Thanksgiving Day (Psalm 100)

By Rochelle Blumenfeld

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

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him; bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever
    and his faithfulness to all generations. (New Revised Standard Version)

On this day, many of us Americans will engage in our annual rituals. Several verbs characterize our activities. We will:

  • “Shout” at that crazy uncle
  • “Serve” the food
  • “Come” to the table and eat
  • “Know” how much preparation went into such a big spread
  • “Enter” the living room with praise because the Dallas Cowboys lost the game
  • “Give thanks” for food, family, and football

And at the end of the day, when everyone has finally quieted down with food comas, and crazy Uncle Frank is mercifully asleep in the recliner, that underneath it all, there really is love and gratitude for everything and everyone – even Uncle Frank and his now crazy snoring.

Today’s psalm is filled with verbs, actions for both believers and unbelievers, for the animate and inanimate, for the entire earth. When the psalmist, David, and other Hebrew writers penned their poetry, they centered what they most wanted to draw attention to in the middle, so that what came before it, and after it, pointed to that central message.

The center of Psalm 100 is this: Know that the Lord is God. There are three verb imperatives (commands) that come before this central encouragement; and then, three imperatives come after it. All six verbs help us to know God better. 

The three verbs that lead up to knowing the Lord:

  • Shout or “make a joyful noise” to the Lord
  • Worship or “serve” the Lord with gladness
  • Come into God’s presence with joyful songs 

The three verbs which follow the exhortation to know God and point back to it:

  • Enter the Lord’s gates and court with thanksgiving and praise
  • Give thanks to God
  • Praise or “bless” God’s name

To “know” God is more than to have some information or some understanding of theology; it is to take that knowledge and fully internalize the Lord, to have an experiential knowledge through relational intimacy. 

We know God by God’s historical work in Holy Scripture, God’s work in other people’s lives, and God’s work in our own lives. 

It’s important to have public opportunities of praising the Lord because it strengthens everyone’s faith. And gratitude to God centers us personally and corporately so that complaints and bitterness don’t take center stage.

Our stories of God’s work helps each other to know the Lord. And knowing God is what brings about life, purpose, hope, and love.

The Lord is worthy of all the praise, adoration, and worship we can offer. So, let us do it with heartfelt thanksgiving and some emotional flavor!

I am thankful for a great many things and a great many people. I am thankful for God’s Holy Word.  It literally is my food and drink. I cannot imagine being without it. I eat it every day and have a steady diet of the Spirit teaching me. 

One of my favorite places in the Bible has to do with knowing God:

I want to [experientially] know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. (Philippians 3:10, NIV)

Everything in the Christian’s life, whether good or bad, is designed to help us know Jesus better. Sharing our experiences with each other encourages us to keep living for Jesus.

So, in between all the turkey and stuffing, the family drama, and the football games, let us intentionally give thanks today, out loud, for all the ways God has worked and revealed grace to us.

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks that demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments that satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he conquered death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

A Sacred Service Announcement (Psalm 117)

Praise the Lord, all you nations.
    Praise him, all you people of the earth.
For his unfailing love for us is powerful;
    the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. (New Living Translation)

The Lord is God of the nations – and not only of you and me – whether they recognize it, or not.

All nations, not just the good ones, are invited to praise the Lord. Everyone is encouraged to glory in the love and faithfulness they see.

Since God is present, faithful, just, right, good, loving, and gracious – all the time – those very same dynamics are continually operating in God’s big world. Just as the storm clouds rain on both the righteous and the wicked, and just as the sun shines over every nation and people group on the earth, so the Lord’s great love is a powerful force which encompasses the entire world.

God’s faithfulness and steadfast love never ends. Let that sink in…. Ruminate on it for a bit…. 

What does it mean? How does it work itself out? Is God faithful to me? 

As a Pastor and Chaplain, I can tell you that one of the most difficult things I see people struggling with is if God can really do things in their lives like he does in other people’s lives. 

Many times, we have a strong faith for other people – that God will forgive, heal, help, and show up in their lives. Yet when it comes to me personally, it becomes an entirely different thing. My faith is like a wet noodle. We wonder if anything can really change. *Sigh*

Just as we hear public service announcements, it is good to hear the sacred service announcements which are just as important. We need our spiritual awareness raised so that we can make some behavioral changes and adjustments.

