How Do You Say Thank You?
Psalm 145 and Jonah 3-4
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
April 29, 2018
Bon Jour…. Buenos Dias ….. dobroye utro ….. Boker Tov ….. sabah alkhyr ….. Good morning!
This was the greeting we got one morning at the omelet station of the hotel in Israel on the Dead Sea. The food service worker went through a series of greetings in multiple languages until the guest smiled and responded in their native language.
There are many different ways to say “Good morning.”
And, as we learned throughout the Holy Land, there are different ways to say “Thank you.”
So, after receiving the delicious omelet in Israel, the appropriate response was: Toda
After receiving the delicious date in Palestine, the appropriate response was: Shukraan
The Psalm for today is 145. We read it responsively as our Assurance of Pardon. It is an expression of praise and gratitude to God. It is a thank you note to God: “Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.” It is also a witness to the good news of the nature of God: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Most importantly, this good news of God’s reign on earth is expansive in scope: “The Lord is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that he has made.” God’s mercy and love is for all. In Hebrew…kol…. In Arabic… alkulu…however you say it, it means the same:
God’s love and mercy is for all, for each and every one of us.
Jonah knew this about God. And yet, when God called Jonah to go and spread the good news of God’s steadfast love to Ninevah, Jonah ran away. But, as we know, we cannot run away from God. Eventually, God will find us. And so, it was. God caused a storm upon the sea and the sailors tossed Jonah overboard to stop the storm. And so it was. But God provided a large fish, a whale, to swallow up Jonah. From the belly of the whale, Jonah prayed to God: “I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me. I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you.” Jonah’s prayer was answered. The fish delivered Jonah to dry ground. Then God called Jonah to go to Ninevah. So this time, Jonah obeyed and went to Ninevah, and there proclaimed God’s message to repent…or else the city would be destroyed. The Ninevites obeyed God and repented and turned back to God. Because of their obedience, God decided not to destroy the city, and showed mercy instead.
This is good news. Jonah’s mission was successful. Because of his witness, the people turned from the ways of sin and turned back to God. Jonah should have been happy and rejoiced with the people. L’hiem! fi alhaya! Cheers! Instead, as Scripture reads: “But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, this is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning, for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”
Jonah, with the voice of thanksgiving, had words of thanks for God when he was saved from the storm. But, when the Ninevites were saved by God, Jonah had words of anger.
For himself, he is thankful that God shows mercy and love.
But for others, he is angry that God shows mercy and love.
Jonah wants the mercy for himself but wants the punishment for others.
This sounds crazy. Heretical. And yet, it also sounds human.
It starts early: a toddler gets a snack of goldfish, but when the boy who is fresh from a time out gets the same number of goldfish, she is angry and so she hits him and takes his fish.
It continues as we get older: A high school student posts a video of a hit he got in the baseball game. But then his teammate posts a video of him getting a homerun...and it got many more likes. And he is secretly angry.
Parents are so proud of their children and love to brag. You tell your neighbor that your son did well on SAT test and will be able to get into some colleges of his choice. The neighbor says, “That’s good. My son got a perfect on the SAT.” You are happy for her, of course, but you are also secretly angry.
This same way of thinking gave me an insight into the conflict in the Middle Easter, as I heard the history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine: In 1948, the UN gave Israel a plot of land and declared them a nation. Israel rejoiced and gave thanks to God for this blessing. But, then, they realized that a green line was drawn on the map and on the other side the Palestinians were given a plot of land and declared a nation. Israelis were no longer thankful; they were angry. And over the years, they have begun to push back the green line further and further, taking away more and more of the Palestinian’s land. And then they built a wall to subdue them.
Why do we get so angry when others are blessed by God?
Do we think that we have to earn our blessings by being better than others?
Do we think we have to take the blessings for ourselves—even out of the hands of others?
Do we fear that if others receive blessings that there will not be any left for us?
Fear not. I bring you good news of great joy for all people:
“The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
“The Lord is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that he has made.”
Because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are assured:
The mercy of God never runs out. There is enough for you, for me and for all who believe.
God will take care of the blessing. All we need do is acknowledge the gift with a thank you.
In Jerusalem, we went to the Garden Tomb, a place where many believe that Jesus was crucified, buried in the tomb and rose from the dead. It is a Holy Place. As I watched people go in and out of the tomb, I was amazed at the many different responses:
One woman emerged from the empty tomb, weeping, wailing, could hardly walk so was so overcome with emotions.
Another came out singing, “Jesus Christ is risen today, alleluia!”
Another came out silent and still.
Still another came out smiling, and when she met her friend, they shared a high five.
I realized that they had all seen proof of the grace and mercy of God, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Love deep enough to die on a cross and buried in a tomb. Love broad enough to rise from the dead. Love wide enough to stretch across the globe—from Bethlehem to Ben Avon—to include everyone in its embrace. And though they all had different responses—crying, singing, silence and celebrating—they all were different ways of saying the same thing: “Thank you, God.”
Thank you, God, can be expressed in many different ways:
Counting our blessings with words of thanks and sharing our blessings with acts of love
A prayer, a hymn, an offering, an act of worship; a smile, a card, a meal, a good deed, a word of forgiveness. How do you say thank you to God?
Soon after I got home, I went to see John Ferguson, who after living a full 91 years, is dying.
I read to him a few psalms, to give voice to the promises of God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to God for his life and asked for God to be with him as he died.
Then John wanted to say something. It was hard for him to speak, just a whisper, and so I leaned in close and this is what I heard him say:
Thank you. Thank you for visiting me over the years.
Thank you. Thank you to my family for all of their care.
Thank you, God, for Adda, who was everything to me. I can’t wait to see her again.
I rejoiced that at the end of his life, some of the last words he spoke were words of thanks.
The psalmist invites us to return our thanks: I will extol you, my God, Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever. And in response, we say:
Merci Dieu...Gracias Dio….Spasibo Gospodi…Toda Elohim…Alhamdulillah…Thank you, God!