Sharon Bandstra (top) is a worship planner at Terrace Christian Reformed Church, Terrace, British Columbia, where, until recently, Alisa Siebenga was a member of the worship committee. Alisa now lives in Lacombe, Alberta.
We built this Thanksgiving service around the contemporary confession Our World Belongs to God and the poetry of Gerhard Frost. The Thanksgiving tree idea came from Reformed Worship 24, June 1992. We used slides with the first poem, “We Live on Glimpses”—a very effective way of bringing to life the poem and the idea of a bountiful earth. The service was lead by Sharon and the praise team, and it did not include a sermon (a first for our congregation).
Editor’s Note: The service copy set in square brackets indicates what could be spoken by the worship leader.
Call to Worship
This is a day of thanksgiving. Our God has been very good to us. It is a day for harvest celebration.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you” (Deut. 8:10).
[This is a day of thanksgiving, a day we set aside to give thanks, expressing our gratitude for God’s many blessings. As you walked in this morning, many of you were handed colored leaves. These are leaves of thanksgiving. While we go through this service, we will touch on many collective and personal things we have to be thankful for. Near the end of the service, we will ask you to quietly reflect on and choose one thing you are especially thankful for. Please write that item on your leaf. We will collect them and place them on the tree.
But first, let us offer our praise and thanksgiving to God in song, for this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.]
“Our God Is an Awesome God” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 161
“Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 2 99
“I Will Enter His Gates” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 18, SFL 9
“As the Deer” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 28
Words of Reconciliation
[We come to be reconciled to our God.]
[reading of 1 Peter 3:18-22]
Song of Reconciliation
“Freely, Freely” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 2 263
Words of Assurance
[Thanks be to God! Because we have so freely received, let us now freely give thanks for God’s forgiveness and love in word and song. Please follow along in your bulletin, as the rest of the service will be unannounced.]
GIVE THANKS FOR THE BOUNTIFUL EARTH
Scripture Reading: Psalm 33:1-11
In the beginning, God—Father, Word, and Spirit—called this world into being out of nothing and gave it shape and order. God formed the land, the sky, and the seas, making the earth a fitting home for the plants, animals, and humans he created. The world was filled with color, beauty, and variety; it provided room for work and play, worship and service, love and laughter. God rested—and gave us rest. In the beginning everything was very good.
—Our World Belongs to God,sections 8-9
Poetry and Slides: “We Live on Glimpses” (see box)
Song of Thanksgiving: “Let All Things Now Living”
PsH 453, PH 554, TWC 53 (see arrangement p. 38)
GIVE THANKS FOR ORGANIZED INSTITUTIONS
In education we seek to acknowledge the Lord by promoting schools
where the light of God’s Word shines in all learning, where students are treated as people who bear God’s image and have a place in his plan. Thank you, Lord, for learning.
In our work, even in dull routine, we hear the call to serve our Lord.
We must work for more than wages and manage for more than profit, so that mutual respect and the just use of goods and skills may shape the work place and so that, while we earn or profit, useful products and services may result. Thank you, Lord, for work.
Rest and leisure are gifts of God to relax us and set us free to discover and explore.
Believing that he provides for us, we can rest and entertain ourselves more simply. Thank you, Lord, for rest.
Since God establishes the powers that rule, we are called to respect them, unless they trample God’s Word.
We are to obey God in politics, pray for our rulers, and help governments to know God’s will for our public lives.
We are thankful for the freedoms enjoyed by citizens of many lands.
We grieve with those who live under oppression and work for their liberty to live without fear.
We call on government to do public justice and to protect the freedoms and rights of individuals, groups, and institutions, so that each may freely do the tasks God gives.
Thank you, Lord, for governments.
—Our World Belongs to God, sections 50-51, 53, 54, 55
Song: “Earth and All Stars” PsH 433, PH 458, RL 33, TWC 357
stanzas 3, 4, 5, 6
GIVE THANKS FOR HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS
[God calls us into communion with other people: communion in family, between friends, as colleagues and peers, and as people who humbly serve the same God. Frederick Buechner describes family as a web so delicately woven that it takes almost nothing to set the whole thing shuddering or even to tear it to pieces. Yet the thread it’s woven of is as strong as anything on earth. It is within this human family that we begin to know love, and there is probably no stronger love than that of a parent for a child. Gerhard Frost describes it this way:]
[Read “Soggy Cereal and Tepid Tea”; see box.]
[Relationships occur in many other settings as well, and as fallen people in these relationships, we often distort and hurt those around us. We carry personal burdens behind smiling masks. God asks us in Psalm 68:19 to lay these burdens before him and give thanks. “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.” In light of this command, let us remove our masks and ask for forgiveness, let us lay our burdens, our shattered dreams, our private pain at God’s feet and give thanks for relationships that challenge and stretch. Let us praise our God.
The next two songs ask you to lay your burdens down and give praise.]
“If You But Trust in God to Guide You” PsH 446, PH 282, RL 151, TH 567, TWC 636
“For the Beauty of the Earth” PsH 432, PH 473, RL 5, TWC 353
GIVE THANKS FOR GOD'S REDEEMING WORK IN JESUS CHRIST AND GOD'S SUSTAINING HAND
Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-17
God has not left this world without ways of knowing him.
