A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

Psalm 65

November 22, 2015

 

Come Thursday, we’re going to all be stuffing ourselves with turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, yeast rolls, pecan pie, and other goodies.  One of my favorite dishes that my mother always fixed was blueberry casserole, blueberries in Jell-O with pecans and topped with a frosting, it was delicious.  If anyone is serving that, this week, can you save me a slice?  We celebrate Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of the month, but for Christians, every day should be a day of thanksgiving.  God has given us so much that we should be in continual joy and humbly showing our gratitude.

Our Scripture for today is the 65th Psalm, a song of praise and thanksgiving.  It is the perfect Psalm for what Thanksgiving is all about.  In it, the Hebrew congregation stands at the temple, before God, in gratitude, awe, and joy.[1]  One biblical scholar imagines this setting for the Psalm.  A drought had come upon the land, the crops were wilting and it was looking as if famine was going to be a reality.  But before it was too late, the rains came and the crop was spared, and after the harvest the people gathered in the temple to fulfill the vows they’d made to God when they were praying for salvation.[2]

God is the focal point of this Psalm which can be divided into three sections, so as I read it, I would encourage you to consider what each section says about our relationship to the Almighty.  The first four verses focus on the gifts of grace that are experienced in the temple.  Verses five to eight sings praises for the God of the earth whose salvation is experienced at creation and in history.  The final five verses gives thanks for the fertility of the land; the hills and the dirt itself seem to rise up in praise of God, much like Paul forecasts in the 8th chapter of Romans where he speaks about “Creation itself longing for the revealing of God’s glory.[3]  Let’s go to God’s word and read Psalm 65.

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As we come to this Thanksgiving week, I am sure that we all have plenty to do and our minds are burdened.  Some of us are worried about what we are going to cook and how it will come out.  Should we have Irish or sweet potatoes?  Will the Turkey be juicy and tender or have the consistency of shoe leather?  Will we have the time to bake all the pies and how can we bake a pie when the turkey has commandeered the oven?  Others of us are worried about family members traveling or getting early bargains on Christmas shopping—all of these are first world troubles.

At times, when life is rushed, we become overwhelmed and may even offer a pray, asking God for the strength and the ability to get everything done…  But let me ask you this, when the dishes are cleared and the pumpkin pie served, and we take a deep breath as we sip coffee and talk around the table, do we then give thanks to God for getting us through it all?  That’s kind of like what Israel is doing in our text today—we give thanks for making it through the holiday feast and they gave God thanks for a harvest that once looked questionable but in the end was abundant.

The Christian life is to be one of Thanksgiving.  We look back and we see what God has done for us—whether it is enriching us materially or saving us from our sinfulness—God has blessed us and we need to express thanksgiving continually!

Everything about this reading focuses, not on us, but on God.  At the beginning of the Psalm, we’re called to praise God who answers prayers.  Then, immediately following, in verse 3, we are reminded that when we are overwhelmed with iniquity and sin, it is God who forgives us.   The Psalmist knows that as mere mortals, we are unable to save ourselves in such times; we need divine pardon.

This Psalm is structured like our worship.  We come into worship with praise and thanksgiving, but as we praise God from whom all blessings flow, we are immediately drawn to our knees in the realization of our own short-comings.  As Paul says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”[4]  So our praise and our confession come together at the beginning.  Once we confess and experience the freedom of forgiveness, we are freed to listen and learn from God’s eternal word.  Those who have experienced such freedom, we learn in verse 4, are happy and content because they are in God’s presence.

The second part of this Psalm begins in verse 5, with a focus on prayers that have been answered in the past and on creation.  Not only has Israel recently felt God’s blessings as the famine was averted, she recalls back in her history to her salvation, bringing to mind the Exodus, when God freed his people from Egyptian slavery.   But God’s power is even greater than what was witnesses in Egypt and the Wilderness.  God’s hope extends to the ends of the earth. God’s hand created the mighty mountains and his power can calm a roaring sea, as we recall Jesus’ calming the waters.[5]  Sunrises and sunsets, we see in verse 8, are occasions for us to shout with joy.  Whenever we experience such grandeur, we should give God thanks.

