Featured Sermon of the Week:
the Goodness of God and Be Thankful!
a Thanksgiving sermon based on Deuteronomy 8:7-18
by Rev. Frank Schaefer
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with our turkeys,
stuffing and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pies, we need to remember that
Thanksgiving should be more than a once-a-year celebration--Thanksgiving
is a state of mind. God calls us to be Thanksgiving people--people who
have an attitude of gratitude.
When we read our scripture reading we realize what a promise of
blessing God gave his children:
"For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with
flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in
valleys and hills" (Verse 7)
The children of Israel, were instructed in this passage to . . .
a) remember where they came from (the hardship and oppression of
b) remember who delivered them, protected them and provided for them
c) be thankful and bless God for those blessings.
Verse ten sums it up nicely (especially for our celebration of
"You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good
land that he has given you."
We are here in this sanctuary to bless God today; to praise God for
the provisions of another year and the many other blessings God has
bestowed on us. And on Thanksgiving Day we shall certainly
fulfill the other part of this verse: we shall eat our fill (You know
me: I can't wait for that part).
What can we say about Thanksgiving? What can we learn from this text?
Perhaps, we need to look at this call to thanksgiving and compare it
with the reality of every-day life.
For the call for remembrance of God's goodness and blessings and
protection in our Scripture reading from Deuteronomy stands in stark
contrast to the actual attitude the children of Israel had when they
went through the wilderness (and even after they occupied the promised
Time and again, the people grumbled and complained instead of giving
thanks and being grateful for so many miraculous provisions God provided
for them. Often times, Moses was on the receiving end of all the yelling
and complaining. In fact, each time the going got rough, they
would make their way to Moses' tent and yell and complain bitterly.
The height of their complaints was the statement , "If only we had
died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the
flesh pots and ate our fill of bread."
Can you imagine the sadness in God's heart upon seeing them with this
kind of attitude? Especially since God reminds us of the kind of
attitude we should assume in our bible text in Deuteronomy. God
had protected them from the various plagues in the wilderness, provided
for them and had led them through the Red Sea.
So many times, God overlooked their disrespect and ungrateful
attitude and even gave them bread from heaven as a breakfast provision
and fresh quail meat for supper. All they have to do was go and
get it. But even then, they weren't happy because they had to
gather it every day, and they couldn't gather enough for more than one
Robert Fulghum, author of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in
Kindergarten," wrote a very interesting piece about yelling and
complaining. He says:
"In the Solomon Islands in the south Pacific some villagers practice
a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an
ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it... Woodsmen with special
powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the
top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies
and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the
tree. According to the villagers, it always works.
Fulghum observes, "Ah, those poor naive innocents. Such quaintly
charming habits of the jungle. Screaming at trees, indeed. How
primitive! Too bad they don't have the advantages of modern technology
and the scientific mind."
Then he adds, "Me? I yell at my wife. And yell at the telephone and
the lawn mower. And yell at the TV and the newspaper and my children.
I've been known to shake my fist and yell at the sky at times.
"The man next door yells at his car a lot. And this summer I heard
him yell at a stepladder for most of an afternoon. We modern, urban,
educated folks yell at traffic and umpires and bills and banks and
machines--especially machines. Machines and relatives get most of the
It's easy to point a finger at the complaining people of Israel and
wonder why they didn't have a better attitude. But before we point
an accusing finger, we need to remember our own attitude toward God.
Perhaps it's easy to feel thankful on a day like today when we gather in
the sanctuary to celebrate Thanksgiving. But what about the rest of the
time? What about the times when things are not going so well? Are we
trusting God in those times that God will come through for us as God has
before? Can we be thankful in those moments as well? Or are we going to
Interestingly, God puts the hard times we go through in the context
of a test, of a lesson we need to learn in humility. In verse 16 it
says: " . . . and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your
ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to
do you good. But God promises to lead us out of the hard times, for in
the end, it will be to our own good! And yet, I think we all have a
tendency to complain in spite of all that is done for us--it seems to be
a human condition.
Somewhere I read the story of a grandmother who had taken her
3-year-old grandson to the beach one summer day. A powerful rip
tide caught the boy and pulled him out to sea and under the water.
The frantic grandmother began to cry and scream. In desperation,
she cried out to God, "Oh, please, God, hear my prayer and give my
grandson back to me." Well, sure enough, the very next wave came
crashing to the shore and threw her grandson right back at her feet.
She picked the boy up and found that he was breathing fine and doing
well. But then she noticed that the hat he wore—the one she had
just bought him was no longer on his head. And she turned her head
upward and with an exasperated tone of voice said, "Well, Lord! He
had a hat on!"
Perhaps this Scripture passage can be a lesson for all of us to take
a long hard look at our attitude. Attitude can make all the
difference in our lives.
We really do have a choice about our attitude. Like the
Israelites, we can be critical and complain about everything that
happens to us. Or we can look on the positive side with an
attitude of faith that the God who parted the Red Sea just might still
be at work in the world.
I remember reading about a certain man who went to church one Sunday.
He frowned when the organist missed a note. He glared at two whispering
teenagers. He looked repeatedly at his watch. When the offering plate
was passed, he felt that the usher was watching to see how much he gave.
He sat tight-lipped during all of the hymn singing. During the
sermon, he felt pleased with himself when he caught the preacher making
a grammatical mistake. As he was leaving the church, he muttered to
himself, "That was a terrible service, why do I bother?"
Another man went to church on the same Sunday. He chuckled at the
sight of a father hugging his toddler. During the Offertory he
wondered, "God has given me so much. Am I giving enough?" He
struggled honestly with the scripture readings to find a word to live
by. Part of the sermon helped him with a question he had often thought
about. He enthusiastically joined in the singing of the closing hymn. As
he left the church, he thought to himself, "How good it is to be here
together in God's presence."
Both men had gone to the same church, on the same Sunday, and each
had found exactly what he was looking for. Attitude made all
But sometimes we find it hard to have a positive attitude. It
is so easy to complain about dirty dishes, stinky laundry, and unmade
beds. It's so easy to look on the negative side. I suppose
the Israelites got really tired of quail and manna after they had tried
Manna Soup, Manna & Quail Casserole, Quail & Manna Casserole, Hot &
Spicy Shredded Manna, Baked Quail with Sour Manna Sauce, and Sweet &
Sour Manna. I'm sure they got tired of the same food every day,
but they had the wrong attitude. They forgot how bad things would
be without God's help.
One lady demonstrated the attitude we need to have when she wrote
this unusual prayer:
Thank you for this sink of dirty dishes; we have plenty of food to
Thank you for this pile of dirty, stinky laundry; we have plenty of
nice clothes to wear.
And I would like to thank you, Lord, for those unmade beds; they were
so warm and comfortable last night. I know that many have no
bed. My thanks to you, Lord for this bathroom, complete with all
the splattered, messy, soggy, grimy towels and the dirty lavatory,
they are so convenient.
Attitude is a choice, but it makes all the difference. Let us make a
choice to be thankful all the time, not just on this Thanksgiving Day.