What Makes A Good Thanksgiving? (11/20/16)

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Are you really thankful today?

American author and clergyman Henry Van Dyke said, “Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” This Thursday is the day our nation has set aside for us to collectively pause from the busyness in our lives and express our feelings of thankfulness. As Christians, we enjoy it not only because it is a secular holiday – it also has a biblical mandate. Colossians 3:15b says we are to “be thankful” and 1 Thessalonians 5:18a tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

Throughout the centuries of its existence, many individuals and families have formed customs and practices which have become very important to them on Thanksgiving Day. Please take a moment and think about the things your family does on Thanksgiving which have become special to you.

We know from American history that celebrating Thanksgiving can be traced back to the earliest days of our nation. According to thanksgiving-day.org: “The legendary pilgrims crossed the Atlantic in the year 1620 in Mayflower-A 17th Century sailing vessel. About 102 people traveled for nearly two months with extreme difficulty. This was so because they were kept in the cargo space of the sailing vessel. No one was allowed to go on the deck due to terrible storms. The pilgrims comforted themselves by singing Psalms.             The pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock on December 11th 1620, after a sea journey of 66 days. Though the original destination was somewhere in the northern part of Virginia, they could not reach the place owing to winds blowing them off course. Nearly 46 pilgrims died due to extreme cold in winter. However, in the spring of 1621, Squanto, a native Indian taught the pilgrims to survive by growing food.             In the summer of 1621, owing to severe drought, pilgrims called for a day of fasting and prayer to please God and ask for a bountiful harvest in the coming season. God answered their prayers and it rained at the end of the day. It saved the corn crops.  It is said that Pilgrims learnt to grow corn, beans and pumpkins from the Indians, which helped all of them survive. In the autumn of 1621, they held a grand celebration where 90 people were invited including Indians. The grand feast was organized to thank god for his favors.”

The original intent of Thanksgiving was to show thankfulness to God because he provided for their needs – even though almost half of them died within the first year of leaving Europe. This celebration was occasionally held in America for the same purpose until it became a national holiday in 1863.

Has Thanksgiving taken on a new meaning in our modern times? We need to ask ourselves, not only as Americans but especially as Christians, if our family customs and practices still flow out of a grateful heart to God. Or has Thanksgiving morphed into something else over the years?

English author Charles Lamb said “Gluttony and surfeiting (overindulgence) are no proper occasions for thanksgiving.” We don’t do this on Thanksgiving, do we?

Michael Dresser said, “Thanksgiving is America’s national chow-down feast, the one occasion each year when gluttony becomes a patriotic duty.”  This doesn’t describe us, does it?

While many families do take a few minutes to share the reasons they are thankful either before or after their Thanksgiving meal, we need to ask: Would our nation and we Christians still be thankful if all of our Thanksgiving customs and practices were taken away?

One great blessing we have as Americans is that God has blessed us beyond measure. Even though we have problems in our lives, we have food, medical care, enough motor vehicles for the licensed drivers in our family, retirement plans and/or social security and more gadgets and possessions than we really need to survive. All of these things can also spoil us to the point where we are only thankful as long as things are going well and we have enough possessions to make life somewhat comfortable.

Do we lose our thankfulness if we lose these things and life gets more difficult?

Our scripture this morning, Psalm 28, was written by King David at a time when things weren’t going so well in his life. We can sense the desperation in his life as we read it. He starts out by writing:

1     To you I call, O Lord my Rock;

do not turn a deaf ear to me.

For if you remain silent,

I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.

2     Hear my cry for mercy

as I call to you for help,

as I lift up my hands

toward your Most Holy Place.

3     Do not drag me away with the wicked,

with those who do evil,

who speak cordially with their neighbors

but harbor malice in their hearts.

These are not the cries of a man who is enjoying everything that’s happening in his life. He is at a place where he has done all that he can do. Now he has to wait on God to move.

We don’t like to be in this place in our lives any more than King David did. Living by faith and trusting God is easy until we have to actually do it.

As we continue in Psalm 28, we see that David changes his focus:

4     Repay them for their deeds

and for their evil work;

repay them for what their hands have done

and bring back upon them what they deserve.

5     Since they show no regard for the works of the Lord

and what his hands have done,

he will tear them down

and never build them up again.

David shifts his focus from himself onto God. He states with confidence that God will be his victor. God will bring about vengeance and justice to those who are wronging him.

As David continues to write, he shifts his focus once again. He looks to the future with hope.

6     Praise be to the Lord,

for he has heard my cry for mercy.

7     The Lord is my strength and my shield;

my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

My heart leaps for joy

and I will give thanks to him in song.

8     The Lord is the strength of his people,

a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.

9     Save your people and bless your inheritance;

be their shepherd and carry them forever.

David wasn’t thankful for what he did or didn’t have. He was thankful for his God and the hope he had in God. Even though we now live in the new covenant of the New Testament, we are called to do the same thing. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

We aren’t to be thankful just for our God, we are also to be thankful for the Savior that he sent and to give thanks through the power of Jesus Christ in us. When our thankfulness flows out of the power of Christ instead of our own power, our it looks much different than if it’s based on what we do or do not have.

We aren’t thankful because everything is right with the world. We’re thankful because of the hope we have in God to save us and to provide for us through the power of Jesus.

The pilgrims didn’t celebrate the first Thanksgiving because God had given them more than they needed. They celebrated because he gave them enough for most of them to survive.

David didn’t thank God because everything was going well in his life. He was thankful because of the hope he had in God for future deliverance even though he was still in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty.

Can we be truly thankful to God in the midst of the difficulties and uncertainty in our lives? Is our Thanksgiving based on more than traditions and the fact everything is going OK right now? If it is, we need to expand our thinking about Thanksgiving and ask: How can we do a better job of including thankfulness to God in our Thanksgiving Day celebrations? Perhaps it’s by inviting someone who is alone to be part of our family celebration. Maybe God wants us to reach out to estranged friends or relatives and work on mending relationships. Perhaps God is calling us to do something else that forces us out of our comfort zones. (Just remember that talking about something isn’t the same as actually doing it.)   

Let’s make an effort to be truly thankful but not because we’re celebrating a national holiday. Let’s be thankful because we have a God who loves us, sustains us and gives us salvation through Jesus Christ.