“The Stewardship of Gratitude”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

LAST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

NOVEMBER 25, 2018

 

Title: “The Stewardship of Gratitude”

Text: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits unto me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.  I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence all of his people.” Psalms 116:12-14

 

Scripture Reading: Psalms 116:1-19

 

This psalms is written against the background of a man who had experienced a severe sickness or some other situation of danger.  Having been delivered, he then gave thanksgiving for what the Lord had done and made promises of what he would do in gratitude for his deliverance. The question of the verse is a very proper one: the Lord has rendered so much mercy to us that we ought to look about us, and look within us, and see what can be done by us to manifest our gratitude. We ought not only to do what is plainly before us, but also with holy ingenuity to search out various ways by which we may render fresh praises unto our God. His benefits are so many that we cannot number them, and our ways of acknowledging his bestowments ought to be varied and numerous in proportion. Each person should have his own peculiar mode of expressing gratitude. The Lord sends each one a special benefit, let each one enquire, “What shall I render? What form of service would be most becoming in me?”

The story is told of how gratitude prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket. Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life. Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean. For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts.

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred. After prayers and hymns, something landed on Eddie’s head. He knew that it was a seagull. He didn’t know how he knew, he just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under his hat brim without moving his head, he could see the expression on the faces. They were staring at that gull.

The gull meant food if they could catch it. And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. It sustained the survivor as food and bait to fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it.

And now from the story we know that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset, on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast everyone saw Eddie walking. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls, to remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle…like manna in the wilderness.

This shows that gratitude takes on three forms: a feeling in the heart, an expression in words, and a giving in return. This tells us that for the benefits God gives us, we are stewards of gratitude to God. An “attitude of gratitude” shows that one is a mature person.  Ingratitude has been called the “thiefest of sins.” On this Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, let us reflect on the many goodness of God and examine our hearts to see the quantity and quality of our gratitude. Let us look at what the psalmist said he would do in appreciation for all that the Lord had done for him.

To fully understand this psalms in our quest to consider the things we want to render to God, we must first determined the benefits God has bestowed upon us. As one reads the psalm, one would see in verse 2 how God gives us a inclined ear.  God wants to hear from us. He is interested in what we have to say: our hearts, our needs, our struggles. The psalmist in Psalms 40:1 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” It is beneficial that God wants to hear our needs and concerns.  When God hears our cries, He answers with deliverance. The thief on the cross said simply, ‘Lord remember me…’ and the Lord answered, ‘This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.’

The benefits of the Lord is bountiful treatment. God didn’t just promised us life, but he promised that life would be abundant and full. It is the quality of life that is important to us, isn’t it? A mere existence is one thing, but a life that is full and rewarding comes from God.  Paul makes this clear in Philippians 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in Glory by Christ Jesus. Through Jesus, God gives us the benefit of freedom from bondage. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?”

 One thing we as Christians can render to the Lord is to take the cup of salvation.  Verse 13 of this psalm urges us to receive His salvation. Acts 4:12 reminds us, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under the heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”  Salvation is a free gift. It is up to us individually to receive it or reject it.

Until we have seen ourselves as sinners and have received Jesus Christ as personal Savior, we begin at not beginning and toward no conclusion in developing our lives. Taking up the cup of salvation means one must first and foremost trust Jesus as Savior and developing a personal relationship with Him. Trusting Christ as Savior and becoming a Christian does not mean that we will automatically have all of the answers to life’s questions immediately, but it does mean that we will have a working basis whereby we, with the help of our Savior, can resolve the problems. Until people do become Christians, however, they simply do not have the inner working of the Holy Spirit to give them strength for the difficulties of life.

Taking up the cup of salvation is what we should render to the Lord for the benefits He bestowed upon us.  Paul taught in Romans 2:4 that it is the “goodness of God that leads to repentance.” When one of America’s greatest scientist was on his death, someone said, “What are your speculations now?” He replied, “Speculations? I have no speculations.” Quoting 2 Timothy 1:12 he said, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have commanded unto him against that day.”  “What shall I render unto the Lord?”

In verse 14, the psalmist does not go into detail concerning the vows he had made.  Perhaps he had prayed in his crisis and promised that if God would deliver him, he would change his way of life in certain areas.  In all probability he had agreed with God that he was deficient in his bringing of sacrifices to the altar.

The story is told of a seminary president. He had been a successful pastor, told the seminarians at a chapel service of a professional man who was at the point of suicide because he had lost most of his investments. The preacher sensed the man’s need and said, “There’s only one hope for you. You have majored on the material, and now the material is gone, you have nothing left personally by way of resources.  If you want deliverance, get down on your knees with me and promise God that if God will give you strength for a comeback, you will dedicate a tithe to him of all that he gives you.” The man did it. His entire life was changed. His family life straightened up and his medical practice was good or better than ever. When we get right with God on matter of our finances, amazing miracles can take place in other areas of life.  When we make vows, we must keep them or we will be worse off than ever before. Jacob vow a vow at Bethel, but as far as we know, Jacob stayed twenty years in Haran working for Laban and seemingly ignored those vows. Stewardship is an important part of living. In fact, for the Christian, next to accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior, it is probably the most important element of our life.

As the psalmist thought about his great deliverance, he probably realized that his life had been lengthened in order that he might fulfill God’s purposes for him. We are on earth to realize and fulfill the purpose for which God keeps us here on earth.  This why Paul made it clear in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Throughout the psalms, the writer recognizes the relationship between himself and God.  Because of this, he has been given certain benefits by God and is therefore obligated to render certain services to God.  This relationship is so important that God is not yet ready for him to pass on to the other world. The psalmist here has become God’s servant, but he is also God’s friend. God being our friend calls us to be effective in our service to Him.  

The underlying theme of this psalm is that gratitude should characterize our lives before God. The private and personal blessings we enjoy, the blessings of immunity, safety, freedom, and integrity, deserves the thanksgiving of a whole life.  Gratitude is a touch of beauty. Gratitude enhances our character. The recurring theme in the book of Deuteronomy is “Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God which brought thee forth” (Deut. 8:11,14). Church, gratitude is found in the hearts of a person that take the time to count up past blessings.  The spirit of gratitude leads one to give one’s best to God in all areas of living. God bless you.