Thanksgiving Eve
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Psalm 30 Sermon
November 25, 2015

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Hymns (from the Lutheran Service Book):
785 "We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator"
801 "How Great Thou Art"
895 "Now Thank We All Our God"
892 "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come"
397 (tune Dix) "For The Beauty Of The Earth"
805 "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow"
878 "Abide With Me"  


TEXT (vs. 11-12):  “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.

            This evening, I have a confession to make.  I'm not a very happy camper.  The reason for this has nothing to do with anybody here.  But there are people in my life who are taking very unfair advantage of me.  Just because I'm a Christian, they think they can walk all over me and get away with it.  Now I do try to be as understanding about various situations as I can, but there is a limit.  These situations feelings are giving me a rather jaded attitude.  And yes, it's overshadowing and otherwise affecting my ability to be thankful.  

            Now, if you were to ask me to give you a dozen different ways to say, "I'm angry," I could tell you how I'm incensed, annoyed, irritated, aggravated, infuriated, irate, enraged, apoplectic, livid, steamed, foaming at the mouth, really ticked.

            If you wanted me to come up with a dozen different expressions for hurt feelings, I might say how I'm wounded, insulted, injured, slighted, embarrassed, offended, humiliated, disdained, dishonored, disrespected, deeply grieved.

            Or what about a dozen ways to describe the experience of being cheated? Most of us know all too well what it's like to be rooked, gypped, fleeced, hoodwinked, bamboozled, bilked, hornswoggled, swindled, soaked, flim- flammed, finagled, taken to the cleaners.

            But what if our assignment were to come up with a dozen or two-dozen different expressions of thanks? What if we had to find 20 or 30 different ways to say "Thank you"?

            We all know the language of anger. Expressions of displeasure and disgust come to our lips pretty easily. Likewise, the language of hurt is familiar to many. When our feelings are bruised, our pride wounded and shame aroused, we know all sorts of ways to make our pain known. Our culture indoctrinates us in the language of right and privilege, so that when our freedoms are violated, or our expectations upset, we have lots of words and phrases, both proper and not so proper, for expressing our distress. But our language of thanks is not nearly so full, and without the words of thanks, without the ways for giving thanks, can we even have thanks?

            I know that a lot of you have at least some familiarity with dogs.  When I was growing up we had a couple dogs too, Snoopy and Shadow.  I remember that when I would come home, the dogs would be poking their heads through the drapery at the living room window, their eyes lighting up, their tails wagging, and just waiting for me to come in the door.  I know in my heart of hearts that the dogs were thankful for me to be home.  Those dogs would do everything but actually tell me that they were thankful, and yet, without the gift of language, without the ability to verbalize things, Snoopy and Shadow couldn’t really give thanks.

            Only humans give thanks. Whatever our kinship with the rest of the animal kingdom, only humans have the language of thanks. So when that very special language begins to slip, when the vocabulary and grammar of thanks starts to shrink and atrophy, it's not just a loss to our speech. It's a loss to our humanity, because without the language of thanks, we lose the capacity for thanks, and without that gift we lose one of the hallmarks of our humanity, as basic to who we are as thought, or logic, or the ability to love.

            If you think you might have a hard time coming up with a couple of dozen ways to say, "Thank you"; if perhaps your capacity for giving thanks is a little stunted; if maybe your grip on the grammar and syntax of thanksgiving is a bit rusty: then let’s look at the words of Psalm 30.

            For this evening's sermon, I'm going to go through Psalm 30 in Bible Study fashion.  This is a classic Psalm of thanksgiving, and as such it's perfect for teaching and reacquainting us with the language of thanks. Readingnow verses 1-3.

            "I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.  O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.  O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit."

            Lesson Number 1: Thanksgiving is more than just counting our blessings. Rather, thanksgiving means seeing our blessings against the background of very real threats to our existence. Or in the words of one author: Thanksgiving is made "on the other side of lament or complaint."

            In Psalm 30 King David has been given "a new lease on life". Though David doesn't spell out an actual physical disaster that was confronted, something appears to be a humiliating, and potentially deadly encounter.

            Certainly we can see the danger of being dead in our transgressions and sins.  While we were separated from God because of our sins and headed to the grave to eternal death, God rescued us and restored us to life through Christ Jesus our Saviour.  So not only does God step in and save during times of earthly crisis, but he does so all the more miraculously in a spiritual sense.  Jesus our Saviour snatches us away from eternal death.

            Whether it is a health crisis or some other mortal or spiritual danger, King David states in this Psalm that this rescue was more than just blind chance or dumb luck. He makes the leap of faith, declaring God to be the Saviour who snatches people away from the clutches of death.

You have drawn me up (v. 1);
You healed me (v. 2);
You brought me up ... from the dead, or Sheol (v. 3a);
You restored me to life (v. 3b).

            Or in other words, thanksgiving always drives to the very source of our salvation. Thanksgiving always ends in God.

Now let’s read verses 4 through 6: "Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.  For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."

            Another lesson: thanksgiving doesn't remain private for long. Eventually, all thanksgiving goes public. Psalm 30 begins as David’s individual word of thanks, but in these verses he invites the whole community to join in.  As one commentator says, "The thanks are more than one individual person can adequately render". The breadth of God's mercy so far exceeds the extent of God's wrath that King David has to summon the entire people of God to share in the promise so thankfully declared:  "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."

            Verses 7 through 10 look back on the way things were.  Let’s take a look:   "By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.  To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy:   'What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?  Will the dust praise you?  Will it tell of your faithfulness?   Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!  O Lord, be my helper!'"

            We never know what we have until we're threatened with its loss. We don't value life until we brush up against death. We don't appreciate our fellowship with God. When life is good, our coffers full, our health robust, we all act as though "my mountain stand strong."  I shall never be disturbed.  But when the very ground of our existence quakes beneath our feet, when our life is threatened, when we feel our human mortality, the only language left to us is the cry of anguish:  "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?  Will the dust praise you?  Will it tell of your faithfulness?"

            And yet even there, down in the pit, from out of the dust, God is teaching us the language of thanks. To raise us, God humbles us; to give us life, God brings us to the brink of death; to make us thankful, God teaches us to lament, for out of lament bursts words of thanks.

Verses 11 and 12:  "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!"  

            What a beautiful picture we have here.  As sinful human beings headed for sure destruction, Christ enters the picture and enters our lives.  The healing power of the Gospel means the complete transformation of our lives.  Jesus is our only hope of salvation, and our faith teaches us to always hold fast to Him regardless of how bleak the outlook might be.

            We all will have those moments in our lives that will give us a jaded view of Thanksgiving and I know I'm not alone here.  People will cause us grief; health concerns and other issues will drag us down.  And we can always find those words that describe our negative feelings and emotions; those words that will cloud over those words of thanksgiving we need to remember.          

            Thankfully, God intervenes. God breaks in. God overcomes. God does not abandon us to depression and despair. God does not leave the world forlorn of hope. God turns our death march into a tap dance; God exchanges our combat boots for dancing shoes; God replaces our old clothes with sequins and silver.

            And because God acts, because God delivers, because God rescues and redeems, silence is impossible. Words must be found; and if not found, then invented, to give voice to the sweet song of thanks.

            Thirty, forty, fifty different ways to say "Thank You" is not enough. God's grace, God's goodness, God's wonder need more, and still more ways to give thanks.  It's like we sing in one of our Lenten hymns:  "Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus unto thee." (TLH 151)

            And so this Thanksgiving, may our hearts sing praises to our God without ceasing.  And let us declare right along with King David in our Psalm for today: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”