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.

Worship That Is Fit For a King (Colossians 1:11-20)

17th century Ethiopian Orthodox depiction of the glorified Christ

[May you be] strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (New International Version)

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is intended to help us see the cosmic reality that Jesus reigns over all creation as the only rightful Sovereign of the universe. This particular Sunday always comes just before Advent so that we remember to anticipate both a baby and a king.

Christ as Lord of all exposes three problems humanity faces:

  1. Building our own petty kingdoms and setting ourselves up as masters over our own small worlds.  People who have been hurt (all of us) often attempt to seize power for themselves in order to avoid ever being hurt again, or in the belief that wielding power could have prevented others from being hurt. The classic villains of movies and literature are ones who seek to destroy the current establishment so that they can rebuild it in their own idea of how the world should operate. The destruction is motivated by protecting loved ones from pain. The irony is that a lot of hurt is inflicted on the protagonists in order to alleviate the antagonist’s pain.
  2. Bowing to other kings besides King Jesus. When distressed, we might rely on alternative authorities to address our hard circumstances – expecting another to give us what only Jesus can. Instead of running to Christ, there is a fleeing to politicians or pundits or pastors. And we rely on them to cope with whatever is going on in our lives.
  3. Lacking awareness of the power we have as subjects of King Jesus. Christians possess authority in Jesus Christ. As believers in Jesus, we reign with him and can exercise authority over every dominion that exists, especially the dominion of darkness.

Jesus is King. Neither you, nor I, are. 

A simple statement; yet, not easily engrafted into daily life. 

Part of the original sin of Adam and Even was rebellion – to break the bonds of loving authority God provided for them. Westerners, especially, tend to have an anti-authoritarian strain which runs rather deep in us.

When my middle daughter was a child and grappling with the implications of faith in Christ, she blurted out an honest cry that we can likely resonate with: “I just don’t want another person in my life telling me what to do!” 

Indeed, Jesus is King; we are not.

Christ the King Sunday reminds us of the pre-eminence and lordship of Jesus Christ: 

  • All things were created through Jesus and for him. 
  • Everything in all creation is held together by Jesus. 
  • Christ is the head of the church. 
  • In Jesus Christ, complete divinity exists and reigns. 
  • Jesus made peace through the cross because he had the authority and the qualifications to do so. 
  • Broken relationships and proper lines of authority are now restored and redeemed in Christ.
Ethiopian Orthodox depiction of the glorified Christ

We can also likely relate to, at times, indulging in the illusion (and delusion!) of being in control and independently dictating the course of our lives. Yet, mercifully, Jesus is the great sovereign King, and this is a good thing – because in Christ we find authority to redeem and reconcile. 

Because Christ is King, we really ought to submit to him. In fact, we need to pay some attention to how our bodies are to submit to his lordship.

When the body moves to animating physical actions of submission, this helps the heart to follow. Whole person worship involves engaging the mind, spirit, emotions, and, yes, the body. To neglect the body in worship is to truncate the ability to connect with God in Christ.

A typical metaphor for the Church is the “Body of Christ.” We can live into that phrase through an embodied spirituality of submission. Our individual bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, important for expressing worship. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

God created us with literal physical bodies. And Jesus has a literal physical body. Bodies are important for whole person worship. This means the physical postures we take in worshiping King Jesus are significant. We need to pay attention to them.  

A healthy practice for Christians is to kneel in the presence of the Lord. I realize some Christian traditions do it as a part of their worship, and some do not. Some like it, some don’t. Yet, bowing, even prostrating oneself (if you are physically able!) can be a powerful symbol of the heart’s desire and disposition to submit to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. 

Crawling out of bed in the morning getting on your knees and beginning the day with submission to live into the will of God; and also ending the day in the same manner, is a practical way of remembering who Jesus is and who we are.

I believe all Christians need to feel free in adopting a physical posture of worship which helps them connect with God in Christ. For some, that will be sitting in a comfortable position in contemplation. Others will want to stand, raise their hands, even dance in praise.

It also behooves us to let our bodies respond to whatever is happening with us spiritually. Exuberant praise needs the expression of hand clapping and toe tapping. Confession of sin needs a bit of bowing, kneeling, even prostrating. For prayer, hands open and palms facing up to receive blessing from God is a good bodily position of worship.

You get the idea. Just remember we need to strive for congruence in our worship, that is, what is happening with our outward bodily movements needs to match what is occurring inward with our spirits. And when the two are in sync, meaningful worship can happen – worship of submission fit for a king.

Sovereign God, in your mercy you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, who has brought reconciliation to a once broken relationship. I bow before you in obedience, submission, and worship. Let me live a cross-shaped life through enjoying the peace you have given me in Christ in both body and soul. Amen.

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.

The Finite and the Infinite (Psalm 65)

God of Zion, to you even silence is praise.
    Promises made to you are kept—
    you listen to prayer—
    and all living things come to you.
When wrongdoings become too much for me,
    you forgive our sins.
How happy is the one you choose to bring close,
    the one who lives in your courtyards!
We are filled full by the goodness of your house,
    by the holiness of your temple.

