Reflections on Thanksgiving
RUMC 22 November 2015
Once upon a time, there was a man who decided to become a monk. He joined a monastic order where silence was the cardinal rule. This man was allowed to say only two words every decade. When the first 10 years were completed, the abbot called the man in and said, “Brother, you can say your two words now.” The monk replied, “Food tasteless.”
Once he said his two words, the monk returned back to his quarters where he was to spend another 10 years. When the next 10 years had passed, he was once again summoned to the abbot’s office to speak his two words. This time he said, “Bed hard.”
Another 10 years had passed which made a total of 30 years and the monk was summoned to his abbot’s office. When told he could now speak his two words, the monk said, “I quit.” Immediately the head monk, or abbot, jumped up and said, “I am not surprised, you have been complaining ever since you got here.”
Later on this week, our country will celebrate Thanksgiving Day which is a time to give thanks for our many blessings. The psalmist encouraged people everywhere to direct their thanks to God, for he is worthy. I encourage any readers to comment on this message.
My text is Psalm 100 verses 1-5.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;[a]
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
The 100th Psalm was a hymn of thanks to God that was sung on Jewish pilgrimages just as they were about to walk into the temple in Jerusalem. In the words that we just read, I want you to notice that the psalmist did not give us a list of things to be thankful for. Such as:
- Give thanks for our food.
- Give thanks for our clothes.
- Give thanks for our families.
Instead the psalmist said, Give thanks to God. Our focus is on Him and not on what he gives because those things could cease to exist; they could be stolen or be burned up. The only constant is our relationship with our Heavenly Father who is worthy to be praised.
Have you ever noticed; with all the adversity that the Pilgrims had experienced in 1620 & 1621, they were the ones who started the custom of Thanksgiving? What they had gone through is well documented:
In 66 days of rough sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, 102 men, women and children crammed in a dark and dingy space of about the size of a volleyball court for the entire voyage. After that, these people had to endure a very cold New England winter only to see 46 of their number become sick and die.
It may seem odd that those who had experienced hardship, deprivation, sickness, and death would set aside a day of Thanksgiving, but they did. But why? The answer would be their love for God.
I would say most people are thankful when things go well. But when tough times come–perhaps there is a decline in health or some other type of loss–can we remain thankful? This is something that I struggle with. It is easy to be thankful when there is food on the table, money in the bank, children and grandchildren have jobs and when we are generally healthy.
But when things don’t go according to plan, is it possible to have a thankful heart? Psalm 100 tells us yes, if our focus is on the Lord. That is how the Pilgrims did it.
Back during the dark days of 1929, the year the stock market crashed, a group of Boston ministers had gathered to discuss whether or not they should continue the tradition of a special Thanksgiving service during especially difficult times with no sign of relief. Already the bread and soup lines were long. Large numbers of people were out of work, and the term, Great Depression seemed to be a perfect description for the mood of the country.
Many of those ministers were in favor of canceling these services. There were some who said if there were to be a service, then they should downplay the reference to thanksgiving, since there was widespread misery all around. But it was Reverend William Stiger, a pastor of a large congregation who spoke words of wisdom.
He said, “This was not the time to stop having Thanksgiving services, but the opposite. Now more than ever, do we need to praise God.” And he was right. I like the attitude of Job when he said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And then Job worshipped.
Towards the end of his life, world renowned psychiatrist Dr. Sigmund Freud had suffered greatly from cancer of the mouth and had heart trouble. To get well, he spent most of his time inside of a sanatorium, which was a place in those days where people went to improve their health.
Eventually Freud returned home to Vienna, Austria and for a mental health break, he went on morning drives in his car. For the first time in his life, Freud experienced the glories of the mountains of the Alps in the springtime. And he made this statement “What a pity that one has to grow old and ill before making this discovery.” To me, the best place to thank and praise God is outdoors. When I see the glory of creation all around me, it does my heart good and causes me to give thanks to God.
This past week I had watched a video called Prisoners of Hope. It is about the Christian testimony of ten Air Force and Navy pilots who were shot down in North Vietnam and how their faith carried them through difficult times of torture.
One of those pilots told an amazing story of how he was placed in solitary confinement in a completely dark shed for a number of months. It was completely dark except for about 15 minutes when the sun would begin to shine its rays through the key hole and on to the wall. And for that pilot, the light was a sign that God was in control and he was thankful.
The words “Thank” and “Think” come from the same root, which reminds us that thanksgiving comes from thinking about our blessing.
Outside the parsonage on Elizabeth Street in Ellington are three giant pine trees that tower over the house. The needles are light green and do not change color despite the changes in the season. So it is with our lives. If we have the Lord in our lives, we can endure the seasons of life just as the pine tree and be thankful.
As pastor, one of my jobs is to visit the sick and those who are in the nursing homes and hospitals. I have noticed over the years that a pleasant person usually gets help more quickly. The staff responds better to a grateful person than they would to someone who is demanding or a grouch.
A number of years ago, a friend of mine asked me to take him to his High School Reunion. My friend was paralyzed from the neck down from a diving accident, and he was confined to a wheelchair. I knew him from our church in Quincy, Mass. I had worked as a PT Assistant at Fort Devens, which was 50 miles from my parents’ home, so I knew how to get my friend in and out of the car and around and about, so that was no problem.
I didn’t know this when he asked, but his school specialized in students who were severely handicapped. When we got there, to my surprise there were about 50 severely handicapped young men and women that were present for the reunion. Since I had worked in the medical profession, I assumed I could handle anything. I was wrong. Some of the most heart rendering cases I had ever seen was present in one place. There were others with conditions I never knew existed.
But one of the highlights of the reunion was a Christian service. I didn’t expect that. When these young people were wheeled into the auditorium, they sang their hearts out to the Lord in worship. During the joys and concerns, none of them prayed for themselves, but for families, friends, and staff. A number of them thanked God that they were alive and for the care that they received. Their personal relationship with the Lord made the difference, and that evening I went away a different person.
There are many scriptures that I could use to encourage me to be thankful to God, but I have selected two.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 – In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Colossians 3:15 – And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Let me close with this quote on thanksgiving.
God gave us a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have we used one to say thank you.
Prayer: Dear God, I want to take a minute not to ask for anything from you, but simply to say thank you for all I have. Please let me never forget to be grateful for the things I have and patient for the things I don’t.
Thank you God for everything in my life: the good and bad. Some were blessings and some were lessons.