November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving Day Service Part 1

Thanksgiving Day Service Part 2

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Order of Service

Printed Sermon

 Sermon Title:  Everlasting Thanks To An Everlasting God” (Nehemiah 9:5)

Here we are once again on this fourth Thursday of the month of November observing another National Day of Thanksgiving. And, already this morning I was greeted with a joyful, “Happy Turkey Day!” Now, I’m sure nothing derogatory or sarcastic was meant by such a greeting. Knowing well the person who extended it to me, I’m confident it was said simply out of politeness and a sincere warmth of greeting as one might say, “Good Morning!” 

Taken on its face, though, “Happy Turkey Day” is rather emblematic of how our society as a whole actually observes this National Day of Thanksgiving. For it has become in essence almost solely about getting together as a family, feasting on turkey and watching some football. I’m afraid an outside observer of how we celebrate the day would be hard-pressed to conclude that the day was originally established by our government leaders as an opportunity for us all to take time away from the usual routines of life and to actually give thanks to our divine benefactor, the LORD God.

But what is the giving of thanks and what is the extent of such thanksgiving? The verse printed on our bulletin cover this morning from Nehemiah 9:5 can provide us with some great counsel. It reads: “Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.” 

Stand up and bless the LORD. There we have it. You and I might be most appreciative of what we have or have been given but if we don’t “stand up;” that is, actually take time to verbalize our thankfulness, how will anyone, especially our benefactor, know of it. 

So, we see in our Gospel reading this morning. Only one of the ten lepers graciously healed by Jesus stood up; by that I mean took time and effort to actually go back to Jesus and praise Him for His merciful healing. As Jesus asked: “Where were the other nine?” Were they truly thankful if they could not even stand up; that is, return and give thanks?

And what is it that a truly thankful person says to his benefactor, especially if his benefactor is the Holy, Almighty, God? Nehemiah records for us that the Levites were addressing the people who had returned to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. They encouraged these returning exiles to, “Bless the LORD your God.” They even provided the people with the very words to say to God: “Blessed be Your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.”

Now, this thanksgiving does not at all sound like a “Hey, thanks, man!” The root of the Hebrew word translated “bless” means “to bend the knee.” Note what the Samaritan leper did. He did more than bend the knee. He quite literally fell on his face before Jesus’ feet. At the same time, from his posture of true humility he was anything but quiet. Instead, with a great voice he glorified God. He gave God, in the person of Jesus, full credit for his cleansing at the top of his lungs! In other words, this healed leper was not shy at all about blessing Jesus. He did exactly what a literal rending of the word bless means; he heaped up good words upon Jesus.

Simply saying “Thank you,” is not blessing… it is not serious thanksgiving. Letting others know the gracious character and qualities of your benefactor from a position of humility in the face of their grace toward you, that’s giving thanks.

If a husband wants to thank his wife for cooking him such good meals all the time, I suppose he could tell her, “Thank you dear!” or he could go brag up her loving service to him and her wonderful cooking all the time to all his friends and neighbors! Which do you think, Ladies, you would receive as real thanksgiving? You, bet, blessing you by yelling out your greatness incessantly to all who would listen. By that you would clearly know how thankful your husband really is.

These Levites Nehemiah speaks of certainly understood how the LORD ought to be thanked. They urge: “Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting.” When it comes to thanking the LORD our God, just one special day of thanksgiving certainly does not cut it! After all, His mercy toward us, His people, is not just a onetime action. His grace toward us is not simply an occasional extra. As the holy writer Jeremiah proclaims, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lam. 3:22,23). The LORD our God deserves unending, everlasting, blessing and praise.

There is some question whether the phrase everlasting to everlasting in this verse applies to the blessing of God or to the nature of God Himself. The Hebrew of this text is somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps that is intentional and the answer to our quandary is “Yes!” “Yes,” the LORD is deserving of everlasting, unceasing, blessing and praise, for He is also in Himself everlasting… eternal and His love toward us is everlasting. The Psalmist proclaims: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). And we also hear the LORD speak through His prophet Jeremiah: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer. 31:3).

Everlasting, that’s sure a concept impossible to grasp in our experience isn’t it? What is everlasting? I’m so tired of paying good, hard-earned money to purchase something that works or lasts only for a few days, or weeks or months. And how often are we all frustrated by relationships that never seem to last. People are so fickle. Their promises so easily broken. Their love for us so short lived. 

But how thankful we can be that none of this temporariness exists in God or in His relationship with His people. Throughout the rest of this 9th chapter of Nehemiah, we hear the people, led as they were by the Levites, present a whole litany of their unfaithfulness and failures in their relationship with God. They cover a whole millennium in their relationship with the LORD, from the time of their father Abraham to their present return from captivity in Babylon. 

They also clearly acknowledge that over that whole time, the LORD never abandoned them. Even during the 400 years they spent in Egypt and their most recent 70 years of captivity, their continual disobedience and idolatry did not dissuade the LORD from befriending them. The LORD continually remembered His covenant with them and He never forsook them. What could be said but that which the Psalmist has said: the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting o everlasting on those who fear him, and His righteousness to children’s children to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments” (Ps. 103:17,18). 

Oh, dear friends, like our brothers and sisters of old, when it comes to the LORD our God, our memories are short, our commitment lackluster, our promises half-hearted, our love so fickle, and all too often our thankfulness so shallow. Yet, on this Thanksgiving Day, and on every day going forward, may we be moved by the eternal love of our God in Jesus Christ to bless the LORD our God from everlasting to everlasting. 

For there is nothing temporary or short lived when it comes to our relationship with Him. From everlasting to everlasting He has been and will continue to be our God… our Savior. As the apostle of the LORD reminds us: “(The LORD) chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:3-14).

So, fellow redeemed in Christ, there is no mere Turkey Day for us this day. Today, we stand up and bless our everlasting LORD even before the many in our world who out of their own fear would chastise us to hunker down in isolation and speechlessness. Yes, assembled together today, we boldly proclaim: Blessed be the LORD our God from everlasting to everlasting, whose glorious name is exalted above all blessing and praise! (Neh. 9:5) and who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places! (Eph. 1:3) Eternal praise be to the LORD! Amen!