Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day 2014

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Psalm 65
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Luke 17:11-19

Thanksgiving Day is a time set apart for us to reflect on God’s providence.  It is so easy to forget that there is a gracious and beneficent giver behind the everyday blessings we enjoy, even the most basic ones. The universe did not have to be created the way that it was. Conditions on our planet did not have to be such as to allow life forms such as ourselves to evolve. In fact, the chances that all the necessary conditions would be so finely tuned and calibrated to one another so as to bring about such a state of affairs, were so infinitesimally small as to be almost miraculous. Not only did our God set things in motion at the beginning, but even now he continues to uphold everything that is by his almighty power. Have you ever stopped to consider that each breath you take is a tiny gift from your creator?

We too often live our lives insensitive to God’s ordinary blessings. It is a sad fact of human nature that no sooner do we begin to enjoy a thing than we begin to take it for granted. Dostoyevsky once wrote that the best definition of man was "the ungrateful biped."

Stand-up comedian Louie C.K. poked fun at this tendency of ours in an interview with television host Conan O’Brien, “Everything is amazing right now,” he said, “and nobody's happy.” He spoke about the way our generation takes its amazing technological advances for granted. He said, “I was on an airplane and there was internet, high speed internet on the airplane. That's the newest thing that I know exists. And I'm sitting on the plane and they go, ‘open up your laptop and you can go on the internet,’ and it's fast and I'm watching YouTube clips. It's amazing. I'm in an airplane!  Then it breaks down and they apologize that the internet is not working and the guy next to me starts complaining! Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago… and on an airplane!” He says, “Maybe we need some time where we're walking around with a donkey with pots clanking on the sides. Maybe that would bring us back to reality.”

The fact is that we a far more likely to remember God during times of hardship than we are during times of prosperity. The Plymouth Pilgrims suffered many trials before celebrating their first successful harvest on the First Thanksgiving. Many previous attempts by the English to colonize America had failed, and the Pilgrims lost half their number to illness the first year.
They may have entirely perished without the assistance of an English speaking native person name Squanto and the Wampanoag tribe. The Plymouth Pilgrims recognized that they were living on account of God’s mercy and providence and so they gave thanks. 

God knows just how easily we are lulled into forgetting him when things are going well, which is why he warns of the danger of national prosperity in today’s Old Testament reading.  After years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses tells the people that God is bringing them into a land where they may “eat bread without scarcity.” A land rich in natural resources where they will lack nothing. He warns them, “Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today.” Of course we know how things turn out for the people of Israel. We know that no sooner do they inhabit the land than they forget the God who led them out of slavery with signs and wonders. They fail to trust that he will continue to provide for them and begin to call on foreign fertility gods. Moreover they forget that they themselves were once sojourners in a foreign land and they begin to oppress the strangers among them. They begin to trust in their own strength rather than in the God who made them strong.
It is perhaps inevitable that the Plymouth Pilgrims, a people so deeply immersed in the scriptures, would see their own story in the story of Israel. God had called them out to be a peculiar people, delivered them from their persecutors, and brought them to a land of plenty. They believed it was divine providence which led them to the shores of the new world and sustained them throughout the long struggle. Just like the people of Israel, however, their enjoyment of the land of promise came with the condition that they would remember the Lord and live according to his commandments. The proper response to so great a blessing is gratitude, praise, and repentance. 

Thanksgiving means acknowledging what God has done for us by turning back to him and falling at his feet in obedience. Are we like the nine lepers who having received blessing from Christ forget to give him thanks? Has anyone else noticed how the tone of thankfulness has been slipping away from our national observance? In recent years one is just as likely to hear about “Turkey Day” as “Thanksgiving.” We have moved from celebrating the giver to celebrating the gifts. In the popular imagination, Thanksgiving is all about consumption, unbuckling your pants, and falling asleep in front of the TV.

Much has been said recently about how the “Black Friday” shopping marathon has increasingly overrun Thanksgiving Day. We are told it is our patriotic duty to rush out after dinner to stand in line for the newest electronic gadget. Taking a day to be grateful for what we have and God who has provided it would be ruinous to our economy!  You have all seen the bumper sticker, “Put the Christ back in Christmas,” someone should make stickers that read, “Put the Thanks back in Thanksgiving.” 

Abraham Lincoln, when he proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday, wrote that remembering the ways in which God has been merciful to us, “cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

Which of God’s mercies is greater than the redemption of the world in our Lord Jesus Christ? Let us ponder the indignity and agony he endured for our sake and our hearts will not fail to be moved.
While we were yet sinners, hostile to God in our hearts and mind, He laid down his life for us, the righteous for the unrighteous. This is a pure gift, an act of grace.
Which of us could save the world by the might of our own hand or stand under the righteous judgment of God by our own merits?

Our Lord himself proclaimed a Thanksgiving meal to be observed by all his people—the Eucharist.  In case you didn’t know the word “Eucharist” itself means to give thanks. We bless the Lord for the many ways he has blessed us. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer,  “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God.”

Because we are prone to forget, he said “Do this in remembrance of me.” We are commanded to examine our hearts, take, eat, and receive his mercy afresh.  What better way to observe Thanksgiving Day than to gather together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, sing his praises, hear his holy word, and share this sacred meal? It is so easy to forget.

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