Scripture: Psalm 100:4 (NRSV - with inclusive language added by author)
Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s courts with praise. Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.
"Come you thankful people come," we sing annually on Thanksgiving Sunday as we gaze at the cornucopia lovingly crafted by our favorite 90-something year old member. Overflowing with fruits and vegetables native to New England, she reminds us this horn-shaped symbol of plenty is "a living symbol of God's abundant blessings."
"Enter God's gates with thanksgiving," the Psalmist directs us. Admittedly, it is easier to approach those heavenly courts with praise when the sun is shining and all is right in our world. But what about the other times?
Paul can sound like a grating nag when he urges, "Give thanks in all circumstances," (1 Thessalonians 5:13). How would you like us to do that, Paul, when our spirits are nearly broken by circumstances that weigh down our souls?
Corrie ten Boon's memory of leading forbidden worship in a World War II concentration camp might shed some light for us. Almost crushed by the effort of offering praise amidst wretched, flea-infested, frigid surroundings, they worshiped God. Always fearful of discovery and punishment, they lifted whispered prayers of thanksgiving not only for the beloved community in that unholy place but also for the hardships they helped each other bear. Months passed as their cherished worship continued uninterrupted by the usually brutal guards, offering encouragement to their battered spirits. Decades later, Corrie encountered a former prison guard who admitted he had never ventured into her barrack because he feared the overwhelming flea infestation. God was indeed in that place, utilizing every means to bless those worshipers. [Conelia "Corrie" ten Boon is co-author of The Hiding Place, a true story of her family' efforts to rescue Jews from Nazi occupations during World War II.]
We give thanks in all circumstances, not for them. Giving thanks for every good thing is easy. Giving thanks while staring down hatred, injustice, poverty or sadness may strain our faithfulness. Discerning God's love while receiving cancer treatments, caring for a critically ill loved one or agonizing over a wayward child may challenge our belief.
Giving thanks is the beginning of trust. When we dare to pray, "Thank you God for being with me in this circumstance," we may discover God's strength and blessing when we need it most.
Faithful God, may we remember the words of Meister Eckhart: If the only prayer I pray is "thank you," it will be enough. Thank you. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Susan Foster is pastor of East Woodstock Congregational Church.