Giving Thanks (4th Epiphany, B)

January 28, 2018

 

 

Psalm 111

1 Hallelujah!

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *

they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *

and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *

the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He gives food to those who fear him; *

he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works *

in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *

all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *

because they are done in truth and equity.

9 He sent redemption to his people;

he commanded his covenant for ever; *

holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *

those who act accordingly have a good understanding;

his praise endures for ever.

 

"Giving Thanks"

4th Epiphany, B (January 28, 2018)

 

Today, after the 10:00 Eucharist, we will hold our Annual Parish Meeting. This is a very important time in the life of an Episcopal congregation. Straightforwardly, we will hear reports from several members of our parish leadership. Receiving that information may not sound especially exciting to everyone, but I think it should. Because beyond the logistics of budgets a reports from the Vestry, the Annual Meeting is an opportunity for (1) reflection and (2) thanksgiving or celebration.

 

In this way, we have an opportunity to follow the godly wisdom of the Bible. We can live into the prayer of Psalm 111. About half of this psalm is a reflection on God’s good gifts toward the people, and the other half recounts how the people thank God and celebrate God’s goodness.

 

Reflection on What God Has Done

 

Psalm 111:4-10

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *

the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He gives food to those who fear him; *

he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works *

in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *

all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *

because they are done in truth and equity.

9 He sent redemption to his people;

he commanded his covenant for ever; *

holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *

those who act accordingly have a good understanding;

his praise endures for ever.

 

Here, Israel is remembering God’s good deeds and gifts to the people. God gives food. God is faithful to the covenant. God provides land. God establishes justice in society.

 

And at different points in history, these everlasting attributes of God look different. In the wilderness, God giving food looked like manna. In Canaan, God giving food looked like providing farmland. For us, God giving food involves a complicated agricultural and economic system and supermarkets, but God still provides. Cultures change and shift over time, but God’s characteristics never change. God is always good and self-giving.

 

There are many concrete blessings we have received in the long history of St. Matthew’s Church. Even in the last year we have seen many great accomplishments and gifts to the community.

 

We hired two new staff members: Karen Hunter, Parish Secretary, and Beryl Dandy, Musician and Choirmaster. We celebrated a baptism on Trinity Sunday. We held Vacation Bible School for parish and neighborhood children in July (A. Blue, T. Blue, R. Jones, M. Pearson, W. Robinson, M. Williams). We held neighborhood outreach events in August and October (Men’s Club and ECW, esp. Jameel & Jonathan Newton and T. Watts for setting up bounce house and music; A. Maynard, C. Maynard, E. Hoskins, E. Roberts, I. Jones, V. Farley, and others). We organized a bus to go to Tent Revival at Honey Creek (Tony Watts, Idella Jones), bringing ourselves and members of at least five other churches in Savannah. The Vestry decided to sponsored Emmaus House’s Empty Bowl fundraiser, supporting their daily ministry among the poor and needy. And for the first time in anyone’s memory, St. Matthew’s hosted an ordination for the Diocese (Bp. Benhase, Canon Logue, Good Shepherd, Augusta, Good Shepherd, Thomasville, I. Jones for catering)! Glory be to God Most High!

 

The annual meeting provides a special time and place for us to remember the good works of God in our community over the last year. We don’t just go, go, go without stopping to consider our blessings. We need that space for reflection. It seems like a small thing, but it is ever so important for our well-being to continually return to thankfulness. As Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear [or awe or reverence] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

 

Thanksgiving and Celebration

 

And so Psalm 111 directs our hearts. Returning to the beginning of the passage:

 

Psalm 111:1-3 

1 Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *

they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *

and his righteousness endures for ever.

 

Giving thanks to the Lord at regular intervals is beginning of wisdom. Meditating on God’s good works sets our hearts in the right posture. We become humbler, kinder people when we focus on our gratitude to God and others. We lose our way when we start to think that our accomplishments are truly ours. God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1). God is always at work in our successes.

 

That simple truth is really easy to forget. People are so inclined toward self-centeredness that it’s easy for us to start taking credit for things we know we didn’t really do. It’s especially easy when we know we have worked hard to forget to give thanks and praise to God. So we need reminders, often concrete reminders.

 

The image that kept coming to my mind this week is “Ebenezer.” That is a Hebrew word that pops up a handful of times in the Old Testament. It means “stone of help.” It is the name of a monument that the Prophet Samuel built to memorialize the “help” that the Lord gave them in a battle against the Philistines (1 Sam 7:12).

 

Ebenezer has become a symbol for Christians of any memorial of God’s goodness toward us as a community or as individuals. It is a way of marking the journey of faith so that we do not become discouraged along the way. In the famous hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” author Robert Robinson uses “Ebenezer” as a symbol for his journey from sin to righteousness through the saving power of Jesus. Our Hymnal (#686) has modified this text, but I always sing the old words when I think of it:

 

Here I raise my ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come

And I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home

Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God

He to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood

 

Perhaps some of the Reports from this year’s Annual Meeting can serve as an ebenezer in the faith of St. Matthew’s. We haven’t arrived at the goal yet, but we are marching onward knowing that God has been very good to us. Amen.


 

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