Receiving -- and Giving (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

A spirit of thanksgiving - a simple "attitude of gratitude" someone called it - is the frame of mind most appropriate to a Christian on any day of the year. When we come, then, to the fourth Thursday in November, it should not require a wholesale "attitude adjustment" for us. Thanksgiving should be one of the most natural, most appreciated, and most cherished of days for those who know Christ Jesus as our Savior.

If you have been lamenting that your spiritual life is stunted and impoverished, I would strongly urge you to pay attention to our theme today. Indeed, some of the smallest and most miserable souls I have ever met were also among the most selfish and ungrateful I have ever had the misfortune to know. Mark it down as an inflexible rule of human self-disclosure: The person with an ungrateful heart is the one who believes that everything God does for him is too little and anything he does for God is too much.

Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were all festivals of thanksgiving in Israel. Passover gave thanks for Yahweh's deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. Pentecost came at the end of barley harvest and witnessed the offering of the firstfruits to God. Tabernacles was a fall celebration at the end of harvest and thanked Yahweh for protecting their ancestors in the desert.

During these festivals, communal psalms of thanksgiving (cf. 65-67, 75, 107,124, 129, 136) such as this one would be read, sung, and prayed:

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100).
Thanksgiving Day as you and I know it in Nashville, Tennessee, is a distinctively North American holiday feast. It takes us back to the colonists at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the autumn of 1621, when 90 Native Americans and the English colonists who had survived the horrible winter of 1620-1621 celebrated a bountiful first crop year with a three-day feast. George Washington proclaimed the first national Day of Thanksgiving in 1789 in honor of the new Constitution. During the darkest days of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Only in 1941 did a joint resolution of Congress set the last Thursday in November as a legal holiday to be observed as Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

This nation has fertile soil, abundant natural resources, great economic strength, and deep patriotic reserves in our times of crisis. We are wealthy and affluent. At a time when it is estimated that 23 percent of the world's population lives at the very margin of existence, all of us have not only the necessities of life but many of its luxuries as well. While that 23 percent of the world suffers from malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality, and low life expectancy, I live in a nice house, drive a relatively new car, have money in the bank, and am close to ten pounds overweight.

My first spiritual obligation in light of what I have just said is to be thankful for the blessings I have and to acknowledge God as the source of them all. Here is God's word to me on this point: "As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Tim.6:17).

My second spiritual duty is to share the bounty God has put at my disposal with the people who are suffering from poverty, disease, and other cruel circumstances. The realization that what I have is a gift from God fairly compels me to share his bounty with those crying out for help. So, when we bless the fruits of the harvest, let's remind one another that these blessed fruits are for sharing as well as consuming. Otherwise, the blessing will turn into a curse. Here is God's word on this point: "They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life" (1 Tim.6:18-19).

Referring again to the spirit of thanksgiving enjoined in ancient Israel, here is one of the psalms of personal thanksgiving (cf. 18, 21, 30, 34, 40, 41, 66, 92, 103, 108, 116, 138) the people would read, sing, and pray:
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say,
"His steadfast love endures forever."
Let the house of Aaron say,
"His steadfast love endures forever."
Let those who fear the LORD say,
"His steadfast love endures forever."
Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the LORD on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
The LORD is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in princes. . . .
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever (Psa. 118:1-9, 28-29).
This Thursday will have us bowing our heads before God and praising him for his goodness. He is easy to love, for he has loved us first. I hope it will also have us thinking about people who are struggling - and doing something practical to help them. Here is a word from Scripture to summarize my point: "We love because he first loved us. Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also" (1 John 4:19-21).

In case you've always said you would help more people if you had the means to do so, let me explain a strategy for helping you get past that hurdle. What if someone were to put $100-bills in your hands and send you out to share your bounty? What if you were given those "slices" of prosperity and allowed to share that wealth with people at your discretion? What would you do? Whom would you help? And today we are not just imagining and pretending. Here are the $100-bills for you to take with you from today's worship time into someone's need.

I'm good at receiving. I've done it all my life. Now I'm trying to learn to give, share, and pass on to others from the bounty I receive. Without feeling guilty for receiving, all of us likely need to be more familiar with the art of giving. Don't misunderstand. These aren't my $100-bills. An anonymous donor in this church - people who believe the money is God's, not theirs - provided them. Perhaps this experiment with someone else's money will remind us that everything we have belongs to Someone Else and help us get more comfortable with passing our gifts along rather than keeping everything for ourselves. It is your opportunity to show your love for God by helping a brother or sister who needs your help. Thank you, God, for making this possible. And thank you for being his servants to distribute his goodness.


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