"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7
 
 

Thanksgiving Eve                           
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Psalm 126 Sermon                                               
November 21, 2012

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Hymns:
"We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer Creator"
"How Great Thou Art"
"Now Thank We All Our God"
"Come Ye Thankful People Come"
"For The Beauty Of The Earth"
"Abide With Me"

GIVING THANKS IN DIFFICULT TIMES

 TEXT (vs. 5-6):   Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!  He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

            Life wasn't easy for Hank.  Even from the start, his home life was shaky at best.  He was the middle child out of three in his family.  His father Thomas wasn't a very strong father figure.  Instead of concerning himself with his family, he preferred the life of a sportsman; so he occupied himself with hunting and fishing and drinking with his cronies most of the time.  This left his mother Anna pretty much on her own to raise her three boys.

            As you might guess, this marriage was doomed to failure.  Even though Anna tried her best to keep her small family together, Thomas decided it was too much for him.  So when Hank was a young boy, Thomas completely deserted his family to pursue his own interests and friends.  But as much of a scoundrel as he was, he made arrangements for his two oldest sons to go to a rather exclusive private school.

            Because of this, Anna picked up her young family and moved to London, so her sons could take advantage of the education that had been provided for them.  But the picture here wasn't too rosy either, because only a few years later, Anna and Hank's younger brother died.  Hank's older brother went his own way too, which left Hank all by himself.

            Hank was an exceptionally bright and talented individual.  The headmaster of the school recognized this, and wound up paying Hank's tuition out of his own pocket.  He took Hank into his own family, and raised him as one of his own children.

            Hank was a very handsome man, with a lot of personal charm and charisma.  He had a good sense of humor, and a quick wit, as well as a deep love and understanding of people.  Throughout his early years, he had a burning desire to do something good for humanity.  So it's little wonder that he chose the life of a pastor as his life's vocation.

            When he was 24 years old, Hank met and married Anne Maxwell, who was seven years his senior and a very devout Christian.  Their marriage was a happy and successful one, and Anne proved to be a very astute manager of the household affairs.  They had two daughters and three sons, all of whom Hank loved and adored.  He dedicated himself to be the best husband and father he could be.

            For the most part, Hank was a very successful minister who was able to draw crowds of people.  But things still weren't all sunshine and roses for him.  One of his daughters got sick and died when she was a child.  Then Hank experienced some discouragement and despondency when a split occurred in the church, and many of Hank's members left, including most of the church choir.  And throughout his life, Hank had severe pulmonary difficulties from bronchitis and asthma.  Even though his health issues were debilitating, he was still able to conduct his ministry under some rather adverse circumstances.

            Hank's ministry also lived through his pen, as he wrote numerous poetic verses.  Even though life had dealt him with some rather cruel blows, he still emitted words of thanksgiving to God.  Here are a few of his verses:  "Go, then, earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn and pain! In Thy service, pain is pleasure; with Thy favor, loss is gain. I have called Thee, “Abba, Father”; I have set my heart on Thee: Storms may howl, and clouds may gather, all must work for good to me. // Man may trouble and distress me, ’twill but drive me to Thy breast. Life with trials hard may press me; heaven will bring me sweeter rest. Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me while Thy love is left to me; Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me, were that joy unmixed with Thee."

            I think that there's a lot we can learn from Hank.  When we think about the trials and tribulations that come into a person's life, it's easy to lose focus of the bigger picture.  With Hank, he had family issues growing up, people he loved in his life got sick and died, and then there were issues in his own church.  To top it all off, he had a lifetime history of serious health issues and concerns.  What ever could he be thankful for?  Where was God's loving and caring hand in all of his pain and adversity?

            It's very easy to give thanks for the things going our way, isn't it?  However, as the "going gets tougher" in life, the concept of actually thanking God tends to get more and more distant from our minds.  This is where the proper responsive action of giving thanks gets turned around and turned into something its not.  It's very easy to forget about all that we already have, and instead get hung up on what we've lost or don't have.  It's far easier to blame God in these difficult circumstances than it is to offer him thanks and praise.  Giving thanks in difficult times is something that we often just forget about doing.

            Our text for this evening is Psalm 126, which we read together responsively just a little while ago.  This Psalm describes a situation that existed amongst the Jews in Jerusalem in about 700 B. C.  Sennacherib, who was the King of Assyria, led a fierce military campaign against Jerusalem.  This was a hard time of intense turmoil for the Jews, and it seemed like there was no end in sight.

            But God had compassion on his people.  Making a long story short, he saved Jerusalem, and sent Sennacherib and his army back to Assyria.

            As you read through this Psalm, it becomes quite clear that it gives a great deal of hope.  When God sent the Assyrians away, it was an incredible blessing for the Jews, and they were most thankful to God for what he had done.  Listen to the first three verses:  "1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said amongst the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.'"

