1 Chronicles 29:10-20
Pastor Chris Tweitmann
A pro football team had just finished their daily practice session
when a large turkey came strutting onto the field.
While the players gazed in amazement,
the turkey walked up to the head coach and demanded a tryout.
Everyone stared in silence as the turkey caught pass after pass
and ran right through the defensive line.
When the turkey returned to the sidelines, the coach shouted,
“You’re terrific! Sign up for the season,
and I’ll see to it that you get a huge contract.”
“Forget the contract,” the turkey said,
“All I want to know is, does the season go past Thanksgiving?”
In recent years, people have begun to call Thanksgiving
by another name, Turkey Day.
This casual renaming of this week’s national holiday
would seem to indicate a shift in the focus of our attention
– turning the day ironically into nothing more than
remembering and paying respects to the birds we kill and eat
after watching the parade or a little football on television.
However, if there is a silver lining to all we’ve experienced together
over the last year and a half; it is a renewed appreciation for
this week’s holiday as being something more than
eating sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.
We no longer take for granted the opportunity to come together
with family and friends, count our blessings, and give thanks.
It is customary to think of our American thanksgiving customs
as having their origins in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621.
That would make this the 400th anniversary of that legendary celebration.
But when Christians celebrate Thanksgiving,
they usually go much further back in time
to the Old Testament practices of public thanksgiving
mentioned in the Bible.
Our Puritan, pilgrim ancestors in Plymouth would be horrified
to hear that we think of their feast as being the “first Thanksgiving.”
They were merely offering their gratitude to God just as they read
the Jews in the Old Testament were commanded to do.
So as we think of Thanksgiving today, I would like to turn our attention from the traditional story of the Pilgrims who came to America,
to the pilgrims who sojourned to the Promised Land.
I want to go back about 3,000 years
to the final days of the reign of King David.
The wars are over. David’s various battles are behind him.
He has completed rebuilding Jerusalem —converting it
from one of the last holdouts of Israel’s rival, the Jebusites,
into the nation’s capital – a rebuilding project that
continues to withstand the test of time today.
Along with city of Jerusalem, King David wanted
to build a temple for God —a permanent residence in the center of the city housing the presence of the Lord for God to remain among His people.
But God told David, “No.”
David, with all his military victories, had blood on his hands.
“King David rose to his feet and said: “Listen to me, my fellow Israelites, my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it. But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’”
-1 Chronicles 28:2-3
The Lord wanted a king with a less violent legacy to build his house.
King David’s son, Solomon, was to be that builder, was to be that king.
In the meantime, however, David was allowed to gather the money
and materials with which the Temple would be built after his death.
Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon,
the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced.
The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man
but for the Lord God. With all my resources I have provided for
the temple of my God…Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves
to the Lord today?” -1 Chronicles 29:1-2, 5
In doing this, David had set apart a considerable portion
of his own personal wealth to help with the construction.
And then, as one of his last acts as king,
David also authorized a public offering to be taken
to gather the rest of what was needed for the building of the Temple.
In response, the people of Israel gave generously.
As the worship service continues,
David offers the public prayer of thanksgiving
which we find here in 1 Chronicles 29: 10-19. (TEXT)
Two combined words make up the word, “thanksgiving.”
The word, “thanks” and the word, “giving.”
To put the two concepts together,
we understand thanksgiving as the giving or offering of thanks.
When directed above, it is the outward expression of
our gratitude to God for his goodness and benevolence to us.
However, in David’s prayer of thanksgiving, we notice there is more.
“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.”
– 1 Chronicles 29:13
He goes on to give thanks to God for providing
what they needed to build the Temple.
But then David adds,
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give
as generously as this? Everything comes from you,
and we have given you only what comes from your hand…
… Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided
for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand,
and all of it belongs to you.” – 1 Chronicles 29:14, 16
Do we notice what David adds here?
He gives thanks for the privilege of being able to give back
from the things the Lord has provided.
In other words, David is saying thank you for
the very possibility on our own part – to give thanks.
David is acknowledging the very ability to show or express thanks
also is only made possible by the Lord’s provision.
This is what we proclaim or ought to proclaim
when we participate in our Thanksgiving celebrations.
That all that we have and are or ever will be
has come from God
—including the opportunity, our ability to say, “Thank you.”
One of the dangers about this week’s feast is
as we gather in our decorated homes with family and friends
in the midst of all of our possessions,
we might be tempted to think we have accumulated
all this bounty chiefly by our own wisdom and work.
Sometimes as we relish the abundance in our lives,
it doesn’t take much for us to turn giving thanks into little more than
a pat on the back to ourselves – to count all our blessings
without ever praising the Source of all those blessings.
But David models for us an entirely different posture
—what true thanksgiving looks like.
David gives thanks by proclaiming all riches, any lasting greatness,
every honor and all true power come from our Heavenly Father alone.
But again, David doesn’t just proclaim this truth. He praises the Lord for it.
Notice how he cannot contain himself as he tries to express this:
“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.”
-1 Chronicles 29:11
David understands God’s relation to the world as a whole,
and to each of us in particular, as one of giving a gift.
And there’s a name for this gift from God.
It’s a name, even though it is not explicitly used by David here,
that is repeated over and over again in the Bible.
The biblical name for the gift of God is grace.
Some of us associate “grace”
(the provision of what we don’t necessarily deserve
and what we can in no way earn
– some of us associate grace solely with
the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus
—as if grace is a sudden shift in God’s orientation towards us
with the coming of Christ.
But the truth is the theme of grace goes all the way back
to the dawn of recorded history as creation itself – that we exist at all –
is understood to be an expression of the Lord’s grace.
It is helpful to think of grace as the giving of a gift
because the ability to give a gift supposes ownership.
I cannot give you something unless that something is mine.
In giving it to you as a gift I not only relinquish full ownership,
I also offer you a part of who I am.
In offering something to you from me, the gift is an extension of myself.
In coming from me, I am present in the gift I give.
In giving a gift, I am reaching out to you.
The very conviction life is a gift is what drives us to seek
—to search for a Giver.
And our search eventually leads us our Creator;
a God who is good and who out of his inherent goodness
speaks life into being – not just a world, not merely a universe
– but universes upon universes filled with worlds.
The pinnacle of the goodness of the gift—of the Lord’s grace
—comes as our Creator extends himself
by impressing his image—breathing his Spirit
—into a giant sculpture of dirt and dust
and thereby calling humanity into existence.
In speaking universes upon universes into being,
all that God creates is good—not inherently threatening, hostile,
or apathetic, but good – and that includes humankind – us.
The brokenness of a threatening, hostile, and apathetic creation
is a byproduct of humanity’s sin
– our rejection and rebellion against our Creator.
What makes what we have received a true gift is
what is given to us is given freely;
it is not contingent on what we do or don’t do.
That our life—all life—is a gift of grace freely given by God is evidenced
in the freedom we are given in our relationship with our Creator.
Contrary to what we often are told or believe,
we weren’t created by God in exchange for our love and service.
We are created by our Father to love and serve each other
as a reflection of his image in which we have been formed,
of his Spirit by which we have given life.
In other words, grace is the essential spiritual DNA
of our life as human beings.
Therefore, replicating or extending grace is
the very purpose for which we are created.
Our awareness of the presence of grace in our lives is
where our impulse to share with others
—to become givers ourselves originates.
So if we’re designed to experience the gift of grace
and share it with each other and in so doing fulfill the purpose
for which we were created and thereby glorify God, what’s the problem?
It’s not a lack of grace in our lives and in this world.
It’s a lack; it’s the absence of gratitude – of decision to reject grace
– all for the sake of going it alone
– all for the lost cause of doing everything ourselves.
We struggle with being grateful.
As children, we need to be taught repeatedly
and often with some resistance to say, “Thank you.”
As adults, when asked, we can immediately list off
the complaints we have—the things we are unhappy or worried about
—but ask someone to start counting off their blessings
and they’ll have to pause and think.
And while Thanksgiving Day is a lovely occasion,
isn’t there something revealing about the fact
a national day of thanks had to be set aside—mandated for all of us?
We shy away from the response of gratitude
by cultivating the expectation of reciprocity.
Reciprocity is bearing in mind the good done unto us
and being prepared, in the right circumstances,
to return or pay back what we have received in kind.
This expectation of reciprocity can come either from the giver
or it can come as a burden we put upon ourselves as the receiver.
Reciprocity makes giving into
a contractual exchange of balancing the scales.
Reciprocity is a strategy for maintaining the status quo in relationships.
When gratitude is replaced by reciprocity,
giving becomes a matter of the law rather than grace.
We become so fixated on evening the score,
we forget or overlook giving thanks.
That we are living in an increasingly thankless world
is reflected by the government needing to take over
many aspects of our life together such as education, health,
and dealing with poverty
– aspects of daily life that previously were addressed
within and between communities who took care of each other.
But grace cannot be legislated.
Wwhen giving is governed by the rule of law, we no longer talk about gifts, we insist upon our rights.
When we receive what we believe is ours by right we don’t feel grateful.
Because when gifts become rights,
gratitude is replaced by claims of entitlement.
We come to believe we are entitled to receive
anything and everything we need.
As the cost and effort of good things like food, shelter,
healthcare, and education for which our ancestors
had to struggle, become ignored or forgotten behind the belief
we are owed these things, the more ingratitude grows.
Such blessings are no longer taken as gifts; they are taken for granted.
We don’t forget to give thanks.
We don’t honestly believe thanksgiving
has anything to do with our situation.
We start to believe we’ve earned everything.
It doesn’t take long for ingratitude to lead us to reach beyond
claiming our fair share to priding ourselves on privilege
—arguing the special conditions and circumstances
that entitle us to a greater piece of the pie.
When gratitude is replaced by reciprocity,
when we become fixated on rights and claims,
we aren’t giving anymore; we’re taking what we can get.
This is why the only needed,
the only proper response to the gift of God’s grace is gratitude.
For gratitude is a submission to grace;
to the truth that life—every breath we take, all that we have,
all that we will ever be—is a gift from God
—nothing something we deserve or earn by ourselves.
Make no mistake, grace is a gift designed to disrupt
—to change the nature of our relationships.
It is a humbling thing to acknowledge that
all that we have and are has come from the God to whom it all belongs.
Thanksgiving suddenly has a different meaning
when we realize that there are others who were wiser
and worked much harder than we
and yet who have not fared as well as we have.
As we find ourselves asking, like David, “Who are we?”
our hearts get a little softer, a little bit bigger and our hands
become more open and far-reaching.
Grace disrupts our well-ordered lives
when we are presented with gifts that can never be reciprocated
—the gift of health a doctor imparts to a sick or dying patient,
the gift of life and nurture a mother provides for her child
or the gift of one’s own safety, security and if need be
the sacrifice of his or her own life
a soldier offers in defense of his country.
When we allow others, allow ourselves,
to experience grace rather than fixate on reciprocity,
gratitude inevitably follows.
People who truly encounter grace cannot withhold their gratitude.
They need to express it.
To learn life is a gift of grace is to discover that
to fully receive the gift of grace, you must give grace in turn.
The easiest way to express gratitude is
to share from the grace you have been given.
Whether it is making a contribution to the hospital that cured us
or donating to the school that provided us with an education
honoring the veterans who fought for us,
or some other offering of appreciation,
gratitude is expressed, grace is extended through giving.
By giving not out of obligation but gratitude
we pass on and amplify the grace – the goodwill we have received.
Hence the Bible’s repeated admonition to “Give thanks.”
But giving thanks ought to become more than just words.
Giving thanks ought to be expressed through acts of compassion
that represent the generosity of our Father, our God
– that reflect the sacrificial and servant character of Christ.
One word really sticks out in this prayer by David: willingly.
“All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent.
And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people
who are here have given to you.” – 1 Chronicles 29:17
The repetition of this word reminds me
God desires for me to say “Thank you” and to worship Him
with a whole heart, and not merely out of obligation.
Expressing gratitude is much more than demonstrating
we have good manners by writing a thank you note
or saying a perfunctory prayer around our dinner table.
It is acknowledging our dependence upon the grace
that gives us the life we have,
the grace that carries from this life into the next.
The expression of gratitude is not meant to be merely a duty
that we perform; it is intended to be a reflection of
how we approach and live the lives we have been given.
David shows us how thanksgiving offered willingly, freely
cannot help but shape our lives as one of rejoicing and possibility.
