Homily Fellowship

2019 Thanksgiving Service

Sunday, 29 Dec 2019, 11 am

 

The Call to Give Thanks - Psalm 100

 

Introduction

A moving lesson about being thankful (Reader’s Digest):

A teacher told her first-grade students to draw a picture of something they were thankful for. But, the teacher thought, these children had very little to be thankful for … they lived in a deteriorating poor neighbourhood.  She knew that most of these kids could only imagine pictures of thanksgiving … they would probably draw what was expected of them, such as pictures of turkeys or tables filled with food for thanksgiving dinners … the imagination that would make them happy but hungry.  As the teacher moved around to view the children’s pictures, she was taken aback with one student’s drawing … Douglas’s drawing was simply this: A hand.  It wasn’t his own, but whose hand?  The class was captivated.  What has a hand to do with thanksgiving?

“I think it must be the hand of God that brings us food,” said one student.  “A farmer,” said another, “because they grow the turkeys.” … [The students went on and on, enjoying their guessing game.] Finally, the teacher asked Douglas and he mumbled, “It’s yours, Teacher.”  Then, the teacher recalled that she had taken Douglas by the hand from time to time; she often did that with the children. But that it should have meant so much to Douglas … Perhaps, she reflected, this was her Thanksgiving, and everybody’s Thanksgiving—not the material things given unto us, but the small ways that we give something to others. [i]

So, what’s in our thanksgiving?  We are grateful for all the things we are blessed with through the years, of course.  But, how about being thankful that you could do something for some other people?  When we learn that worship is also about serving God, we will understand why we should be thankful when God opens the doors for us to do something for others.

This morning, Psalm 100 shows us what thanksgiving should look like.   Psalm 100 is a psalm of thanksgiving.  It reflects the people of God in the presence of God.  In worship we ought to realise the presence of God and by an effort of our mind to approach Him.  This Psalm would be a great favourite with the people of God.[ii]  Through this Psalm, the people of God know that God welcomes them into His court of praise.  God is the Lord God Almighty, and since we are all invited to enter His court of worship, we should enter with thanksgiving.  The moment we enter God’s courtyard, we enter the highest experience of fellowship with Him.  Have you ever thought of this divine possibility?

  1. The Call to move nearer and nearer to God (V1-2)

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.

There will be increasing nearness as we begin to worship the Lord.  Beginning with verse 1, the Spirit of the Lord brings us to acclaim Him meaning to shout with joy to Him, and then brings us into worshipping Him in His presence, and finally come before Him meaning to rest in His presence.[iii]

These three verbs – shout, worship, and come – call us to move nearer and nearer to God.  According to the Bible, God alone is to be worshipped or served:

– Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me…”

– Deuteronomy 6:5 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and all your strength.”

God wants people to serve Him with their whole being. It would not be wrong for us to understand that part of the worship of God is to serve Him and His people.  Hence, we may ponder on what to do to serve as part of worship and thanksgiving.

The very nature of God in His holiness demands all of us - our love, our praises, our worship, our thanksgiving, our services.  If we are fully aware of God’s attribute – His righteousness, His love, His graciousness, His holiness, He’s omnipotence (all powerful); omnipresence (present everywhere); omniscience (all knowing); His sovereignty, and many more; if we truly know well of all of God’s attributes, we would be so overwhelmed that we would submit all of ourselves to Him.

The great God calls people to come to fellowship with Him … to move nearer and nearer to Him in worship and to rest in His court and His presence.

Psalm 98:4 echoes the call to make joyful noises to the Lord – “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” (KJV)

  1. The call to recognize the Shepherd (V3)

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

To recognise the Shepherd is to know who your shepherd is.  Is the Lord your Shepherd?  Martin Luther claimed that ‘to know God is to worship him’.  Psalm 100 is exactly about this – an expression of thanks to the God we know for His covenantal love and His faithfulness.

So firstly, we are call to worship – there will be increasing nearness as we begin to worship. Secondly, in our call to worship, we recognize our Shepherd as we are His sheep.  We are given the power to call upon the name of Jesus Christ and worship Him, because, according to verse 3, we know that the Lord is God; we know that He made us for Himself; and we the sheep belong to the Good Shepherd.  This is the knowledge God reveals to us.

Psalm 23:1 reminds us that: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want” which simply means that as the Shepherd looks after all His sheep and when you know the Lord to be your Shepherd, you can trust Him to tenderly take care to provide and guide us.  “I shall not be in want” meaning I can trust God to take care of all my needs.

We are unable to make up praises because thankful praises only come from knowing what God is and who He is.  Only when we know that He is a Holy God, absolutely good, with unchanging attitude and committed love, that He died for our sins, are we able to respond with praises and thanks.

Many people claimed they are unable to love a God they cannot see.  They are unable to submit to and trust an invisible God. They are unable to accept that the Bible is the true revelation of a living God who offers salvation to all people on one condition that they believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins.  Therefore, not all people love God in this sense.  And, therefore, many people are missing the joy of salvation and the joy of true thanksgiving.  Not all people live with a heart that know the meaning of gratefulness and thankfulness, especially not knowing who to be thankful to.

Illustration: Be thankful to the highest and enter by the main door.

