By Jason Schifo
Pastor at Community Evangelical Free Church
A woman was traveling in the mountains and found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she happened to meet another traveler who was hungry, and the woman opened her bag to share the food she had with her. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone she picked up and immediately asked the woman to give it to him, and she did so without hesitation.
The hungry traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime, but a few days later he returned to the woman to give her back the precious stone.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said with tears in his eyes, “I know how valuable this stone is, but I want to give it back in the hope that you might give me something even more precious. Please give me what you have within you that led you to give me that precious stone.”
So often what we value has little value and what is often undervalued is really the thing of value. It is Thanksgiving, a day we give value to by setting it aside. By closing businesses, government offices and schools – taking time off to cook all-day and sometimes over multiple days in preparation for gathering together. We value the day of Thanksgiving by what we do, but I want to argue that the more precious thing, a reminder that we ought to live a life of thanks – giving is being lost.
This week is Thanksgiving, and when I say that I know you are immediately thinking of all that we value about the holiday: the turkey, the stuffing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and all the trimmings. Which inevitably means we begin thinking about the cooking, the cleaning, the gathering of family, the inlaws and the out laws – Oh, my!
But I want us to try thinking of thanksgiving differently because I believe that the real value of this day is something of greater worth than just what can be expressed in a day.
Recently I was reading Psalm 100 and thinking about the upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving. A small note that accompanies the title of Psalm 100 caught my eye because it tells us so much about the intention of the writer of this Psalm: “A Psalm for giving thanks.”
The short 8 verses of Psalm 100 is the climax to the collection of Psalms known as the “royal Psalms” which emphasize how awesome God’s goodness is to His people as He rules and reigns over all of creation. As “a Psalm for giving thanks”, the Psalm doesn’t begin by just offering instruction, and letting us decide what we want to do. It immediately calls us to do something.
Psalm 100:1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
I don’t know about you, but right out the gate this is challenging stuff, isn’t it? Why? Because I don’t always make a joyful noise. I mean if I am honest, I am pretty good at making a grumpy noise, I make a great critical noise, a have a pretty effective fatherly or pastorly noise, a corrective noise – but a joyful noise? Yep, that is a work in progress. How about you?
So right out the gate, Psalm 100 confronts our own personal need of “a Psalm, for giving thanks” and reveals the truth of our hearts. Asking us to make a joyful noise reveals if we are willing, half-hearted, antagonistic, pessimistic or just plain unwilling to make a joyful noise. The call to do it is telling of our willingness to do it. And that can be quite frustrating because it means that the problem starts with us.
This is important because it means you matter. I don’t think that I have run across anyone recently who is thankful for the current state of affairs in the world. We are at a point where every noise coming from everywhere is so filled with division, tribalism, antagonism, and hatred that is anything but a joyful noise. Everyone I meet wants this to change.
Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
One of the great lies that we perpetrate today is that the change we want should come from somewhere else, and not here. You know, because we’re too busy, not qualified, don’t have the status or means to be that change agent. So we elect, look to, and ask others to be that change, and not much changes, right?
The second great lie is that it has to be complicated. We love to make things complicated, to create a plan or program, and the more complicated the better. Because if it is complicated it must be good because now it needs an expert to manage it. And, we find ourselves back at the first great lie, of our not being qualified or good enough, and round and round we go.
When Jesus was confronted with the question of what is the greatest commandment, the Jews were wondering which one of the very complicated 613 laws they had built around God’s original 10 Commandments He would choose. It was a complicated matter. So what does Jesus do? He doesn’t address the 613, or even the 10. He offers a simple answer which everyone can do: to love God and to love people (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus didn’t make it more complicated, He instead offered a simple answer to a complicated problem.
Psalm 100:1 doesn’t give us a complicated command. It tells us to make a joyful noise – to give thanks, starting with you. And while that joyful noise may start with you, it doesn’t end with you. There is this crazy belief in the Bible that your joyful noise, your thankfulness, will be so infectious that it will spread out to others and into the nations.
Have you ever been around someone who is so thankful, encouraging, and joyful that it annoys you because you can’t be your grumpy, critical and contemptible self in their presence? Someone who, within minutes of being with them, you find yourself unable to not be more thankful, more encouraging and more joyful.
It’s interesting because a recurring theme in the “royal psalms” was Israel’s responsibility to show the world what God looks like. The joyful noise of thankfulness was Israel’s testimony to show the nations God’s goodness. As powerful as it is for you to give thanks, there is a real power in you also giving away your thanks to others. A joyful noise that starts with you, but as you give it away it goes to everyone everywhere.
Maybe all this is leading to that great verse in Revelation 9:7 where is says “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” This joyful noise is all the nations giving thanks in one loud voice.
What an awesome picture! Why would we settle for anything less?
We can become so wrapped up in what we think we should value about Thanksgiving; the turkey, the stuffing, the people and the pie that we miss the true value: the power of giving thanks – on this day, and every day. And in giving thanks we give away thanks, infecting others, and they give thanks and give away thanks, and round and round we go until every tribe nation and tongue is giving thanks – “all the earth”.
When the Psalmist says, “all the earth” I believe that He is opening up every corner, a crack, every crevice and pocket to the awesome prospect of joining the chorus of those who are making a joyful noise! Who are focused on giving thanks, and giving away thanks for the sake of others.
This is what true thanksgiving does.
It transforms division into unity. It changes loathing into love.
It takes the lost and makes them family.
It takes the condemnation and confrontation and creates a joyful chorus of thanksgiving.
This is a BIG view of “thanks” worthy of living for and giving to others!
A BIG view of “thanks” that we can give that makes a difference!
A BIG view of “thanks” that changes the temperature of things around us!
The kind of thanks that defeats division and draws us together in one voice, and it all begins with you.
So celebrate Thanksgiving with the kind joyful noise, that gives thanks to others, that leads to more thanks, that leads to more thanks; ad infintium and throughout all the earth is your job. So will you start giving thanks, and give away thanks to others today?