We need the reminder, and continual announcement, that God makes good on divine promises. The Lord will accomplish all the decrees and promises made, no matter how long ago they were uttered.

It certainly might seem like God is strolling through the park, burning away precious time, being agonizingly slow in moving on our behalf. 

But know this: As it is in heaven, so shall it be on earth. The sovereign Lord of all creation doesn’t only work in other places amongst other people. Jesus is presently building his church and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

There is no handwringing, nail-biting, or eye-rolling in heaven. The Lord is sovereign and limitless, and so, reaches into every geographical locale amongst every people group – and does it all with love.

I know God is a healer because I have seen him heal. I know the Lord is a deliverer because I’ve been delivered. I know God is a provider because I see the Lord’s merciful abundance every day. All this, and more, is reason to offer praise, glory, and honor to the great Sovereign who is worthy of it.

From all that dwell below the skies,
Let the Creator’s praise arise;
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung
Through every land by every tongue.

Eternal are Thy mercies Lord;
Eternal truth attends Thy Word;
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore
Till suns shall rise and set no more.

– Isaac Watts, From All That Dwell Below the Skies

Since God can and does work everywhere, the Lord will show up in your life and your family and your church and your community, just like what has been happening throughout all eras, in all places, and in all times.

If you are waiting and watching for that to happen, perhaps the most appropriate response is to praise God for what is going to happen. Have some vision to look ahead, give thanks ahead of time, and praise the Lord for the incredible work of saving, healing, teaching, growing, and transforming that will occur in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

It isn’t just for others; it is for you, my friend. How will you trust him today?

Let every nation praise you, Lord,
each with its different tongue;
in every language learn your word,
and let your name be sung.

Let our unceasing songs now show
the mercies of our Lord;
and make succeeding ages know
how faithful is your word.

Your mercy reigns through every land;
your grace is spread abroad;
forever firm, your truth shall stand.
We’ll praise our faithful God!

– Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Grace Changes Everything (Isaiah 12:1-6)

In that day [to come] you will say:

“I will praise you, Lord.
    Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
    and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
    from the wells of salvation.

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
    let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
    for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” (New International Version)

The Bad News

The reason prophecies are made about better times ahead is because the times now are not so good. That was true of Isaiah’s day, and still remains true today.

It’s easy to identify what’s wrong in this world, especially during a political election cycle! It’s not so easy to recognize the ways we keep ourselves as Christians in bad times. A big reason why, and I unabashedly state it, even though I say it much to my chagrin:

Christianity in our day has mostly failed at spiritual transformation because we have not identified and named the real evils we face, thus leaving us largely irrelevant to a world desperately in need of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, speaking to religious folk who should have known better, said:

“You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness… You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24, NIV)

The tragedy of our age, which was the same tragedy of Isaiah’s age, is that there are so many godless followers of God. They fuss about trifles while ignoring more serious matters. Many Christians’ faith is not much more than conforming to cultural Christian norms while mostly ignoring the realities in front of their faces.

We say we need God but then turn to Google for answers and solutions.

We bemoan the lack of righteousness in the nation, then obnoxiously argue with others and create unnecessary relational wedges.

We decry the injustice of our cities and our world, then do nothing to address the problems and change it.

We talk about the need for others to change rather than first looking in the mirror. Yet, even when we do that, we walk away and forget what we look like.

“For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NIV)

The Good News

However, judgment is not the last word. Even though the prophecy of Isaiah is thick with it, and I started out with less than uplifting words, there is one word that transcends every word: grace.

The grace of God is remarkable! The Lord made promises to Israel in Isaiah’s day not based upon what they would or would not do; God made promises to the people by God’s own radical and scandalous grace. It wasn’t a matter of playing Let’s Make a Deal, with God saying, “If you get your act together, then I will be good to you.” No, before Israel even had a chance to return to the Lord, God was already choosing to be merciful.

I am absolutely convinced with the firmest conviction possible that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are all about God and God’s own unbounded, unfettered, free, crazy, illogical, and wildly wonderful grace.

Because God is Love, the Lord constantly goes out of the way to be gracious so that we can live up to being the sort of people our dogs think we are already.

If we miss the message of God’s grace in the Holy Scriptures, we have missed salvation – because only grace can save us. Without grace, we are lost. Today’s Old Testament lesson is full of praise because it’s a response to the undeserved grace which God freely gives. 

