Sermon by Pastor Tom Brown · Nov 22, 2020 · My Bible Year Series

Have you heard this phrase?

Enough is a feast. Isn’t that good?

Paul in his epistles tells us that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6) The Proverbs teach us that “the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15)

Enough is a feast. In Christ we have more than enough.

This Thanksgiving is an opportunity to let our hearts feast on the abundance we have in Christ. But that’s not always easy, is it?

In the next 6 weeks you and I will be inundated with a deluge of images calculated to produce in us feelings of discontentment and desire.

This is not the first or the last time that someone has pointed out the irony that the day historically set aside for contemplation, prayer and the cultivation of gratitude has been swallowed up in the greatest wave of consumer frenzy that the world has ever seen.

And if that weren’t enough, this Thanksgiving is taking place in the midst of a very long year of unwanted surprises, difficulties and social strain. Our media outlets and personalities have fed us a steady stream of misgiving and uncertainty about the future.

It seems like setting aside 3 minutes at the dinner table to go around and share one thing you are thankful for will be about as effective as effective as sprinkling a pinch of pepper on a pile of poop.

We’re going to need more than that to truly appreciate Thanksgiving.

But what’s at stake?

Does it matter if we are grateful or not? Are we just holding onto the vapors of an old tradition, created for another time?

You don’t have to come to church to hear that gratitude is good for your mental health. Every motivational speaker and self-help guru will tell you that gratitude gives you more happiness, strength and endurance.

But there’s more to it than our psychology. There’s much more at stake than our feelings. We’re in Psalm 50:23 this morning. Let’s read.

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

Psalm 50:23 (ESV)

This morning we’re going to talk about the duty and delight of Thanksgiving.

We will look at what it means to offer thanksgiving as a sacrifice, we’re going to see in what sense that glorifies God, we’re going to look at a real life example and some practical application.

First, in what sense is thanksgiving a sacrifice?

Ritual sacrifice is a global phenomenon in the history of humanity. Tribes and nations across the planet have practiced the offering of life or possessions to a deity.

Sacrifices are made to gain favor, to make atonement for sins or to honor a deity.

Deep in our human psychology is a sense that we are not alone in this world and the weight of personality out there is so great and transcendent that you cannot simply stroll into the presence of such a being.

Sacrifice recognizes a gap between the one offering and the recipient. It recognizes a debt of honor and reverence.

David tells us that thanksgiving is like that. It is a recognition of a debt owed. It is a reverential approach to the almighty, holy creator of the cosmos.

Thanksgiving in this sense is not optional, it is a duty.

A wise person considers the beauty, order and complexity of the universe and understands that if there is personality behind all of this – we owe that creator a great debt. Of honor and thanksgiving.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

To respond to the beauty of life and creation with humble thanksgiving is a right response. Why don’t we always do that?

Paul describes the opposite of that right response in Romans chapter 1.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:21

The crooked bend in our hearts leads us from thanksgiving to entitlement. It leads us from a God-centered way of living to a me-centered life.

The gospel challenges that self-centeredness in us and calls to turn our eyes to something much greater than our individual selves.

Abraham Lincoln, in his Thanksgiving Proclamation sought to help our country turn in that direction.

On October 3, 1863, he wrote:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Thanksgiving is not optional, it is a duty. It’s a debt we owe.

And thanksgiving in this sense is not simply gratitude. It’s not just a feeling of being glad that you have some possession or experience.

Thanksgiving is relational act.

Years ago when my father died, I took a long and lonely drive to see his body and to clean out his apartment. It was an extremely difficult experience. Dad had alienated everyone else in the family, so I was all alone.

But when my aunt Kathy heard what had happened, she and her husband Bobby dropped everything to drive down to give me a hand. Kathy had been estranged from Dad for years, but she and Bobby came to be with me. It was one of the most loving things I have ever experienced.

I am profoundly grateful for that act. A year ago I visited Kathy and Bobby and I wanted to make sure I expressed to them how grateful I was. I wanted to express thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving creates a relational bond.

Thanksgiving as a sacrifice is the overflow of a heart that feasts on the knowledge that I am not alone, that I have been given far more than anything I deserve and that there is a personal responsible for that.

In what sense does our sacrifice of thanksgiving glorify God?

The verb glorify can be defined as – “to cause to be or treat as being more splendid, excellent, etc., than would normally be considered.”

Do we make God glorious with our Thanksgiving? Is he lacking something from us that we provide?

You might as well try to add to the brightness and heat of the sun by shining a flashlight into the sky.

We cannot add a thing to the essential glory of God. But we can increase our own experience of that glory. And we can become windows through which the light of God’s glory shines into the world around us.

Here’s an example of that in real life. During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War 2, the Ten Boom family joined a group of people who smuggled Dutch Jews to freedom. They were eventually caught and sent to concentration camps. I want you to hear Corrie Ten Boom’s account of learn to thank God in the midst of those camps. It’s a longer read, but it’s worth our time.

“Barracks 8 was in the quarantine compound. Next to us–perhaps as a deliberate warning to newcomers–were located the punishment barracks. From there, all day long and often into the night, came the sounds of hell itself. They were not the sounds of anger, or of any human emotion, but of a cruelty altogether detached: blows landing in regular rhythm, screams keeping pace. We would stand in our ten-deep ranks with our hands trembling at our sides, longing to jam them against our ears, to make the sounds stop.

