Sermon: Thanks Be to God

November 18, 2018
Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 2:1-10

Thanksgiving in the Anderson family is a Big Deal.

For some years, most of those in my parents’ and my generations lived more or less in the same region, within an area not a lot bigger than Hawai’i Island. If the drive was longer than practical to make in a day – out in the morning, back home in the evening – then there was always a bed somewhere, in a parent’s house or sibling’s home.

For some years, my parents hosted the crowd, and it was a crowd, as some of the family began bringing friends, and then of course the next generation started to appear and then get bigger. The parsonages they lived in were built with a front parlor, a dining room, and a kitchen, with sliding doors that opened up to make one enormous dining room. Borrowed tables and chairs (from the church, of course, since they were the pastors) brought up to forty people together.

After dinner, all of whose contributions had been carefully assigned, some of us would repair to the yard for the annual Thanksgiving Croquet Tournament. Both the winner and the loser received a trophy. Then it was time for dessert, sleepy conversation, then helping the hosts put their house back together, and the drive home to bed.

It sounds picture-perfect, and in one sense it was. One of my jobs was the annual picture of everyone around the table, in fact.

But it also wasn’t.

There were the temporary absences, and the nagging inconveniences. My first churches were at quite a distance, so for a few years we couldn’t contribute much. My brother spent some years in Minnesota, and he didn’t make it east every year. For some reason I got assigned the job of turkey carving a few years back, and my father never kept sharp knives, so I developed the habit of bringing my own.

Then there were the longer, more permanent absences. Divorces. Deaths. Each of us had our own struggles, and we brought them to Thanksgiving. I remember one year I was under terrible emotional strain as Thanksgiving time came around. I dreaded the croquet game, because I couldn’t bear the thought of getting the Loser’s Cup.

You know how that story goes, of course. I went home with the Loser’s Cup, and it completely matched what I was feeling inside.

No matter how picture-perfect our Thanksgivings, there are also aches and griefs around the table. There are losses and sorrows. There are stresses and uncertainties. There are challenges and fears.

When she sang her song, Hannah knew all that, and then she sang her song.

Hannah lived as one of two wives in a fairly well-to-do family. Without the child expected of a woman in those days, however, she not only grieved for what she lacked, but she also found herself doubly tormented by Penninah, her husband’s other wife. Penninah merrily gave her the equivalent of the Loser’s Cup with taunts and jibes.

When she went to pray, Eli added insult to insult, in an account that should be Example Number One in How Not to Do Pastoral Care. He saw her praying earnestly, and assumed she was drunk – which reflects, I’m afraid, on how things were going at the Shiloh shrine. He didn’t even ask her what was troubling her.

Hannah did conceive, and did bear a son: Samuel. She sang her song, however, as she turned him over the Eli at Shiloh to become a servant of the shrine. Her song says almost nothing about her own situation. It sounds more like the thanksgiving hymns sung after a war’s ending that are so common in the Psalms.

About the only reference to her own situation is this line that the barren has borne seven – and she’d had only one child, and she’d just given him away. Eventually, Hannah would have three sons and two daughters. Still, not seven.

She sang her personal thanksgiving in generalities. She may have been inspired by her son’s birth, but she was singing in praise of all God’s activity in Creation.

There’s a wisdom there.

Earnest, sensible people – like me – will urge you to count your blessings, and to give thanks for what you have received. That’s a good spiritual discipline. It’s good to know that God is active in your life, and to see at least some of the ways that is happening.

But not every day comes with obvious blessings. Not every prayer is answered, “Yes.” Not every dawn splashes color across the sky. Not every thing that happens is a Good Thing. Not every thing that happens is a God Thing.

There are just two weeks left in the Church year – Advent begins the year on December 2nd – and this has been a rough one, hasn’t it? Margaret Torigoe is not the only one we had with us at this time last year who is now gone from us to God. The summer’s eruption displaced thousands of people and put all of us on edge. People still need housing, and we’ve continued to help them. Then Hurricane Lane came, and stayed, and stayed.

Our hearts have also ached for the troubles of people far from here: more tropical storms in the Carolinas, in Japan. A major earthquake in Indonesia. Wildfires in California.

I feel a little bit like a tightrope walker wearing razor blades on the bottom of his shoes.

In such situations, Hannah offers us a way: to reach beyond our immediate circumstances to the broader actions of God in the world. To give thanks for sun when it is raining. To give thanks for rain when it is dry. To give thanks for warmth when it is cold. To give thanks for love when hate gets all the air time.

Further, Hannah offered thanks for things that had not yet happened, for the blessings of God that have not yet come to be. Even though she expressed them in terms of the present tense, it has to be admitted that God has not raised up a great many of the poor from the dust, and God has not yet brought many of the wealthy and powerful into a state of need.

Justice in Hannah’s day was something she prayed for. In our day, too, ultimate justice lies yet ahead.

Give thanks, then, for the promises as well as the gifts of God.

Do give thanks. Give thanks for the blessings you can see, and touch, and hear, and taste, and smell. Give thanks for the blessings that are beyond your awareness – the blessings others have experienced. Give thanks for the blessings you hope for, the longings not yet achieved, the imaginings yet to take form.

Thanks be to God.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon:

Things change. They change all the time. As, for example, in the split seconds between reading words on a page and speaking them aloud. Yep. They change.

Photo from an Anderson family Thanksgiving croquet tournament by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on November 18, 2018

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1 Comment

  1. by Shirley E Anderson

    On November 18, 2018

    Thanks, Eric.
    This was an appropriate message, probably timeless rather than merely timely.

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