In righteousness you answer us,
    by your awesome deeds,
    God of our salvation—
    you, who are the security
        of all the far edges of the earth,
        even the distant seas.
    You establish the mountains by your strength;
    you are dressed in raw power.
    You calm the roaring seas;
        calm the roaring waves,
        calm the noise of the nations.
Those who dwell on the far edges
        stand in awe of your acts.
    You make the gateways
        of morning and evening sing for joy.
You visit the earth and make it abundant,
    enriching it greatly
        by God’s stream, full of water.
You provide people with grain
    because that is what you’ve decided.
Drenching the earth’s furrows,
        leveling its ridges,
    you soften it with rain showers;
        you bless its growth.
You crown the year with your goodness;
    your paths overflow with rich food.
Even the desert pastures drip with it,
    and the hills are dressed in pure joy.
The meadowlands are covered with flocks,
    the valleys decked out in grain—
        they shout for joy;
        they break out in song! (Common English Bible)

The biblical psalms present God as sovereign over all creation. Today’s psalm extols the Lord of the universe as God of both temple and terra, of people and the earth.

God of the temple

Praise is the appropriate offering to God – because it is the Lord who listens, forgives, and chooses to fill persons with the holiness and goodness of God’s presence, exemplified in the temple.

Infinite righteousness cannot be fulfilled by finite beings. In other words, we need God.

The nineteenth century philosopher and theologian, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) insisted that the humans did not established themselves; therefore, no one can simply exercise their will toward better and brighter circumstances.

Kierkegaard argued that humanity, at its core, is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, the temporal and the eternal. A finite human is not a self; only when connected and aware of the infinite is someone a self. (The Sickness Unto Death)

Creatures can never lift themselves above anxiety, worry, distress, or hardship with only finite resources; we need infinite supplies and divine capital, to tap into the image of God within us, to realize that our true identity is inextricably dependent upon our Creator.

“Prayers” by Yoram Raanan

We are more than bodies and brain synapses; we are also souls. And as souls, we shall never realize our true selves through the temporary means of possessions, prestige, and power. A person cannot construct a self, by themselves, to bear the weight of who we really are. That’s because our real identity is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

Just as the temple in Jerusalem was much more than a physical structure, so we, as the people of God, are so much more than tangible beings.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16, NRSV)

Praise, prayer, and worship are practices designed to connect with the infinite God. Indeed, the kingdom of God is much nearer than we know.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21, NRSV)

God of terra

We walk upon and inhabit this present terra firma, this earth. The earth, and all that is in it, belongs to the Lord. God is something of a cosmic farmer, taking care of the earth, watching over it, tending to its needs.

All that takes place on this celestial ball we live upon is under the gracious and loving eye of God. It is the Lord who brings the seasons and the rains, calming the storms of the seas, as well as the storms of our lives.

One of the reasons we find ourselves in such an impending climate debacle on this earth, is that we continue to utilize all the finite resources we can muster and fail to acknowledge and become aware of the grand infinite wherewithal we have with our Creator and Sustainer.

“I am the Lord, your savior;
I am the one who created you.
I am the Lord, the Creator of all things.
    I alone stretched out the heavens;
    when I made the earth, no one helped me. (Isaiah 44:24, GNT)

The earth is beautiful. Yet, in our insistence upon merely using the temporal and physical, ugliness has come upon the earth, obscuring the true nature of God’s good creation. Distancing ourselves from the Creator only builds bigger obstacles to solving the earth’s most significant issues.

Self-imposed and ensconced impediments need to be cleared away. The weeds have overtaken the garden; we can no longer see the good plants that are supposed to grow and produce a harvest. And yet, as any farmer or gardener knows, you cannot simply yank such weeds from the ground without also pulling up what you are trying to preserve.

The Lord will provide – but if we keep to our stubborn independence from God, the process of weeding the garden will take much longer to accomplish. Yet, God is patient, not wanting any to perish but all to come around to the infinite. (2 Peter 3:9)

Conclusion

Let us come to God in our neediness and failure. We must see ourselves as infinite souls with finite solutions who can cry out to the God who hears and forgives. We need to connect with the Lord who hears our prayers. It is imperative that we rely upon the infinite Creator who is concerned to cultivate justice and righteousness upon an earth which is full of plenty for everyone.

Praise, pray, give thanks, and be connected to the infinite One whom we need for life and godliness in this present, evil, and finite age.

Stay joined to me and I will stay joined to you. No branch can produce fruit alone. It must stay connected to the vine. It is the same with you. You cannot produce fruit alone. You must stay joined to me. (John 15:4, ERV)

Blessed God and Father of all, yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. To you belongs the heavens and the earth. It is you who made all that is – sun, moon, stars, rivers, forests, minerals, birds, animals, fish, and us – and pronounced it all “good.” We seek your divine mercy and help so that our work and our worship may curb the sin that so easily entangles and bring your intended shalom to the earth. Amen.