Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Songs of Thanksgiving

The church I grew up attending sang a little song that said, "Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul; thank you, Lord, for making me whole; thank you, Lord, for giving to me, so great salvation, so rich and free."  After I had married, our family attended a church that knew this song and sang it but they had one more verse that sang also, "Thank you, Lord, for each day that I live; thank you, Lord, for the blessings you give; thank you, Lord, for listening to me; for taking my burdens and setting me free."  The churches found it useful to teach short songs that would get stuck in your brain and you would find yourself singing it later, whether or not you intended to do so.  It obviously worked because I still sing these songs today, many years later.

A more modern song that does the same and serves the same purpose is in our new hymnal at our church.  It was a popular Christian song a decade or two ago and was sung by choirs around Thanksgiving time.  It is simply called, "Give Thanks".  It's words are--"Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, give thanks for he has given Jesus Christ, his son...and now, let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us."  There are multiple repeats in the song.  In fact, you can make it last as long as you wish because the repeats can be repeated over and over until finally you end simply with, "Give Thanks."

Thanksgiving is not just a single day on the calendar.  It is also a way of life, an attitude, a mental framework to project a positive way of looking at life. is how we orient our lives, how we see our lives as gifts from God and each day as an opportunity to give thanks in the way we live among others.  When we get up each morning and have the energy and strength to do what we desire or need to do, that is a gift from God.  When we have health as a general condition of life, that is a gift from God.  When our lives are generally pleasant and we have the ability to do what many across the globe cannot do as we desire, that is a gift from God.  The blessings we enjoy are abundant and each day's living should be a song of thanksgiving to our Creator.

Give thanks this Thursday as you gather with family and friends around a harvest table and eat the abundance of foods we have in our land.  The give thanks on Friday and Saturday and every day thereafter as you consider the great gifts you have in your lives.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hey, Thanks...

Saying "Thank you" is a natural response to some action that another person does.  It should be automatic, happening when a waiter pours a glass of tea for you or when someone opens a door for you.  When I went to Russia with a mission group back in 1997, we stayed at and worked at an orphanage.  The people there were very friendly and despite the lack of language skills we seemed to communicate what we needed.  Each morning we would be up early since the sun seemingly does not set much in the summer in that part of the world.  We Texans would be in need of coffee so we would walk over to the little dining area and begin to look around hoping that someone would notice us and offer us coffee.  The signal must have worked because a wonderful lady would give us instant coffee and hot water and we would have coffee.  We would sit down and she would bring the things around so we could make the coffee ourselves in our cups.  We had learned how to say "Thank You" in Russian---Spaseeba--so we would say that to the lady when she provided what we needed for our coffee fix.  In return, she would say, "Prezhalta" which (we assumed) meant, "You are welcome".  This happened each day we were there, early in the morning the sleepy eyed woman would help us and we would exchange our greetings.  The last morning of our visit when we went for coffee and said "Thank you" in Russian, she returned our greeting but this time there was a definite sleepy sound in her voice, as if she could barely speak her "Prezhalta" to us.  I think our early rising had gotten to her.  Russians seem to like to sleep in, I think, and we Americans were up way to early for her, we assumed.

Saying Thank You in any language is a great tool to have.  I have learned that if you can say the basic greetings in the language of the country where you are guests, then the people there will be pleased and think that you really do want to try to fit in.  Saying Thank You implies that you appreciate whatever anyone has done for you.  Many times when I make a purchase in a store, the clerk will not say "Thank you" to me after I have given her/him my money.  They just move on to the next customer.  I often just stand there and then say, "You are welcome" before moving on.  It seems that some clerks have not been properly trained in common customer courtesy.  Saying "Thank you" when someone has given you money seems as if it should be natural but perhaps not everyone has been given training in doing this.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that allows us the time to reflect upon our lives and think about the things for which we are thankful.  I object to people calling the holiday "Turkey Day" because it was never intended to be simply a day to eat turkey and watch sports on television.  The holiday was created to give people time to think about their lives and to offer thanks in whatever way they chose as they gathered with family and friends.  Yes, we do have a feast when we celebrate the day but the turkey is not the reason why we gather. It may be the main course but the main event of the day should be saying thanks to our Creator for providing the elements that make the feast possible.  It is also a day to count one's blessings and to say thanks to God for those people who bless our lives.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that is uniquely American.  Yes, our Canadian friends also have a Thanksgiving which they celebrate in October, but its meaning is not quite the same as ours.  They give thanks as we do for all the blessings of life but their day is not tied to a specific historical event that reminds them of reasons to be thankful.  The American Thanksgiving conjures up images of Pilgrim hats and Native Americans with feathers sticking out of their hair and a table laden with food so plentiful that the table cannot hold it all.  Most of our Thanksgiving tables are like that, loaded down with so much food that some of it cannot be on the table.  Those food items are symbols of the blessings we have received.  We have been given the physical health and strength to do the work to earn the money so that we can buy the products to make the dishes we eat.  Someone else processed or grew the food and a grocer or stand sold it to us.  We sit at a table that someone else made and eat off of dishes that were provided by someone in a part of the world that may be far away.  Our entire meal is a global gathering of people and places and things from far and wide.

