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Thanksgiving Joy

Sermon 11/20/05
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Psalm 100

It truly is a joyful sound (the sound of children singing), and it is the lead-in to our scripture this morning, from Psalm 100, a wonderful 'Psalm of Thanksgiving', the superscription above the Psalm says.

And we read:

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.

2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.

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

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

5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.


And so we are invited to make a joyful noise to the Lord.

So what are those joyful noises?  Here's my top 10:

10. 58,000 fans at Autzen Stadium celebrating another Duck
J.  How'd you know that one?  Of course. . . 
9. The sound of the last bell of school.
8. The squeal of children on Christmas morning.
7. My favorite two words on Thanksgiving:  "Dinner's ready".
6. The chimes at midnight on Christmas Eve playing Joy to the World.
5. The sound of car doors as relatives arrive for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or any other occasion.
4. The sound of car doors as relatives depart J.
3. The 'frizzle' of freshly caught trout from a mountain stream or lake on a brisk summer morning, cooking over the campfire.
2. The greeting of a spouse after a long trip away from home.
1. That first cry of your newborn child.

Joyful noises.  So what is the joyful noise that you would name that would bring joy to your heart?  We have those celebration cards (in the pews), if something comes to you, I'd invite you to jot that down this morning, to share that in a participatory way to be involved in the [worship] service.

Whenever I read this particular Psalm, I think of weddings, because this is the Psalm I use typically for a call to worship to begin the wedding.  'Make a joyful noise to the Lord, serve the Lord with gladness'.  I can't tell you how many times I've stood up here, and heard young couples exchange those marriage vows with tears in their eyes.  And what an incredible experience that is, and such a privilege to be part of.

There were plenty of tears at our wedding, 25 years ago.  A few of you may have heard me tell the story before:  my Dad co-officiating at the ceremony, reciting 1 Corinthians 13 from heart (because he's done so many weddings as I), and he stops in the middle.  And Judy's pastor, who is the other pastor co-officiating, queues him on the words.  And Dad says (crying):  "that's not the problem" (sobbing L).

Making a joyful noise to the Lord is the first, actually, of seven imperatives or commands that are hidden in this Psalm.  The others are worship the Lord with gladness, come into God's presence with thanksgiving, the fourth and the central one around which the other six are phrased:  know that the Lord is God.  Followed by three more acts of worship:  enter God's courts, gates, temple, sanctuary with thanksgiving, give thanks to God, and bless God's name.  

The number 7, many of you know, is in scripture a symbol of wholeness or completeness.  So once the invitation to praise God is complete, we are then given the reason for why we praise God.  Why?  Because the Lord is good.  That is the only reason we need, and it is sufficient unto itself.

But do we really believe it?  What evidence do we have for the goodness of God?  Other than the Ducks being 10-1, as if we need any other evidence than that J.

My favorite story of Fred Craddock, a prominent Disciple preacher, is from a number of years ago, back in the days when you were allowed to smoke on airlines.  Remember those days?  Fred, being a non-smoker, was in the non-smoking section.  But as soon as the plane got off the ground, a gentleman across the aisle from him took out this big, fat, ugly cigar.  Lit it up and began puffing away, filling the cabin with this stink.  And Fred said to him "Excuse me, sir, I think this is the non-smoking section".  The man just ignored him, continued to puff away.  Fred called the attention of the stewardess and said "Am I in the wrong section?".  She asked what section  he sought, and he said non-smoking.  She said 'well, this is non-smoking'.  Fred said:  "What about him?"  The stewardess turned around and said to the gentleman:  "Excuse me, sir, you'll have to put that out, this is non-smoking".  He continued to puff away.  "Sir, we have plenty of seats available in the smoking section if you'd like to move".  He said "No, I like it where I am".  She turned to Fred and shrugged her shoulders, you know, what am I supposed to do, throw the guy out of the plane?  So she continued on her way, and came back up the aisle as Fred sat there fuming, smoke coming out of his own nostrils.  And she was carrying a tray of drinks when the plane hit one of those air pockets.  And the stewardess and the tray of drinks went up in the air and the drinks went to the left, right on top of the man and the cigar, dousing him with all of that soda and sticky stuff.  And the stewardess fell to the right, right into Fred's lap!  And he said to us (this was at the general convention of the Disciples, 8,000 people there), he said to us:  "Don't ever tell me there is not a God!".

You see, God is good and it's easy to affirm God's goodness when all is well in the world.  But what about when it's not?  What about those 2,000+ families of the soldiers who will not be coming home this thanksgiving, or any other thanksgiving?  What about the 70 that went to that wedding in a hotel in Amman, Jordan, when the terrorists set off that bomb, killing them?  What about all those folks in New Orleans, especially in the 9th Ward, who lost everything?  What about the 75,000-80,000 carried out to sea by the Tsunami?  What about the half a million people in the mountains of Pakistan who's homes have been destroyed right on the eve of the harsh winter season?  

