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Preaching Articles

I don't know about you, but I find preaching on Thanksgiving to be one of the most difficult preaching assignments of the year. I mean, other than saying, "We ought to be thankful," what is there to say?

And right there's the problem, don't you think. Thanksgiving—that is, the genuine expression of gratitude—can't be commanded. It's like your mom, after you forgot to say "Thank you," prompting you with the oh-so-patient, "You're welcome." Sure, you say "thanks" then, but it doesn't quite mean the same thing.

So how do we preach Thanksgiving? I can't say I've got the whole thing figured out, but I've found a few clues in Luke's story of the 10 lepers that's often our reading for Thanksgiving Eve (Luke 17:11-19). Most of us are probably familiar with the story: ten lepers are healed; one returns, and it's a Samaritan, no less. Okay, so one way to go is to lift up the Samaritan as an example. Trouble is, most of us hate examples like this, because they just make us feel guilty.

What's more interesting, I think, is the fact that all ten were healed. All ten, even the nine who didn't return to say "thanks." So what made the Samaritan different? He noticed. That's pretty much it. Oh, I know, he returned to say thanks once he noticed. But I think that was kind of inevitable or even almost involuntary. I mean, once you notice something spectacular, it's hard not to say something. "I've got good news; the cancer is in remission." "He proposed; look at my ring." "I just saw the best movie." "I can't believe you came! Thanks!"

I think it was like that for the Samaritan: once he realized he'd been healed, he couldn't help but turn back and share his joy and thanksgiving with Jesus.

Thanksgiving is like that. When it's genuine, it's spontaneous, even involuntary—you recognize you've been blessed and can't help but share your joy through thanksgiving.

So the Samaritan turns back to say "thanks." He knows he's been given a gift and can't help turning around to say something. And in doing so, he's given a second gift: He leaves his encounter with Jesus not only healed but also blessed—blessed in his own recognition of healing, blessed at being drawn into deeper relationship with the one he thanks, blessed at hearing himself commended for having great faith.

Imagine the difference that must have made in his life. He, a Samaritan, being commended by a Jewish rabbi for having great faith, faith sufficient to effect healing.

That's the way thanksgiving always works—in giving thanks for a gift given, we are blessed again.

So how does all this help us in preaching thanksgiving? Two things. First, after teaching about the nature of gratitude and thanksgiving—which is certainly worth doing, if briefly—then move to this issue of noticing. For those with eyes to see, God's blessings are all around us. And as we give thanks for them, we notice even more and are blessed yet again. We live in an age governed by a sense of "scarcity" and an ethos of "looking out for number one." A simple word of gratitude opens us up to world of abundance, mercy and grace. It may seem a small thing—noticing and thanking—but it's the first step to setting in motion a cycle of gratitude and grace.

Second, after teaching, try modeling. That is, try noticing for your people. Share with them some of the things you're thankful for, some of the places you've encountered God's blessing. Even more, notice your people. Tell them what you are thankful for about them, about your life together, about this congregation and community and world you share. Having been noticed with gratitude, they will find it easier to gratefully notice in return.

Which leads me to a last word, which is to notice you. Look, I know preaching can sometimes be a thankless task. And it can feel all the more so around holidays like Thanksgiving when you don't have quite the time you'd like to spend preparing for and celebrating the holiday because you've got this tricky little sermon to write. I know how hard it is ... and I'm grateful—for your work, for your fidelity to God's Word and people, for you as a preacher. Thank you. Even more, thank God for you.

David J. Lose holds The Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Biblical Preaching.

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Bret Hammond

commented on Nov 18, 2014

And yet it is commanded. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Colossians 3:15. I think it's important to remember the words of 1 John 5:3, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." When we don't give thanks we're burdened by those circumstances that seem out of control. God's call for us to be thankful is the call to be freed from being a victim or slave to circumstance.

Rev. Phyllis Pottorff-Albrecht, United Brethren Communi

commented on Nov 18, 2014

Perhaps it would be helpful to read Nehemiah 8 again. In that passage, the people were rejoicing because they had heard the Lord's Word - and understood what they had heard! Like the Thanksgiving celebration recorded in Nehemiah, the Thanksgiving celebrations in the early American colonies actually lasted for several days - and were also focused around hearing the Lord's Word. -- So they read from the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra, the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God. Mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then Ezra said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared! For this day is holy unto our Lord. Neither be ye sorry! For the joy of the Lord is your strength. So the Levites consoled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy. Neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words which were declared unto them. Nehemiah 8:8-12, Revised Standard Version. --

Thinagar Sitther

commented on Nov 20, 2014

Thanks David for the excellent article and the perspective of noticing. Failure to notice God's blessings is the root cause for thanklessness. As Bret pointed out, thanksgiving is commanded and yet it has to be spontaneous, Thanks, all.

George D. Jackson, Jr.

commented on Nov 21, 2014

Can I use your notes to make an acrostic from it I do this kind of writing God?s blessings on you and your loved ones George and Dawn Jackson ? Fostoria, Ohio

George D. Jackson, Jr.

commented on Nov 21, 2014

I tried to send an acrostic thank you I wrote

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