This year, give thanks for the good world that God has given us.  God called it good when it was created and it remains to be so.  Humans have to play a part in making it to remain good but the raw products that are on the earth are good.  We need to be good stewards of those products and use them carefully.  We give thanks for all of God's mercies and pray that God will unite all of humankind as one family in peace and love.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Widow's Walk

There is an architectural feature in homes built in the 1800s or before called a Widow's Walk.  It is a square top to a home that features a small path with rails built to prevent someone from falling.  It was given the name "Widow's Walk" according to popular belief because houses with this feature were often built near seaports or harbors so that women whose husbands had gone out on fishing boats or other sea going vessels could stand at that high point and look out into the distance, hoping to catch a glimpse of their husband's boat returning to safe harbor.  The woman could look out into the distance for as long as she could, held safe by the rails built around the top of the roof.

When Doris and I were in the Maritime Provinces of Canada a year ago, we spent two nights at a bed and breakfast in St. John, New Brunswick.  The B&B is in an old house that dates back to the late 1800s and it has a widow's walk around the roof top of one part of the house.  My wife asked for permission from the owners to be able to go up to the widow's walk so we did a bit of exploring in the public parts of the house and finally reached the upper level.  The door leading to the widow's walk had been locked preventing guests from going outside (most likely for insurance purposes) but you could see out a bit across the way.  My wife had a special interest in learning more about widow's walks because she had read a story in which a woman would look out from one as she waited for her husband to come home.

Widows were people who were dependent upon society in the ancient world because a woman had to have a man to support her or she would be destitute.  Women did not work to earn money and were responsible for all the needs of the home.  Women were considered property of a man, first a father, and then after her married was arranged, a husband.  Women were cared for by a man all their lives until their husband died and, if she was too old to have another husband, a woman was dependent upon the kindness of others in her community to keep her from starving.  Many times a widow would be housed with her relatives because she would have no property due to claims by other relatives upon her husband's house.

The widow in this week's Gospel lesson in Mark is a poor beggar woman.  She is called a widow by Jesus but the Greek word for her indicates that she is a widow and a beggar.  The fact that she has two coins most likely has to do with her good fortune of someone giving those to her while she was begging.  The fact that she would give away those to coins to the Temple treasury is more than astounding.  It is beyond belief.  The beggar woman who needed what those coins could buy to simply live another day gave away her means of sustenance, placing herself solely dependent upon God's grace.

Perhaps that is the greater lesson contained in the story.  Pastors have preached this text over and over again, as will this pastor this Sunday.  The main idea in the sermon has more than not been that if a poor widow woman could put in the offering all she possessed, then we should consider at least giving a greater portion to the ministry that the church can do.  That is not a bad fact, it is a pretty good one.  The better lesson for me to emphasize, however, I think has to do with dependence on God's grace and mercy and living a life that indicates that we cannot survive on our own, regardless of how much money we may have.

Jesus watches the woman put in her two coins just as he has seen many wealthy religious persons put in their offerings and he makes a comparison, saying that she gave out of her want while they gave out of their wealth and that she gave far more than they did.  Her total abandonment of her possessions meant that she placed herself totally in God's care.  The giving of the wealthy persons was not discounted as important by Jesus but he made the point that they still had plenty left over to pay their way so they really did not need God in the same way that the widow did.

When we come to the place that we realize our dependence upon God, we place ourselves squarely in God's care and admit our need for God.  We begin to trust God with our lives and allow God to be in control of our lives in a way that we had not in the past.  We admit that we cannot live unto ourselves but must allow God to be an active part of our lives.  That time comes for many when they face up to a situation that they can do nothing about.  It may be a crisis situation in life that touches them in a way that they cannot fathom how it can be resolved.  Once they admit that to God and tell God that only God can help them, then they are at the place where God's grace can begin to work in their lives in a greater way.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, accepted her role as mother of the one to be the savior of the world.  "Let it be with me according to your will," she said.  After that submission to God's will, she became the one who would be admired and honored by many in the world.  We allow God to use our lives as we give up the claim on the things that we think we have achieved and admit our dependence on God.