If grace isn’t the answer, we aren’t asking the right question. Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is wildly generous. Grace does not use carrot sticks, scorecards, or power politics. Grace never demands – it only gives. 

Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. 

That is what God did for Israel… and for us. And when we get a hold of this truth, even a little bit, our hearts become bubblers of praise.

The Bible is an extended drama of redemption; and Isaiah’s prophecy is an adventure of God’s steadfast love toward unlovable people – which is why Isaiah is one of the most quoted books of the Old Testament by Jesus. Jesus came because of grace. 

Jesus came to release us from our obsessive need to be right, our compulsion to be rewarded, and our demands to be respected. 

Because Jesus came to set sinful captives free, life does not have to be a joyless effort of justifying and validating ourselves before others. The grace of God in Christ is a game-changer. And with but a glimpse of grace, we are forever undone by God’s mercy.

Grace leads us to praise God

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us… In love he predestined us… to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:3-6, NIV)

Grace causes us to trust God

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31, NIV)

Grace results in our comfort and satisfaction in God

Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,
    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
    And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:16-17, NIV)

Grace creates in us thanksgiving to God

“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:14-15, NIV)

The Lord has seen you at your worst, and still loves you. And if that isn’t something that gets you expressing gratitude to God, then you have failed to see God in your dog. We make known among the nations what God has done because God has really done something in our lives worth babbling our thanksgiving over to everyone. And grace helps us to do it.

Grace causes us to sing together to God

When grace takes hold of a congregation, there is no mumbling of songs – there are loud shouts and singing for joy because God is good! We need times of both silence and contemplative worship and times of becoming unhinged with some noisy worship to the God who has saved us and given us something to sing about. 

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. (Psalm 98:1, NKJV)

Conclusion

The world mostly ignores God. Some Christians take God’s grace for granted. The greatest sin of all is the sheer absence of grace – because where there is no grace, there is no God. God is the expert in transforming apathetic people into caring, compassionate, and concerned citizens of the kingdom who raise their voices and declare the works of the Lord.

Isaiah’s entire prophecy is about returning to the Lord. And the upcoming season of Advent is all about God’s relentless pursuit of wayward people – the anticipation of grace coming in the form of an infant – and the bringing of grace to a people living in darkness.

Let us, then, return to the Lord… be captivated by grace… renew our love for Jesus… lose ourselves in praise and adoration of the One who gave everything for us.

Let us worship Christ the King and proclaim the name of Jesus as exalted over everything and everyone.

Gracious God, we come with nothing but ourselves and our baggage of sin. Forgive, cleanse, renew, revive, refresh, and reform us according to the ways of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your undeserved grace. We give you praise for the lengths you went to secure our forgiveness. With a joy too deep for words, we humbly offer to you our lives so that the name of Jesus will be exalted through us, to your glory and honor. Amen.

God Is Both Near and Far (Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21)

God giving life to Adam, by Michelangelo (1475-1564) on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Rome

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works….

The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever. (New International Version)

The Lord is both near and far. The God of Holy Scripture is, at the same time, both:

  • approachable and aloof
  • close and distant
  • beside us and beyond us
  • available and elusive
  • revealing and remote
  • warm and cool
  • knowable and mysterious
  • readily at hand and at arm’s length
  • a good neighbor next door and a politician over in a city you’ve never been

The technical theological terms for describing God in such a way is that the Lord is both immanent and transcendent. And that is a good thing. We need the Lord to be both.

This psalm is a hymn of praise to God. The psalmist, David, celebrates the attributes and the actions of the Lord. David understood, better than most, that God is so far above humanity in divine majesty that miracles are always possible. Because God is God, the Lord’s arm is never too short to extend help and deliverance.

David knew that God’s powerful ability and God’s loving affection go hand-in-hand together; God’s mighty strength and God’s compassionate spirit work together harmoniously for our benefit.

They did not conquer the land with their swords;
    it was not their own strong arm that gave them victory.
It was your right hand and strong arm
    and the blinding light from your face that helped them,
    for you loved them. (Psalm 44:3, NLT)

God’s interventions, wonders, and miracles are never done dispassionately; the Lord’s arm is extended with deep concern and loving care for people.

