Give Thanks? For What?

“Give Thanks? For What?”

Psalm 100:1-5 (100:4) – November 24, 2021 (preached at the Morton Grove Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service, held at St. Martha of Bethany Catholic Church campus)

            What are you thankful for? I don’t know whether you or your family come up with a “gratitude” before you eat your Thanksgiving feast tomorrow. Except, it is becoming more and more common that as families and friends gather around the festive table that they go around the table and say what each one is grateful for. Sometimes, even before they begin to eat. The religious writer Diana Butler Bass calls this “the Turkey Hostage Situation.” No food until everyone comes up with a gratitude!   

            Some years we are more grateful and thankful than others. The psalm we read tonight features thankfulness as a highlight of worship. When we come into our houses of worship, we are supposed to be thankful. Grateful. Especially now, at this Thanksgiving time of the year.

I want to dig more deeply into Psalm 100, and see what else we can discover.

I love language. I loved English classes when I was in middle school and high school. Of course, I loved literature! I was – and still am – fascinated with the way language functions and is put together. This great interest in languages helped me when I went to seminary and studied biblical Hebrew and Greek, the original languages our Bible was written in.   

One helpful tip I remember when looking at the nuts and bolts of a Bible verse or paragraph is to break it down. Look at the different parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, and especially verbs. The verbs in Psalm 100 give us a great deal of insight into this psalm, or song.

Speaking of songs, this reading IS a song. This song gives us instruction of how to come into God’s presence – the how-to’s of worship. The African-American Lectionary commentary says, “The psalmist uses seven different verbs to call to the community to worship: make, serve, come, know, enter, give thanks, and bless. Although there are moments when we need to be still and quiet in the presence of the LORD, this is not one of them.” [1]

I really appreciate and enjoy those times when I worshiped in African-American congregations. Since I lead a congregation now myself, I miss those other opportunities to go, and see other congregations, and enjoy different praise structures and faith traditions in worship.

Yet, I wonder – what is it about this psalm that makes it so marvelous as a template for worship? If we go back to the verbs used in this song, this hymn of praise and worship takes on a more wonderful meaning. And institutional meaning.

True, I have attended worship in a number of different settings, over the years. In many of these, the basic outline of worship remains the same. The worshipers come together, and they know, they understand (as best as they are able) that God is the reason they gather. Then – and this is important to any worship service – they give thanks.

I remember a small, intimate worship service some years ago while I was on a retreat. About 15 people were gathered together. We did not have any of the outside trappings of a building, no special glass, no carved woodwork or stone, no music or musicians. Yet, that was a meaningful worship experience for me, and for many others in that group.

That retreat was not at Thanksgiving-time, yet we were all thankful and grateful the group of us had gathered together. Can you relate? Have you had a feeling like that, a similar experience where you and the other members of your group felt thankful about this holy experience? This worship opportunity where you felt thankful and grateful you and the other people in your group (any group – family, friends, congregation, retreat group) felt the same way? Indescribable, worshipful, beyond words, even divine.  

This psalm talks about experiences like that in worship, and says that giving thanks is an integral part of worshiping God. We can give thanks that God is our God. And, we can give thanks for all that God has given to us.

            I agree with commentator Larry Broding that thanksgiving is one of our primary attitudes of worship. “We are to be happy when we present ourselves to God. We are to be thankful when we are in [God’s] presence. Other attitudes are possible (sorrow, need, intercession, surrender, peace, etc.) but joy and thanksgiving should be our primary focus.” [2] And, this isn’t just at Thanksgiving. It’s at any time of the year.

For those among us who do not feel like gathering with family or friends at a dinner table tomorrow, I relate. Thanksgiving can be a difficult occasion, a complicated time. Know that there are friends who stand with you, or sit beside you, in your discomfort, grief or longing.

