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THE MOST SPLENDID WORD YOU CAN SAY

Psalm 100
7th December 2003

This week it is exactly ten years since I had open-heart surgery. The surgeon told my wife, when he picked up my heart from my chest cavity, it was grey not a healthy red. He said, "Dead meat! This will be a challenge." Hours later, I returned slowly into consciousness in the Intensive Care Unit with tubes down my nostrils and throat, unable to move in the mass of tubes and wires. I could hear Beverley speaking to me, but I could not open my eyes. I remember thinking, "My name is Gordon Moyes. Today is December 1st or 2nd. I have my memory intact and I can think clearly. Thank you God my brain is intact. I must sleep some more."

Just to be alive is reason to be thankful. One of the first words we teach babies to say when we place something in their little hands is "Ta". A little later, we teach them to say, "Thanks" and a little later, "Thank you." To teach a spirit of appreciation is an essential part of growing, and mature people have a deep sense of appreciation for all they have and are. Each December Wesley Mission thanks its volunteers and staff through many dinners and luncheons, a number of services and the presentation of certificates of appreciation. We thank our staff in many functions including the dinner this afternoon and the presentation of long service certificates. But most of all we thank God in services of thanksgiving for all His blessings to us as a church. As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving so this church celebrates our own thanksgiving to people and to God. Thanksgiving is always a wonderful response of Christian people. Being grateful is a mark of a mature personality.

1. THE BIBLE TEACHES GRATITUDE.

The ancient Jews sang: Psalm 100:4 " Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations." In the earliest books of the Old Testament the concept of thanksgiving is missing. Neither Adam nor Eve thanked God for His creation. When compared to Abel's gift of the firstborn of his flock, Cain's gift of "some fruit" seems thankless. Isaac and Jacob argued over God's blessing rather than thanking Him for it. Ingratitude was obvious when, after the Exodus, Israel grumbled again and again, rather than thanking God for His deliverance and for food that literally fell from heaven.

Thanksgiving is more common in the Psalms written much later than the early histories. About twenty psalms invite Israel to sing songs of thanksgiving. "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good" is a common refrain. 106:1; 118:1; 136:1 When David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the people sang psalms to give thanks. 1 Chron 16:4,7,8,34,35,41 David also appointed Levites to thank God every morning and evening in the temple. Later, clear gratitude is foundational for the covenant life in the Old Testament. The Law rested upon gratitude for God's redeeming work. In the New Testament the vocabulary for thanksgiving and gratitude expands and thanksgivings increase. The verb eucharisteo appears fifty-five times. The Holy Communion is often called "The Eucharist" because it is our act of thanksgiving for what Jesus Christ has done for our salvation.

Thanksgiving is a motive for Christian life and conduct, a general attitude toward both the blessings and trials of life, a central component of prayer, and the context for the proper use of material things. When I was a country parson in Ararat, Western Victoria, I knew a cow cocky by the name of Loy Fleming. Loy was one of the most gracious Christians I had ever met. One of his practises was to be thankful to God for everything that happened. I asked him once how he could be thankful the morning he found one of his best cows dead. He repeated his prayer. "Thank you Lord it isn't two!" One day, I called at his place and found him looking at the front of his old Holden ute. He had hit something on the road which damaged his ute. I smilingly said he should be thankful in everything and asked him what he could be thankful for about his dented ute. He replied: "Well, I'm thankful that I was driving the ute and not the good car. I am thankful that I never hit a sheep before. I'm thankful that although the sheep dented my ute it didn't dent my head. And I'm thankful because we, and you, are going to be eating lamb all this week!"

2. JESUS WAS ALWAYS GRATEFUL.

The crowds that surrounded Jesus often repeated Israel's sin at the Exodus, by gobbling up the bread Jesus multiplied and enjoying His miracles without expressing gratitude. John 6:22-24 Jesus thanked the Father for hearing His prayer that God raise Lazarus. John 11:41 Following the teaching of Jesus, giving thanks to God was expected from believers and thoughtful people. When a sinful woman interrupted a dinner party to anoint Jesus with precious perfume, Jesus told His shocked host that her action sprang from gratitude for forgiveness. Luke 7:40-47

When Jesus healed ten lepers as they walked to the temple, He marveled that only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank him. Luke 7:11-19 The Epistles teach gratitude for God's deliverance in Christ. Paul thanked God for his final meal on the storm-battered boat that took him to Malta. Acts 27:35 Paul teaches that believers should be thankful for all things and that gratitude for God's saving grace surrounds the entire Christian life. Those whom God has brought from death to life should offer their bodies to him as instruments of righteousness. Rom 6:13 Knowing we were bought at a price, we should offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices to honour Him. Rom 12:1; 1 Cor 6:20

