What are you thankful for? That’s a question we normally ask on Thanksgiving Day, but since I probably won’t be with most of you on Thursday, I’m asking it today instead. Now before you start responding, I’m asking this rhetorically. I expect that if I opened up for responses this service would never end. That’s why the feast of booths went on for seven days.
So, what are we thankful for? Good health, good friends, shelter over our heads, and having enough to eat. Could it be that we’re thankful for living in a country that allows us the freedom to worship, to speak, and to think as we wish? Is it the freedom we have to vote as we wish? Each of us has something different to add to the list.
A CALL TO CELEBRATE WITH THANKSGIVING
Deuteronomy 16 is a summons. It invites the people of God to gather at festivals of thanksgiving. In ancient Israel, the men came together at least three times a year to give thanks for God’s blessings, and when they came to the feast, they weren’t supposed to come empty handed. They brought offerings to these harvest festivals as a sign of their gratitude, each of them giving "as they are able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you" (Deut. 16:17). The feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Booths celebrated the harvest, but they also reminded the people that God had been active in liberating them from bondage in Egypt.
Thursday is our harvest festival and it’s also our celebration of human freedom, something we Americans claim to hold dear. It’s not always easy being true to these freedoms, especially during times of war or when a dark cloud seems to hang over the nation. Too often we let fear get in the way or we let prejudice keep us from seeing the full meaning of our national purpose. History reminds us that there were once walls placed in front of women, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans. The Founder’s dreams of liberty took time to bear fruit. Sometimes we forget that Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and many other Founders were also slave owners. Although Thanksgiving has essentially become a secular holiday that has more to do with football games and a big dinner, it’s appropriate that we come here today and give thanks with grateful hearts for all of God’s many blessings.
This spirit of celebration is lifted up in Stephen Schwartz's song "All Good Gifts."
We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand.
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
the breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above,
So thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord, for all his love.
We thank thee then, oh Father, for all things bright and good,
the seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, our food.
No gifts have we to offer for all thy love imparts,
but that which thou desirest, our humble thankful hearts.
All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above,
So thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord, for all his love.1
THE SOURCE OF EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT
When children are small, parents try to teach them to say please and thank you and we encourage them to write thank you notes. I must confess that neither our children nor we adults, always follow through on our training, and therefore we need occasional reminders.
Several years ago a letter to the editor appeared in the Disciple Magazine. It lamented the seeming disappearance of this tradition of saying thank you. The letter writer was a Korean pastor who’d come to the U.S. about forty years earlier. This pastor wrote about how impressed he was with the way people would always say thank you, no matter where he went. He wrote:
"I thought it was a beautiful custom. I remember wishing we were more like that in Korea, where I grew up as a child."
But unfortunately, it seemed to him that this wonderful custom had fallen by the wayside. To prove his point he gave two personal examples. The first concerned a wedding gift he and his wife had sent to a young couple. No one ever responded to this gift. Now it’s possible that the gift tag got lost, but his story isn’t unique. Then he told of a funeral he had conducted for the family of former church members. He wondered why weeks went by with no acknowledgment of any kind.
These two stories remind me of the story about how Jesus healed ten lepers, all of whom went away joyfully, but only one of whom returned to give thanks. Pastor Ha makes a wonderful comment about the need to stop and give thanks.
To be human is not only to know how to thank each other, but also to acknowledge God as our creator and give thanks to the giver of all good gifts -- the source of all our blessings.2
Yes, giving thanks is more than proper etiquette; it’s a recognition that we’re recipients of something special. The King James Version translation of James 1:17, says: "every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Everything good and perfect is God’s gift to us. And so it’s appropriate to stop and give thanks to God for our blessings, and when we come before God we shouldn’t come empty handed. In ancient Israel, the people brought the first fruits of the harvest to the festival. We do the same, as we bring into the storehouse, the offerings of our hearts. They are a way of saying thank you to God for God’s many blessings.
As the song says:
"We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand."
"All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above,
so thank the Lord, Oh Thank the Lord, for all his love."
May our gifts be a sign of our gratitude.
1. Stephen Schwartz, "All Good Gifts," in New Wine 2, (LA: UMC, 1973), 9-11.
2. Young Chang Ha, "Don't Forget Thank you," The Disciple (November 2000): 36.
Preached by Robert Cornwall
At: First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc, Ca
November 19, 2006