The very wise and wonderful Erma Bombeck observed, “Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours to prepare. They are consumed in 12 minutes. Half-times take 12 minutes. This is not coincidence.”
One mom told this story: Our eldest daughter, Ann, invited her college roommate to join our large family for Thanksgiving dinner. As families sometimes do, we got into a lively argument over a trivial subject until we remembered we had a guest in our midst. There was an immediate, embarrassed silence.
“Please don’t worry about me,” she said. “I was brought up in a family too.”
You know, she probably liked hearing it because it would remind her of her own family. The truth is sometimes we think things have to be perfect in order to be good. But what’s good is good, and perfect has nothing to do with it.
Be continually in praise of what’s good. Be thankful for what’s yours. The good is more than enough. It’s certainly good enough to be thankful for.
The truth is we have it so good. We enjoy it so much.
We express it too little.
But that’s not good for our spiritual growth. Scripture tells us we should be thankful, and praise God for the blessings we have—often. Like our souls depended on it, like our peace of mind and joy of heart relied on it. Because they do.
Someone said, “I used to think people complained because they had a lot of problems. But I have come to realize that they have problems because they complain.”
Now I’m not sure I would agree exactly with the idea that people have problems because they complain. Some things are complain worthy—many are not. The point is people who complain often—too much—are those who see life as a series of problems, and they see a lot of them.
This in turn causes them more problems for any number of reason. But the basic two are: people who are complainers have more problems because people don’t want to be around someone who only sees problems and complains. They’re left on their own or can only keep negative, complaining people as “friends.”
And second, people who see problems and complain don’t understand that so many problems in life can be resolved if you take a problem-solving attitude rather than a problem-seeing and then problem-complaining attitude. They pile problem on top of problem and don’t really resolve any of them.
The truth is complaining doesn’t change anything. It can’t make situations better. Instead start seeing problems as puzzles. Puzzles are interesting, dynamic, fun, educational, mind-growing, and growth producing when understood positively. Problems are quite often simply puzzles that involve people, ideas, and possibilities.
Puzzles can be turned from a mess into a picture. It just takes some time and focus.
I wonder how often when people complain whether or not they’re really complaining deep down about God. We complain about what God does and doesn’t do, how God has failed us because people fail us.
And yet the thing is, we’re told we ought to praise God and give thanks to the Lord. Some have a hard time doing that.
Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, the early C.S. Lewis, Eric Reece, Michael Prowse have all had difficulty with God—at least God as they understood, or misunderstood, God.
Oprah has a problem with the idea that God is jealous — he demands that he and no one else gets our highest allegiance and affection. It didn’t sound loving to her.
Brad Pitt turned away from his boyhood faith, he says, because God says, “You have to say that I’m the best. . . . It seemed to be about ego.”
C.S. Lewis, before he became a Christian, complained that God’s demand to be praised sounded like “a vain woman who wants compliments.”
Erik Reece, the writer of An American Gospel, rejected the Jesus of the Gospels because only an egomaniac would demand that we love him more than we love our parents and children.
And Michael Prowse, the columnist for the London Financial times, turned away because only “tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation.”
So people see it as a problem that God wants to be thanked and praised.
I don’t. But some here today may, and I can understand why.
C. S. Lewis came to see things differently when he became a Christian. He explains it on the basis of, let’s say, human experience. In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, he says this.
“The most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it.
The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.
I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least. . . .
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?”
The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all (people) do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”
I think that clears up some issues about why we should be willing and more than willing to praise God and honor God with our gratitude.
Someone said, “We worship our work, work at our play and play at our worship.”
We don’t really have to change that, at least the worship part. Giving thanks to God is actually fun and so good for you.
And that’s what Jesus is trying to tell us when he tells us to be rich toward God. The Lord is our health and our salvation, our rock and our joy.
In our passage, Christ is in the middle of encouraging his disciples to profess their faith even when things are turned against them, when he is interrupted by someone that wants Jesus to settle a financial dispute between him and his brother. Instead Jesus uses the situation as an opportunity to teach about a life given over to self-preoccupation.
Jesus makes it clear that it’s not a bad thing when your “land produces plentifully.” It’s not a bad thing when your business prospers. It is not a bad thing to receive a promotion and with it a pay increase. It is not a bad thing
when your investments increase in value. That is not the evil in this parable. Nobody’s being told he’s a fool for being a productive and successful farmer.
In fact, the fellow in the parable is not at all wicked. He’s not even particularly greedy. Indeed, he seems to be somewhat surprised by his good fortune as he makes what appears to be reasonable plans to reap the abundance of the harvest.
In other words, Jesus doesn’t build up a caricature, a straw man, that we can shimmy our way out of by saying, “that’s not me.”
There’s nothing wrong with the man here, except….
Except for two things.
Notice how many times he says, I will. “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and (will) build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul.”
The relentless use of the first person pronouns “I” and “my” betray a preoccupation with self. There is no thought to using the abundance to help others, no expression of gratitude for his good fortune, no recognition of God at all.
This leads to a second mistake. He believes that by his wealth he can secure his future: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
If we believe something is true that cannot be true then we aren’t living in reality. And what is definitely true is we do not know the hour when the Lord will come or we will pass. Each hour, day, week, month, and year are gifts from God.
After all, none of this began with us, nor does it end with us. We’re recipients of the wondrous love of God almighty, creator of heaven and earth, the alpha and the omega.
Or as the great scientist and author Carl Sagan said, “If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch you must first invent the universe.”
So stop taking your life and all you love for granted. Keep in your thoughts and words how grateful you are. Cultivate a spirit of appreciation in even tough times.
Simply put, Jesus’ man couldn’t get to first base with God. There was no gratitude. Without gratitude there’s no spiritual life. Without praising the Lord we never cross the threshold of self-preoccupation. If we’re always preoccupied, God can never occupy our thoughts, our heart, our actions.
What do we not have to be thankful for? For a God whose goodness overflows non-stop into your life.
Can the church say Amen?