            Specifically, what about the upcoming feast tomorrow? Similar to writer Diana Butler Bass, are you and I familiar with the Turkey Hostage Situation? Are we going to hold our turkey – or whatever other kind of main course – hostage while each one around the table scrambles to come up with something they are grateful for? We are grateful for the stuff, the things of our lives! That is turning our annual day of thanks into a commodity-based occasion. [3] It is not helpful for us to twist or force “thankful” feelings and behavior in this way

            Going back to my great interest in language, I found Butler Bass’s alternative for this round-robin of “gratitude” to be a fascinating option. Instead, an alternative suggestion: Perhaps this Thanksgiving is a good time to ask some different questions regarding gratitude:

To whom or what are you grateful?
What challenges have you been grateful through?
Have you been grateful with others?
Where have you discovered gratitude within?
Has something in your life been changed by being grateful?
In
what circumstances have you experienced thankfulness?

            Any or all of these are marvelous ideas to ponder. Situations to consider. Again, this may or may not work for the group gathered around your Thanksgiving table. But, it certainly takes our minds off of the tangible, material things, the clutter of forced gratitude at Thanksgiving, and the myriad of stuff we might have randomly filling up our lives, like the stuffing inside of a turkey.

            Tonight, I hope and pray we all can “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;” may we all “give thanks to God and praise his name.”

             I pray a blessed and thankful holiday upon us all. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=98

Commentary, Psalm 100, Alfie Wines, The African American Lectionary, 2009

[2] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/Psalms/100.html

·  “How To Prepare for Worship,”Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

[3] https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/about

Give Praise! Give Thanks!

“Give Praise! Give Thanks!”

Psa 100 thanksgiving, praise

Psalm 100 – November 21, 2018

Who likes to be bossed around? Does anyone?

Listen to these examples: Do this! Come here! Watch out! Stop that! Go to your room!

It is not too pleasant to be bossed around, especially by someone mean or overbearing. But, what if someone who loves you is the one doing the bossing? What if that person has your best interests at heart? Imagine you are in a kitchen and someone cries, “Watch out! That stove it hot!” Or, when you are standing by an outdoor pool, and someone yells, “Be careful! You’re right by the edge!” That changes things a whole lot, to many people.

What about Psalm 100, our scripture reading for this evening?

As is the problem with written communication, we don’t have nuances and vocal inflection. There isn’t a certain way for us to tell whether the author of Psalm 100 was grumpy, joyful, or somewhere in between. However, I would like to think of our Psalm writer being joy-filled and excited. Doesn’t this Psalm sound like it’s written by an excited person?

I want to let you know: there are some commands, some imperatives in Psalm 100. Not suggestions, not “oh, by the way, could you possibly do this?” No. No, indeed.

A number of these verbs, or action words, are clear commands. In the first three verses, “Raise a shout!” “Serve!” “Come!” and “Know!” Verse four has “Enter!” “Be thankful!” and “Bless!” All of these verbs—and they are many of the chief action words in this Psalm—would be instantly recognizable as a command to anyone who spoke Hebrew!

I don’t know about you, but when some people try to twist my arm and bark commands at me, I don’t really like it. I may begrudgingly comply with such commands, rolling my eyes, but for sure not willingly. Not with my whole heart. Not freely, in worship and praise and thankfulness and gratitude, I can tell you that!

But, what if our psalm writer did not feel grumpy or mean at all? What if his situation was 180 degrees reversed? One commentary I read said “Surely the psalmist was imagining what it might sound like when all the earth is praising the LORD at the same time. What a joyful sound, indeed, that would be!” [1]

Let me tell you a few things about this psalm, in general. Psalm 100 is the last in a small collection of special psalms of praise and worship. Do these verses get you in the mood of worship? Of praise? Could we see ourselves marching to our particular house of worship looking forward to meeting with God? To serve and praise and bless and be thankful to God? That is exactly what this Psalm is encouraging—no, even more strongly—is commanding us to do.

I love the exuberance of children. They can be so uninhibited! So filled with joy and happiness and excitement that it just boils over. Sometimes, children just overflow with joy like fountains, bubbling up all over the place. This exuberance also reminds me of the worship styles and especially the musical expressions I have seen in African-American church services. I think this psalmist was expressing an intense feeling of worship very much like that contemporary praise. “One can almost hear the outbreak of jubilation described in this summons to praise in Psalm 100. This psalm calls the entire community to lift praises to God.” [2]

I’d like to tell you something about me. I love music. I studied music theory and composition as my undergraduate major some years ago, I love finding out interesting and historical things about music, too.

