Psalm 100- Thanksgiving

A.J. Jacob’s wrote a book called “A Year of Living Biblically”. The book is about an experiment he did over the course of a year. What he tried to do was to live according the Bible for a year, as literally as possible. Specifically, the Old Testament. He did things like grew a long beard, and refused to wear clothing made of mixed fibers. … He describes some interesting encounters with people. He described what he was doing to one man, who then responded “Well, I’m an adulterer. Are you going to stone me?” to which Jacobs responded, “That would be great!” He then pulled out some small pebbles from his pocket and began throwing them at the man. Apparently, the Bible didn’t say the size of the stones that were to be used. …. He made it very much about following the rules and prohibitions- the 613 mitzvot.

Jacobs was an agnostic, though he was Jewish by family background, but he grew up in a very secular family. He says one reason for the project was to poke fun at “fundamentalists”. After the year was over, he did say he learned a few good lessons. He definitely came away with more respect for the Bible than he had at the beginning. While he didn’t become a believer, he did begin labeling himself as a “reverent agnostic”, which he defines as an agnostic that is very open to the “Holy” even though he still was quite unsure about God. He also said that his time living Biblically made him more thankful, and part of the reason for that is that the Bible is constantly calling the people to give thanks.

Our Psalm today is an example for this call to thanksgiving. Some scholars think it had a liturgical role in the temple. They think it was used during a procession through the temple gates and courts. Temple priests and musicians would have been leading the people in singing and calling the people into worship-

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord”.

What lights up a father’s heart most? Isn’t it when his child sees him and they make a joyful noise as they yell “Daddy!” and run into his arms? The priests are encouraging the people to do that with God. Make a joyful noise to gladden the heart of God. Serve with gladness- sing! God made you and you belong to Him. You are his sheep, and He is your shepherd. Everything in your life is because of God. Every heartbeat- The air in your lungs- your friends- your family- every joy- the time in history you live in- all of it is because of God. And it is given out of a dedicated love to God’s people.

And so, as we enter into worship- as the ancient Hebrews entered into the gates of the temple- as they worked their way through the open courts- they were encouraged to enter with joyful thanksgiving.

It is a necessary correction to the human heart. It is easy for human beings to become ungrateful. We see this throughout the Bible. We read about God rescuing the people from slavery in Egypt because God hears their cries and suffering. Then, as soon as they are miraculously rescued through the parted sea they start complaining and wishing they were back in slavery. They complain about being hungry … and God provides them with manna to eat. They complain about not having meat… and God rains quail on them. He brings them into the Promised Land … and they complain that they don’t have a king. When they are in the Promised Land they even turn and worship other gods, basically rejecting the God who rescued their ancestors from slavery and brought them to a land of abundance. The Bible is not always about heroes who should be imitated. It is mostly about God interacting with a group of people who are very very human.

I think ingratitude is something we all face. When we get new sneakers, or a new car, or a new house, we are filled with gratitude, but that soon passes. What once inspired thankfulness in us becomes the expected, normal, and usual. … We begin to feel like we deserve it, and to be denied it is an injustice.

For some reason it can be easier to focus on the bad events in our day. We take our spouse for granted and, instead, focus on an upsetting email. We take our blessings for granted and instead are consumed by a rude comment spoken by someone in the street we don’t even know. We watch the news and we are overwhelmed by everything wrong with the world, not with all the good in the world.

We live in an incredible age- cell phones that connect us to people all over the world, cars that enable us to travel without having to be outside in the cold, clean water that comes right into a sink in our house, grocery stores that have bananas in the middle of winter, electricity that gives us light on demand, televisions that facilitate more entertainment than we an possibly consume. We live in an age where we have available to us what would have been science fiction not very long ago.

We tend to applaud individual accomplishment and so we are tempted to pat ourselves on the back for what we have in our life, but we couldn’t accomplish what we do without the benefit of the society we live in. … We are in a country that provides universities where we can be trained. We have hospitals without which many of us would not have made it into adulthood. We have a strong economy that allows us to be employed and to make more money than we could make elsewhere in the world. … Even what seems like our own accomplishment turns out to be largely a gift of the place and time we are born into. … The book of Deuteronomy teaches, 
“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” (Deut 8:17-18).
 … If we aren’t thankful… well, that usually says more about the human heart than about our lives and the lack of things to be grateful for.

Living in gratitude, is to live a life of joy. In our Psalm Joy and gratitude are linked. If you are truly thankful to God then there will be joy. We all know when we see true gratitude, … and joy is part of genuine gratitude.

St. Augustine taught that 
“the Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!”.
 … In John 15 Jesus said, 
“These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
 Paul says that evidence of God’s Spirit dwelling in you is a character marked by joy (see the fruit of the Spirit- Gal 5:22). … The Eastern Orthodox Theologian Alexander Schmemann said, 
“… from its very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of Joy… all-embracing joy”. “Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy”.
 … If we are to embody that joy we should seek to be thankful. 

How can we become more thankful? One way is to follow St. Paul’s advice when he calls us to choose to think certain thoughts. He tells us to set our minds on what is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious (Phil 4:8). These things hint towards the goodness of creation. As we turn to God in thanksgiving for the goodness of creation we shape our minds and become who human beings were meant to be. The theologian Alexander Schmemann said, 
“When man stands before the throne of God when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. … Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven.”
 The word “Eucharisto” means “thanks” in Greek. If we cultivate a thankful spirit by focusing on the goodness all around us, joy will be a result.

This has even been shown by those researching in the field of Positive Psychology. They have 
“shown that people who are habitually grateful are happier than those who are habitually ungrateful; they are less depressed, more satisfied with their lives, have more self-acceptance and have a greater sense of purpose in life. They are also more generous.” (Rupert Sheldrake, “Science and Spiritual Practices”).

A big part of becoming a more thankful person has to do with what you feed your mind. What do you allow your mind to focus on? … Do you allow your mind to gravitate to the negative, or to the positive. … Many of the practices of the people of God have been designed to help us focus our minds on the goodness of God and creation. You might want to read through the psalms with a highlighter and mark any place that calls us to be thankful. You might want to keep a gratitude journal so when you find yourself getting negative you can turn to the journal and see all the things you are thankful for. You can say grace before meals to remind yourself to be thankful to God and to all those involved in getting the food to your plate. … Find ways to celebrate the abundance of life with your family, friends, and community. Find reasons to gather like, thanksgiving, birthdays, marriages, anniversaries, a new job, or reaching a goal. Don’t let them sneak up on you so you celebrate them half-heartedly. Really allow them to be times where you can focus on being together and focusing on gratitude for the people you have in your life and the blessings of community.

Gratitude is a call to believe that God’s goodness is greater than the pain of the world. Resurrection will overcome the cross. The Kingdom of God will overtake the Empire of Darkness. … We celebrate to express our faith that God is good and created a good world, and in the end joy is eternal and suffering is not. So we need more practice in joy than we do in suffering.

So make a joyful noise to the Lord,
serve Him with gladness,
enter the gates with thanksgiving,
give thanks to Him,
for the Lord is good,
His steadfast love endures forever.



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