Summary: Thanksgiving C: We give thanks, not just for all the things God gives us, but because of who God is and who God has called us to be. Illustration from the Pilgrims.
Grace to you and peace, brothers and sisters in Christ— blessed by God, blessed to be a blessing. Amen
Thanksgiving is here again— the beginning of the holiday season. Supposedly this is the end of fall, though there’s no doubt this year that winter is already here to stay. But Thanksgiving comes with all its splendor— the turkey and all the trimmings, gatherings of family and friends, decorating for Christmas begins— so many things to look forward to and enjoy.
And here we are this evening, gathering to give thanks to God for all of God’s bounty. We are not alone in this. All over this nation, people are gathering in their houses of worship, gathering to remember all that God has done for us. Many churches, but the message is much the same.
Things were only a little different in Old Testament times, during the reign of King Solomon about three thousand years ago. There was only one temple in all the land of Israel. Most people traveled long distances to reach Jerusalem, so going to the temple to present offerings and sacrifices to God was a special event. The Israelites would gather in large groups, and as they marched up the hill to the temple they would sing hymns of praise. One of these hymns, Psalm 100, was the basis for our call to worship this evening. Listen to its words:
"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing!"
And as they passed through the Temple’s mighty gates they would sing,
"Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!"
They came to give thanks, just as we are doing tonight. What are some of the things for which we can give thanks? In some form or other, we have incomes to support ourselves. We have warm houses to keep out the snow and cold. We have food on our tables, and clothes on our backs. We have family or friends with whom we can share life’s joys and sorrows. God has been very gracious to each of us.
There are times, however, when there really doesn’t seem to be much to be thankful for. When times are hard in our economy, perhaps you find your finances on the edge. That’s likely to affect us all in one way or another, no matter what our job, even if you’re retired. When the bank account is near to empty, when the Thanksgiving feast seems a little lean, when the cares of the upcoming winter lay heavy on your shoulders, it can be hard to give thanks.
As I have lived and ministered in rural Minnesota, I have come to appreciate the sense of community that is felt in these small towns. Few people share their burdens alone, and when we have something to celebrate there are always friends and neighbors who celebrate with us.
We also share the sense of loss when someone in the community passes on. No one feels that loss more than the family. As the family gathers around the Thanksgiving table, there is that empty seat, and that familiar voice is missing in the festivities of Thanksgiving Day. As the heart grows heavy with the remembrance of a loved one who isn’t with us, it can be difficult to find even one thing that is worth giving thanks for.
In this we are not alone. When we think of Thanksgiving Day, we think of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1621. We think of men wearing funny hats and buckled shoes, women wearing long white aprons and bonnets on their heads, and their new found Native American friends. We think of people who were grateful for religious freedom in this new land. But most of all we think of the long tables filled with cooked turkey, cranberry sauce, corn, biscuits, pumpkin pie— a real feast. And every one is smiling and laughing, having a grand time.
But that’s only part of the story. In 1620, when the pilgrims landed, they had 102 people in their community. Due to starvation, the harsh weather, and attacks by hostile Natives, 51 people died that first winter— half of their colony. The dead were buried in unmarked graves because the pilgrims didn’t want the Natives to know how few their numbers had become.
In the spring they planted three crops: English peas, barley, and Indian corn. The peas were planted too late, and though they blossomed beautifully, the hot sun parched the plants and they died. One of the Pilgrims described their barley crop as "indifferent"— apparently the barley wasn’t worth harvesting. Only the Indian corn survived. This corn was not big, plump, yellow ears like the corn we are used to. The ears were only 2 to 3 inches long with kernels of different colors. The Pilgrims harvested only 20 acres.