Once upon a time there was a single dad named Ernie, who had two kids in elementary school. His ex-wife had abandoned the family, was nowhere to be found, and contributed nothing. Ernie’s factory job paid the bills, but just barely. As long as there were no extra expenses, he was able to make it, but it was always living check to check.
Then everything went wrong at once. His daughter ran into a tree with her bicycle and broke her arm, and that cost him some money. The transmission went out Ernie’s car and he had a big repair bill at the shop. Then an old back injury flared up and the doctor told Ernie he needed surgery. But Ernie did not know how he could pay for his portion of that bill along with everything else. His back was getting worse and going to work was getting more difficult, and he was stuck with nowhere to turn.
One day a retired man from down the street came to visit Ernie. Ernie knew who the man was, but didn’t know him well. The man told Ernie he had heard about his troubles and wanted to help; and then handed him ten one hundred dollar bills. Ernie couldn’t believe it. There were tears in his eyes as he thanked the man over and over, hugging him, telling him how the money came at just the right time, how badly he needed it, and how much he appreciated the help. After a short conversation, the man left.
The money did not solve all of Ernie’s problems, but it got the wolf away from the door for that week anyway. A few days later, the man from down the street visited again, and, after a brief conversation, gave Ernie another thousand dollars. Again, Ernie could hardly believe it, this time saying he could not accept the money. The man insisted, and again, Ernie went on and on thanking him. This helped pay off some more of his debts, but Ernie was still a long way from being able to afford the much needed back surgery.
A week later, the man was there again, and after some small talk gave Ernie ten more one hundred dollar bills. Ernie could not imagine why the man was doing this, but again expressed his gratitude. The man never made a big show of his gift and did not insist on knowing all the details of Ernie’s finances. He just gave him the money, said ‘you’re welcome’ after Ernie thanked him a dozen times, chatted a bit, and walked back home.
This continued on and on. Every few days, it was the same thing; a knock at the door, a little conversation, a thousand more dollars, and a friendly good-bye. The expressions of gratitude went from saying thank you ten times in a row with tears in his eyes, to a single, sincere ‘thanks.’ One time, Ernie forgot to say thank you at all. Ernie thought about it after the man left, and then called to say thanks. Ernie was embarrassed, but, a few days later the man was there again and the pattern continued.
In time, Ernie had all his bills paid, was able to afford the surgery, bought a new car, and even started putting money in the bank. Everything was going just great, and the money kept coming.
But then Ernie started to get used to getting the extra money, and even began to expect it. Not only that, but Ernie began to view the man’s visits with the money as an interruption, and sometimes he was even annoyed by that knock on the door. “Same old thing, all the time, same old thing,” Ernie said to himself; “I have to stop what I’m doing, listen to him talk about the weather and whatever else is on his mind, act like I’m interested, try to remember to say thanks, and then get back to my TV show and wonder what I missed.” Ernie added little to the conversations and never invited the man in. A few times, he told one of the kids to answer the door and get the money. But then they started to complain, and finally Ernie had enough.
The next time the man came by, Ernie suggested that he set up an automatic transfer of funds at the bank. The man was quiet, looked disappointed, said ‘okay,’ and walked away. Ernie wondered if perhaps he made a mistake, and hoped the flow of cash would not end. But it didn’t. The man did what Ernie asked, and the money kept coming. And Ernie, now happy to be left alone, never once took the time to walk down the street to thank the man ever again.
So, what do you think of Ernie? I would guess your opinion of him changed as the story went on. You probably liked him at first. He was a hard worker, he was doing his best to play the bad hand he was dealt, and he provided for his family. Then perhaps you felt sorry for him as the troubles piled up. And then you were happy for him and his good fortune. But then your attitude toward Ernie probably changed. Once he started to take the kind man’s generosity for granted, Ernie’s lack of gratitude was outrageous and inexcusable and disgusting. His response to this man who gave him so much and changed his life was, indeed, a most inappropriate response.
Nobody had to tell Ernie to be grateful for that first $1,000 gift. He knew where he was without it, and he knew what a difference it made in his life. But as time went on, and the gifts continued, Ernie forgot to be grateful. Someone from the outside looking in– someone not accustomed to getting $1000 every few days in an envelope from a neighbor– could sit down with Ernie and give him a little perspective, and remind him that he should be grateful.
Psalm 100 is a reminder to be grateful to God. It is a reminder, perhaps for people like us, who might otherwise begin to take God’s gifts for granted. You all woke up again this morning. God gave you another day. Do you always keep that in mind, remembering to be grateful to God? Or, do you begin to take that for granted? What is more valuable, $1,000 every few days, or the gift of the day itself, every day? “It is God who made us, and God is good, and his faithfulness continues,” says the Psalmist. It just goes on and on.
Even a made-up story about someone getting $1,000 handed to them every few days is enough to get our imaginations going; thinking about what we could all do with that much money, and what an ungrateful fool Ernie was to take that for granted. But what ungrateful fools we are when we begin to take for granted God’s gift of each and every day, and everything we have and are.
Psalm 100 is a reminder to give a proper response to God for all his goodness, for the gift of life, for the forgiveness of sins, and for the gift of Jesus Christ our Savior. It is a reminder that we all need once in a while, because in our sinful blindness we do tend to forget about, and even be annoyed with, our responsibilities to God, “from whom all blessings flow;” like Ernie, with his most improper response of greedy ingratitude. Read the words of Psalm 100 and be reminded:
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.
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, and his faithfulness continues through all generations. (continued…)