11/18/01, Thanksgiving Sunday
he very word, "Thanksgiving," conjures up joyful memories from a lifetime of family feasts around the big dining room tables of our past. It is also the one day when all America gives thanks by saying a prayer of thanksgiving and by asking for God's continuing blessings. On ordinary days families might skip the table grace but never on Thanksgiving Day.
Several months ago I got off of I-85 in Charlotte and drove by the old parsonage from which I entered first grade. As I looked into the backyard I recalled how my big brother, Eddie, was sent before our Thanksgiving dinner to "go look for Bobby and get him washed up." I had been playing with my cars and trucks in a mud hole that I was turning into roads and bridges. Maybe it was because of the special day, but Eddie stooped to play cars with me for a few minutes and made some suggestions about improving my mud bridges by adding sticks and stones for stability. Soon he was muddy too and Daddy had been sent to find us. We washed off the mud but I'll never wash away the joyful memory of our time in the mud.
Since the Pilgrims of The Massachusetts Bay Colony began celebrating a day of Thanksgiving, families have reunited in the Fall to recognize the Divine source of blessings. Tenant farm families have gathered around harvest tables and not only thanked God for what they had but have prayed for even more blessings. Those prayers instilled in their hearts a vision of a life that could be made better with God's help. The next generation owned its own farm and sent their children all the way through public school. A friend remarked this week how he returned from World War II with a desire to use his G.I. Bill money to be the first in his family to graduate from college. Our Thanksgiving Season this year could mean far more to us than ever before if we use it as our text has suggested. This day that forces many to travel back home may be the catalyst needed to allow us to begin to recover from the events of September 11th and the frightening events that have followed. As St. Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Phil. 4:6, NIV).
Let us all take Thanksgiving as a signal to begin to pray and put away our anxiety. Instead of fretting, pray. Let petitions, praises and thanksgiving shape our worries into hope, letting God calm our fears. As the Hawaiians say, "Hang loose!" With the Californians, "Mellow out!" Or join Generation X in "chilling." It is terrific what can transpire when thanksgiving begins to temper our terrors.
With that same spirit of thanksgiving become bold in "presenting your requests to God." People often ask, "Why do I have to ask God for things, doesn't He already know what I need?" Sure God knows already, but it helps us to think through the process of asking. Asking requires that we plan and brainstorm. Making out a priority list of needs forces us to confront our sometimes selfish motivations in the things we ask for.
After all, we require our children to make out a list for Santa Clause do we not? We already know what they really need, and many of those things are what they will get, but perhaps there appears a gift on the list that we feel moved to allow our child to have under the tree. Every kid in Christendom has already made out a Christmas list. They have put a lot of thought and work into it by scanning catalogues, hitting web sites and reading newspaper toy advertisements. We all remember how carefully we made our Christmas wish list known to Santa, our parents, and especially our grandparents. Our Heavenly Father wants to hear our prayer requests.
As we become adults, and as our faith develops in Christian Discipleship, it is natural that our wish list to God will become more focused on things of more significant meaning. Instead of shiny new bicycles, and shiny new automobiles, we begin to pray for a life that matters, that has meaning and direction. In the process of praying we reassess priorities and vocational choices. Often we dream of a different career and long for a sense of calling in our vocation and leisure time. This is what leads people to decide to become a volunteer in helping others and perhaps becoming a professional in a helping profession.
Last year thousands of college graduates in various careers responded to Georgia's public school teacher shortage by entering a teaching career. Some had been out of work but most said that they were tired of climbing the career ladder and wanted to do something to help others. Architects and engineers retrained to teach math and science courses to children and teenagers. Reports are that their enthusiasm has been contagious and many of those who had begun to burn out in the hard job of teaching school have recaptured their lost sense of calling and purpose. At the same time many teachers have been able to more freely take some sabbatical to have children or to be a valuable stay at home parent for a while. Many were led in this major life change by their prayers being made known to God, and reformulated in their own hearts.
Gratitude to God means that we are acknowledging that God is the source of blessings and that we believe that He is able to grant us even greater opportunities than we already have. Theologically, we are submitting to God's power when we enter into a spirit of thanksgiving. We are saying that we believe that God can indeed do all things and that through reliance on His Grace we can be used by Him to climb any mountain and ford every stream. In other words, a true thanksgiving prayer means that we are willing to join hands with Him in making a difference in our little corner of the world. Thanksgiving is living by faith, trusting in His guidance, and being willing to boldly be used for His purpose.
God has a way of calming our fears and giving us a new vision for a life that is so much more than we have ever dreamed possible. Thanksgiving Sunday could be your time.
synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor