MISGIVING ON THANKSGIVING
By Ben S. Malayang III, President
(Thanksgiving Sunday Sermon, Silliman University Church, November 23, 2014)
I Chronicles 16: 8-11. “O give thanks to the Lord and pray to him,” they sang. “Tell the peoples of the world about His mighty doings. Sing to Him; yes, sing His praises and tell of His marvelous works. Glory in His holy name; Let all rejoice nwho seek the Lord. Seek the Lord; yes, seek His strength and seek His face untiringly.”
Psalm 136: 1-4. O give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His lovingkindness continues forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for His lovingkindness continues forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His lovingkindness continues forever. Praise Him who alone does mighty miracles, for His lovingkindness continues forever.
I thank the Pastoral Team and the Church Council for inviting me to proclaim to you this morning God’s Word for all of us.
Let us pray:
Our God, our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer and Friend, give us the power to submit powerless to you, the courage to be humbled by you, the serenity of heart to hear you, and silence of soul to be stirred by you. We pray that what we say is only what you want us to say, and hear only what you want us to hear. We pray in the Name of the Christ, Amen.
There are many things we could be thankful for. We could be thankful for health and wealth. For fame and fortune. For family and faith. We can be thankful for successes. For honor. We can be thankfu for spouses. For careers. And for talents. We can be thankful even for failures and mistakes that have been overcome. For wrong decisions that were rectified with dignity and least damage to others. For poor judgments on dealing with friends, yet friends remaining faithful and always to be friends.
We can be thankful when acts of arrogance were kindly forgiven by those we hurt. When hubris turned to humble submission to higher virtues. When wasted moments for love and fellowship were more than made up with times of happy gathering and celebration.
We all have our share of sadness. We can be sad when, as parents, we see ourselves failing our children, or unable to do more for them. Or when we see our children failing us. We can be sad when, as children, we see ourselves failing our parents, or living way too short of their expectations and hopes. We can be very sad when we are abandoned by friends. And certainly, when we lose loved ones.
But even in sad times, we can always find reasons to be thankful. When our children turn out well, successful, and able to overcome their difficulties and distresses. When for every time friends go, many others won’t let go. When despite dark times, there’s always the glittering dawn that promises a beautiful morning.
And so, we give thanks to the Lord. And, indeed, it is right to give thanks to God. It is right to thank God and praise God “from whom all blessings flow.”
But there seems something seriously wrong in why we thank God. Too often, most of us thank God for what we get from God. It is the things we get that make us thankful. And it seems only mere platitude – pretending to be virtuous – that we thank God when we get what we want. We thank God for things we get, not for God being our God. We recognize God as the source of nice things, but it is the nice things we have, not God, that give us joy. We praise God for blessings. But often our praise is more for the blessings rather than for the source of the blessings.
Let’s turn to Scriptures. We see this very human tendency described in the Exodus story. The Israelites were thankful when finally led out of Egypt. They praised God as they walked out from slavery to freedom. But just as quickly, they rued the day of freedom when they got hopelessly wedged between the Egyptian army and the sea. They blamed Moses. And angry at God. When led safely across the dried sea, they were thankful again. Then, once more, just as quickly, they turned angry at God when they found themselves with nothing to eat. When manna fell, and quail for meat, they were thankful once more.
You see, their thanking and praising God depended entirely on what things they wanted, that God was then able to give them. They thanked God for what they got, not for God who gave them what they got. God was to be cursed if they did not get what they wanted, as fast and as quickly as they wanted them. Or when they lost someone, or something. Or when they lacked things.
This is my misgiving of thanksgiving. I’m disturbed when I see myself (and those around) actually celebrating what we get, more than who gave them, God. It disturbs me when my joy comes more from what comes to me, more than from whom they come. It disturbs me when I get happy for the presence of things more than the presence of God. When I begin to relish the face of fortune, more than the face of God.
Let us look at Scripture again for how we must be thankful. There was Moses. He didn’t jump for joy and toasted himself pink whenever he achieved great things. He did not roll out streamers and placed ads in newspapapers whenever he did something astounding. You see, he did great things that most people could not have done. He confronted Pharaoh and made Pharaoh give in to him. He overwhelmed the powerful sorcerers. Opened up the sea. Tapped water from rocks. Led a people to freedom.
But what was he always thankful for? I suspect that more than anything –
- He was thankful for having walked in the presence of God.
- He was thankful for having seen God.
- He was thankful for who he had, God, not what he had, or did.
Then there was the boy David. The army of Israel thundered in praise of God when Goliath fell. A dreadful thing has been taken away from them, and they were thankful. But what about David? I suspect he thanked God for simply because God was with him.
And the thief in the cross. Dying. About to lose his life. But thankful for the quiet and soft assurance that in that day he shall be with Christ.
To Moses, Pharaoh was nothing. God was everything. Drying a sea was nothing. It was God that dried the sea that mattered most. To David, Goliath was nothing. God was everything. It was not about being clad in heavy armor. It was all about being clad with God. To the thief, dying was nothing. Being with Christ was everything.
These are stories of great heroes of our faith showing what God would want of us today.
- To be truly thankful of God “from whom all blessings flow”, more than for the blessings that flow.
- To be thankful for the presence of God, more than for presents from God.
- To be thankful for beholding the face of God, more than for the fortunes from God.
Think about it. Indeed, we can always be truly thankful for what we have, and rightfully to God who gives us what we have. But shouldn’t we be rather like Moses, or David, or the dying thief – thankful not for what we have, but for who we have – GOD?
It is when we see God first before the things we get from God, then all things from God take on the face of God, and blessings become images of our blesser! It is then that thanksgiving become a worship experience in itself, when blessings transform to presence of God.
In the Name of our Lord Jesus the Christ who lives and reigns forever, Amen.