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An Offering of Thanksgiving! – 11/19/23

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Title

An Offering of Thanksgiving! – 11/19/23

Teacher

Peter Hubbard

Date

November 19, 2023

Scripture

Psalm 50:1-23, Psalms

TRANSCRIPT

I think we all know there will be times when we will walk through difficult days. I think where we tend to lose hope and thankfulness is when those difficulties come in waves. Our head’s just coming above water … We get hit with another one. And they don’t seem to make sense to us. We can’t figure out why or where they’re heading.

And this is one of the reasons I have such great respect for the German pastor Martin Rinkart. Rinkart was born in 1586 to a poor family in Eilenburg, Saxony. He had to pay his own way through the University of Leipzig. He was confident the Lord had called him to be a pastor, but he was rejected for the first job he applied to as deacon in his hometown, and the reason seemed to be petty rivalry, no real reason. Seven years later, he had completed his masters, had written a number of plays and poems; he became a poet laureate. He was offered the pastorate of his hometown church, where he would minister the rest of his life.

However, shortly after he started pastoring there, the waves of difficulty began. The big one was the Thirty Years War, which I’m guessing lasted about thirty years. This was the most destructive war in the history of Germany. We’re talking more than World War I, World War II percentage-wise. Germany lost about a third of its population. So, that would be equivalent to the United States today, losing 120,000,000 people. Eilenburg was a walled city; so, refugees poured into the city. Soldiers plundered the city for food; so, supplies were scarce. Then on top of that, the plague of 1637 devastated the overcrowded city. Rinkart performed up to fifty funerals per day. Eventually, there were so many they had to have mass funerals. Around 8,000 people died, including his precious wife; then the famine. During the famine, Rinkart gave away so much money, food, trying to help poor people stay alive. He had to mortgage his salary for several years just to be able to feed and clothe his children. But the waves kept coming. Armies surrounded the city demanding tribute. Townspeople complained and turned on their pastor. Finally, when the war ended and peace began, Rinkart was so exhausted he died the next year.

However, in the middle of all of this, these wave-upon-wave of difficulties, Rinkart wanted to encourage his people. This would have been around 1636. And so, he wrote one of his most famous hymns. Now, imagine writing this hymn in the middle of war with death and hunger all around.

“Now thank we all our God / With heart and hands and voices / Who wondrous things has done / In whom this world rejoices / Who from our mother’s arms / Has blessed us on our way / With countless gifts of love / And still is ours today // O may this bounteous God / Through all our life be near us / With ever joyful hearts / And blessed peace to cheer us / To keep us in his grace / And guide us when perplexed [That’s one of my favorite lines because that’s where I live.] / And free us from all ills / Of this world in the next // All praise and thanks to God / The Father now be given / The Son and Spirit blest / Who reign in highest heaven / The one eternal God / Whom heaven and earth adore / For thus it was is now / And shall be evermore.”

I want to do this. I want us to do this —

“to give thanks in all circumstances,”

1 Thessalonians 5:18. Rinkart ministered in his church for thirty-two years. Today, as a church, we celebrate thirty-two years of God’s steadfast love. God has a message for us from Psalm 50. If you’ll turn there, if you’re not already there, Psalm 50.

This psalm is different from most psalms. It has the feel more of a prophetic call than a song. The scene is a courtroom. God summons the earth to his court in verses 1-6. And as he is summoning, he is coming. And he comes first in beauty, verses 1-2. Now, courtrooms generally are quite drab, colorless, maybe even dismal. This one is radiant. Look at verse 1.

“The Mighty One, God the Lord (El, Elohim, Yahweh), speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.”

God shines forth. The sky is the ceiling of his courtroom. The sun is the lighting. His radiance shines throughout the courtroom. He comes in beauty.

Secondly, he comes in power. Verse 3,

“Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire.”

So, seeing him come is like watching a tidal wave of flames burning everything in its way toward you. End of verse 3,

“Around him a mighty tempest.”

The mightiest tempest recorded in the world, I think, was in Australia 1996 — 253 mph, gusts of 253. That would pretty much blow away most homes. God comes in a mighty tempest. He comes in power.

He comes, third, in righteousness, communicating the fact that this is no kangaroo court that ignores due process or ethical norms and jumps to unjust conclusions. God is not leading some kind of supernatural lynch mob. No, verse 5,

“Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice! The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge!”

