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The Thanksgiving Packrat

Son Michael, Ten Years Ago, AS "The Batman"

(Read Psalm 100)

Have you ever seen a young child clap her hands?

We have several young children at Patterson Avenue Baptist Church – and they clap their hands for almost anything.  Place them in the company of other children and they will clap their hands.  Give them some food and their will clap there hands.  Put them in a room full of colorful toys and they will clap their hands.  Play some music and they will clap their hands.  Young children so appreciate life that they will applaud almost anything.  Unfortunately, as they grow older, most people loose that spirit of applause.  They (we) cease to appreciate the amazing blessing of life.  Our challenge today is to recapture the spirit of applause. 

How do we do that?  It starts, I believe, when we pause to remember the ongoing goodness of God in our lives.   

Are you familiar with the term “pack rat”?

A “pack rat” is a person who loves to pack away every piece of belonging that crosses their fingertips.  Very little is thrown away.  Instead, almost everything is packed away in boxes, basements, and attics. 

Pack rats try to rationalize their behavior.  You know what it means to rationalize, don’t you?  It means to speak “rational lies” to your self in order to back up and support any decision you have or intend to make.

“That item has sentimental value!”  That’s a good line.  Pack rats use it often to rationalize their propensity to pack stuff away.  “This item reminds me of an important incident in my life.  To get rid of that would be a denial of my very heart and soul.” 

Others rationalize in a more practical way.  “I can’t get rid of that!  I might need it again one day.  You know the day after I might get rid of it is the day I will need it!”

“Pack rats” – the world is full of them.  In fact, I have a confession to make.  I am one of them.  I am a card-carrying member of the “pack rat” society. 

Now my massive collection of junk was not really much of a problem until we began preparing for our recent move to Richmond.  My lovely wife Jeana said, “We are not taking all this junk with us, are we?”  Now I have been married long enough to recognize a rhetorical question when I hear one.  What she meant was, “We are NOT taking all this junk with us!” 

Some of my stuff was donated to a thrift store operated by a local mission.  Some of it was taken to the dump.  And some of it I snuck back into some boxes when Jeana was not looking.  I could not help it.  I found some personal treasures that I just could not part with. 

I found the February 1982 issue of the Baptist Campus Ministry Newsletter for the Florida Baptist Convention.  In that newsletter, you will see my picture with 18 other students from across Florida, selected to serve as Student Summer Missionaries.  My assignment was to work in the Northwest Territories of Canada.  Attached to that newsletter was another, in which I and the other Student Missionaries reported what we had been doing on the mission field. 

I found some old report cards from my days at Seminary, pictures of churches I have served, a collection of articles, sermons, and Sunday School literature that I’ve had published.

One prize possession for me was a worship bulletin and audiotape of the sermon preached by Dr. Don Musser, one of my professors, on the day of my ordination

None of these items would mean much to most of you.  These are my treasures, my memories, my experiences.  You have your own scrapbook, photo album, or treasure box somewhere in your house.  When was the last time you opened it and remembered the ongoing blessing of God’s presence in your life? 

Do you know how I felt as I went through those boxes?  I found myself wanting to applaud with praise.  As I whittled my way through these boxes, I remembered the long-standing presence of God in my life.  Sometimes God was center stage, doing all the acting.  At other times, God was somewhere in the shadows, directing my life and whispering prompts and instructions in my ear.  In hindsight, I could see, whether center stage or off to the side, that God has been an integral part of my life.  At the time, I might not have been paying much attention to God, but God was still paying attention to me.  God was there, and each item in my stack of stuff allowed me to recognize the work of God’s grace in my life.

These are my mementos, my memories, treasures from my lifetime of experiences.  What are those things in your life that you treasure as symbols of God’s amazing grace at work in your life?  What is it in your life that prompts you to offer thanks and praise to God?  What is it about your experience with God that makes prompts you to want to break out in applause? 

In Psalm 100, we hear what I believe might very well be the words of another “pack rat” who  has gone through the scrapbooks and boxes of life, coming to a point of thanksgiving, praise, and applause.  

“Enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving.  Enter into God’s courts with praise.  Give thanks to God and bless God’s name, for God is good.  God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

In many of your Bibles, you will find a “subtitle” for each of the Psalms.  Editors added these subtitles later in the transmission of the text to help provide us with some context for what we are reading.  In most Bibles, the subtitled for Psalm 100 identifies this as “A Psalm for The Thank Offering.”

What we have in Psalm 100 a song commissioned for use when the people would gather at the temple to bring a “Thank Offering” to God.  You can read about it in Leviticus 7.

On special occasions, the people would gather in the temple courtyard and had a festival.  It was like a church picnic with singing, fellowship, celebration, and thanksgiving toward God.  The people sung Psalm 100 during these celebrations. 

The worship gathering was rather subtle, like our gathering this evening.  People would come from all over the community to remember and recognize the presence and provisions of God.  It was not in any way outlandish or extravagant.  It was a simple time to offer in return to God an offering of thanksgiving and praise. 

There were some significant movements in the festival.  

The meal was to be made of meat and grain.

This was to remind them of the time when Able (a Shepherd) and Cain his brother (who was a farmer) were together as brothers.

Before Cain killed Able, one brought an offering from the flock, the other from the field.  Then jealousy and hatred arose – followed by violence and murder as Cain killed Able.  In this festival, however, you are to bring from the flock and you are to bring from the field.

This was to call their attention back to the day before the community had experienced what it was like to be torn apart by jealousy, anger, rage, murder, and war.  It was also an occasion to look forward to the time when they would no longer be torn apart.  

We share in that hope today and dream today.  We long for a time when Cain and Able can embrace, a time when swords being turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  We long for the time when the lion shall lay down with the lamb and there will be no more talk of war.  We see those images and read those words in the scriptures and we share that hope and dream

It is bigger than our politics.  It is bigger than Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.  It is bigger than how you voted in the last election.  This is a God thing. 

We all long for a day when there is no more war in Iraq, no more terrorism in Israel, no more ethnic cleansing Darfur, and no more crime in our big cities or our small towns. 

We long for a day when people stop drawing up dividing lines according to race, color, or national origin. 

We long for the day when there will be no more talk about “illegal aliens” because we will all realize that under God providence we are all neighbors. 

We long for a time when there are no more divisions between Palestinian and Jew, Iranian and American, between the Mayor and the School Board, between this group or that group, between “us” and “them.”  That is our dream.  That is God’s dream for us.

I have a recurring dream.  I had it again recently.  It usually comes to me when I am feeling torn by some type of stress, conflict, or controversy.  In my dream, there are people present from every period and place in my life.  There are classmates and instructors from my high school, college, and both of the seminaries I have attended.  There are people from every church I have ever attended or served.  Many of the people in the dream are dear friends, though many of them are people that might be best classified as enemies.  Then there are those faces I do not remember or recognize – Anglo, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian.  In this dream, I am serving Holy Communion – and all of these torn and broken pieces of my life are coming under the influence of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. 

That is our dream as Christians.  It is a dream made of the same stuff that makes up the Kingdom that Jesus came to incarnate.  By faith the ancient community gathered, as we do today, setting aside those things that divide, and looking toward the power and presence of God to unite.  Hear the Psalmist again, “The Lord is God.  God made us all.  We belong to God.  We are God’s people!”

When they gathered to bring the “thanks offering,” the bread they brought was unleavened.  That was to remind them of the Passover, to remind them of the Exodus, to remind them of their deliverance, to remind them of God’s salvation, to remind them that their wandering days in the wilderness were over. 

They came with unleavened bread.  It was a reminded of God’s gift of deliverance. 

Has anyone here experienced God’s gift of deliverance? 

Since last years Thanksgiving, are there any who could testify that God has delivered you from some great difficulty?  Are there those among us to can say that God has redeemed the bad and blessed you with salvation?  Is there anyone here today who can take an accounting of your life and proclaim with gratitude “God is good – and God is good all the time?”