He shows his power and majesty in the creation; he has mercifully spoken through prophets, history writers, poets, gospel writers, and apostles—and most clearly through his Son. The Spirit who moved humans to write the Word of God speaks to us in the Bible.
The Bible is the Word of God, record and tool of his redeeming work.
It is the Word of Truth, fully reliable in leading us to know God and have life in Jesus Christ.
As God’s people hear the Word and do it, they are equipped for discipleship, to witness to the good news:
Our world belongs to God and he loves it deeply.
—Our World Belongs to God, sections 34, 35, 36
Doxology (see box)
“Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 6
“We Praise You, O God” PsH 237, RL 62, TH 83, TWC 377
Offering: The Tree of Thanksgiving
[It is our prayer that the words spoken and the songs sung have reminded you of God’s many blessings. Please spend a few minutes reflecting and writing down your items of thanksgiving on your leaves. When you are finished, please pass them toward the aisle. Members of the congregation will collect them and tape them to our tree. Then our offerings of money will be received.]
“Seek Ye First” PsH 209, PH333, RL 263, SFL 155 TWC 447
“All Heaven Declares” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 4
[Sung by soloists, congregation joins in for the next two songs.]
“We Bow Down” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 97
“I Will Call upon the Lord” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 180
Prayer of Thanksgiving
“Praise and Thanksgiving” PsH 631, RL 20, SFL 83
“Hosanna!” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 163
WE LIVE ON GLIMPSES
We live on glimpses,
fleeting glimpses in the forest;
this is its beauty,
this its charm.
A bit of furry fluff
disappearing behind a log,
the flash of a many-colored wing
telling us that a bird is hiding in the bush.
Wild things always in flight,
leaving us wishing for more,
more time to examine and admire,
more to hold in the hand.
We live on glimpses and wish for time-
but perhaps this is best:
to see wild things in the open,
untamed and free,
not caged or constrained, but free to go away.
For beauties are enhanced when they are fleeting;
they leave us hungry still.
We live on glimpses of great truths,
wild truths, like the fact of God’s saving love.
To teach is never to tame or domesticate;
it is to acquaint each other
with truth on the wing,
truth that seeks and seizes,
and will not be captured or contained.
SOGGY CEREAL AND TEPID TEA
When I remember that I am a parent,
and think of God as Father,
I recall a special breakfast
brought to me in bed.
We awoke early
to the sound of hurrying feet.
We wondered what they were up to,
our four- and eight-year-olds;
but soon it came—
breakfast in bed.
It was an elaborate menu:
chilled burnt toast, with peanut butter;
eggs, fried, and chilled, too;
(the milk had been added too soon)
and tepid tea!
A horrendous mix.
When they stepped out for a moment
to get something they’d forgotten (heaven forbid!)
My wife whispered,
“You’re going to have to eat this, I can’t!”
And I did.
I didn’t eat as a gourmet,
for it wasn’t gourmet cooking;
I didn’t even eat as a hungry man
for I wasn’t hungry.
I ate it as a father
because it was made for me;
I was expected to;
they had faith in me.
And I ate because it was served on eager feet
and with starry eyes.
I think of my poor service to God
as teacher, parent,
interpreter of the Good News.
I know that my offerings are soggy,
tepid, and unfit,
but my Father receives them
and even blesses them—
not because I am good
but because he is!
Reprinted by permission from Bless My Growing by Gerhard Frost, © 1974 Augsburg
Lord, I look up to see You in heaven,
where You are in charge of everything.
I depend on You
like a little baby depends on parents,
like a house pet depends on the people who feed it.
I take a lot of guff from others,
but I can handle it;
because You are in charge,
and You always have mercy on me.
—Eldon Weisheit, Psalms for Teens Book II (Concordia, 1994)
Thank you, God Almighty,
for the glory,
the love-filled emptiness
at the beginning;
for the ordered fullness,
the warming pulse-beat
and the budding brainpower
in the continuing.
Thank you for the once-for-all
conception, birth and life,
the death and resurrection,
the victorious ascension
and reigning presence of the Son.
And thank you for the witness
of the Spirit in our hearts
when we cry: “Abba—Daddy—Father!”
Reprinted by permission from Seasons of a Lifetime, by Gerhard Frost, © 1989 Augsburg Fortress.
PRAYER CHANGES HEARTS
A young convert sought out his pastor to inquire what he could do for his Lord now that he was a Christian. “Do you have a friend who doesn’t know Christ?” asked the pastor. “Yes, I do.” “Well then,” said the pastor, “go and tell him what Christ has done for you.” “Oh, I could never do that,” said the young convert. “In that case,” said the pastor, “promise me two things. First, that you will not talk to your friend, and, second, that you will pray for him twice each day.” “That I can do,” said the young man. Soon, however, he was back. “You have to let me out of my promise,” he said. “I must talk to my friend about Jesus Christ!” Praying for his unsaved friend had changed his heart.
—Alvin J. Vander Griend, Houses of Prayer: Ministry Manual (Mission 21 HOPE, 1997), p. 38