Around the middle of the 1500’s, John Calvin the Protestant reformer said that any music performed in the church had to be sung. No instruments, and no glorious sounds other than voices. That meant a number of the Reformed churches could not play any of the marvelous organ, instrumental, or choral music of composers like the Lutheran Johann Sebastian Bach, who came a little later.

John Calvin said only singing psalms set in verses, was right and proper for church worship. After all, the Psalms were the song book of the Bible. Very early after Calvin made that declaration, a clergyman named John Kethe turned this Psalm, Psalm 100, into verse. It was set to a hymn tune known—of course—as “Old Hundredth.” Let me read Psalm 100, in rhyme:

All people that on earth do dwell,

Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,

Him serve with mirth, His praise forthtell;

Come ye before Him and rejoice.

Stanza 2:

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;

Without our aid He did us make.

We are His flock, He doth us feed,

And for His sheep He doth us take.

Stanza 3:

Oh, enter, then, His gates with praise,

Approach with joy His courts unto;

Praise, laud, and bless His name always.

For it is seemly so to do.

Stanza 4:

For why? The Lord, our God, is good;

His mercy is forever sure.

His truth at all times firmly stood

And shall from age to age endure.

.

This psalm text was written in the late 1500’s, and immediately was a big hit. Psalm 100 soon appeared in a hymn book, or psalter, and was regularly sung in church services. What I did not know before a few days ago was that this setting of Psalm 100 was in the hymn book brought across the Atlantic Ocean a few years later.

The church music professor Dr. Hawn said, “This is probably the oldest continuously sung congregational song in North America. When the first British explorers arrived in Jamestown Island on May 14, 1607, to establish the Virginia colony on the banks of the James River near Chesapeake Bay, they undoubtedly brought with them a Psalter, a collection of metrical psalms.” [3]

Just imagine: the earliest English colonists sang this hymn, using the words of clergyman William Kethe, the same words that congregations sing today, four and a half centuries later.

Dr. Hawn reminds us, “the important thing to remember is that William Kethe’s text ties us with the earliest settlers in the American colonies over 400 years ago. It was not long before a Psalter was published in the American colonies: The Bay Psalm Book (1640) was the first book published in North America.” [4]

What a marvelous chain of events, and connections. We can follow the verses of this Psalm across the ocean, into hymn books, and ultimately read it tonight in this service.

That’s all well and good, you might say. History is nice, but we need to dust off the cobwebs and come back into the modern age. Enough of these historical words like “doth,”  “unto,” “forthtell” and “seemly.” All right. I’ll ask some questions. Modern-day questions. These can be thought-questions, and you don’t need to answer them right away, or even out loud.

What is your attitude towards worship of God? Or, is that just for other people? Do you willingly and joyfully come into God’s presence? Or, is going to your house of worship more of a chore, where you are just reluctantly going through the motions? Penetrating thought-questions, for us all.

I pray that the Holy One might speak to hearts as needed.

How do I see this Psalm? I’m glad you asked! I come from the Christian faith tradition, and God has called to me from that understanding. What is more, the way my mind best understands God is through the lens of Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Calvin’s Reformed tradition especially treasures Psalm 100.

This Psalm’s essence might well be contained in the first question and answer of a respected historical teaching tool for young people, the Westminster Shorter Confession.

Question: What is the chief end of humankind?

Answer: The chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. [5]

This is a way of abbreviating this Psalm, in a nutshell. But it does not matter how we abbreviate it, or turn it into verse, or read and meditate on it, or sing it from the rooftops. God wants to know our attitude towards worship, and is hoping our attitude is excited! Joyful! Praise-filled! May we all come into God’s presence with a joyful noise, giving thanks from the bottom of our hearts every day of the year, not only on Thanksgiving Day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=98

Commentary, Psalm 100, Alfie Wines, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-all-people-that-on-earth-do-dwell

http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-all-people-that-on-earth-do-dwell

History of Hymns: “All People that on Earth Do Dwell”. by C. Michael Hawn

[4] Ibid.

[5] McCann, Jr., J. Clinton, The Book of Psalms, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1080.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!