2 Corinthians 9:6-15
“When You Have Eaten Your Fill”
Some people are really good at remembering to send “thank you” cards. You have them over for supper, and they send you a “thank you” card. You do them a favour, even the smallest thing, and they send you a “thank you” card. You make a donation or volunteer some time for their organization, and they definitely send you a “thank you” card. At least once, I’ve received a “thank you” card from a church member just for picking up the phone and calling her to check in.
I am rarely so diligent in remembering to say thanks, either to the people around me who offer their support, encouragement, prayer, and generosity for my benefit, or to God who is the ultimate source of all these good things.
The special Scripture readings we heard this morning for Thanksgiving Sunday could perhaps be simplified and summarized into the basic message, “Remember to say thank you,” as if we were all children learning good manners.
The Israelites, who have relied on God’s provision through their wilderness wanderings, are now encouraged not to forget God when they have plenty. The Psalmist sings a litany of thanks to God for all God’s wonderful deeds and the wonders of the Creation. Paul tells the Christians in Corinth to give generously for the poor, suggesting that this is a beautiful way to say “thank you” for God’s grace. And the healed man who turned around and came back to say “thank you” also receives Jesus’ affirmation.
The line that got my attention as I was reflecting on the texts this week was from Deuteronomy 8:12 – “When you have eaten your fill.” It made me think of that feeling at the end of a nice, big Thanksgiving dinner. After the turkey and the potatoes, and the vegetables, and the gravy. After the bread and the wine. After the pumpkin pie or some other scrumptious dessert covered with whipped cream.
After I have eaten my fill, I usually just want to loosen my belt and lie down for a while. I’m not really thinking about or remembering God at that point, “when I have eaten my fill.”
Sure, like most of you, we probably began our meal with a prayer. We said grace. And perhaps we even took the time on Thanksgiving Sunday to go around the table and invite everyone to name something that they’re thankful for. But by the end of the meal, it’s easy to forget God and just quietly congratulate ourselves for being such good cooks, and such good providers for our family and friends.
Of course, when Moses gave these instructions to the Israelites, not to forget about God, they were still in the wilderness, still managing through the struggle to survive. They were relying on God’s provision of food and water and all the basic necessities of life that we’ve been reading about the last few Sundays.
But like so many of us who have had times of struggle and need in our lives, the Israelites are soon going to be in a different situation – one in which they have enough without needing to cry out desperately to Moses or God for help. They’ll have an abundance of resources and possessions in the land they’re going to enter, and that is likely going to change their relationship with God.
Moses says: “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them and when your herds and flocks have multiplied and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God…”
And it is easy to do that, when we think we have all that we need. Anne Lamott once wrote that the two best prayers are “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” And I wonder, if sometimes, when we have enough money, and enough things, and enough skills and self-confidence, and enough people around us to love and support us… that maybe we tend to just forget to pray either of those things.
“I’ve got this!” so I don’t need to pray for God’s help. And “I built this good life for myself” so I don’t need to say “thank you” either. When we stop saying those basic prayers (Help me, and Thank you) we cut ourselves off from the God who gave us life, from the God who sustained us through our times of need. We forget about the God who graciously forgives our failings and wants to use us for good and loving purposes in the world.
When the Apostle Paul was writing to the Church in Corinth, he was writing to a community of Christians that was relatively well-off. I don’t think they were really rich or anything, but they lived in a big prosperous city and at least some of them were likely business-people and others with good occupations. Compared to their counterparts in the Church in Jerusalem where there were widows and orphans and others needing support, the Corinthians were in a pretty good situation.
So Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to give and to share from their abundance. He tells them that “God loves a cheerful giver.” He tells them that they “will be enriched in every way for [their] generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God…”
When they give and share with others who are in need, Paul says that they will be blessed. I don’t think he means that they’ll get richer, acquiring more money and resources. That would be a dangerous “prosperity gospel” promise. But I think he means that they will feel good, that they will be fulfilled, that their lives will be blessed by greater meaning and purpose.
And Paul also tells them that their generosity will not only supply the needs of those who are struggling, but that it will “overflow with many thanksgivings to God.”
I came across an idea from a commentary on the Psalms that suggested that the phrase “I give you thanks” that appears in so many of the psalms has a deeper meaning to it. John Goldingay says that “giving thanks” has less to do with some internal feeling of gratitude and more about sending God a “thank you” note. He then proposes that the “thank you” note God desires is that we tell others what God has done; that we proclaim the good news of God’s gracious actions to the assembly of believers, to the surrounding neighbourhood, and to the world.
And I think the Apostle Paul would add that the “thank you” note God desires is also that those with an abundance, indeed those who have enough of everything (like the Corinthian Christians), will share abundantly in every good work of God, giving generously for those who are in need.
In the last few weeks, I believe that God has been receiving quite a few “thank you” notes from our province, because the farmers who are partners in “Grow Hope Saskatchewan” have been harvesting their crops.
If you haven’t already heard about this ministry, Saskatchewan Presbyterians have recently joined with several other churches and farmers across the province to grow food and give the proceeds to hungry people in other parts of the world through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The program is a partnership between farmers who donate the land and do the work, together with donors who provide funding for the inputs like seeds and fertilizer and fuel.
Across the province, there are 421 acres of land being used for this purpose, with harvests of barley, canola, and oats that have had surprisingly high yields and good quality in what was a fairly dry and hot summer.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, God” for the growth and for the harvest! And “thank you, God” for blessing the Siebert, Hergott, Janzen, Sonntag, Prybylski, and Aberhart families and all the other donors with enough to share!
This morning, we have the opportunity to celebrate with Sheila and Bob Wilson as they celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Yes, they got married 60 years ago on Thanksgiving Weekend at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Saskatoon.
Having heard some of the stories of their life together, I know that there were times early in their married life when the Wilsons struggled a bit. They often remember that they were “as poor as church mice” and marvel at God’s care and provision through that time.
I am sure that they prayed some “Help me, help me, help me” prayers back then, as well as some “Thank you, thank you, thank you” prayers when they sensed that God was walking with them through all the challenges, joys, and blessings of life and ministry and following Jesus together as a couple and family.
It seems so appropriate that Bob and Sheila made their covenant of marriage together on Thanksgiving Weekend, and now they can give thanks and celebrate together with their family, friends, and church family on Thanksgiving too.
Like the Israelites who have come out of the wilderness into a good land – a place flowing with milk and honey – the Wilsons have eaten their fill. They have been blessed with faithful partners, loving children and grandchildren, abundant skills and talents, meaningful work and ministries, good friends, and plenty to share with others.
As they celebrate their anniversary today, they are doing so in worship, remembering God, and giving thanks for their blessings. And we give thanks today for their friendship and belonging in our church community, and for the many ways that they continue to share in the good work of God, giving generously of their gifts, time, and resources for the good of the church and the world.
May their generosity overflow and produce thanksgiving to God. Perhaps their note will say the same thing that Paul wrote: “Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!”