Updated: Jan 18
Should every day be Thanksgiving, but without the extra calories?!
Dr. R.B. McFee
You might think I’m a few days late with this article. Maybe, then again, maybe not! You decide. (Also, a note from Pastor John: it's my fault this article is later than it should have been!)
This Wednesday thinking about Thanksgiving, quite frankly I was missing some of my beloved traditions – such as travelling to Plymouth Plantation with friends to ‘experience’ the same cold, raw weather, the stark countryside, and basic housing the Pilgrims lived through in their first months in New England. I missed the fireside chats with Wampanoag teachers, as well as walking through the village. I missed hanging out with friends on Thanksgiving, “helping out” in the kitchen (which meant raiding the dark meat and skin of the turkey with the other ‘kids’). I missed family long since departed.
Perhaps you, too, missed something or someone at Thanksgiving, that the pandemic or other challenges have imposed on you and your family, if you are fortunate to have one. And we all carry burdens that add to the feeling of frustration. Clearly this year has been one for the books. Nearly everyone has felt the weight of it in one way or another.
Not exactly the best way to enter Thanksgiving.
But looking into the faces of two faith families coming together on the Thanksgiving Eve service reminded me of God’s Presence and myriad blessings. Sitting at my dining room that was decorated for Thanksgiving I remembered how blessed I am on so many levels. Then I remembered the point of going to Plymouth was to focus on gratitude, just as the Pilgrims did.
Consider upon the Pilgrims’ arrival to the New World, finally making landfall – where so many of their company died on the voyage across 3000 miles of rough Atlantic Ocean in a tiny vessel, with many of the survivors sick, weakened by lack of food, some recently widowed or orphaned – they prayed with gratitude. Although New England was barren in November, cold, inhospitable, they were thankful. In fact, gratitude infused virtually all the major documents and prayers recorded from that era.
In fact, the Pilgrims were known for their days of thanksgiving. As part of their religious tradition they often had days of thanksgiving, (and days of fasting). Perhaps we might consider incorporating that tradition more prominently.
That’s why I go to Plymouth. It puts into specific relief the power of faith which is fueled by gratitude. Perhaps why I missed visiting especially this year?
Then I started to wonder, as people who share a common belief in the Almighty with these early settlers, do we also share their courage, their sense of gratitude, their faith, their trust in God? Are our deprivations any greater than theirs? Do we have residual blessings worth giving thanks, for example our survival?
I think all of us at CCUMC are by nature appreciative, but sometimes we need a booster shot reminder for thankfulness. Lately there were some booster reminders I kept getting at almost every turn. Since there are no coincidences in God’s Kingdom, I figured the Almighty was sending me a message, because over the last few days I kept coming across “gratitude” Scriptures, sometimes the same one under different circumstances – even in books that weren’t necessarily faith based. This one in particular….
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Not exactly subtle! But message received. The “all circumstances” caveat isn’t always easy. Then again, Jesus doesn’t always give us easy assignments. But they are meaningful ones. And thinking about the above scripture, if ever there was an example of “in all circumstances,” the year 2020 is it!
Rereading many of the gratitude Scriptures, what was Jesus trying to teach us, me? As God’s people should gratitude be as ingrained in our personal spiritual journey as faith, trust, hospitality, generosity, forgiveness, and love? Throughout our sermons, our daily prayers, our personal interactions we often focus on our needs or those of others, or growing faith. But how often do we start our day, our meals, let alone our conversations with God by saying “thank you?”
We all know Jesus exhorts us to “fear not,” and that concept is repeated a lot in the Bible. But just how serious was God about being thankful? My theory is, if it is mentioned a lot in the Bible, it should be part of our daily practice. And guess what? The sentiment of thankfulness – whether using the phrasing of “be thankful,” “give thanks,” or similar – appears over 100 times in the Bible! The concept of giving thanks is found in two dozen Psalms alone. Check them out! For example:
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.”
According to Jewish Biblical teaching this Psalm begins with one of the most repeated lines in the Bible, in Hebrew it reads “Hodu l’Adonai ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo” which translated “Praise (give thanks to) Adonai, for He is good, for His lovingkindness (chesed) endures forever.”
Since Psalms are as much hymns as instructive scripture, praise (thankfulness) seems inextricable to faith. The line described above is part of the faith song that Jehoshaphat and Judah sang in spite of being surrounded by enemy armies. They sang it in the face of their adversaries as a sign of faith in God. Psalm 118 connects thankfulness to faith in God’s grace.
Perhaps giving thanks to God is a sign of faith.
Conversely when we aren’t grateful, not giving thanks in all circumstances, are we in essence denying God’s goodness to us, even in the midst of a pandemic, or other challenges? This isn’t said as Polyanna, and I’m sure no one thinks of God that way either.
God recognizes we live in a fallen world, where our fragile bodies face danger, yet He emphasizes “thanks.” Could it be to keep us closer to Him, and remind us of what we have, Who we have in our lives, more than what we’ve lost, to focus on God, on the good, to be in regular communication with Him?
From a medical perspective, being of a grateful spirit is therapeutic. People that are thankful, generous, regularly doing volunteer work, tend to be happier, healthier people. Maybe Jesus, the ultimate physician, was trying to improve our health, as well as our spirit?
Perhaps giving thanks removes the scales from our eyes (check out Acts 9:18) so we can see more clearly the life God lives alongside with us.
What else does thankfulness do for us? Perhaps by focusing on the One who solves problems instead of the problems, we allow ourselves to see and hear more clearly what is good, what God created for us, like the rainbow we might have missed, or the hawk in a tree, or birds singing, or the voice of God. At such gifts can you help but offer a silent thanks?
I’m reminded of Pastor John’s recent recommendation that we take a moment to think about five things that we are grateful for.
What was on your list? For some folks, once you get started, the list keeps growing as we take inventory of our blessings – the people, the opportunities, the health, the happiness we have. For others, it may be difficult to fill it in. Maybe that is a cue to ask God to help you out. Consider through Jesus, we have a direct connection to the Lord. That alone is something to be grateful for.
If you have trouble looking through the pain to offer praise and thanksgiving, please reach out to someone in your church family – I promise we will try to reflect God’s Love to you. You are not alone. And that is worth putting on the list.
And how’s this for a starter list….
1. If you are reading this, you can see, and that’s a blessing for the list
2. If you are processing this, you have an intellect, and that’s a blessing for the list.
3. If you can scroll down this article, you have working hands, another blessing for the list
4. You are on a computer – a blessing for the list
5. And you know how to use one – that’s a blessing.
Wow we’re at five, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what God has given us individually, even with all the challenges – health, financial, loneliness, loss of family, grief – we all face at one time or another. What if you are drinking a cup of tea right now? You likely have a kitchen. That’s a blessing. I have a friend who doesn’t. He and his family have to use plug ins to cook with.
For folks grieving those who’ve died, there is a reason God continues giving us life. That is worth giving thanks for. We must have a purpose for God. Sad is the one who feels useless, without purpose. If we have a pulse, we have a purpose. That’s something to be grateful for. Giving thanks is a way to ask God what it is, and how can we serve Him, help others.
John’s list reminded me of a Thanksgiving sermon I heard several years ago. The minister talked about writing ‘thank you notes.’ It is almost a lost art that few of us try to keep alive. As an aside, we might want to revitalize the practice. She noted there is something powerfully instructive writing about a gift we have just received – focusing on the giver as well as the gift. Perhaps that is another reason God wants us to give thanks; to remember the Giver as well as the gifts. That said, I wonder if we might not want to send a thank you note to God for His amazing gift to us – His only Son. Come to think of it, how we reflect His love is probably the best way to thank God. But I digress.
Speaking of Christ, thanksgiving is often considered the start of the Christmas Season. Maybe it is fitting given Christmas ought to be about gratitude; a weary world about to receive the greatest Gift of all – God’s Love incarnate in the person of Jesus.
Although Thanksgiving will be over by the time you read this, will our spirit of thanksgiving persist beyond the leftovers and our reemergence from a turkey coma? Should every day be Thanksgiving, but without the extra calories? Jesus gave us the answer in Thessalonians, and in many other places. Perhaps by sharing our spirit of thanksgiving we help those who have lost the hope that leads to thankfulness, and by reflecting the ultimate Love – the Love of God to others, that is the foundation for our daily gratitude.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…. and be thankful”