November 20, 2022

Being Thankful

 

Psalm 8: Philippians 4:4-7

 

This morning we will focus on the Thanksgiving holiday and the faith practice of being thankful for God, our faith, and life itself. Before doing so, however, I would be remiss not to mention that Thanksgiving is not a time to give thanks to many people, especially the indigenous people of this land. Thanksgiving in America, for native people, is a time of mourning. Thanksgiving serves as a reminder that an initial act of kindness and generosity led to the theft of ancestral land and the betrayal and the near genocide of an entire people. What we all learned in elementary school about that first Thanksgiving and what followed was pretty much nothing more than a false narrative. So as we gather in our many ways to thank God for this coming week, may we be mindful of those who approach this time in sorrow and remember the local Shasta, Takelma, and Latgawa people.

 

I've chosen two passages from scripture that frame why I am thankful for God, my faith, and my life. First, let us take a look at Psalm 8. This psalm is one of my favorite psalms for many reasons. First and foremost, the writer expresses a beautiful relationship between the psalmist and God. There is a subtitle in some Bibles above the psalm which says, "To the leader according to the Gittith. A psalm of David "Most likely, this psalm was written in a particular musical style, as "Gittith" is an unknown musical term. "To the leader" was likely to be the leader of the music in the temple. Psalms attributed to David were often set to music and tell of a deep and complex relationship between David and God.

 

David begins by contemplating the majesty and vastness of the Creator. Perhaps he went out into nature and spent time looking at the mountains. Or he may have gone out at night and looked at the incredible night sky of the 9th century B.C. The Milky Way must have looked incredible back then. No light pollution from cities or industrial pollution in the atmosphere- It must have been breathtaking as David stared at God's glory above the heavens. David considered the miracle of birth itself and the sound of babies. He then thanked God for protecting the kingdom of Israel before again turning his attention to the night sky.

 

David ponders his insignificance in relation to the Creator of all things, being overwhelmed by the moon and stars. What are we humans, and why are You even mindful of us? Why do you care for us? It is one of those moments when we stop, consider our existence in relation to everything, and say, "Whoa!" in awe and wonder.

 

 

I have similar moments as I see image after image coming from the new Webb space telescope. This image of just a tiny portion of space, crammed with hundreds of galaxies and bright stars, is incredible. As you stare at this image, consider that in our galaxy, known as the Milky Way, astronomers have so far discovered some 3,200 stars with planetary systems around them. They are using very new technology, and there are likely more of these solar systems just in our galaxy alone. Some astronomers have recently suggested that in each galaxy we see, there are hundreds of millions of similar solar systems in EVERY one of them. So in this postage-sized stamp window of space, that would mean there are BILLIONS of planetary systems and stars with the potential for life. Now multiply that one tiny stamp by thousands, and, WHOA!

 

Amid that overwhelming moment, David realizes that despite the hugeness of it all, not only is the Creator aware of him, but we humans have a role in that vast universe. We have been made a little lower than God and have been crowned with glory and honor. We have a role to play in being caretakers of the animals and the earth itself. Then David finishes where he begins "O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" I would have loved to hear how this psalm sounded when it was performed in the temple!

 

This psalm gives us reason to give thanks, not just on Thanksgiving but every day. Despite the vast universe, which seems to grow in size with each new picture from the Webb telescope, the divine being that made it all knows us, cares for us, and has given us a role to play. We human beings are important in God's divine tapestry. Last week I had the privilege of driving the Niels­Tuell family, Laura, David, and baby Jack, to the airport as they headed to be with family over Thanksgiving. As I drove the family truck back from the airport, I noticed a saying hung on their rearview mirror, which sums up this psalm. "How cool is it that the same God that created oceans and mountains and galaxies looked at YOU and thought the world needed one YOU too!"

 

So as we approach a time of being thankful, I hope you also have moments to consider your small yet significant part in this vast created universe. You are more than just matter. You matter! Give thanks to the God who made you and called you specifically into being, thinking you were needed for this moment in time. Rejoice in that knowledge!

 

 

 

 

 

We come now to the second passage for consideration on this week of Thanksgiving, this famous passage on prayer which asks some rather lofty things of us:

  1. To rejoice in Jesus Christ always
  2. Not to be anxious about ANYTHING

 

These statements from the Apostle Paul may seem daunting and perhaps impossible, to rejoice always and not to worry. Yet consider that Paul wrote this letter from a prison cell, possibly in Rome, awaiting a trial that would eventually lead to his execution around 67 AD. Life was not looking good for Paul when he wrote this letter to the church in Philippi. Yet he can rejoice. How is this possible? Theologian Carla Works writes, "Joy for Paul is not a feeling dependent upon circumstances. It is a theological act. It is choosing to reflect on God's actions to redeem the cosmos even when all the present circumstances might indicate some other power had won. " This kind of joy isn't some false, "always keep a fake smile on your face no matter what" kind of joy. It is a joy embedded in the profound mystery of the Creator of all things being mindful of us and sending Jesus to be with us, teach us, and open the gates of heaven through his sacrifice and rising. Therefore, even in prison awaiting his execution, Paul can rejoice as he sees beyond his present circumstances.

 

He then encourages this small church in Philippi not to be anxious about anything but instead with everything that can make them nervous to lift them in prayer to God. That is a profound and comforting message for us today as well. You are not alone in your struggles, whatever they may be! Paul tells us Christ is near and gives us a place to put those struggles. That is a reason to rejoice and give thanks!

 

When I feel overwhelmed by life circumstances, I have a prayer exercise that I do. First, I ground myself and try to quiet my mind. Then I do some breathing to center myself, breathing in God's presence and spirit, God's divine wind or Ruach as it is known in Hebrew. As I breathe in God's Spirit, I try to breathe out my fears, struggles, and despair. I don't have a specific number of how many times I need to do this breathing prayer. I do it until I feel some sense of calmness and centeredness. Once I begin to feel that centering, I start to list those things which have made me anxious, fearful, and overwhelmed. I place them in my hands and hold them for a while. Then when I am ready, I lift them to God and begin to feel a peace that surpasses understanding. It is a peace embraced by the mystery of Christ. You'll be invited to try that form of prayer later during our prayer time so you can also experience some peace.

 

What is the peace Paul speaks of, this one that surpasses all understanding? It isn't just some form of calmness or the absence of anxiety.  A more literal translation of the word for "surpasses" hyperecho in Greek is "to have power over." So the peace that can come to us through prayer has power over our anxieties. It is God's peace and shalom that comes to us- God's wholeness, restoration, and goodness.

 

That shalom is grounded in the knowledge that the Creator of all things is mindful of us, listens to and answers us in prayer, and has a place for us here and now. That is something to be thankful for, truly! As opposed to the realities of Thanksgiving Day- a fabricated and false history of pilgrims and indigenous people, primarily lousy football games on television (The Buffalo Bills Detroit Lions game being an exception because, well, the Bills are playing!) the potentially difficult conversations with extended family over politics and religion, and having to eat some of every dish on the Thanksgiving table even if you do not like it because you do not want to offend the cook. These circumstances on Turkey Day may be reasons we may not give thanks but rather be thankful when it is all done!

 

So go from this place in a true spirit of thanksgiving. Go in the knowledge that we matter to the Creator of all things and always have a place to put our fears, anxieties, and concerns. Go knowing that a true shalom, God's wholeness, restoration, and goodness gives us power over all of our struggles. Thank You, God. Thank You. Alleluia! Amen.

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