So, the whole world, fixing their eyes on God, coming in beauty, in power, in righteousness, and God turns his gaze to his people, Israel, and then addresses two different groups.

Number 1, to the religious, those who are trying. What is his indictment of the religious, the people who are trying? Could be summarized with this. You think you have something God needs. You think you have something God needs. Look at verse 7.

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.”

So, “these are the people who are trying” is communicated here with the fact that God is saying “I’m not indicting you for doing the wrong thing; you’re doing the right thing”; however (verse 9),

“I will not accept the bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, all of them, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or do I drink the blood of goats?”

What is God saying here? You’re doing the right thing, but the way you think about me is all wrong. You see me as needy, and you see you as having something I need. And you don’t understand the most basic element of creation, as Terry Eagleton explains. This is at the center of the doctrine of creation,

“not the fact that the world came into existence, but that it did not need to.”

Let that soak in. It’s not just that the world came into existence, but it did not need to.

This means that all creation is gift. It did not need to. But it did. In other words, if I give you $100 because I owe you $100, I’m paying a debt to you. That’s very different than me just handing you $100 out of love freely. God is saying, “I was under no obligation to create the world. I didn’t need anything. I did it as gift.” That changes everything. So, everything we are, everything we have, is gift. And as Christopher Watkin explains,

“The one thing we should not do with a gift is pretend we bought or made it ourselves.”

It’s deeply offensive to a giver. If you give me a gift, I forget that you gave me that gift, I repackage that gift and give it back to you as if I created that gift for you; that is deeply offensive to a giver. “Don’t you remember? I gave you that gift,” you would say. That’s what God is saying to the religious. “Don’t you remember? I gave you everything you have.” So, God’s indictment of the religious is you think you have something God needs.

So what’s the remedy, God’s treatment for the religious? Verse 14,

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

How about you bring me what you need, and I love gratefulness? Gratefulness. Yes, do what you said. Keep your vows. And yes, notice how he ends there, ask for more. Verse 15,

“Call upon me in the day of trouble; and I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.”

Does that sound like a stingy God? He says, “Come. I’ve given you everything you have. Ask for more. I’m ready to pour out more. But don’t come to me with the assumption that you have something that I need as if you created yourself or your things on your own.” That’s to the religious.

And then he turns to the irreligious, those who stopped trying. And God’s indictment of the irreligious could be summarized “you think you know better than God. You think you know better than God knows.” Verse 16,

“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes or take up my covenant on your lips?’”

So, this group knows the Bible. They grew up with the Torah. You could say today they went to church from infancy. Maybe they even may have gone to some Christian school. But they see themselves as creative, innovative, unlike those stiff, mindless, religious conformists. Verse 17,

“You hate discipline (instruction), and you cast my words behind you. If you see a thief, you are pleased with them, and you keep company with adulterers.”

So, God is saying “you have way too much confidence in your own thoughts, hating discipline, casting my words behind you.” Verse 21,

“These things you have done, and I have been silent.”

And tragically, you might not even realize that I have been silent. Why? Because you have so much confidence in your own thoughts, you think your thoughts are my thoughts. You haven’t even noticed I’ve stopped speaking. The echoes of the culture you live in and your own thoughts have blocked out my thoughts and my voice, and you carry on as if nothing’s missing. Verse 21,

“But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver.”

So, this is a terrifying statement. What God is saying is it’s never wise to ignore the God of the universe who comes as a devouring fire and a mighty tempest. This isn’t a flannel graph god. This is the God.

So, what is the remedy? Why is he telling us? Does he want to destroy us? No, look. Verse 23, the treatment or remedy of the irreligious.

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly, I will show the salvation of God!”

That’s the heart of God. To order our way rightly is to reject the delusion that God is as we are and that we know how God thinks. Because we know how we think, we know what we would do; therefore, we know what we should do. No … dying to that.

But notice the big point I think in Psalm 50 is that both to the religious and the irreligious, God is calling us to do the same thing. What is that in one word? Thanksgiving. Did you see it? Thanksgiving. Verse 14, to the religious — “Offer to God sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Verse 23, to the irreligious — “Offer thanksgiving as his sacrifice.”

So, how do we do this? How do you offer thanksgiving as a sacrifice? So, I’m going to suggest three things — Repent, Receive, Release. Let’s walk through those.

