I was the speaker for the Reynoldsville area community Thanksgiving service this evening. These notes, based on an original sermon I wrote in the late ’90s, were the basis of my message.
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“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.” –Philippians 4:4-8 (NIV)
Thanksgiving. I love this holiday. It’s one of the most peaceful, deeply spiritual holidays for me. Yeah, I know Christmas and Easter are the biggies in the realm of religious holidays, but this one is SPIRITUAL…. there’s no big religious festival, no ritual, no special call to worship prescribed in some book. In the Revised Common Lectionary there’s not even a special Thanksgiving set of passages like the other religious days.
It’s not a religious holiday, because it’s not one prescribed by the church… not the church throughout the ages, not the Roman Catholics, not the Eastern Orthodox churches, not the Protestant churches, not even my own United Methodist Church.
But it is a spiritual holiday… and for me it is a Holy Day.
Why? Because it calls each of us to consider our lot in life and to be thankful… But not even to just be thankful, but to go beyond being thankful and actually give thanks. It’s wonderful to be full of thanks, but you gotta do something with all of that thanks or else it means nothing except a warm feeling.
With Thanksgiving, as we have it here in America, our government asks us to give thanks to God… yes, I said the government asks us to give thanks to God. They may not highlight that aspect, but that’s where it comes from isn’t it? You go to Canada and this week is not Thanksgiving week. You go to Mexico and this week is not Thanksgiving week. You go to Britain and this week is not Thanksgiving week. You go to Israel, the one place where God’s religious holidays are still observed, at least in part, and you’ll find that this week is not Thanksgiving week. Only in America, where we are ONE NATION UNDER GOD.
Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? If I ask school children, they might tell me stories of pilgrims and Indians and a cold winter and then a fruitful harvest and a big feast with plenty to spare and the pilgrims proclaiming a day to give thanks to God. Yep. That’s part of what we remember this week.
After that first harvest was brought in, it was the Governor of the colony, William Bradford, in 1621, who proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer.
It was an American President that asked us….”to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November…,” not just to be thankful, but listen to President Lincoln’s words: “…as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens…”
And every year since then, whichever President is in that office has asked us to do the same thing. And so we celebrate Thanksgiving… and we give thanks and praise to GOD, because our government has asked us to.
Separation of church and state? Yeah, right.
Now, before you think this preacher is getting too strange, I just want to clarify something here. I am not complaining that the government calls us to prayer. I happen to like that a whole lot.
(Although I’m not convinced that even us Christians use it as a day of prayer and giving thanks. Unfortunately for many of us, if you watch us on Thanksgiving Day, you would think the day should be called THANKS-PIGGING, instead of Thanksgiving.)
My concern about the Thanksgiving proclamation is much more Christian…. not governmental.
You see, I am afraid that since we find Paul and others reminding us so often to “give thanks” and then even the government of the United States has to set aside a day for us to give thanks, that maybe it is a sad indicator that we, the Christians, instead of entering the gates of our Lord with praise and entering His courts with thanksgiving, are actually nothing more than an ungrateful bunch of hypocrites.
Let’s take a minute, shall we, and just do a reality check. Consider with me the following items:
– When we pray, are we praising and thanking God… or just asking for stuff and for blessings or healings or whatever? Are we thankful people?
– When we are at church, are we in an attitude of gratefulness and worship… or are we looking for what someone else does wrong or does that annoys us? Or checking to see if the preacher makes a mistake? Are we thankful people?
– When we meet with the other people in our town are we focusing on the positives and the good things, the things someone has done well and praising them for a good job… or are we sitting there like vultures just looking for a weakness so that we may attack? Are we thankful people?
– Do we look around us in this country where we have the right to select our leaders, worship as we desire, and even are encouraged unwittingly by the government to have days of thanks and prayer and to praise God for a great land where we still live as One Nation Under God… or do we deliberately badmouth and curse our leaders rather than pray for them? Are we thankful people?
This passage of Scripture that says “THINK ON THESE THINGS” isn’t just a nice suggestion… It is Scripture. There is a life-giving, life-fulfilling dimension of following the principles of Scripture. If we were to look at all aspects of our lives through the glasses of this Scripture, we truly could give God thanks and praise in all of life… no matter what may come our way… Because we would see things as God sees them.
It all boils down to a pretty easy mind-picture for me:
Imagine with me that we are at the mall in some other community where no one knows us and we are walking into a bookstore. There’s the magazine section off to our left. We walk towards it and there are all kinds of magazines there, aren’t there?
I am waiting for my wife shop for whatever it is she’s shopping for, I am bored stiff, and so I have come to look through the magazines…. If I find one I really like, I may even pay money for it so that I can keep it.
What magazine to choose?
I see some of the titles: People, Us, Seventeen, Biblical Archaeology, Reader’s Digest, Billy Graham’s Decision magazine, Guideposts, US News and World Report, Teenbeat, Newsweek, Playboy, Penthouse… and the list goes on, because there are hundreds of magazines.
Now, do I begin picking up each and every magazine, reading it cover to cover? NO! Because for me, some of those titles are AUTOMATICALLY ruled out, because they are advocate and support behaviors and actions that are contrary to what I believe. I won’t even consider buying them and I won’t even consider looking inside them. I do not want my mind filled with the images that are contained in their pages.
That’s EXACTLY what Paul’s saying here, my brothers and sisters. Every single day of our life, in every waking moment, we will choose things for our mind to dwell on and to think about. And Paul says we, as Christians, need to be keeping our minds on the things that are true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. The things that are worthwhile and worthy of praise.
To allow our minds to focus otherwise is a direct contradiction to what we as Christians are to do.
It would be just like you or I going into that bookstore and making poor choices in our magazine reading.
That’s how we can easily become thankful again… by deliberately choosing what we’re going to focus on in our minds, in our thoughts. Rather than looking for negatives (which is SO easy), we’re going to start focusing on the things in our lives the way God does… by looking for the good in each situation, the lovely, the pure… by looking for the “thanksgiving” moment in each situation… the part of the situation that we can turn into a praise to God.
Yeah, we’ll still encounter people who annoy us and do things wrong… they may even do a job differently than we like. And they may even do something in the church in a way that we think is ridiculous and so very inefficient. Oh well. Too bad.
God didn’t ask you or I to be his efficiency experts, we weren’t called to right all the other Christians in the world… let alone stand as their judge.
Rather, we were called to shine a light… so that everyone who sees us will want what we have. If all we do is focus on the bad and focus on the faults of other people, then all the others will see in us is vinegar… and instead of drawing others to our churches and to our God, we will see them staying away from us like the plague.
Paul hits this message pretty hard and pretty personal… because it’s a message that we seem intent on forgetting. God is to be approached with praise and with the giving of thanks… and we are to approach our very lives with praise and the giving of thanks… and that’s pretty hard to do if we’re looking for the what’s wrong around us.
Let’s approach this Thanksgiving time, and then the season of Christmas which so quickly follows, with the positive, affirming, praising, thankful approach.
And maybe we won’t need the government to remind us to give thanks.