his mother, or comes up to her with a dust cloth in hand offering to help clean the house. Do you think she’s going to be upset and critical? Heavens no! In the same way, God is pleased with our gifts of love and devotion, no matter how small or crude or inadequate they may seem to be.
To serve God is to give what you have – your time, talent, gifts and service – with a joyful heart.
It’s also to serve others in the name of Jesus Christ. In the Parable of the Great Judgment, Jesus commended the faithful for showing kindness to those in need. He said, “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink ….” When the faithful asked, “When did we see you, Lord?” he said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it unto me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)
To serve the Lord with gladness is to be a cheerful giver, lending a helping hand to those in need, showing mercy to those who are struggling, practicing random acts of kindness wherever you go – not out of obligation or duty – but out of gratitude for what God has done for you.
The psalmist goes on to say, “Know that Yahweh is God …”
You may not be aware of this, but there are many different names for God in the Hebrew Bible. This verse uses two of them: Yahweh and Elohim. What the psalmist wants us to know is that the same God who watches over us and cares for us as a loving father or mother – Yahweh – is none other than the all-powerful God who brought all creation into existence – Elohim. The Lord is God … Yahweh is Elohim.
Years ago, I heard a preacher say, “One of the most liberating phrases you can ever learn is this: “God is God, and you’re not.” It works in two ways: One, it lifts the weight of the world from your shoulders and sets you free from trying to be responsible for things over which you have no control. God is God, and you’re not. It’s not all up to you.
Two, it limits the power and authority we often give to others. No matter how imposing or wise they may seem, they’re not gods either. It doesn’t matter what position they hold – or what title, or prominence, or power, or wealth – they have feet of clay, just like everyone else.
God is God, and you’re not. Remember that next time your world is going to pieces and everyone is looking to you to hold it together. Remember it next time you’re around a bunch of VIPs, who act like they hung the moon.
There’s a little passage in the first chapter of John’s gospel that sums it up nicely. When the temple leaders got wind of John the Baptist, they sent a delegation out to investigate. They found him and asked, “Who are you?” And he replied,
“I am not the Christ …
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord'” (John 1:19-23).
God is God, and you’re not. That’s what the psalmist is reminding us, when he says:
“Know that Yahweh, he is God.
It is he who has made us, and we are his.
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
With this in mind, the psalmist concludes,
“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,
into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, and bless his name.
For Yahweh is good.
His loving kindness endures forever,
his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).
The Community Thanksgiving Service is this Tuesday, the day after tomorrow. I hope you can make it. There will be a time in the service in which I’ll ask the congregation, “What are you most thankful for? What one gift or blessing have you received lately that stands out and calls for an expression of gratitude?” I hope to see hands come up all over the room.
What are you most thankful for? Reasons to be thankful come in every shape, form and fashion. There are the biggies, of course – a new job, a big promotion at work, the birth of a baby, the celebration of a marriage. Plus, there are countless other reasons to be thankful we often take for granted, such as good health, the love and support of friends and family, a safe community in which to live, the freedom to work and worship as we please.
The psalmist encourages us to be mindful of all God’s gifts, great and small, and be thankful.
And how important that is! I once heard that it’s physically impossible to be stressed out and thankful at the same time. It has to do with endorphins, or something. Try this: In the midst of a stressful day, take a one-minute break. Find a quiet place and breathing deeply, holding your breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. As you gently relax, think about all the things you have to be thankful for. Just like that, your stress will be gone.
The secret of living a stress-free life is to live a life of gratitude – not sweating the small stuff, but praising God from whom all blessings flow throughout the day.
What are you most thankful for? Here’s a short list to get you started:
• Be thankful to be alive. Consider the alternative. To be alive is to have the potential of doing something creative, constructive and beneficial – if it’s only to feed the dog.
• Be thankful for the gift of love. To love and to be loved turns existing into living.
• Be thankful for the gift of time. You have twenty-four hours every day – just like the President or the Pope – to use in just about any way you choose.
• Be thankful for the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat. They not only sustain your life, they give you strength and pleasure.
• Be thankful for the gift of color. Can you imagine a glorious sunset in black and white?
• Be thankful for the gift of music. It can warm your heart and speaks to your soul.
• Be thankful for earthworms that till the soil and buzzards that clean up road kill, and a thousand other creatures working day and night in harmony with the universe.
• Be thankful for the rotation of the earth – that is, for night and day – and for the seasons – that summer doesn’t last all year long.
• More than anything else, be thankful for a God who loves you, warts and all, and has proven that love beyond all doubt by sacrificing his only son to redeem you from your sinful nature and reconcile you to himself.
Take a moment to make a list of all the things you can think of to be thankful for, then offer them up to the Lord in praise and thanksgiving.
Luke tells the story of how Jesus entered a village and was met by a group of ten lepers. They stood at the required distance and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.” He told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
“It happened that as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks; and he was a Samaritan. Jesus answered, ‘Weren’t the ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there none found who returned to give glory to God, except this stranger?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up, and go your way. Your faith has healed you.'” (Luke 17:11-19)
It’s a matter of gratitude – taking stock of your life and how God has created you in his image and empowered you with his Spirit and blessed you with the gifts of creativity, imagination and love – and being grateful.
Above all, it’s to recognize how God has proven his love, once and for all, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, to open the door to a loving, lasting relationship with God and all creation.
When Henri Mancini, the great songwriter, turned sixty-five, his daughter, Felice, composed a little poem to give to her father. He set it to music, and the Carpenters liked it so much they recorded it and put it on one of their albums. It goes like this:
“Sometimes – not often enough – we reflect upon the good things,
and those thoughts always center around those we love.
And I think about those people who mean so much to me;
who, for so many years have made me so very happy.
And I count the times I have forgotten to say, ‘Thank You!’,
and just how much I love them.”
As you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, take a moment to marvel at the beauty of God’s creation and bask in the warmth of God’s love, and be grateful. Never forget: Christ died for you in order to bring you from death to life. Don’t forget to say thank you!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.
Copyright 2011, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.