by Elaine Maust
June 4, 2006
During the Thanksgiving season of 2005 I preached a sermon called “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.” I quoted Anne Lamott, who wrote there are really only two kinds of prayers: “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I talked about Thank Yous we offer to God. One of them was Christmas Morning Thank You.
I said in that sermon that Christmas Morning Thank You is the answer to the prayen’st prayer we ever prayed. “We pass chemistry. The baby is born pink and screaming. Our daughter does not slam into oncoming traffic.” I said, “I’m calling this Christmas Morning Thank You because it reminds me of a three-year-old on Christmas morning who opens up a package to find exactly what he wanted. Amazing. Unbelievable. Stupendous. He runs to his parents and grabs a hold of them and says, ‘It’s just what I wanted.’ Amen.”
Today is Christmas Morning Thank You at Jubilee. But this time, we didn’t even know what we needed or even have time to ask.
When I was at the hospital to check on Micah and Reah, Melody said, “We need to just have a thanksgiving service on Sunday.” Many of you told me this week that we needed to have some sort of acknowledgement today of God’s goodness to us. (By the way, we don’t want to miss what Mike Clymer had to say about Pentecost. The great sermon that he was going to preach today has been rescheduled for July.)
This week I pulled out Brother David Steindl-Rasts book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. His writing helped me put in words the gratitude we feel. He says that surprise is the “beginning of gratefulness.”
Brother Steindl-Rast grew up in Nazi-occupied Austria. He tells the story of the day he was on the street when bombs started falling. Since he didn’t have time to get to an air raid shelter, he ran into a church, crawled under a pew, and hid his face in his hands. When the bombing stopped he was astonished to discover he was alive and unhurt. “Surprise!” He emerged from that church surprised and grateful even though the carnage and rubble of war was all around him. It was as if he saw things for the first time, like a tiny patch of green grass that survived the bombing. He writes, “Never before or after have I seen grass so surprisingly green.”
Moments like we had this week are surprise moments that blow open the doors of our hearts to gratefulness to God. It is waking up and seeing what has been there all along. Surprise we are alive. Surprise our friends are unhurt. Thank God for our children! Thank God for our church family. Thank God for two legs.
Turn to Psalms 116-117 with me. The heading in my NRSV version calls this a “hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance.” Today, this is our song, isn‘t it? Let’s take a look.
(v1-2) God helps us when we call, and we’re going to keep on calling ‘till the day we die. I wonder what great act of God‘s goodness prompted this Psalm? Maybe David wrote it after Saul threw a spear at him and David ducked and the spear missed? The spear stabbed into the wall instead of David (I Sam.19:8-10). Surprise. Thank God.
Perhaps someone else wrote it after recovery from a life threatening illness. In any case, we get the feeling the writer has looked death in the eye. (v3-4) Help!
And then comes the thank you. (v5-6)
We have been overwhelmed this week when we think about the “what ifs” of the accident. What if they hadn’t worn seat belts? What if they hadn’t gotten at least partially out of the way? What if they had gotten terribly hurt or died? These are normal questions. I’ve had “what if” questions this week too. Though we will keep asking them, verses 7-9 invite us to turn again to rest and gratitude. (v7-9)
And I’ve also had “what about” questions. What about all the situations that don’t have such happy endings? What about the other struggles some of you all are in the middle of right now? Let’s face it, suffering, pain and difficulty are part of life. You can refer to Daniel (who wound up in a pit with a bunch of lions for praying), Paul (who wound up in jail for preaching) and Jesus (who was murdered for loving) on that one! One of the things I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t blink when it comes to describing the difficulties of the lives of faithful people.
The writer of Ps. 116 isn’t shy when he describes his feelings about the problems in his life. This is verses 10-11 from The Message: “I stayed faithful, though bedeviled, and despite a ton of bad luck, despite giving up on the human race, saying, ‘They’re all liars and cheats.'” No matter what the circumstances of our lives, remarkable deliverance or consternating difficulty. Our God is with us! God will help us. This is our great hope. Our hope doesn’t come from believing everything will be easy. It is from knowing that no matter what, God will be there. Just like God was present for Daniel, Paul, and Jesus. And so for those of us who believe, even death can be precious. Check out verse 15. (15)
But it was verse 12 that kept coming back to me this week. (v12) What can I ever say to God that is a sufficient thank you? I imagined myself in heaven, maybe 50 years from now, I don’t know. (Who knows, maybe next week) I imagined myself walking up to God, bowing and then jumping up and hugging his neck. And the first thing out of my mouth is, “Back in 2006, remember that trip to the swimming party? Well, I’ve just been wanting to say, thank you.”
Verses 13-14 and 16 remind us that mostly thank you to God is lived out in the normal activities of the ordinary Tuesdays of our lives. We are deeply thankful people today, and we will live this out through continuing faithful lives. In prayer, “calling on the name of the Lord.” In keeping the promises we’ve made to God and each other, “fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” And in obedience, “I am your servant.”
Today is Christmas Morning Thank You at Jubilee. Today we say, “Surprise, we have all survived.” We woke up this week and we are thankful. We are deeply grateful to our faithful God who was without doubt with us this week and who without doubt sees us through anything and everything we face next week. “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (v 12) Verse 2 answers that question, “I will call on him as long as I live.”
Praise God, everybody!
Applaud God, all people!
His love has taken over our lives;
God’s faithful ways are eternal.
Ps. 117 (The Message)