I personally believe that there is a point in life where people ponder upon who they should be thankful to.  I recalled that moment in 1996 back in Singapore, when I arrived at our beautiful newly built house on that moving-in day, carrying my newly born daughter Samantha, just three weeks’ old in my arms. As I came out of my car, I stood at the entrance to this beautiful house, a place that was our home for 5 years before our migration to Australia. My Christian brother, Jason, was standing next to me and he said ‘Susan, you are very blessed.’  At that moment, I stood there and thought for a moment.  I didn’t think that I should thank my husband because I wondered who had blessed him.  I didn’t know God at that time, and I had wondered who had blessed me, to whom should I give thanks.  At that moment, I felt a connection to something I had never felt before, that there was something bigger watching over our lives. I felt humbled that I did not enter my new house through the main door at the front, but I walked into my new house through the sliding door at the side.

You know, when we know God and recognize Him as our Shepherd, when we accept His invitation today to enter His gate, we can be thankful to the highest for we can boldly walk into God’s courtyard by the main door, we need not go by the side doors. We are His sheep, we belong to Him.

  1. The Call to enter to give thanks and praises (V4-5)

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation

Let’s recap … firstly, Psalm 100 tells us we are call to worship, with increasing nearness as we begin to worship, and secondly, we begin to worship because we recognize our Shepherd through God’s revelation of Himself to us.  Worship of the Lord is the very purpose of life – it’s all about Him and what He is doing in our lives.  We are made to worship because we are made in God’s image.  We are called to put the Lord first in our lives and all the other things of life will fall into their good and rightful places.  And, therefore, thirdly, in this divine call to worship, we respond with overwhelming thanksgiving.

Intimacy with God continues into verse 4, with the mention of “His gate”, “His court”, and “His name”.  “Enter with Thanksgiving” – reminds me of what is at the heart of Christian worship - it is God Himself.  The children of God are given access to these things which belong to Him who is God.  Isn’t that wonderful!  We are welcome to enter his gate and his court, and to praise a God known by His name.  His name is Jesus Christ.

Verse 5 tells us, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”  Psalm 100 is timeless.  God’s love and faithfulness endure to this generation. To this day if you believe in Jesus Christ, His love remains the same, an unchanging love, a steadfast love.  This love is for you.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only Son…” His son Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross for the sins of all people.   We give Him thanks for who He is and what He was doing for humanity.  Again, we all know that this hard truth is not welcome by many but to those who have received this truth, they all share amazing experiences of their encounters with the invisible God.  Sometimes I wonder who the more intelligent human is – the one who identifies with a creator God and lives life in the image of God, or the one who identifies with something else.  Some of you would have heard this story about Professor Stephen Hawking, but I’m going to refer to him again, as he was an amazingly devoted scientist despite his handicap.

Professor Stephen Hawking is a famous British theoretical physicist. He died on 14 March 2018 at the age of 76, though there were speculations on whether the one who was buried was the real Stephen Hawking because some speculated that he had passed on much earlier.  Anyway, that doesn’t matter because he lived to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States from President Obama on 12 August 2009.  Stephen Hawking suffered a motor neuron disease at age of 21 and his condition deteriorated over the years till he was almost fully paralysed that he could only communicate through a speech generating device.  Despite such extreme handicap Professor Hawking had made great achievements and contributions to the society as a scientist.  In May 2011, The Guardian, a London publication, interviewed Hawking on the sensitive topic of heaven, and he said, “There is no heaven; It’s a fairy story.”  The interviewer asked him: “You had a health scare and spent time in hospital in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?”  Professor Hawking’s answer was: “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years (in 2011).  I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”[v]

I would not know if the professor had changed his mind about his theory at the last moment of his life. A man of extremely high intelligence perhaps did miss out on something so much greater than physics … that God created people who are so precious to Him simply because He created them; that there is no doubt the loving Creator seek to redeem all people so that at the end of life, people will return to be with Him.  Christians who believed in their eternity destiny to be with the Lord would be spared of the worry that they would be thrown away as malfunctioned old machines.  We are God’s treasure.

Conclusion

There are many things in life we should be thankful for.  We are thankful not only because we are successful and have achieved much.  We are thankful not only because life has been so good to us.  More importantly, we are thankful because we have a faithful Lord.  We are thankful because of His graciousness in our lives – during good times and especially during bad times.  Have faith and trust the Lord your Shepherd and be thankful in all circumstances.

There is an open invitation in Psalm 100 … Come … come to know a good and faithful God whose love lasts forever.  Come and know the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the offer of life everlasting.

Rev Susan Lee

28 December 2019

 

Bibliography:

Carson, D.A., et al. New Bible Commentary – 21st Century Edition. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Leupold, H.C. Exposition of Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990.

Wilcock, Michael. The Message of Psalms 73-150. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001.

[i] https://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/thanksgiving-story/

[ii] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=spur&b=19&c=100

[iii] D.A. Carson, et al., The New Bible Commentary, (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 550

[iv] https://www.ibelieve.com/faith/i-shall-not-want-what-psalm-23-teaches-us-about-god-s-sufficiency.html

[v] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/15/stephen-hawking-interview-there-is-no-heaven