            You can only imagine what kind of celebrating these people were doing!  When something incredibly good happens, I'm sure you've heard people say: "Pinch me, so I know I'm not dreaming."  That's essentially what the Jews were saying in verse 1.  When God delivered them, it was a dream come true for them.  It was a true cause for celebration.  The Psalmist says, "Our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy."  If you think the Nebraska Husker fans were celebrating with a winning touchdown pass against Michigan State in the final seconds of the game several weeks ago, it would pale in comparison to the celebrating the Jews were doing.  Their praise and thanksgiving was given to God, as it says in our Psalm: 'The Lord has done great things for them."

            I think that one of the saddest things that happens on Thanksgiving is the way people become preoccupied with so many unimportant things.  In some ways, the meaning of Thanksgiving is overshadowed even more than Christmas.  I've had people tell me, "Oh, I've got so much to do to get ready.  I've got pies to bake, a turkey to stuff and roast, green bean casserole to fix, and the sweet potatoes...and you expect me to go to church on Thanksgiving?"  

            If a person's Thanksgiving celebration is focused upon a big meal, then a serious reorganization of priorities is needed.  I always think of what Jesus did at the home of Mary and Martha in Luke chapter 10.  Martha was more concerned about cooking a great meal for Jesus, while Mary spent time at Jesus' feet, learning from him.  When Martha gets upset that Mary isn't fussing about in the kitchen with her, Jesus says in verses 41-42:  "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."  And we can add to that Simon Peter's words in John chapter 6 verse 68: "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."

            There is nothing in Scripture that tells us a huge Thanksgiving feast is a necessity.  So when this becomes a focal point, it needs to be changed.  As much as I love a good Thanksgiving meal, it can't blur our vision to the point where we lose sight of God who has given us all things. 

            Giving thanks in difficult times causes us to look at our own lives and what God has done for us.  This attitude is shown by the Israelites gratitude from being delivered from the Assyrian troops.  God does provide, just as he has promised.  For this we are truly thankful, even when it isn't always easy to do so.

            The last two verses of our Psalm this evening convey this hope God always gives to us.  Verses 5-6 read: "Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him."    

            We will experience our share of difficult times in our lives.  But God has something better for us in mind.  He will deliver us from this earth, where we will experience weeping and tears.  Just like the Israelites who celebrated with joy God's deliverance from the Assyrians, we will celebrate with joy God's deliverance from death, hell, and Satan.  Listen to this promise explained in Revelation 21, verses 3-4: "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

            This evening, we focus our thoughts and attention upon the greatest gift of all from God.  That's the gift of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  The beautiful description of what God has in mind for us can only be attainted through faith in our Saviour Jesus.  You can't receive this reward by being a pretty good person, or by following some heathen religious practice.  And God will certainly not give you an eternal reward just because you fixed the perfect turkey, or your gravy didn't have any lumps, or the marshmallows on the sweet potatoes were the perfect shade of brown. 

            We are always reminded that we are sinful people living in a sinful world.  That's why we need to turn to Jesus Christ in faith for our deliverance.  Through faith in him, all of our sins are removed from us.  Through faith in Christ, heaven is our future.  We are saved by God's grace through faith in Christ.  That's how we will receive what God promises us in our Psalm for this evening: "Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!"  And that alone is cause for our great rejoicing in what God has done for us.  Indeed, he has delivered us and brought us to himself, and we are his forever.  We can certainly echo those words of thanksgiving recorded in our Psalm.

            When I began this evening, I told you about Hank, and the difficulties he had in his life.  I've seen people with fewer problems than he had be very bitter about life.  But Hank was anything but bitter.  He lived a life of thanksgiving to his God, despite whatever difficulties he had to endure.  Hank was certainly a man who was able to give thanks in difficult times.

            Throughout his life, Hank's health continued to deteriorate.  As time progressed, he spent more time in the warmer climate of southern France and was under the care of a number of doctors.  He often had fits of chronic coughing.  When his daughter got married, Hank was in such poor health that he could not conduct the ceremony, or even attend the wedding. 

            Still, Hank was a very thankful individual amidst the difficulties of his life.  As he was in the midst of some of his worst suffering, Hank picked up his pen one last time.  Through his pen, he poured out his heart to God in prayer.  He knew his Lord well, and he felt that there was much for which he could be thankful.

            So what were those words Hank wrote while he was so gravely ill?  We know those words very well.  "Abide with me, fast falls the even tide, the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide; when other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with me."  

            Hank, better known as Henry Frances Lyte wrote numerous hymns and poems; but his heart is certainly shown in the eight stanzas of this most famous hymn, which is known around the world.

            Scarcely three weeks after he put down his pen, Henry Frances Lyte was called to his eternal heavenly home on November 20, 1847 at the age of 54.  Right up until the end, his friends say that he was buoyant, cheerful, and keenly interested in everything.  Henry Frances Lyte was a man who certainly knew how to give thanks in some very difficult times.  He knew his Saviour Jesus, and how much God loved him.  He had a future hope in heaven that was sure and certain.  And we all can definitely learn some very valuable lessons from him.

            Through faith in Jesus, we can with thankful hearts echo those confident words that brought Henry Frances Lyte comfort in his final days:  "Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.  Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee, in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me."

            May God grant you a most blessed Thanksgiving, for Jesus' sake.

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