This Sunday our congregations of Margaret River and Augusta are coming together for a combined service. The theme is "Spring Thanksgiving". I have been hunting through songs and brainstorming about what readings to use. In some ways the theme is so simple, but in other ways so deep. We have been encouraging our regulars to give a Thank Offering that is above and beyond their usual giving as well. The whole thing has really caused me to stop and ponder what it means to be thankful.
I have thought about using the story of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus and only one returned to say thanks. I have looked at the many psalms that praise God for all the wonderful things in life. If I take it on face value, it all seems a little superficial, like we need to use our manners with God. I know there is far more to this, but I am finding it quite wordless. Like trying to find the right greeting card that says just what you are trying to express, my efforts seem futile. What could I possibly say that shows the deep sense of gratitude that I have for a God who is intimately close? When I look at the stars at night and try to comprehend how vast this universe is, how can I start to be grateful for the tiny things that happen in my life?
I feel so often in Christianity we spend so much time beating ourselves up because we don't love God enough. We try to do things that will please God or will show our love more. We work so hard at being good and doing the right things that we often wind up feeling miserable and inadequate (if someone doesn't make us feel that way first). We become so wrapped up in our love for God, that I think we forget how much God loves us.
Our love of God can so easily be twisted into obligation and duty. We cannot earn God's love. So how do we give thanks for such a wonderful gift in our lives? I know that when I give my children a special gift, the best thanks I can receive is a big hug and then to watch them enjoy the gift. I don't expect them to do the dishes for the next week or keep their room impeccable. If this was the case it would not be a gift. Maybe with us, God would love for us to fall into the loving embrace and then to see us enjoying what we have been given.
The more I listen to people, the more I wonder if people are able to accept the great love God has for them. Is it possible that part of the reason we struggle with giving thanks to God is that we still are in disbelief of how much God love us? So am I going to let my congregations get away with nice statements about the weather, their family and the flowers? Or should I challenge them to really experience the amazing love and grace God has for them? I guess I really need to ask - do I want people to go home 'feeling good' or bubbling over with a thanksgiving that they can't comprehend, understand or contain?