Repent of the lies we believe about God. Now, I think this is the hardest part. And if you think of these lies related to the ones he just talked about, he’s talking about acknowledging and repenting of self-sufficiency. In other words, recognizing … like what Jesus said, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” acknowledging the fact that we need God. Imagine yourself financially going through a rough patch, and you’re sleeping on your friend’s couch, you’re raiding your friend’s refrigerator, borrowing your friend’s toothbrush (that’s too far! Too far!) … leaving your teeth unbrushed. You’re in a place of desperation. And most people don’t like that feeling, right? You don’t know how it’s going to be resolved. You hate to be dependent on your friend. You’re tired of sleeping on his couch. What God is saying here in Psalm 50 is you’re all sleeping on my couch, not the same couch, but you’re all sleeping on my couch. You’re all raiding my refrigerator. Okay. I won’t mention toothbrush. Some of you are getting triggered.

Do we understand that? This is basic. Repenting of the lies is simply saying, “God, everything I have is from you. Everything.” And then also, if you think of the second half of Psalm 50, we’re repenting of the lie that we know better than God because some of us, if cornered (we generally won’t say it out loud), but if cornered, we really think we know better than God. “If I were God, I wouldn’t have all these morals, these rules. I wouldn’t care who sleeps with whom. If I were God, I would never allow my friends to have cancer or go through something hard. Never, if I were God. Psalm 50 is a gentle reminder — You’re not God. I’m not God, and not just that we’re not God, but that we don’t get it. We don’t understand what God is doing, that God is smarter than we are. That’s what we mean by repenting of these lies. Unless we settle those two, we will never be able to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. So, number 1, repent of the lies.

Secondly — Receive from our generous Father. All of life is gift. Just right now, think about your breathing, just for a minute. Breathe in, out, like you’re at the doctors. In. Out. Gift, gift, gift! Heart beating. Gift, gift, gift! Sun shining, tasting, seeing, feeling, touching. Gift, gift, gift, gift! Salvation from start to finish. Gift! God sent his Son for us. Gift! He washed away all our sins only by faith, by looking to him. Gift! All of life is gift. This family of faith. Gift for thirty-two years! Gift, gift, gift, gift he pours out! We are swimming in spiritual gifts that God has poured out on his people in order to give us everything we need for life and godliness … of all people, overwhelmed with gratitude for the gifts! And even in the middle of this, he’s saying, “Ask for more, ask for more! I want to pour out, open heaven!” Repent of the lies, and then receive gifts from your Father.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim.”

Let that soak in — The community is a gift.

“Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God.”

He’s saying be careful because when you love (and I’m preaching to myself right now) … When you love something like this (you), you can get to the place where you’re always wanting to fix it, right, perfect it. You want it to be everything it can be. If you love someone, you can want that too. And that can degenerate into something very critical, right? What Bonhoeffer’s saying is be careful, as again, “what may appear weak and trifling to us (an imperfect community) maybe great and glorious to God.” Gift.

He continues,

“Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature.”

There is a time to take your temperature. But “constantly taking its temperature.”

“The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”

This is why we gather on days like this to give thanks. God turns our face to the Giver, and he pours out more grace on us.

So, I need to say, as I personally look back on thirty-two years with you all, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for you. I know we’re not a perfect community, but as close as you can get to it. I know I’m objective. Thank you.

Number 3 — Release. Offer up thanksgiving as a sacrifice. Release the painful and the joyful to God with thanksgiving. So, what does this look like? Let’s try to get our arms around this idea of offering thanksgiving as a sacrifice. And I want to let Elisabeth Elliot, one day out of the life of Elisabeth Elliot, instruct us as to what it means to offer thanksgiving as a sacrifice.

On October 25th, 1972, Elisabeth Elliot experienced in one day, what Rinkart experienced for many years — wave upon wave of difficulty. In the morning, she found an apartment for her mom who was moving up, but then the waves began to crash. She heard from a good friend of hers, whose son was just killed in a car wreck. Then later, she met with a young woman who had a three-year-old son who was just told he has a heart condition and may not live through the year. Later that afternoon, she took her husband to the hospital. He was diagnosed with cancer. That cancer would eventually kill him. Remember, she lost her first husband as a martyr as a missionary.

She writes this.

“Now where do you turn? What do you do? You cry. You pray. You ask why? But then, there’s a much better thing to do that is stated in this verse…”

And she takes us to Psalm 50.

