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Remember the 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 that part).

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.  He says:

"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 lives.

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 unusual prayer:

Dear Lord,
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.