Thanks be to God

Today’s hymn, not set for any particular season, is “Thanks be to God whose love has gathered us today”, with both words and music by Stephen Dean.  The theme throughout verses and chorus is simply thanking God, and it is a really uplifting hymn to sing, fulfilling St Paul’s exhortation to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-20). 

At the start and end, thanksgiving is for the things you might expect: God’s love, help and guidance, life and light, protection, creation, and the gift of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  That reminds me of the now rarely used “prayer of general thanksgiving” in the Book of Common Prayer, which in full reads “Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.”

Where this hymn departs from the expected range is in the middle – from the last line of verse 2 to the beginning of verse 4. Here, the text is realistic about the fact that our lives are often in a mess and we often fall away from God.  God is thanked in these lines for “keeping in mind us who forget him”, “knowing our secret joys and fears”, always hearing when we call on him, and being the one who “never turns his face away, heals and pardons all who stray.”   Perhaps God deserves our thanks for that compassionate, empathetic love more than anything.

The Bible in a Year – 24 September

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

24  September. 1 Chronicles chapters 28-29

David, we are told at the end of chapter 29, had reigned as king for forty years.  Unlike many monarchs who reign until their death (as our own Queen Elizabeth has indicated she intends to do), David decided to stage a deliberate handover to his son Solomon while he was still in good health.  Partly this was for practical reasons – having many sons, and remembering the previous revolt by his son Absalom, there could have been a civil war between then after his death if he had not nominated a successor.  But also, as we read yesterday, God had told David that Solomon was the one in whose reign the Temple should be built.  This was David’s grand project, so the sooner Solomon was on the throne, the sooner building could begin.  We are told that Solomon was still “young and inexperienced” (29:1):  we are not told what age he was, but it requires more than a degree of maturity to oversee such a large project.

Israelite society at this time seems not to have had money as we know it today: metals such as gold and silver were used as common currency, along with animals and agricultural produce.  So in order to provide for the Temple large amounts of these were given, by David personally, from the treasury (presumably representing the tithes of common people), and from members of the establishment (tribal leaders, military commanders and officials).  Some of the gold and silver would have been used directly for the sacred vessels and decoration of the Temple; but much would have been used in payment for other materials and labour.  David set an example by giving freely of his own riches, to encourage others to do so.

This principle of the ‘freewill offering’ or ‘sacrificial giving’ is often quoted by Church leaders when money is needed for some building project or missionary endeavour.  Part of the prayer that follows is still used in church services today as a response to the weekly offering: “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours … all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (29:11-14).

The following verse in Chronicles reminds us also that we can keep nothing earthly: “For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.”  In other words, earthly riches mean nothing to God. The divine being cannot use money or gold, although they are given in his name for work that is carried out in his name, but then neither are money and possessions any use to us when we die.  The only things we can do with them in our will are leave them to our children or friends, or give them to what we believe to be some other good cause. So as long as we have enough to live on, any extra may as well be given away sooner or later.

 

The Bible in a Year – 2 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

2 February. Leviticus chapters 5-7

There were many kinds of “offering” (animal or grain sacrifices) in this Levitical law.  Mainly the sin and guilt offerings (seemingly two different things, perhaps depending on whether the sin was deliberate or not).  For those the priest “made atonement” and could assure the guilty person of God’s forgiveness – although that did not mean they had no other obligations, for if there was any actual loss that could be put right or given a monetary value, the guilty person had to pay it to the wronged party with an additional one fifth. In modern law that would be described as both compensation to the victim and a fine. The ritual law of religion is not intended to replace a secular liability, but is additional to it and might just help the guilty to “go straight” in future.

 

But the passage also lists other kinds of offering: votive, freewill and the “thanksgiving offering for well-being”.  These could presumably be offered at any time rather than as an obligation. We tend to forget that.  God is not only a lawgiver who demands that someone makes atonement for sin and puts wrongs right, he is also the source of all goodness and deserving of our genuinely voluntary thanks, backed up by gifts of money or possessions.  As a well known Christian song puts it, “Freely, freely, you have received: Freely, freely give”.

 

Today is the Christian celebration of Candlemas when we remember Jesus being ceremonially “redeemed” by his parents by way of a small sacrifice of two turtle doves (as mentioned in today’s reading). This was because all firstborn sons were considered to belong to God and had to be “bought back”.  But it could also be seen as an act of thanksgiving for the child. Mary and Joseph made an offering on behalf of Jesus, who would go on to become an offering for us all. Thank God!