“‘He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me; to him who orders his way aright I will show the salvation of God.’”

Now, does this mean you specifically … “Lord, thank you for car wrecks. Thank you for cancer. Thank you for heart disease.” No. She explains.

“So what is there to be grateful for in the midst of suffering? Well, God is still love. Nothing has changed that.”

Although it doesn’t feel true, it is. Number 2,

“God is still God. He is sovereign. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He knew that my husband was going to get cancer on that particular day, or that we would find out about it on that particular day. Before the foundation of the world, he knew that. So he wasn’t taken by surprise. Love still wills my joy. Now, I can always thank God for all these things.”

So, that night, October 25th, 1972, Elliot wrote in her journal,

“Good and peaceful all day.”

She discovered whatever Rinkart discovered to be able to sing “Now thank we all our God” in the middle of the Thirty Years War. And one of the one of the ways she explains this is when she noticed that in Hebrew there is one little word that can either be translated “burden” or “gift,” same word. And that there are times that God entrusts us with a burden and calls us to offer it up as a gift. She explains,

“This is a transforming truth to me. If I thank God for this very thing which is killing me, I can begin dimly and faintly to see it as a gift. I can realize that it is through that very thing which is so far from being the thing I would have chosen, that God wants to teach me His way of salvation. [The end of verse 23] I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will say, ‘Yes, Lord.’ I will say, ‘Thank you, Lord…. It is in these very situations which are so painful — having what you don’t want, wanting with all your heart something you don’t have — that thanksgiving can prepare the way for God to show us His Salvation.”

Can we do that?

After the first service, my wife, who praise the Lord, right in the middle of chemo, was able to come this morning. And she reminded me, to my own shame, “Do you remember we sang ‘Now Thank We All Our God’” in our wedding?” Was I there? Yeah. Oh, yes, I remember. So, this is going to look different for all of us. Some of us have had the best year of our life, this year, a year of spiritual growth or a year of financial blessing. So, what does it mean to offer up a sacrifice of thanksgiving? It might mean, because there’s always pain in sacrifice, right, there’s a dying in sacrifice. So, there’s a dying to the lie that I earned this, I’ve got this, it’s all mine to keep. No, I’m offering it up to the glory of God. For others of us, we’ve walked through a year of surgeries and chemo and uncertainties, loss, pain, doubt, fear. And we’re saying, “God, this is a heavy burden you have put on me, but I want to offer it up to you in thanksgiving because I know your love is still there. You’re still God. You still will my joy even when you take us through dark times.

So, there are cards in the seatback around you. Some of us may want to write out those. So, in a few minutes, after I pray, when we have an opportunity to come up and actually physically offer up, there might be some of us who, as I was speaking from Psalm 50, the Spirit put his finger on something — “I want you to give that over to me. I want you to thank me for that. I want you to die to that. I want you to offer that up.” Write that out, and just offer that up to the Lord.

And for others of us as we give our financial gifts … You might have given online, or you feel more comfortable giving in the boxes in the back. This is the day of thanksgiving. We are praying that all of our hearts would be overwhelmed with gratitude because the Giver has poured out his goodness on us.

So, in a few moments, we’ll have an opportunity to repent of the lies we believe about God that God is in our debt or we have something he needs or we know better than him; receive from our generous Father, ask God just to open our eyes to his goodness; and then release or offer up the painful and the joyful to God with thanksgiving. So, in a moment, I will pray, and we’ll have five, six songs (never actually know how many songs because of the medleys). So, there’s no rush. This is an important time for us as a church family to intentionally give thanks. So, feel free as an individual, you might want to come pray alone, or you might want to grab somebody or families and offer your gifts or offer up your sacrifice of thanksgiving. Feel free to pray while you’re up here if you’d like or ask for prayer. Let’s view this time … People will move from your aisle, row to let you out. Don’t worry about that. And again, you can come early or come later. The kids are going to sing first, and then we will begin. So, let’s pray.

Father, thank you that when you come in beauty and power and righteousness, you come not to crush us but to save us, to give us more. So, pour out on us a spirit of thankfulness. We of all people are grateful. May we offer up everything we are, dying to the lies we believe about you or about ourselves, receiving the gifts that you have for us, offering up the pain and the joy with gratitude. And may you receive all the glory for all that you’re doing in our midst. We thank you in Jesus’s name. Amen.