In verse 9, the third part of the Psalm begins, as the Psalmist returns back to the harvest that God has given, by watering the ground.  Had the rains not come, the hillsides would have been barren and brown.  Had the rains come as a torrent, the hillside would have eroded and the seed washed away.  But thanks to the soft rains, they are now turning golden with the harvest.  The grain wagons return from the fields, overloaded, and the sheep find abundant grazing, allowing them to fatten up.  The Good Lord has given all that is needed for the people to have an abundance of food and everyone rejoices.

According to the Psalm, God has been busy.  Now let me ask you this:  “What’s missing in this passage?”  Think about it for a moment as I tell you a story.

When I was around eight years old, my dad took my brother and me to see a movie.  My family was in its Virginia exile period then, the three years we lived in Petersburg, Virginia instead of North Carolina.  The time we lived there, from 1963-1966, was a hundred after the terrible nine-month siege that occurred in Petersburg at the end of the Civil War.  The war was still alive in our minds when dad took us to see Shenandoah.  It starred Jimmy Stewart as Charlie Anderson, a farmer in the Shenandoah Valley during that awful war.  Charlie tries unsuccessfully to keep his family out of the conflict.  It is a movie with a strong religious message.  At the beginning, Charlie Anderson is a bit of a cynic.  When his family gathers around the table, he sits at the head and says grace:

 

Lord, we cleared this land.  We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it.  We cooked the harvest.  It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eatin’ it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves.  We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel.  But we thank you just the same for this food we’re about to eat.  Amen.

            Too often, we’re like Charlie Anderson and that’s what I was getting at when I asked what was missing from the Psalm.  The Psalmist knows better than to take credit. We’re called to participate with God in his creation, but we tend to give ourselves more credit than we give God for our blessings.  Interestingly, at the end of the movie, after the tragedy they’ve endured, the family gathers in church and is there reunited with his lost son.  When they gather at the table, Charlie is no longer able to pray that way.  When things are going well, it’s hard for us to see the hand of providence in our lives.  We’re not as good as those whom the Psalmist writes about, who prayed for better days and, after experiencing salvation, remembered and gave thanks.

“Give credit where credit is due,” is used so often that it is almost a cliché, but there’s truth in it.  Several years ago, I read Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  Have any of you in business or management read it?  The book was written for successful people who, surprisingly (at least to themselves), reach a pinnacle then begin to experience failure.  Goldsmith was not writing as theologian, but a business guru, yet at least four of his twenty “transactional flaws” could be seen in Charlie Anderson’s early character flaw and, if one observed the rule as set forth by the 65th Psalm, could be avoided.  The four flaws are: failing to give proper recognition, claiming credit that we don’t deserve, and failing to express gratitude, and an excessive need to be ‘me.’”[6]  Have we ever committed these flaws?  I confess that I have violated them all and strive (with God’s help) to do better.

This week, because of the holiday, most of us will remember to give God thanks for all the blessings we enjoy.  But why stop on Thursday? Let’s continue giving thanks the following week and the one after that, and after that.  Keep giving thanks until it becomes a habit, for as people who have been saved by Jesus Christ, we should remember Paul’s words to rejoice in the Lord always.[7]   As we rejoice, we give thanks, we should also remember those who are less fortunate and out of our blessings, help them so that they too may be thankful.  Amen.

©2015

[1] James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 219.

[2] Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 461.

[3] Romans 8:19.

[4] Romans 3:23.

[5] Mark 4:35-41.

[6] Marshall Goldsmith, What God You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, (New York: Hyperion, 2007), 40-41.

[7] Philippians 4:4.


Comments

A Psalm of Thanksgiving — 1 Comment

  1. It’s nice to be able to read the sermon that I missed and it’s more that appropriate to be reminded about what to be truly
    thankful for.

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