Sunday, November 19, 2017

Scriptures: Psalm 100 and Isaiah 12

SERMON: “Giving Thanks for Odd Things”

By Rev. Mark Plunkett

Remember when you were a little kid and you used to say your prayers with your parents? They would listen, and maybe even coach you a little. Maybe you would say a memorized prayer that would help you pray, and then you would add your own things at the end. Maybe you would ask the Lord to bless a bunch of folks: your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles – and you would list your very favorite ones first and the ones you didn’t like much at the end – and then you might add thanks for whatever happened that day; maybe you did well on a big test in school. Or maybe you had a fight with your sister and you made up later, and so you might thank the Lord for that. Maybe something came up in the world, maybe you heard about starving children somewhere in the world or wars in distant countries or hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes, or tornadoes that devastated some area – and you felt bad and wanted the Lord to do something. So maybe you asked for help. Maybe you remembered to say thank you for all the good stuff you had. Maybe you remembered to thank your Lord if you really didn’t have much – but you were loved and cared for.

One time I visited a friend’s house that was pretty run-down compared to mine. They didn’t have much – but they were a terrific family. When I spent the night over there, I slept in a room full of bunk beds with four boys sharing one room. I remembered thinking that I had my very own room – and I was lucky. And I should have thanked the Lord for that blessing.

I also remember that one of my best friends when I was a kid – my friend, Pete – had a father who was killed in Vietnam. You better believe that I thanked the Lord that night for my own father – and I hugged him tight.

As I think about the upcoming season of Thanksgiving, I remember so many blessings that I have received. I’ll bet you do the same – even if it’s been a rough year. Remembering to thank the Lord for EVERYTHING, to do as the psalmist writes: “to enter his gates with thanksgiving” is not an automatic thing. But it should be. To “give thanks to him and praise his name” is not our first reaction when things go wrong, is it? To remember that “the Lord is good and his love endures forever” when we can barely endure the rest of a particular day or week or month is easy to ask for and murderously difficult to do.

As I usually try to do, this Thanksgiving, I am going to praise and thank our Lord for all sorts of things. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I’m sure you do too. But I’m going to remember to be thankful for some rather odd things…

So, my friends, this year I am going to praise and thank our Lord for:

  • painful noises,
  • things I don’t see coming,
  • and misbehaving children.

That’s right. You heard me. I’ll repeat it: painful noises, things I don’t see coming, and misbehaving children. I am going to praise and thank our Lord anyway. So…let me unpack those three statements for you, and let’s see if you can agree…and even find odd things of your own to thank the Lord for.

Now let’s look back at the first line of Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” Easy to read…hard to do. There are lots of mornings that when I first get moving, I feel more like making a painful noise unto the Lord. My back hurts. My feet ache! My stomach kept me up all night. My allergies are killing me. I couldn’t sleep because I’m worried about whatever, so my head hurts and my eyes are refusing to focus clearly. A joyful noise? How about we thank the Lord for the PAINFUL noises? That’s what I’m saying. Thank the Lord for the PAINFUL noises. If your eyes hurt, if your blood sugar isn’t right, if your cholesterol is too high, if your blood pressure is soaring…thank the Lord for it! For three reasons:

  1. First of all, that means you’re going to have to behave! There is nothing wrong with a little more discipline in our individual lives. We could all use it. We know that.
  2. But second is even more important…when you hear of someone who is ill, someone who is seriously ill with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, cancer, or whatever ails you, and you go to be with that poor soul. And maybe that person unburdens their fears on you and cries out against the unfairness of it all, what can you say? “Oh, I know how you feel.” Or maybe it’s more “I KNOW how you feel.” And if that poor soul can see you with the same thing going on and yet YOU are still praising the Lord with thanksgiving, then maybe it’s going to be okay somehow. Remembering that “his love endures” is a wonderful thing to keep in mind.
  3. Sometimes it takes more than just discipline to overcome illness or injury. Sometimes it takes fighting for your health. Remember the Gospel story of the woman who had bled for 12 years? The Gospels said that she had spent everything she had on doctors but nothing had helped. Yet when she learned that Jesus was passing by, she managed to get close enough to touch the tassel on his cloak – because she knew she would be healed. She fought for it! And she won! When she faced Jesus, he told her, “Daughter, go in peace.” The Psalm says, “Know that the Lord is God.” She knew!

