Thanksgiving for Difficult Times

Psalm 126
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Psalm 126 is a good guide for reflecting on how our current time fits within a greater spiritual narrative. Being thankful, even on a day which is set apart for thanks giving, is problematic. We will tend to focus on the present moment, and with the narrow point of view genuine gratitude is hard to come by. We are still very much like children, when asked to say what they are thankful for at the holiday table will say, “I’d be more thankful if we could stop doing this and get to eating.” It requires spiritual maturity to view the current moment within the context of our whole life, our eternal soul, or the plans God may have for humanity.

Psalm 126 begins:

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them."

The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

This seems to be an unnecessary detour into the past. The present moment is painful for the writer of this psalm. In the present moment, the adults are forcing us to say something about how thankful we are. You may be currently in a situation where things are less than ideal. How do you say something thankful? The clever child will use past memory to their current advantage. “I am thankful that I got a drumstick last year.”

There is a good remembering and a bad remembering. Christians tend to do a lot of bad remembering. Bad remembering includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Making the biblical era a special miraculous era, and not expecting God to be at work today
  • Making past people into heroes, and diminishing our expectations of ourselves as people of faith
  • Telling Bible and Church History stories in boring ways
  • Opening the Bible without expecting it to be relevant to today
  • Not doing the math to translate past sacrifices into current dollars and relevant actions

Years ago, I pastored a church that had a big building project to do. I looked up the contributions that the founding generation had made in 1906 to build the existing building. Then I multiplied this by inflation. It staggered the congregation to hear how much a similar sized group of their ancestors had given.  

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. 

The final half of Psalm 126 expresses real confidence in God’s ability to answer prayer. Note how this confidence relates back to the first line. Those who experience God in present tense, are like “those who dream.” Today may be a nightmare. That doesn't prevent us from dreaming of what god could do. Remembering the past also shouldn't keep us from acting in the present. 

This Psalm talks about planting seeds. Sowing with the expectation that God bringing about the harvest. Verse 5 says that sometimes you sow those seeds with tears in your eyes. A man may go out with his precious seed bag with tears in his eyes, and spread his seed and wait, and wait, and wait and only much later comes the harvest and the rejoicing. Sometimes have to part with what you would have like to have kept for yourself.  For farmers in primitive places, the only way to plant a seeds, is to take some of the precious food that your family would have eaten and to take that wheat seed that your wife could have made into bread for today, and cast it out upon the field. In order to farm you have to be willing to give away what you would have like to have kept.  Sacrifice and seed planting, go hand in hand.

To plant for the future is an act of faith
Pentecost 26
Thanksgiving