You know Thanksgiving is probably one of the easiest things to preach on. It’s is an integral part of our human experience. From a young age children are reminded to say please and thank you when asking for or receiving something. And when a child asks for something and it is not given to them, they are reminded to be thankful for what they have, after a good cry and some slamming of doors. Thankfulness is an occurrence everyone is familiar with, whether we are conscious of it or not.
It may be that today you are thankful to have been fortunate enough to eat breakfast, in a country, in a city, in a neighbourhood, in a building, where many were not so fortunate. Perhaps you’re thankful because tonight you know you have somewhere to call home, even if it’s just for tonight. It may be that your thankful for family today, because the holidays have brought them to you or you to them. It may be that your thankful today because you literally had the energy to get out of bed, when so many days don’t make that possible.
You may have heard it before, but studies show that acknowledging what we are thankful for can increase physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Its pretty remarkable. But at the very mention of Thanksgiving, this picture pops into my head of the stereotypical family gathered around their stereotypical dinner table to enjoy their stereotypical Thanksgiving dinner. But, before they eat, each person present at the table must say one thing they’re thankful for. As if thankfulness was a sort of gatekeeper. It’s a weird image when you think about it; giving thanks before a meal.
“God bless this food to our bodies and thank you for the hands that prepared it. Thank you for all the blessings you give to us. Amen” Then we eat…
Why give thanks before the meal? Wouldn’t giving thanks afterwards give a more accurate picture of what we are thankful for. What if the food was bad or made us sick? Should we be thankful for it? Should we be thankful for the hands that prepared it? It’s a weird thing, giving thanks before you know the outcome of something and it has some interesting implications.
You know when I pray. I tend to thank God for things that have already happened because then I can know 100% if I’m actually thankful for them happening or not. And if I’m not thankful I don’t say so. It seems pretty logical. Give thanks for what you’re thankful for. Don’t give thanks for what you’re not. But, I’m curious what would happen if we borrowed the formula of giving thanks before a meal and applied it to the rest of our lives? Would it change anything?
And please don’t interpret this as me saying that giving thanks for things that have already happened is a bad thing. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that perhaps it’s only one facet of our thanksgiving.
When we give thanks after the occurrence of something, it affirms our trust in God. Because looking back on our experiences often reminds us that God was with us, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. We give thanks for what was there.
But what if there isn’t anything there? What about giving thanks for what we can’t see or don’t know? The worry is, what if it isn’t good and I’m not actually thankful for it? Why set myself up for failure by pre-emptively giving thanks. It’s a vulnerable action in which we place our trust in what we don’t yet know, or what we may never know.
And sure this may be a pretty deep exploration into something as simple as saying grace before a meal. But, I’m curious what would happen if we borrowed this idea of pre-emptively giving thanks and applied it to the rest of our lives?
Thanksgiving, though it may not seem like it, is a relational action. It requires another. And I think this is what Jesus is getting at in passage of scripture that we read this morning. Throughout His sermon on the mount Jesus confronts His audience with these proverbs that challenge the very way life is done. He unpacks the idea that poor are blessed and the meek will inherit the earth, not the rich and the prideful. He tells us about what judgement and fair consequence looks like. He teaches us how to relate to one another and more importantly how to relate to one another when we are in conflict. And there is a theme that is persistent throughout His entire sermon, relationship. Everything Jesus speaks about is relational; addressing our relationship with one another and/or with God. And then we get to this section about worry. What does worry have to do with relationship?
To give thanks for something before it happens requires vulnerability with another. It’s scary, because we can never be 100% sure of what that person is going to do with our vulnerability. It’s as if we’ve handed them a fragile glass ball that we have spend years and years pouring ourselves into, and we want so bad for them to see it’s value and hold it safely. But, until we take the risk of actually handing it over we have no idea whether or not they are going to drop it. And so we worry and we stress about it.
But, I don’t think Jesus’ message here is about worry as much as it is about trust. He says,
“The Father knows what you need (Matthew 6:32)”
But, the question is, are we ready to surrender what we think we need? And in so doing, begin to live with the Kingdom of Heaven in the forefront of our thoughts and all that we do. Because worry thrives in our apprehension. “What if God doesn’t know exactly what I need?” “What if God gives me something different than I expected?” All very legitimate worries. And so we wrestle in the tension.
It’s so much easier to try and balance the two. But, just one verse before our passage this morning Jesus confronts that saying,
“No-one can serve two masters, for you will end up loving one and despising the other (Matthew 6:24)”
I don’t think worry is a bad thing. It can be healthy in many respects. There are so many things worth worrying about. And I do not want to devalue those in any way. Because If I said “stop worrying, trust in God and you’ll live happily ever after” I’d be lying. But, at the same time, I cling to the hope that God loves me enough to not forsake the trust I’ve put in Him. This, for me is the mystery and the tension of faith.
So why not do it anyways. Hand our trust over to God, filled with all of the reluctance and all of the worry that maybe things aren’t going to turn out the way we envisioned them. Maybe it’s not going to be what we expected. But, it’s sure better than just sitting here trying to serve both ourselves and God. Because in doing so, in the midst of our vulnerability, God honours our action. Sometimes seeking God means us making the first move. Sometimes it means saying thank you, before we know what we are thankful for. Sometimes it means choosing surrender to God both our trust and our worry, with no idea how it’s going to turn out.
Scripture Passage Referenced: Matthew 6:25-33