11/21/99 Thanksgiving Sunday
Thankful Unto Him
friend tells the story of having to be out of town on Thanksgiving Day. He had never missed Thanksgiving with his family, but he was a salesman and the customer could only meet with him on the fourth Thursday in November. Fortunately his wife wanted to be with him, so the recently married couple packed and took a flight to make this major deal. By noon the new account was sold and my friends decided to celebrate with a big Thanksgiving meal at a fancy restaurant recommended by the hotel. The place was beautiful and the menu was beautiful, but there were no Thanksgiving dinner items listed: No turkey, no dressing, no cranberry sauce. What do you folks eat on Thanksgiving Day? they asked the waiter. What do you mean by thanksgiving day? the waiter responded with a puzzled expression. The Pilgrims and the Indians and the big turkey! They exclaimed. I donít think we do that in London. the waiter responded with a grin.
We are blessed to live in a country that honors God with a special day set aside for prayer and feasting each year! However, given the present litigious nature of our present time, if we did not already have a national day of prayer, it probably would not be created today.
Although Thanksgiving Day had a long tradition, beginning with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in 1621, it was only made a legal national holiday at the time of our initial involvement in World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt led Congress to create an official Thanksgiving Day in 1941. We felt thankful that God was on our side. Our war effort was not so much against the people of the nations that we were fighting, but against their evil dictators that emerged after World War I: Hitlerís Nazism in Germany, Mussoliniís Fascism in Italy, and Japanís Sumurai warrior class that ruled the government under the slogan, Bringing the eight corners of the world under one roof. Thanksgiving Day took an extra special meaning during this time when over sixteen million American troops were on active duty in this war effort to end all wars.
Jim Atherton tells the story of being shipped out from North Africa to Italy on Thanksgiving Day. They had been awaiting orders to move for several months, but had been promised a turkey dinner and a day of rest on Thanksgiving Day. They were sleeping late that morning when orders came to be at the dock to load all men and equipment onto awaiting ships in three hours. Thanksgiving Day was observed in the lower hole of a ship in the Mediterranean Sea that year, but out of the depths came much praying to God for mercy: Prayers that Jim is still praying as he observes this Thanksgiving Day in a hospital bed.
The Good News of the Gospel is that God hears and answers every prayer prayed from a sincere heart. When we are friends of God it is only natural to cry out to Him in times of need, and in times of abundance. Millenniums ago The Psalmist expressed this truth: Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him and bless his name. (100: 4). In this same vein, St. Paulís instructions for living the sanctified life includes: Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (I Thess. 5: 16-18).
But, of course, the question comes back to us many times, Should we really be expected to give thanks for every thing? Should a young soldier stuck in the dark hole of a ship facing the possibility of death at any moment? Should an old veteran lying in the hospital overcoming an operation and facing another? How can we be thankful then?
I believe that the phrase ...for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ... (18b). It has been my experience that, somehow through all of the calamities of life that naturally come our way, He brings out His will; then the bad time can become a time of thankfulness. What I mean is that whenever we get prayed up about a current and real calamity, we receive an inner sense of calm and acceptance, knowing that good will result eventually. God draws closer to us amid pain, whenever we allow Him to do so.
Although our situation in life might not be all pleasant, nothing can prevent us from having a glad Thanksgiving Day except our own negative attitudes. God can come into the darkest night and give us spiritual light. God can step into the most desperate plight and surprise us with joy. Outward circumstance can never keep us from ...being thankful unto him...
My favorite of Norman Rockwellís Saturday Evening Post covers, currently on exhibit at our High Museum of Art, is the one called Saying Grace. All of you have seen it: An old grandmother with her young grandson and granddaughter huddled at the corner of a table in a crowded bus station, with heads bowed saying grace--- giving thanks. The interesting thing about this familiar scene is that all of the people staring at them are doing so with expressions of pride and joy. These people of all ages and classes seem to be saying in their hearts, What a wonderful thing to do! And they all seem to be almost praying too. And standing there many years later, huddled with a great throng of onlookers, I still felt like I was also in the picture joining in the thanksgiving.
Is there any family among us that does not join in a prayer of thanksgiving around the Thanksgiving Day table? Be it ever so humble, there is always a reason to ...be thankful unto him...
And what a great spiritual drama we are reenacting for ourselves and for our children. We are reminded that everything we have is by His grace, and not by our own ingenuity.
Finally, we are reminded that ...the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (Ps. 100: 5). Thanksgiving points toward a life beyond the mortal. Since all families that gather together this Thursday have lost precious ones, this reminder of that ultimate reunion in heaven gives us joy.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor