Persistent Thanksgiving

We in North America are quite good at giving thanks.

We are thankful for our standard of living –

because we are constantly reminded that others in the global community

do not share our prosperity.

We are thankful for friends we have –

because all around us we can see people who are lonely and desperate and afraid,

who do not know the confidence that comes with companionship.

We are thankful – sometimes- for the gift of the church –

because we cannot imagine a world

without the faith and fellowship that has been nurtured in these places of worship.

We are quite aware that not everyone finds it possible to be thankful –

and so we conclude that thanksgiving comes only after we have had our burdens lifted.

“How hard it will be,” Jesus proclaims “for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

and secretly, we recoil –

for we have been giving thanks for those things that Jesus then condemns…

the church in prosperous places would prefer this gospel not reach the ears of the public,

because it condemns our work towards the Kingdom as futile!

This text makes a mockery of thanksgiving as it is usually celebrated.

And yet, we cannot stop giving thanks

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Our memories may favour the kind of thanksgiving that comes only in joy, abundance and beauty.

but our experience should remind us of a more persistent kind of thanksgiving…

scripture certainly reminds us –

of praise poured out from the midst of persecution (as in this morning’s Psalm).

The people of God are not always in a place of abundance, perfection and grace,

and we are called first to the ancient habit of giving thanks in our distress –

in the manner of many Psalms.

We are encouraged to always remember that goodness of God that is ours –

no matter what our circumstances.

This is the habit we lose when prosperity finds us.

The habit of constant thankfulness – constant awareness of the goodness of God –

our treasures push God aside with surprising ease. We don’t mean it to happen, but as our comfort increases, our need for God diminishes.

The people of God, persecuted and struggling are universally stronger, more persistent, more deliberate in worship, prayer and praise.

When the persecution stops, the people of God relax.

When success and safety come our way, there’s no need of God’s protection and grace

for -it would seem – we have “made it”.

“Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for someone rich to enter the kingdom.”

because that reliance on wealth is reliance on the wrong thing.

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someone rich, Jesus says – wanting to make it very personal.

And what is true of large groups of people (the persecuted church v the powerful church)

is therefore true for you and I.

Those things in our lives that cause us to struggle – those times when we are hard pressed –

that is when we find our greatest strength – our greatest joy –

and offer, looking back, our loudest thanks.

This ‘rich young man’ came to Jesus on the run

eager – joyful – lets say grateful –

for the success his hard work had earned him.

He knelt at Jesus feet, and having satisfied himself in this life,

asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life.

Jesus heard his story – saw his devotion – and loved him for it,

but still Jesus asked something that this man could not do.

His wealth had the better of him – his gratitude was earthbound,

though his good fortune may have been heaven sent –

and he went away disappointed.

He had forgotten what it was to struggle –

to be wholly dependent on a gracious God –

and the thought of such dependence is horrifying for him,

as it is for us.

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The good news is that God is capable –

God desires our dependence, our gratitude, our praise –

not as payment for services rendered – but as an integral part of our daily living.

Our persistent Thanksgiving

– our constant rejoicing whatever our lot –

in the very fact of God

is what grants us access to the kingdom.

Our world changes when our every act is one of thanks;

Our priorities change, our moods change, our outlook will change.

Our bills will still need to be paid

and our work still must get done,

but the focus will not be on the getting, or the having;

our focus will be on the gift of being God’s people.

And that gift has made us rich beyond all imagining – thanks be to God.

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