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How to Cook a Turkey

A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky., on November 18, 2012.

Psalm 100

Little did you know you would come to church today to learn how to cook a turkey. I try my best each week to be relevant and practical, and this is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Perhaps you are cooking your first turkey this year, and if so, I have good news for you. We’re going to have a cooking lesson in the next few minutes.

Maybe you are a pro at preparing Thanksgiving meals. Keep your mind open if you are. I am certain you have never cooked a turkey like I’m getting ready to describe.

Mrs. Geraghty is a kindergarten teacher who asked her students how to cook a turkey. She wrote down their answers and compiled them in A Thanksgiving Cookbook, which every serious chef needs.  

Now, you need to know she included this disclaimer at the beginning of the book. “The teacher will not be responsible for medical bills resulting from the use of her cookbook.” After hearing the recipes, you’ll understand why.

How do you cook a turkey? According to Geremy, “You buy the turkey and take the paper off. Then you put it in the refrigerator and take it back out and cut it up with a knife and make sure all the wires are out and take out the neck and heart. You put it in a big pan and cook it for half an hour at 80 degrees. Then you invite people over and eat it.”

Alan is not about to take the easy way out and go to the grocery store. “First you shoot the turkey, and then you cut it up. You put it in the oven and cook it for ten minutes on twenty degrees. You put it on a plate and eat it.”

Grace may know some things about cooking a turkey we don’t. “First you add some salt. Then you put the turkey in a bowl. You put brown sugar on it. Then you mix it all together with a spoon, and you add some milk and mix it all again. You put it in a pan and cook it for sixteen minutes at 16 degrees. Then you take it out of the oven and eat it.”

Obviously, Lauren gave this a lot of thought. “Find a turkey and kill it. Cut it open. Put it in a pan. Pour milk in the pan. Put a little chicken with it. Put salsa on it. Take it out of the pan. Put it on the board. Cut it into little pieces. Put it on a rack. Put it in the oven for seven minutes at 10 degrees. Take it out of the oven and put an eensy-weensy bit of sugar on it. Put a little more salsa on it. Then you eat it.”

By the way, the Butterball Hotline number is 800-288-8372. If I were you, I would write that number in Mrs. Geraghty’s cookbook.  

While there is a silly side to Thanksgiving, especially when children are around, we know there is a serious side, too. Thanksgiving is a day for counting blessings and expressing gratitude with others. Certainly, it is not the only day to do this, but ever since the Pilgrims walked this land, Americans from all walks of life and religious persuasions have gathered with family and friends to thank God for being so generous.

The ancient Israelites did this, too, and the book of Psalms is filled with thanksgiving hymns. One of the most prominent is Psalm 100, a processional hymn sung by worshipers on their way to the Temple to worship.

The first three verses would be sung by those approaching the Temple, while the last two would be sung by those already in the Temple, inviting the others to join them.

Worshipers approaching the Temple: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.”

Response of the worshipers in the Temple: “Enter His gates with Thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name; for the Lord is good, and His love endures forever. His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

This Psalm has been a favorite of mine for several reasons. I memorized it in the second grade for a Thanksgiving program at school. It was my introduction to poetry and the Psalms.

I have always appreciated its simplicity, brevity and cheerful, upbeat tone. It is hard to read this Psalm and be gloomy and downcast.

It is, however, more than a feel-good hymn. It is a profound proclamation of our faith. It reminds us, and tells anyone listening, what we believe, and the difference faith makes in our lives.  

What is the underlying message of this joyful Psalm? We are not alone. We are accompanied on this journey by a good and gracious God who loves us unconditionally and always will.

“Know that the Lord is God. It is God who made us, and we are His. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name, for the Lord is good, and His love endures forever. His faithfulness endures to all generations.”

Jackie and I have four grandchildren and are anxious to spend time with them this week when our family gathers for the holiday. If it is anything like last year, we’ll play games, go fishing, read books, build a big bonfire, roast marshmallows, tell ghost stories, and of course, eat a lot of good food that our grandchildren even help to prepare. Life doesn’t get any better, at least for a couple of days.

When I look at our soon-to-be five year old twins, Jack and Kate, I think of one of the first times I saw them. It was the day they came home from the hospital, and they were lying on their stomachs in one bassinette. I wish I had taken a picture of what I saw that evening.

Both of them had stretched out their arms until they found each other. However, they were not merely touching each other, they were holding hands. Their hands were clasped tightly together as they slept peacefully, without a care in the world.

For nine months, they had been squeezed together in tight quarters. They had never known what it meant to be alone. The other was always there.

Now, however, they were separated and must have felt alone and abandoned. Perhaps they heard each other when they were placed together in that bassinette and as a result reached out to find one another. When they did, they were not content to just touch each other. They held hands as tightly as their little three day old bodies would let them, intending to never let go again.

There is a longing in the human heart to be connected to others. We never lose that yearning, regardless of how old we get. We need God, and we need each other, as this Psalm reminds us. Through our faith, we find both.

There is another message found in this Psalm, though. We need to be as good to each other as God is to us.

“For the Lord is good, and His love endures forever. His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

How does the Psalmist describe God? God is good, loving and faithful.

It is the second part of this trilogy which captures my attention, not to diminish the importance of the other two. They are equally important.

God is good. In God, there is no deceit or evil. His heart is pure.

God is faithful. Generations to come will find God to be as reliable and trustworthy as we have. This will never change.

Look at the wording in that second part, though. “His love endures forever.” I find that word, endures, a bit odd. I would have expected the writer to say God’s love lasts forever, but not endures forever. Why this word?

The Psalmist knew God’s love was tested frequently. At times, His children disappointed and frustrated Him. They rebelled and made mistakes. They were slow to listen and even slower to learn.

However, the Psalmist also knew God would never stop loving them. He would love them at their best and at their worst. He would love them when they succeeded, and when they failed. He would love them when they drew near and sought His counsel, or when they ignored Him. He would love them when they made Him laugh, and when they made Him cry.

Like a good shepherd or loving parent, nothing they could do would make God love them more or love them less. Under no circumstances would God ever quit loving them and reaching out to help them.

Who needs you to love them like this today? Who will be sitting around your Thanksgiving table that needs you to love them like God does? What could I say to encourage you to do this?  

Sure, there are times when loving others leads to worry, anxiety, confusion, frustration and anger. It can cause sleepless nights and lead to tear-stained pillows.

This is what it means to love, though. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. If you don’t love, you don’t care. If you love, you never give up hope and will endure whatever you must until the one you care so much about achieves the potential God has placed inside them.

Who loved you this much? Who patiently and diligently prayed for you? Who did not give up on you? Whose love endured when you tested it?

Is it time to pass it forward? Sure it is, and God will help you.

I am confident this Psalm had a great impression upon Jesus. It was at the heart of everything he taught and did. He was good in every way. He was faithful all the way to the cross. Above all, though, his love never failed.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” Jesus prayed at his death. Even on the cross, he was pleading on their behalf for God to give them another chance.

Is this Psalm at the heart of everything you do?  Are you striving to be good in every way? Are you faithful to those who need you to be responsible? Is your love strong enough to see people through their worst times?

Are your friends and family members grateful you are a part of their lives?

Jack and Kate have been in pre-school for a couple of years. This fall, Amy and their teachers decided it would be best for them to be in separate classrooms.

The first day this occurred, one class was going out to the playground while the other was coming in from the playground. When Jack and Kate saw each other, they broke line and ran to each other.  They hugged tightly and kissed. Then, they quickly got back in line and went on their way.

Who will be this glad to see you on Thursday?