Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Day

As the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, I’d like to share a few thoughts. When you give thanks, it is usually someone whom you are thanking. The Pilgrims were thanking God, not the Indians and certainly not their lucky stars. They were very religious people thanking God for delivering them from death, something that a good number of their original group hadn’t escaped.

Of course they invited the Indians to dinner in appreciation for their help, but the Pilgrims were thanking God despite the hardships they had suffered in that first year in the New World. Today, we don’t mention God so much, so Thanksgiving Day has degenerated into turkey and football, with the original meaning all but lost and revisionist history being taught in our schools.

Even if it’s been a rough year – and for many it has been, with the future uncertain for many more – we Americans should still pause to count our blessings. Despite trials, we’re pretty well off in this country. Let me end with some portions of my sermon on why we should be grateful.

Some may not feel particularly grateful this Thanksgiving Day– they’ve had a tough year, or they’re worried about what might happen in the future. Some have lost loved ones or there are other difficulties in their lives. So they ask, “What have I got to be grateful for?”

Despite the difficulties we all face at one time or another, we still have many things to be grateful for. Our many blessings are frequently overshadowed by the worry or grief we experience during those inevitable trials in life. As the pain subsides with the help of God, we can once again appreciate all that God has done for us. Then we can more easily give thanks, and obtain that peace from God that may have eluded us before.

How do we get that peace of God, even in the midst of a trial? The Apostle Paul tells us how we can experience peace and comfort in Philippians 4:6-7: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NRSV

Let’s look at some of our blessings and begin to count the reasons why we should be grateful.

We are blessed by those who put their lives on the line for us every day: fire fighters, police, and the military. We are fortunate that in this country, the police and military are not instruments of oppression as they are in many places in the world.

We thank God for those who advocate for those who don’t have much of a voice in our society: the poor, oppressed and marginalized. Let us be inspired to stand up for what is right and work for peace and justice in this imperfect world.

In President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address on January 6, 1941, he laid out four basic freedoms that for the most part all of us enjoy.

Freedom of speech and expression
The first of these Four Freedoms is Freedom of speech and expression. We should give thanks that we are able to criticize the government without fear of the secret police knocking on our door and hauling us away.

Freedom of worship
The second of the Four Freedoms is Freedom of worship. While there are groups who are trying to limit that right, we can still gather to worship God without worrying about government spies taking names. We can’t begin to imagine what a blessing it is to have the freedom to worship as we please without fear or arrest or even death.

Freedom from want
The third of the Four Freedoms is Freedom from want. This isn’t guaranteed in the Constitution like freedom of speech and worship. However, we as a compassionate society believe we have a moral obligation to relieve poverty and care for those in need. Unfortunately, eliminating poverty is something that appears to be beyond our ability to achieve. The current economic conditions have resulted in middle class families losing jobs, homes, and retirement savings. However, we can be thankful we have the ability in this country to succeed and are generally not held back by artificial barriers.

Freedom from fear
The last of the Four Freedoms laid out by Franklin Roosevelt is Freedom from fear. While we may be worried and fearful about the future, we don’t have many of the fears that plague people in other parts of the world. We don’t have to worry about the secret police knocking at our doors or the religious police enforcing dress codes for women. We don’t have to worry about rebels attacking our village and doing terrible things. So let us be thankful for freedom from these kinds of fears.

We should give thanks for the ready availability of food due to the fertile soil we have, adequate water, and an efficient distribution system. Many other parts of the world suffer from droughts, poor soil, and meager crop yields. Also clean water is in short supply in many parts of the world. In places like Sudan people have to walk miles to a source of clean water.

We should also be thankful for the fact that we have a decent roof over our heads, unlike the people in Haiti who are living in tents or under tarps. We also have adequate clothing to keep us warm in the winter. And of course we should be thankful for a source of income to provide for these basic necessities and more. While that income may be in jeopardy, at least for now we are getting by, for which we should be thankful.

We should be thankful for our families and the support we receive from them. We can be thankful that God put in our paths people who became like family to us – our close friends. We should be thankful for our church family, which are like family to us. May this thankfulness translate into a more caring attitude on our part for our families, friends, church family, and community.

Lastly, we should be thankful for our health, even if it isn’t what it used to be. Be thankful for the good years you had, and how well you are doing, all things considered.

When we consider all that we have to be thankful for despite problems and trials, we should have a true spirit of thanksgiving in our hearts. We should be thankful, not just once a year, but daily. Once we accept that we are not given any special immunity from life’s troubles, then we can give thanks for God’s help even in times of need. We also have to remember that with these blessings comes responsibilities, mainly stewardship of what God has entrusted to us.

Let us remember that we are not put on this earth to be happy or privileged, but to know, love, and serve God. The most important relationship we can have is with Jesus, who gives us eternal life and helps us get through this life. Let us use this Thursday to give thanks to God for all he has blessed us with, and encourage our family members to do the same. So let us give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever. Amen

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