Thanksgiving Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year. During worship, instead of a traditional sermon, I share a few words about thankfulness, then open up the floor to the congregation so that they can share the things for which they are thankful. It’s amazing to hear all the blessings our community has experienced. People share stories of sorrow, triumph, and surprise, all of which are undergirded by gratitude to God. We always laugh, usually cry, and in the end, sing the simple hymn, “Thank You God.” The words “thank you” feel so inadequate as a response to all God has done for us, but since they are the only words we have, we speak them this day and every day.
Below is the scripture we shared and my homily. I would love to hear what you are thankful for this year. Please post a comment and share!
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Nov. 18, 2007
I want to share this quote with you from a noted politician. He said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”
Which presidential candidate made these provocative statements? That’s from Abraham Lincoln in 1863, written as part of his presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving Day. He went on to say this: “It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
I wonder how closely our 2007 celebration of Thanksgiving reflects what Lincoln had in mind? Do we use this day to remember all our blessings from God? Do we use this well-earned day of rest to give thanks and praise to our beneficent God? Are we thankful for more than just an extra day off and elastic waistbands?
Giving thanks is one of the difficult parts of faith for one simple reason: When things are going great, we tend to forget the importance of giving thanks, and when things are going badly we struggle to find something to give thanks for!
And yet, here we are at Thanksgiving Sunday, prompted and challenged once again to look at our lives and lift our voices to God in praise. Giving thanks is not an attitude, it’s not an emotion, it’s not even an expression of faith. It’s a way of life. We are not called simply to give thanks; we are called to live thankfully. We give thanks to God not just through our words but through the way we live our lives and use the gifts God has given us. We do this when we remember that all we have and all we are was not “produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own,” as Lincoln said. On July 4th, we remember our independence. But on Thanksgiving, we acknowledge our dependence.
Today, we pause, step back, and admire God’s creative work in our lives over the past year. We stop to give thanks to God, not just because it’s Thanksgiving Sunday, not because God needs to be thanked, but because we need to be thankful. Charles Jefferson said, “Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies.” Today we pause to count up our past mercies, to name them to each other, and then, as Paul instructs us, to give thanks in all circumstances.