Those who have received an unshakeable kingdom from God should be thankful, worship God, and faithfully endure the hardships of persecution. We should be thankful in both the trials and blessings of life. Paul enjoins his churches to give thanks for all things, in all circumstances, Eph 5:20; 1 Thess 5:18 even in suffering. Rom 5:3-5; James 1:1-4 and to do everything in the name of Jesus out of a spirit of gratitude. "Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Col 3:17 Thanklessness marks wicked men who suppress the truth about God. Rom 1:18-21 Believers retain joy and peace when, "in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving they present their requests to God." Philippians 4:6-7 The Bible ends with the heavenly host giving thanks to God for creating all things 4:9-11 and redeeming humanity. 5:9-14 "Worthy are You; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."

Thanksgiving is a central component of prayer for Paul. He prays that his churches will be thankful Colossians 1:12 and gives thanks in turn for answered prayer. Paul begins most of his letters with expressions of thanksgiving to God for the church or individual to which he writes. The thanksgiving usually leads to a prayer, and the two together ordinarily introduce some of Paul's themes for the letter.

3. GRATITUDE SHOULD MARK THE CHRISTIAN.

Gratitude then, should characterize the life of every Christian, because the Christian life is, at its heart, a life of thanksgiving! Christians, of all people, should be grateful. Yet thankfulness, as a Christian characteristic, often seems to have evaporated from our lives. The spirit of praise sometimes is not very much in evidence. Too many people prefer a spirit of grumbling or carping criticism. Sometimes the circumstances of life seem to push thanksgiving a long way from our thoughts, and the negatives receive a lot more of our attention than the positives. Sometimes it is not easy to be thankful. You lose your job, or get ripped off by someone, or contract a life-threatening disease, or get your house broken into. All thoughts of thankfulness seem to disappear as you rue your loss, and a sense of outrage takes over. "Why me, Lord? Aren't you supposed to be protecting me? What happened to my burglar alarm? What have I done to deserve this?" Like the pain of a toothache or an in-grown toenail that can make an otherwise healthy body feel miserable, so the negative experiences we have, tend to cut across the spirit of thanksgiving in our lives.

Which perhaps has a certain inevitability to it: pain is real, and we'd be silly to deny it. Christians do suffer. Hurting people need our compassion, not our condemnation. But because thanksgiving is such an integral part of the Christian life, there is an obligation that rests on all of us, in whatever circumstances, to cultivate a spirit of gratitude, to follow the advice of that old song, "Count your many blessings, name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!"

When I was a teenager, my younger brother and his friend, while playing by a flooded creek, were both swept away by the raging torrent. The water was freezing and the force of the water swept both towards a large underground drain where they would certainly be drowned. A young man plunged into the raging waters and grabbed hold of both boys, and apparently had an extremely difficult task in saving them. When people called for the rest of us to come, we ran to find the two boys and their rescuer lying exhausted on the wet bank. The other boy's mother ran up, grabbed the rescuer and shouted, "Where's his coat?" Human nature often fails at the point of gratitude.

4. WESLEY MISSION IS GRATEFUL.

For 191 years, Wesley Mission has stood successful and strong because we remain true to our heritage, our calling and our values. John Wesley showed us how to care for the poor, the needy, the alcoholic, the widows, the homeless, the aged and the hungry. We give thanks to God for all His blessings. We thank our members, congregations, donors, churches, corporations, businesses and government departments.

Wesley Mission is a remarkable partnership of community support, charitable endeavour, government funding and oversight and individual commitment. When we work together we achieve remarkable results. Our expenditure is now becoming so large that it is battle to raise enough money to make ends meet. Accuracy and effort are of prime importance. Yet by God's grace, we have exceeded all previous records of income. At the same time, we maintained our low cost ratio for administration - at less than 6% - the lowest of any major charity in Australia.

We take every opportunity to proclaim God's Word and, as the leader of the Mission, I addressed more than 300 gatherings and meetings. I worked on committees dealing with social issues for both the Federal and State Governments and in the NSW Parliament have consistently made a Christian witness on the great social and welfare issues facing us. Through radio and television every week we raised the issues that concern Australians. We employ well over three thousand people. We have so much for which we are grateful. So we gather and obey the injunction: "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations."

Thanks! Thank you! The most splendid word you can say! Thanks! The most meaningful word in the England languages. Thanks! The one word that illustrates your maturity! Thanks! The most longed for word to be heard! Thanks! The most healing word you can utter! Thanks! Thanks!

REFERENCES.

  • Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Ed. Walter A. Elwell. Baker Books, 1996
Wesley Mission, Sydney.