Praise and thank you, Lord, for painful noises!

Second, I will give thanks to the Lord for things I don’t see coming! This one is a big problem for me. It probably has something to do with those “control issues” that I know I have. I just don’t like surprises. I guess I’m afraid that disaster is always just around the corner. Problem with that approach is that it takes all the joy and delight out of being pleasantly surprised! Imagine how the Lord must love surprising us. He plans things out carefully, reveals only what He chooses to reveal, and then – often in the eleventh hour – he surprises us with his blessings.   So why do we wait so impatiently? Why do we so easily forget the words of the prophet Isaiah, “…for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel?”

Why do we try so hard to say “Wait on the Lord” and then do exactly the opposite? Why do we do everything in our power to MAKE the Lord hurry up and do what we want?

Why can’t we just be surprised?

Many of the greatest blessings I have ever received I never saw coming. One of the biggest involved us moving back from New Jersey to Houston when I finished seminary in 2011. Jeanne and I loved it up there! We enjoyed all four seasons. We enjoyed seeing family that we had not lived near before. We enjoyed the area.

But we missed our kids. We missed our friends. We missed our home. So we packed up and moved back to Houston and back into our good old home in Spring Branch that we had been unable to sell. Neither of us had a job. So we moved home on a Thursday in June two years ago and began unpacking. I went to a Presbytery meeting that Saturday at my home church, right here in Spring Branch Pres, where I hoped to show everyone I was back and was available to preach if they wanted a vacation. As I closed my door in the parking lot, I heard, “Mark Plunkett!” It was an old friend, the clerk to the presbytery. She hurried over and hugged me and then stepped back and said, “My husband needs to talk with you about Heritage!”  She took me by the arm and we hurried into the church and found her husband. He was the contact who put me in touch with an elder on the session of our church. Three weeks later, I started there as the pastor.

Didn’t see that one coming, Lord! What a nice surprise! Why do I wait so impatiently? Why can’t I “trust the Lord and not be afraid” as Isaiah told us? I should relax and just let the Lord send a few things my way that I won’t see coming.

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for things I don’t see coming!

Finally, I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for misbehaving children. Now this one may be hard for some to understand. Why would anyone thank the Lord for misbehaving children? Shouldn’t all children behave? Or should we praise the Lord when children behave? What is wrong with that?

Sometimes misbehaving children are just kids who need us more. When children misbehave, there is usually a reason. If we don’t know what’s going on, if we don’t take the time to find out, how can we possibly sit in judgment of them? And of their parents? (You know we do that!)   And when some of us misbehaved as children – and you know we did that too – wasn’t there someone who was your champion? Your defender? Your advocate? I’ll bet there was an adult who took a little extra time with you, even if you were the misbehaving child. I’ll bet you love that person to this day, don’t you? And for many of us who are truly blessed, I’ll bet you are that same champion, that same defender, that same advocate for misbehaving children that you love too.

Misbehaving children make us all aware that every single child of God is an important child of God. Every single child of God is loved and adored by God. Every single child of God is entrusted with us…every…single…one of them.

So, give thanks to the Lord for misbehaving children!

Now you may be struggling with these odd things. You may be telling yourself that you just can’t give thanks for those things. That’s okay…they are MY odd things. Go get your own list. And give thanks to the Lord for them.

And remember…if we can remember to give thanks to the Lord for big things…if we can remember to give thanks to the Lord for odd things…then it should be easy to give thanks to the Lord for EVERYTHING!

Thanks! Amen!

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