Goodness of God and Be Thankful!
a Thanksgiving sermon based on Deuteronomy 8:7-18
by Rev. Frank Schaefer
What a promise God gave his children: "For the
LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams,
with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills" (Verse 7)
The children of Israel, were instructed in this passage to . . .
a) remember where they came from (the hardship and oppression of Egypt)
b) remember who delivered them, protected them and provided for them
c) be thankful and bless God for those blessings.
Verse ten sums it up nicely (especially for our celebration of Thanksgiving):
"You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that
he has given you."
We are here in this sanctuary to bless God today; to praise God for the
harvest and the blessings. And on Thanksgiving Day we shall fulfill the
other part of this verse: we shall eat our fill (You know me: I can't wait for
What can we say about Thanksgiving? What can we learn from this text?
Perhaps, we need to look at this call to thanksgiving and compare it with the
reality of every-day life.
For the call for remembrance of God's goodness and blessings and protection
in our Scripture reading from Deuteronomy stands in stark contrast to the actual
attitude the children of Israel had when they went through the wilderness (and
even after they occupied the promised land).
Time and again, the people grumbled and complained instead of giving thanks and
being grateful for so many miraculous provisions God provided for them. Often
times, Moses was on the receiving end of all the yelling and complaining.
In fact, each time the going got rough, they would make their way to Moses' tent
and yell and complain bitterly.
The height of their complaints was the statement , "If only we had died by
the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots and ate
our fill of bread."
Can you imagine the sadness in God's heart upon seeing them with this kind of
attitude? Especially since God reminds us of the kind of attitude we should
assume in our bible text in Deuteronomy. God had protected them from the
various plagues in the wilderness, provided for them and had led them through
the Red Sea.
So many times, God overlooked their disrespect and ungrateful attitude and
even gave them bread from heaven as a breakfast provision and fresh quail meat
for supper. All they have to do was go and get it. But even then,
they weren't happy because they had to gather it every day, and they couldn't
gather enough for more than one day.
Robert Fulghum, author of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in
Kindergarten," wrote a very interesting piece about yelling and complaining.
"In the Solomon Islands in the south Pacific some villagers practice a unique
form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut
it down by yelling at it... Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just
at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this
for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering
kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.
Fulghum observes, "Ah, those poor naive innocents. Such quaintly charming
habits of the jungle. Screaming at trees, indeed. How primitive! Too bad they
don't have the advantages of modern technology and the scientific mind."
Then he adds, "Me? I yell at my wife. And yell at the telephone and the lawn
mower. And yell at the TV and the newspaper and my children. I've been known to
shake my fist and yell at the sky at times.
"The man next door yells at his car a lot. And this summer I heard him yell
at a stepladder for most of an afternoon. We modern, urban, educated folks yell
at traffic and umpires and bills and banks and machines--especially machines.
Machines and relatives get most of the yelling."
It's easy to point a finger at the complaining people of Israel and wonder
why they didn't have a better attitude. But before we point an accusing
finger, we need to remember our own attitude toward God. Perhaps it's easy
to feel thankful on a day like today when we gather in the sanctuary to
celebrate Thanksgiving. But what about the rest of the time? What about the
times when things are not going so well? Are we trusting God in those times that
God will come through for us as God has before? Can we be thankful in those
moments as well? Or are we going to complain?
Interestingly, God puts the hard times we go through in the context of a
test, of a lesson we need to learn in humility. In verse 16 it says: " . . . and
fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble
you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. But God promises to lead us
out of the hard times, for in the end, it will be to our own good! And yet, I
think we all have a tendency to complain in spite of all that is done for us--it
seems to be a human condition.
Somewhere I read the story of a grandmother who had taken her 3-year-old
grandson to the beach one summer day. A powerful rip tide caught the boy
and pulled him out to sea and under the water. The frantic grandmother
began to cry and scream. In desperation, she cried out to God, "Oh,
please, God, hear my prayer and give my grandson back to me." Well, sure
enough, the very next wave came crashing to the shore and threw her grandson
right back at her feet. She picked the boy up and found that he was
breathing fine and doing well. But then she noticed that the hat he
wore—the one she had just bought him was no longer on his head. And she turned
her head upward and with an exasperated tone of voice said, "Well, Lord!
He had a hat on!"
Perhaps this Scripture passage can be a lesson for all of us to take a long
hard look at our attitude. Attitude can make all the difference in our
We really do have a choice about our attitude. Like the Israelites, we
can be critical and complain about everything that happens to us. Or we
can look on the positive side with an attitude of faith that the God who parted
the Red Sea just might still be at work in the world.
I remember reading about a certain man who went to church one Sunday.
He frowned when the organist missed a note. He glared at two whispering
teenagers. He looked repeatedly at his watch. When the offering plate was
passed, he felt that the usher was watching to see how much he gave. He sat
tight-lipped during all of the hymn singing. During the sermon, he felt
pleased with himself when he caught the preacher making a grammatical mistake.
As he was leaving the church, he muttered to himself, "That was a terrible
service, why do I bother?"
Another man went to church on the same Sunday. He chuckled at the sight of a
father hugging his toddler. During the Offertory he wondered, "God has
given me so much. Am I giving enough?" He struggled honestly with the
scripture readings to find a word to live by. Part of the sermon helped him with
a question he had often thought about. He enthusiastically joined in the singing
of the closing hymn. As he left the church, he thought to himself, "How good it
is to be here together in God's presence."
Both men had gone to the same church, on the same Sunday, and each had found
exactly what he was looking for. Attitude made all the difference.
But sometimes we find it hard to have a positive attitude. It is so
easy to complain about dirty dishes, stinky laundry, and unmade beds. It's
so easy to look on the negative side. I suppose the Israelites got really
tired of quail and manna after they had tried Manna Soup, Manna & Quail
Casserole, Quail & Manna Casserole, Hot & Spicy Shredded Manna, Baked Quail with
Sour Manna Sauce, and Sweet & Sour Manna. I'm sure they got tired of the
same food every day, but they had the wrong attitude. They forgot how bad
things would be without God's help.
One lady demonstrated the attitude we need to have when she wrote this
Thank you for this sink of dirty dishes; we have plenty of food to eat.
Thank you for this pile of dirty, stinky laundry; we have plenty of nice
clothes to wear.
And I would like to thank you, Lord, for those unmade beds; they were so warm
and comfortable last night. I know that many have no bed. My
thanks to you, Lord for this bathroom, complete with all the splattered,
messy, soggy, grimy towels and the dirty lavatory, they are so convenient.
Attitude is a choice, but it makes all the difference. Let us make a choice
to be thankful all the time, not just on this Thanksgiving Day. Amen.