You lost a job and were unsure how your make ends meet, but now you can say that somehow God provided a way, and now you can say, “God is good – and God is good all the time.”

You drove home after a visit to the doctor’s office, tears streaming down your face.  The diagnosis was bad and the prognosis was worse.  Yet today you can say with confidence that whatever happens will happen because you have been delivered from despair and have remembered the truth that “God is good – and God is good all the time.”

You stood near the casket of a loved one and wondered how you would make it another day, but God has delivered you from the depressions and now you want the whole world to know that “God is good – and God is good all the time.”

Some of the items I found as I whittled down my collection of stuff came from times when life seemed a bit rough around the edges.  They came from times of struggle, times of brokenness, times or difficulty, doubt, and despair.  You have those times in the scrapbooks of your life as well.  So did the ancient people who gathered in the temple on the occasion of the “Thank Offering.”  That is why they came with the unleavened bread.  It was a reminder of God’s gift of deliverance.  It was a witness to the provisions and sustenance of God. 

What was the occasion of the Thanksgiving?

Had they just won a war?  No! 

Did they just bring in a bumper crop?  No! 

Were they simply happy to be better off than most other people were?  No!

Was it some sort of affirmation that their country was better than other countries?  No!

What occasioned their thanksgiving was nothing less than the character of God!

I hope that is what prompts us to gather this evening.  There is enough of all that other stuff going on in our secular society.  This gathering should be different.  This is all about God.  This is about going through the boxes of our lives, through the good times and the bad, recognizing that God has been there through it all – unchanging, ever-loving, full of grace, and goodness, and faithful, and caring for ALL people – everyone, everywhere, at all times, no matter what.

That was there song!  They sung it as they gathered to bring an offering to God as an expression of their thanks for who God had been for them in their lives.  They sung it as a way of clapping their hands in praise, as a little child might do after being overwhelmed by the goodness of life.  They sung it to recapture the spirit of applause. 

I want to give you an assignment, if I could.  Would you mind too much?  It is not that hard.  In fact, I think you will find it a blessing. 

Sometime tonight, or maybe tomorrow, I want you to go through the old boxes in your life.  Maybe they will be real boxes if you are a “pack rat” like me.  Maybe they will be the boxes of memories that you hold in your heart and in your mind.  I want you to go through those boxes – and as you do, look past all the stuff.  Look past the pain and pleasure.  Look past the hopes and the fears.  Look past the plenty or the poverty.  Life is filled with these ups-and-downs.  Think past all that.

Beyond, behind, and past it all, you will find God.  When you get to God, ask yourself, “What is it about God that makes me want to clap my hands in child-like delight?”  “What is it about God that helps me to recapture the spirit of applause?”

When you have answered that question, here is the next part of the assignment.  Find a way to offer a witness to that aspect of God’s character that makes you want to clap your hands in delight.

Do you understand? 

We all want to be a witness to our faith.  That is the “Thank Offering” we want to bring to God.  We are simply not sure how.  We do not want to turn anyone off or knock anyone around with all sort of religious jargon.  Nevertheless, we do want to share.  We want to say something.  Here is what I suggest.

Dig deep, then without offense, say it.  “This is the main thing for me!”

That is what the author of Psalm 100 did.  “Enter His gates with thanksgiving.  Enter His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him and bless His name.  For God is good.  God’s steadfast love endures forever; God’s faithfulness extends to all generations.”

(The idea for this sermon was inspired by a message preached by Dr. Fred Craddock)

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2 Responses to “The Thanksgiving Packrat”

  1. Amy Hagerup says:

    This is really true about digging deep through our memories and remembering God’s goodness. Truly that will bring us to thanksgiving. I’m going thru an exercise now with plotting out my life with all the ups and downs so this resonates with that. I want to be THANKFUL for all things. Blessings, Amy

    • billnieporte says:

      Thanks, Amy…one of the things I am discovering is that those “memories” of what I thought we hard times, actually, in hindsight, avenues for blessings I missed out on, except in reflection. Turns out that God was there all along, thought I was crying: “Where are you?”

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