The Lord acts as a close relative, like a parent, exhibiting qualities of both father and mother. God is close enough to not only hear our verbal prayers but to also hear our faint whispers. Indeed, the Lord is so close that we don’t even have to speak for the prayers of our heart to be heard.

The righteous call to the Lord, and he listens;
    he rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who are discouraged;
    he saves those who have lost all hope.

Good people suffer many troubles,
    but the Lord saves them from them all. (Psalm 34:17-19, GNT)

In the New Testament Gospels, Jesus gave us instruction on how to address God: “Our Father in heaven.” Not just “my” Father, but “our” Father. We are to pray with the mindful sense of our union with the Lord, as well as our connection with one another as believers.

The Lord sits in heaven as the Most High God, the transcendent Lord of me, you, and all people – watching over and protecting all whose hearts are in the right place, and effectively guarding us from a lofty divine vantage point.

My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart. (Psalm 7:10, NIV)

Clap your hands, all you nations;
    shout to God with cries of joy.

For the Lord Most High is awesome,
    the great King over all the earth.
He subdued nations under us,
    peoples under our feet. (Psalm 47:1-3, NIV)

With our transcendent God always having a watchful eye over us, we need not fear anything or anyone. The Lord knows the score of how things are going in the world and in your life. And, what’s more, God knows the ropes in providing for us, protecting us, and powerfully handling any and all enemies to our souls.

Yet, at the same time, all the time, God is both our high holy King, and our close intimate Friend. Indeed, the Lord is graciously immanent as my Abba – the Father who is near and dear to our hearts.

Because you are [adopted] sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Galatians 4:6-7, CEB)

Christians everywhere in the world, and throughout the ages, gather together and repeat the Lord’s Prayer, every Sunday, as well as in weekly small groups, and daily individual prayers. We cry out, “Our Father in heaven” as the most used phrase over the course of our Christian lives.

And that sort of repetition is a good thing. It is important to verbalize that God is transcendent – far above all earthly powers as the sovereign Lord of the universe; and to vocalize that God is immanent – near to us as a father to a child.

Just because a phrase can become vain repetition doesn’t mean that repeating it is a bad thing. Using our words to reiterate both the far distance and the close relation of God is a worthy activity which fortifies our faith, and which passes truth to successive generations of the faithful.

The best way I know of cultivating a healthy sense of God’s transcendence and immanence (outside of reading scripture and praying) is through clouds and kids – both of which require mature adults to practice some much needed humility.

There is nothing quite like putting clocks and schedules aside, stretching out a blanket on a hill, laying back, and watching the clouds roll by. The perspective of massive highness reminds us that our problems are neither as daunting nor as important as we thought.

In contrast to the high clouds, there’s also nothing quite like forgetting your age and getting on the ground to be eye level with a kid. Fortunately, I have rambunctious and curious grandsons who continually remind me that, the lower I get, the better I understand what’s truly most important.

Neither my kids nor my grandkids care all that much about the what’s in my life – what I do – my work, my hobbies, my angst, my daily activities. But they do care a great deal about who I am and why I’m with them.

Intentionally developing a sense of God as both far and near, helps us remember who we are and why are here.

Ironically, the closer I get in touch with the reality that I’m mere dust, and will return back to the ground, the better I’m able to see the Most High God. And, conversely, the more I gaze into the sky, the greater awareness I have of the people around me. I learn to love God and neighbor, as I ought.

There’s no better time than now to get out there and take advantage of the clouds and the kids. It will likely help you to know God better; and it will probably bring a greater awareness, clarity, and connection to the truly significant which is always around us.

Father God, you formed us from the dust of the earth. Remind us of our place as your creatures at home in your creation. Forgive us when we forget our connection to the earth, and our dependence upon the goodness of your world. Lord have mercy.

Brother Jesus, you were born into this world, and made your earthly home in Nazareth. Help us to know and love the people and places where you have set us. Forgive us when we fail to care for our homes, our communities, and your creation. Christ, have mercy.

Blessed Holy Spirit, you desire to grow in us your fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Forgive us when our roots are so shallow, and our hearts so restless, that our lives fail to bear fruit. Enable us to find our home in you, and in the places to which you call us. Lord have mercy.

Blessed Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – the God who is both far and near: Forgive us our sins, settle us in a place of belonging, and enable us to bear fruit for your kingdom. Amen.