Thanks for Everything

A Thanksgiving Sermon
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, November 23, 1997


Psalm 8 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Luke 17:11-19 Giving thanks for the Lord's healing power
Apocalypse Explained #288 Giving thanks spiritually

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars that you have established,
What are human beings, that you are mindful of them?
Mortals, that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
And have crowned them with glory and honor.
(Psalm 8:3-5)

It is amazing, when we think about it.

I have been following a six-part series of TV programs called "Stephen Hawking's Universe" that has been running on PBS in recent weeks. Astronomy and cosmology are great interests of mine, so when I heard that this series would be running, I set my VCR to record it, just to make sure I wouldn't miss any of the segments.

For those of you who may not know, Stephen Hawking is one of the foremost astrophysicists of our day. Hawking himself is an amazing story: he has not allowed nearly complete paralysis due to Motor Neuron Disease (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) to prevent him from pursuing his career. Despite being confined to a motorized wheelchair, and dependent on a computerized voice synthesizer to be able to speak, he is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University--a chair once held by Isaac Newton. And people flock to hear him. His book A Brief History of Time is one of the most popular scientific books of all time.

Stephen Hawking contemplates the same things the psalmist David did hundreds of centuries earlier: the glory of the heavens--or, to put it in more modern terminology, the wonders of the skies. And our current picture of those skies is vastly larger than the universe of David's conception. For people in David's era, the objects in the sky were not all that far away--probably not much farther than the upper atmosphere. Even in the Middle Ages, when our view of the universe started to expand, most people who studied such things didn't think of the universe as much bigger than the orbit of our moon--perhaps about five hundred thousand miles in diameter.

Today, the distances have become so vast that we have long since given up measuring them in miles. We now measure them in light years: the distance light travels in one year. Considering that light travels approximately 186,000 miles in a single second, a light year is an unimaginably large distance. And when we consider that distances to the depths of space are measured in millions of light years . . . well, we have all the more reason to get caught up in the same wonderment that David felt so many centuries ago: "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars" (and the galaxies and quasars) "that you have established, what are human beings, that you are mindful of them? Mortals, that you care for them?" Even the centuries since the time of David are practically nothing in comparison to the billions of years that we now use to count the age of the universe.

When we consider the unfathomable vastness and age of the universe, and realize how tiny we are in comparison, isn't it a foolish conceit to think that we human beings amount to anything more than the grass of the field, which is here today and gone tomorrow? What is a life of sixty or eighty, or even a hundred years compared to the ten or fifteen billion year span of the universe?

"Yet," David continues, "you [the Lord] have made us a little lower than God, and have crowned us with glory and honor." It is truly amazing, when we think about it. That tiny beings such as ourselves could be God's purpose in creating all this vast array of galaxies and nebulas, stars and planets.

However, the more we study the workings of the stars and planets, the more we realize--if we are looking for a divine plan in the physical universe--that all of these vast workings contribute to the creation of earthly environments that can support human life. The heavier elements that are needed for our life and for our use are forged in the crucibles of exploding stars known as supernovas. Gas giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn are huge chemical laboratories forming the complex molecules that are needed for complex life forms such as ourselves to exist, and seeding the smaller, rockier planets closer to the sun with these building blocks of life. The more we study the universe, the more we realize that it is precisely calibrated--in some cases to as much as fifteen decimal points of precision--to make it possible for galaxies, stars, and life-supporting planets to exist. Some scientists have chosen to regard this all as a great cosmic good fortune. I find it much more sensible to regard this complex fine-tuning of our universe as the work of an intelligent--and loving--God who gives us the gift of everything there is.

And that is what our Thanksgiving holiday is all about. Sometimes, when someone has given us a lot of help, as a way to express our gratitude we toss off the phrase, "Thanks for everything!" Of course, it is not literally true. That person has not done everything for us.

But God has. God has done, and continues to do, everything for us. Everything in the universe; everything in our world; everything in our lives is done especially for each one of us. The Lord does not think only of one person or another in doing anything. As hard as it may be for us to grasp, the Lord's love is infinite, and infinity cannot be divided. When the Lord creates a universe, that entire vast creation is done especially for you; it is done especially for me; it is done especially for each and every person in China or India, Europe or Africa, Australia or South America.

This God who does everything for us is the same being as our Lord Jesus, who healed the ten men who had a dreaded skin disease, sometimes called "leprosy." When the men called out to him for help, he took pity on them, and used his divine healing power to overcome their physical disease.

The Lord does not always heal our physical diseases--although it is becoming more and more accepted that praying to the Lord for healing does help us to recover from our sicknesses. However, there is a way that the Lord always does help us to overcome our sicknesses: the Lord will always help us overcome our spiritual sicknesses if we will ask for the Lord's help. The Lord's vast, divine power is not primarily concerned with what happens to our physical bodies, since our bodies are only temporary dwellings for our spirits. But God is deeply concerned about our spiritual health and sickness.

In the story of the ten lepers, all ten were healed. When only one came back, the Lord did not say that the others would become lepers again because they hadn't come back and given thanks! But he did say something to that one grateful man that he had not said to the others. He said, "Your faith has made you well."

That one man was healed in a way that the others were not. He was healed in his mind and spirit. He received new life in his thoughts and feelings, his beliefs and actions. He became a new person, healthy to love and understand and serve his fellow human beings. The others may have had their physical disease healed, but this man had something far greater to be thankful for. His own eternal soul had been healed, and he was on his way to a joy in spiritual life that the others would miss unless they, too, turned and recognized the source of their healing: the divine power of God's love. It is similar to Stephen Hawking's story: Hawking's body has not been healed; but he has the far greater blessing of the use of his mind to contemplate the incredible workings of the universe.

We have things both vast and personal to be thankful for during this season, and throughout our lives. We have the incredible realization that the Lord created the huge array of the physical universe so that each one of us could live and breathe and pursue our interests and our loves. And we have the equally incredible realization that the same tremendous power that created a universe so large that we cannot fully grasp it, is also available to each one of us to heal the broken parts of ourselves, and the broken parts of our relationships with each other. That vast, universal love is also an intensely personal and human love, which comes from a human God--our Lord Jesus Christ--who wishes to have a relationship of mutual love and understanding with each one of us.

When we say "Thanks for everything" to God, it is not just a nice turn of phrase. If we really mean it in our hearts; if we recognize that everything comes from God--the vast array of the physical creation as well as the even more amazing creation of goodness, truth, understanding, love, and happiness that we can experience in our lives; if we recognize and appreciate these wonderful gifts from God, then our thanksgiving celebration will be a joyful and profound expression of our gratitude to the Lord for all the wonders of creation, and for all the wonders of the Lord's deeply healing love for each one of us.



Floating Leaf Script
 Courtesy of:

Music: Give Thanks