“It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.

“But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of health and hope.

“Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

“I would look about us as Betsie read, watching the light leap from face to face. More than conquerors…It was not a wish. It was a fact.

“We knew it, we experienced it minute by minute–poor, hated, hungry. We are more than conquerors. Not “we shall be.” We are!

“Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.

“Sometimes I would slip the Bible from its little (sack) with hands that shook, so mysterious had it become to me. It was new; it had just been written. I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry…I had read a thousand times the story of Jesus’ arrest–how soldiers had slapped Him, laughed at Him, flogged Him. Now such happenings had faces and voices.

“Fridays–the recurrent humiliation of medical inspection. The hospital corridor in which we waited was unheated and a fall chill had settled into the walls. Still we were forbidden even to wrap ourselves in our own arms, but had to maintain our erect, hands-at-sides position as we filed slowly past a phalanx of grinning guards.

“How there could have been any pleasure in the sight of these stick-thin legs and hunger-bloated stomachs I could not imagine. Surely there is no more wretched sight than the human body unloved and uncared for.

“Nor could I see the necessity for the complete undressing: when we finally reached the examining room a doctor looked down each throat, another–a dentist presumably–at our teeth, a third in between each finger. And that was all. We trooped again down the long, cold corridor and picked up our X-marked dresses at the door.

“But it was one of these mornings while we were waiting, shivering in the corridor, that yet another page in the Bible leapt into life for me.

“He hung naked on the cross.

“…The paintings, the carved crucifixes showed at least a scrap of cloth. But this, I suddenly knew, was the respect and reverence of the artist. But oh–at the time itself, on that other Friday morning–there had been no reverence. No more than I saw in the faces around us now.

“‘Betsie, they took His clothes too.’

“‘Ahead of me I heard a little gasp. ‘Oh, Corrie. And I never thanked Him…’

“Every day the sun rose a little later, the bite took longer to leave the air. It will be better, everyone assured everyone else, when we move into permanent barracks. We’ll have a blanket apiece. A bed of our own. Each of us painted into the picture her own greatest need.

“The move to permanent quarters came the second week in October. We were marched, ten abreast, along the wide cinder avenue…Several times the column halted while numbers were read out–names were never used at Ravensbruck. At last Betsie’s and mine were called…We stepped out of line with a dozen or so others and stared at the long gray front of Barracks 28.

“Betsie and I followed a prisoner-guide through the door at the right. Because of the broken windows, the vast room was in semi-twilight. Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere, plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid.

“Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square tiers stacked three high, and wedged side by side and end to end with only an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.

“We followed our guide single file–the aisle was not wide enough for two–fighting back the claustrophobia of these platforms rising everywhere above us…At last she pointed to a second tier in the center of a large block.

“To reach it, we had to stand on the bottom level, haul ourselves up, and then crawl across three other straw-covered platforms to reach the one that we would share with–how many?

“The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

“‘Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

“We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.

“‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

“‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

“‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

“I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

“In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…'” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

“‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

“‘Oh yes:’…”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.'”

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“‘Such as?’ I said.

“‘Such as being assigned here together.’

“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘

“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”

By offering thanksgiving to God in the flea-ridden barracks of Ravensbruck, Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom opened a window to the glory of God. And through Corrie’s account, millions have felt the rays of that light.

The first time I read these words I wept at the weight of glory.

So what should we do?

The first thing we should do is reflect on our hearts. What’s coming through the window of our lives these days? Is it thanksgiving and gratitude? Is it misgiving and fear? Some of us may need to spend some time with God resetting our hearts.

This week we have an opportunity to order our time and make deliberate effort to offering thanksgiving to our creator. Those of us with kids in the homes have a profound opportunity to shape the hearts of our children. This week my family will spend time each night lighting candles as we pray and thank God for his blessings. It’s nothing magical, but a tangible way to express an offering of thanks.

Maybe you relate to Corrie about the fleas. Maybe you have spaces in your life story where you can’t begin to imagine thanking God for what you have been through. I can relate.

I have struggled for the last two years to accept my daughter’s autism. I could handle Down Syndrome, I couldn’t handle the autism. I have wrestled again and again with God in this circumstance.

But here’s the thing. When we hold a space in our lives where there is no gratitude, if we harbor space in our history that are shut out from the goodness and wisdom of God, we are left with footholds of doubt and fear.

Unless we give thanks in all circumstances, we are in danger of doubting God in all circumstances.

Do you think that the one who spun hundreds of thousands of galaxies into existence with a word understands what he is doing?

As Corrie and Betsie settled into their new barracks, a regular church service developed in their cramped quarters. Corrie read from her Bible while others translated into a variety of languages. She couldn’t understand why they had such freedom during those services. One day Betsy learned the reason.

“One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.

“‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.

“‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’

“That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

“Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!'”

“My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

God is wise. He is good. He knows what he is doing in your life. Will you trust him with your thanksgiving?

We may never understand why some horrible things have happened to us.

But we can understand the cross. Though we are so often entitled, though we so rarely give thanks to God, He has never stopped loving us. His Son came to take on our sorrows and without ever complaining endured the cross in our place.

Let us give thanks for that this morning.

Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown