Reflection - November 22, 2016

By Darren McClellan

published 11/22/2016
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name (Ps. 30:4).
Dear Friends,

Accompanied by the splendor of changing leaves across south Alabama, the most beautiful sight while driving the district these days is found in the signs which promote the many community wide Thanksgiving services.  This is good news!  For despite whatever historical differences may be represented by the many Christian (and sometimes even interreligious) traditions within these services, the fundamental notion of gratitude to God is one idea on which we all can agree.  Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices…

When the act of thanksgiving is rehearsed through Israel’s repertoire of song and prayer, then a distinctive style begins to arise.  Of importance is the object of our praise; namely, the God who is the giver of particular gifts and tangible transformation.  In his exposition of the Psalms, Claus Westermann identified four components of thanksgiving that clarify the rhythm of our own worship and life:
  1.  An introduction that announces an intent to thank (30:1; 138:1-3).
  2. A review of a crisis that God has resolved, about which earlier prayers of petition were made (30:8-11; 116:2-4).
  3. An account of rescue from trouble, which is fully credited to God (30:11; 40:2-3; 66:19; 116:8).
  4. An invitation that the community join in the thanksgiving that the speaker voices (22:22-24; 138:4-6).
Many I know have a tradition of going around the Thanksgiving table one at a time and declaring what each is thankful for.  It took me years to get comfortable with this at the McClellan house.  My sister and I would squirm and stammer until we thought we had revealed enough for the assessment of our ancestors.  Missing the point of to whom I was thankful, I was worried about recalling the what.  Thus, I imagined that this annual exercise was a litmus test that my parents put me through just to make sure that I was not a complete brat (then again, it probably was). 

Now with a family of potential ingrates all my own, I am inclined to connect the dots all the way to the actual Giver of every good and perfect gift.  The alternative would be nothing short of idolatry.  As Walter Brueggemann shares in his Reverberations of Faith, Israel’s gratitude—in speech and in gesture—is not generic, but “YHWH specific.”  The temptation to thank the wrong agent is reflected in Hosea 2:8: she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold that they used for Baal.  The notion of thanking the wrong God seems remote, says Brueggemann, until we ponder the fact that almost every television commercial is staged the same way Israel does these prayers, with a precondition of trouble and a post-condition of well-being.  In between, however, as the transformative agent, is “the product” (i.e., vacuum cleaner, acne medicine, laundry detergent, injury lawyer, predatory lender).

Why settle for such an incapable savior?  Why give thanks to such an inglorious god?

In the midst of the storm of his life, when the battered vessel was at the mercy of the raging seas off the coast of Malta, the Apostle Paul “gave thanks to God in presence of them all” (Acts 27:35). 

Paul’s reasons for gratitude to God cover the whole territory of human life and experience.  He gaves thanks for:

His daily bread (Acts 27:35).
Those who have faith in Christ (Rom. 1:8).
Deliverance from anxiety (2 Cor. 2:14)
Deliverance from temptation (Rom. 7:25)
The memory of his friends (Phil. 1:3)
Kindness in the day of trouble (Acts 28:15).
The “unspeakable” gift (2 Cor. 9:15).

Israel knows the name of the God who matters.  So do disciples of Jesus Christ. 

At this year’s Thanksgiving table, let us teach our children to do the same.
Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanks be to God!

Who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices…

Darren M. McClellan