Gratitude is our response to God’s grace not because we have to
—but rather because again, we were created to be,
through our gratefulness, vessels of grace.
Underneath the false version of ourselves borne of our sin,
at the very heart of what it means to be human
—to be most alive to who we are, is our God-given impulse to give thanks.
What is most characteristic of a child of God is wholehearted thanksgiving – thanksgiving which flows from a heart
that daily abides in the unmerited riches of divine grace
and in response seeks through the counsel of the Word
and the leading of the Spirit to become an openhanded,
bighearted conduit of such lavish divine generosity to others.
This is an important word for us in the midst of
struggling economy and rising concerns about falling over a fiscal cliff.
Fear, anxiety, and festering polarization has led many Americans
to begin circling the wagons and care only for their own
—their own family or friends.
While, to be sure, one of our first responsibilities is to hearth and home,
we must never forget that our primary allegiance must be to God,
our Creator and Sustainer, the Founder of the Feast,
the One from Whom all blessings flow.
Yes, we must care for our family and friends.
But we ought to be thankful enough for the ability to do so
that we recognize it is not we who have and will provide for our loved ones —it is the Lord who has and will provide for them and for us.
And out of that provision, our Heavenly Father assures us
there is enough to be shared with others
—beyond our circle—especially those in need.
Scarcity only becomes a reality when fear rather faith
drives us to believe there is not enough to go around.
Abundance for all becomes more than a possibility;
it becomes a promise when we trust in God
and not in ourselves to provide.
Thanksgiving as a spiritual practice reminds us
our personal bounty is inseparably connected with
the abundance of others.
All of God’s good gifts are communal as well as individual.
True thanksgiving reminds us that we are in this together.
Giving thanks is the recognition that our achievements
are never fully our own but contingent upon a network of relationships
that the Lord works through to uphold and shape us.
Many of the goods and services that contribute to our livelihood
often derive from people we will never meet
but nonetheless remain our spiritual kin
– brothers and sisters fearfully and wonderfully made
in the image of God the same as we.
For thanksgiving is living out of the conviction that
the very expression of gratitude
—of reaching up gratefully towards heaven
by reaching out in compassion towards another person
—is the means by which God saves and transform the world.
For when the vertical and horizontal dimensions of our lives are aligned, our lives bear the shape of the cross of Christ.
Our lives reflect the glory of God, the truth of the Gospel, and the rising dawn of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Because in the shadow of the Cross, the assurance of the Resurrection,
and the power of the Spirit, grace becomes a synonym for thanksgiving.
Let us then realize like David, that “all things come from God”
—that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.”
As we gather around tables later this week,
let us consider David’s magnificent prayer and make it our own.
Let us add to David’s prayer by giving utterance to all of the bounty,
all of the abundance in our lives.
Let us take some time to reflect on the grace in our lives.
Let us indeed stop and give thanks.
Let us call to mind the fullness of a deep breath,
the healing power of laughter, the support of family and friends.
Let us take to heart the squeeze of a hand,
an encouraging smile from across the room or the thoughtful text, note
or phone call that arrives out of the blue, just when it was most needed.
And if perhaps we feel our current life circumstances
are not supplying us with many reasons for which to be thankful,
we simply need to look deeper.
We need to look deeper not just to find
some silver lining or a glass half full.
Gratitude is not a game of trying to talk or convince oneself to be thankful.
We need to look deeper because acknowledging
those things for which we are grateful,
despite the difficulty or struggle of our current circumstances,
will bring its own measure of grace
—its own kind of healing and wholeness
that will not come if we are only focused on our immediate problems.
Gratitude is the conduit of grace—the gift of God that keeps on giving.
So then, let us dig deep and remember
when all seemed lost and yet we still managed to be found.
Let us not forget that moment when the darkness was closing it,
when we were convinced we weren’t going to make it and yet
miraculously, despite all evidence to the contrary, God carried us through.
As our sensitivity to the grace in our lives rises
and then gratitude begins to flow, let us come back to Jesus
—to the One from whom all blessings flow and together give glory to God.
And may the thanks we seek to give to the Lord
be expressed beyond our words
through homes that remain open to unexpected company,
tables that always make room for more people,
and meals that are shared and stretched
so that no one goes away hungry or empty-handed. Amen.