Signaling Thanksgiving

November 19, 2017

Exodus 16:1-8
So, Jack Purcell and I were going to Bethlehem First Methodist Church to play Pickle ball.  Jack is driving through downtown Winder and he hits every light green all the way through town and you’d think he’d won the lottery.  “That a baby,” he says as he hits the last green light before we get to the railroad tracks at McDonald’s.  “You’ve got to be living right to do that.”

We all hate to stop at red lights, don’t we?  Rarely are we thankful for red lights unless they have other people stopped.

On a normal day, these lights might cause you to stop fifty percent of the time but the percentage seems to go up to about seventy-five percent if you are in a hurry.

Have you ever wondered why we usually call these devices “red lights” or “stop lights instead of traffic lights or by their original name, traffic signals?

Could it have something to do with our tendency to complain rather than be thankful? Could it have something to do with our tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive?

Imagine an intersection without one of these devices.  It would be bedlam.  It would be chaos.  It would be dangerous.

Garrett Augustus Morgan must have witnessed a few such situations like that in the early twentieth century.

If he had lived today, he may have been one of those people we see on “Shark Tank” peddling his invention, but without any sales, he wouldn’t have gotten a deal.

After Ford Motor Company began producing automobiles, the streets became a crowded potpourri of bicycles, horse-drawn wagons, and motorized vehicles.

Morgan owned an automobile himself, a rarity for an African-American. He became a successful businessman through the invention of sewing equipment which he developed into a tailoring shop with over thirty employees. He later established a newspaper in his home town of Cleveland, Ohio.

It was owning an automobile and witnessing chaos and confusion at intersections that gave Morgan his idea of inventing the traffic light.

During this week, 94 years ago, a patent was granted for his invention.  So, it’s very appropriate to give thanks for the traffic light during this time of the year.  But I must admit, I’m rarely thankful when I have to stop at one.

In fact, I’m usually complaining that my schedule has been interrupted, but when others have to stop I am happy because that means I get to continue my journey.

The traffic signal reminds me how self-centered I can be. I want the signal to change for my convenience.  But there are others to consider.

Morgan must have realized this when he invented the signal.  His invention was no respecter of persons, a fact which must have brought added pleasure to a man living in an era when people were judged more by the color of their skin than by the quality of their character.

In a day when a white man would not have stopped for a black person to cross before him, the traffic light brought some justice to the highway.  It brought equality.  It brought fairness.  It brought order.

Here we are 94 years later and we still need more justice, fairness, equality, and order in our world.

I’ve been to places like Egypt and Liberia where there were no traffic signals.  People drove with the motto: “Me first.”

Can you imagine what our roads would look like if we drove that way?

What if no one ever yielded?

There must be some give and consideration for others on the road or we couldn’t drive anywhere without great danger.

It is rare to find a car on the roads in these countries that does not have a dent as evidence of the owner’s selfish driving skills or those of someone else.

Every intersection is ripe with danger. The sound of horns and screeching tires is the norm.

Next time you are stuck at a traffic light, instead of steaming, being anxious, looking at your watch and fretting about being late, shift your attitude and be thankful.

The roads could be a lot different.

Israel, God’s chosen people were stopped in the wilderness.  They had encountered a stop light at the Jordan River.  However, originally the light was green.

Originally, God had given them a green light at the Jordan River but they just sat there.   They wouldn’t go.  They would not obey.  They were afraid.  You know what happens if you sit a green light too long.  It will eventually turn red.

Because of their disobedience, their opportunity went away.

There they were stuck in the wilderness.  Yet, even there, they discovered God leading them.  God did not abandon them.  Without God’s intervention, they would have died there, but even then, they could not find thankful words.

Instead of being thankful for the manna from heaven, they complained that bread was all they had to eat.

“If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”  (Exodus 16:3)

How many believe they had all they wanted to eat as slaves?  How many slaves do you know have all they want to eat?  That does not sound very realistic.  They didn’t starve but the rations were likely small.  Chronic complainers often play loose with the truth.

Even when times are difficult, we can all find a way to signal thanksgiving.

1) We signal thanksgiving when we acknowledge that God is the one who is working to bring order out of chaos.   There is always going to be some chaos in this life.  God bring order on a daily basis through the gifts he’s given us to love others.   He said that we are the salt and light of the world.  We are change agents.  As we use our gifts, we help make the world orderly and peaceful.

The wilderness was a place of chaos and God was always working to help bring some order to the people’s lives.  Sometimes, God even stepped in and did this supernaturally.  When they realized that, they tended to be more thankful.

2)   We signal thanksgiving when we are willing to yield to the will of God.  If we are unwilling to yield to God or to those God has sent to help us, it is difficult for us to be thankful. When we are unwilling to yield to others, that places us at the center of our world.  If we are at the center of our world, who are we going to thank?

If we are at the center of our world, we are going to be lonely and alone.  We are going to end up in confrontation all the time.

We will become bent, scratched, and rubbed the wrong way, just like hundreds of cars trying to merge because none of the drivers were willing to yield.  Jesus has encouraged us to make our lives a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to him.  If we do that, Jesus has to be in the center of our world.

3)  We signal thanksgiving when we recognize that God has us here for a purpose and that purpose isn’t just to fulfill all our selfish desires but it is to magnify God through serving one another.

One of the times we can or should be most grateful is when we have been served by other people.

Because we like to be self-sufficient, it is humbling to be served by others.

It is also important not to deny others the opportunity to serve us, just as Jesus taught Peter not to deny him the opportunity to wash his feet.   Either Jesus was going to serve Peter, or Peter was going to have to leave the group.

In allowing others to serve us, we are acknowledging that we are not self-sufficient.

We often like to think of ourselves as people who don’t need help.  We are always the ones giving it.

We should acknowledge that we need help, sometimes more than others.  When we pause and yield to the goodness of others and accept mercy and grace, it creates humility within us.  We are then inspired and encouraged to go and help others.

It helps us to look beyond ourselves and seek more equity and justice in the world, to see where compassion and kindness are lacking, to go and fill that void.

That is what will cause others to stop and say “thank you” to us.  Even if they don’t, God notices our contribution and will bless us.

Oh, one last thing.  Next time you are stopped at a traffic light and you are complaining about being inconvenienced and wish you had a free pass – don’t wish too hard.  That day will come soon enough.

Remember, the last trip you take along the highway may be from the funeral home to the cemetery.

As the funeral procession moves through town, the sheriff’s deputies and the police will allow the motorcade to ignore all the traffic signals.

For one time in your life, although it’s at the end of your life when you will not care whether the light is red or green, you will get a free pass, no stopping.  You will be waved straight through.

So, remember, stopping now means you still have time to go.

You still have time to go make a difference.  You have time to go serve.  You have time to go bless others with your lives.  You have time to be thankful for all these opportunities and more.  You have time to go and make disciples.  You still have time to pray.  Let’s do that now.


Thank you Lord for the opportunities to help those in need.  With what we have been given, may we learn to bless others with our time, resources, and gifts of presence and friendships.  Thank you for those who continue to help us, befriend us, and love us.

In addition to our stopping and our going, help us to be cautious about those things that can harm us and damage our relationship with you or with our friends.  Give us wisdom to so that we do not say harmful things that can damage our witness do give into temptations that can harm our relationships to family or friends.   Help us to be cautious about how we treat our bodies since they are the temple of your Holy Spirit.  Help us to be cautious so we are not placed in compromising situations or places.  Help our witness for you to be consistent and strong as we seek to make a difference where we live.

Thank you for being loving and compassionate, Lord.