What about Cynthia, a 17 year-old high school senior here in Eugene?  I heard her story on Wednesday evening at the Caesar Chavez elementary school.  About 250-300 people gathered there in the cafeteria, 90% of them immigrants.  Gathered to hear a report on the Kennedy-McCain immigration reform bill.  Andrea Ortiz (city councilor), Mayor Kitty Piercy, Eugene Weekly publisher Anita Johnson and I were asked to be on the panel to receive testimony of many of these immigrants.  And Cynthia was one of those who shared with us her story.  Beautiful young gal.  Very articulate and bright.  Fluent in English.  Told about how she came to this country at the age of four.  How she was raised in our community, has attended our public schools.  Told us about her one dream in life:  to make something of herself, to achieve what no one else in her family had ever achieved or even dreamed of.  And that is to receive a college education, so that she could go on and make something more of her life.

And then she stopped, like my father, tears began to roll down her cheek, but they weren't tears of joy.  And she shared with us her discovery that she cannot apply for financial assistance in any school in this country because her parents are not documented immigrants to this country.  

She didn't ask to come to this country.  It's the only home she now knows.  And yet that home has rejected her, has told her that she's not valued.  

Now regardless of the rightness or wrongness of a system that treats children of undocumented parents as undesirables, the point is:  how does one say to Cynthia that God is good when all of her dreams and her hopes have been shattered?

And what about any of us?  When we can't find a job.  When a loved one dies unexpectedly.  When we are diagnosed with a crippling or terminal disease.  When we learn that a son or a daughter is involved in drugs.  When we can't pay our bills.  When life just doesn't turn out the way we planned.  What then?  Are we expected to make a joyful noise when we don't feel any joy in our lives?  Are we just supposed to put on that happy mask and go through thanksgiving as if everything is wonderful?

If you have read the Psalms before, you of course know that not all of them are as joyful as this (Psalm 100).  That many of them share the pain and the anguish of living.  The 22nd Psalm cries out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  Those famous words uttered by Jesus on the cross.  The 83rd Psalm pleads:  "Oh God do not keep silence, do not hold your peace or be still".  The 137th Psalm laments:  "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion".  As the sage of Ecclesiastes proclaims, there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.  

The question is, how do we get from one time to another?  How do we get out of the grief, that lethargy, that self-pity, whatever it is that keeps us from making a joyful noise again?  How do we move through thanksgiving when we don't feel like giving thanks?

Now there may not be any simple answer to that difficult question, sometimes it just takes a lot of time and effort and hard work.  But the Psalmist does have one insight for us.  One word of wisdom worth considering.  And it is that key verse at the center of the Psalm, foreshadowing one of the central affirmations of twelve-steps groups like Alcoholics Anonymous:  that we are dependent upon a higher power.  The Psalmist says simply:  'know that the Lord is God, that God made us, that we are God's'.  

When times are tough, to know that you are God's; when in the midst of grief, to know that you are God's; when alone and afraid, to know that you are God's; when surrounded by those who would do you harm, to know that you are God's; when you are worn out and used up, to know that you are God's; when nothing is going right for you, to still know that you are God's.

First, and above all else, to know that you are God's and if you are God's, then also your neighbor is God's.  In fact, the Psalm is addressed to 'all the earth', and concludes with God's faithfulness to all generations.  In other words, all of us matter to God.  Every one matters.  Everything that is, matters to God because all is the creation of God.

As I suggested last Sunday, to believe God created us and all that is does not require that we reject science or theories of evolution, that we believe less about the world and how it came into being, but rather that we believe more.  That we go beyond the bounds of science and limits of reason.  That we believe there is more to life than what we know.  That there is more beauty than what we see.  That there is more goodness than what we experience.  That there is more joy than what we feel.  That there is more possibility than what we think.  That there is more wonder than what we sense.  That there is more harmony than what we hear.  That there is more hope than what we say.

That's why, after the death of a loved one, we can face tomorrow, because we know it is not the death of love.  That is why after some great disaster we can pick up and start over because we know that it is not the end of life.  That is why in the midst of chaos and the brokenness of the world, we can still make a joyful noise.  Because we know that God is not finished with us yet.  That is why we can give thanks, no matter what else happens to us and in the world, because we still know that we are loved by God.  

So shout to the Lord for joy, for this day, Amen?  [A weak 'amen' from the congregation J].  Huh?  I'm not asking you to become Pentecostal here J.  You don't have to start rolling in the aisles, speaking in tongues, or doing any of that.  Just show a little joy, let others know of your gratitude that you really believe this.  So, people of God:

If you know that God loves you, say Amen.  AMEN!

If you know that Christ is your shepherd, the guide of your life, say Amen.  AMEN!

If you know that God is good, say Amen.  AMEN!

If you know that in spite of all the war and the terrorism and the death, that God desires peace for the whole earth, say Amen.  AMEN!

If you know that God seeks justice for all people of this world, say Amen.  AMEN!

If you have heard a newborn baby cry and have felt the wonder of life, say Amen.  AMEN!

If you have felt the joy of human love and divine forgiveness, say Amen.  AMEN!

If you can give thanks to God for all of this and more, for all of the joy, for all of the beauty, for all of the wonder of life, say Amen.  AMEN!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth.  Serve the Lord with gladness.  Amen?  AMEN!  

May it be.

Cornucopia with donations to the Helping Hand ministry on Thanksgiving Sunday.


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