Summary: 2006 Thanksgiving Service and Communion meditation.
The President had his hands full. The nation was engaged in a war that was increasingly disliked by the nation. Some in the congress thought the loss of civil liberties had gone too far. Doris Kearns Goodwin would write, ‘Amid the clamorous opposition in Congress, the continued threats of intervention from abroad, and the stalemate in the war, Lincoln remained remarkably calm, good-natured, and self-controlled.’ (Slide 1)
It was 1863 and a very historic year for our nation and Abraham Lincoln. Now it in its second year, the tide of the Civil War would turn in favor of the North with key military victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of the year that would change the status of the slaves and begin the long journey toward achieving the full legal status of African-Americans.
Toward the end of that year, in fact, 143 years ago on this very date, November 19, 1863, Lincoln gave a legendary speech that began, ‘Four score and seven years ago,’ at Gettysburg. However, a month earlier, he issued another Presidential proclamation, his Thanksgiving proclamation that would set aside the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. This one began, (Slide 2) “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.
He goes on to elaborate on these blessings and calls them (slide 3) ‘the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.’
And he concludes his proclamation with both an invitation to celebrate… (Slide 4), ‘I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.’
… but to also repent (Slide 5), ‘with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience… fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.’
I don’t know about you, but if I would have been Abe Lincoln, I might have had a bit more difficulty finding things to be thankful for in the midst of a civil war, political unrest, and the challenges of everyday life in the White House. But, he did see much to be thankful to the Lord for and I think that contributed to his ability to govern our nation during that difficult and challenging time in our history. Moreover, his call to thanksgiving, praise, and repentance is very, very suitable for us today.
What does ‘thanksgiving’ mean to you? (Slide 6) Is it about family gatherings? Is it about a day off from work? Is it about working in a warm kitchen with the various smells causing your stomach to rumble? Is it about the beginning of the end of your fall diet?
(Slide 7) The Bible contains many references to thanksgiving. For example, we read in Colossians 2:7, ‘Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving for all he has done.’
(Slide 8) In our main text, Psalm 100, we read in verse four, ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name.’
It is interesting to note that Lincoln called the nation to make the last Thursday in November ‘a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.’ We have shortened it to ‘Thanksgiving Day.’ Little is said about praise or repentance and yet that is what one of our greatest leaders encouraged us to do.
(Slide 9) Why is it important to give thanks? What are you thankful for this thanksgiving season?
(Slide 10) I would remind us that ‘giving thanks’ is a Biblical command. We read it places like Colossians 3:17 that says, ‘And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.’
(Slide 11) We also read it in I Thessalonians 5:18, ‘No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.’ Why is this important? It is because of who God is and His rightful place in our lives that we have reason to give thanks! Amen? Amen!
Thanksgiving is important and necessary because what the Lord has done for us, to us, in us, and around us. Because of God’s salvation, because of God’s deliverance, because of God’s mercy, as Lincoln so eloquently put it, we have received God’s ‘gracious gifts’ of faith, hope, and love.