Welcome to Christ Church on this beautiful Thanksgiving morning. What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving Day? I’m thankful for the great privilege I had of baptizing the great grandchildren of Connie, a dear parishioner here at Christ Church earlier this morning. I also had the privilege of burying their great grandfather, Woody, several years ago. Today, November 23, happens to be the day that Connie and Woody were married many Thanksgivings ago. That’s a happy “God-incident”, for which I’m thankful.
But, what are you thankful for this morning? Some say that Thanksgiving is a kind of contrived holiday, dominated by the triumvirate of food, family, and football. That may be experientially true in our current culture. But what if you don’t like football? Or don’t like your family? Or you like food so much that you will dislike yourself after you’ve eaten your third piece of chocolate bourbon pecan pie?
What is so good about Thanksgiving is that the day is not ultimately about food, family, and football. It is a day set aside to give thanks to God. As we heard in our reading from Deuteronomy, “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord….Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God.”
Perhaps Abraham Lincoln had this verse in mind when he decreed in 1863 that, “the gracious gifts of the Most High God…should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people.” The president invited us to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” So here we are this morning together at Christ Church, doing just that.
What is remarkable about Lincoln’s decree is that he issued it in the middle of the Civil War, when one would think that God’s gifts might be less evident, and an attitude of thanksgiving would be hard to come by. Maybe when you think of the climate of our nation right now you feel like we are in another kind of civil war. Or maybe you have issues going on in your family that strain your ability to be thankful to our beneficent Father.
And yet, today is the day to give thanks to God, no matter what, trusting in His goodness even when we can’t see it. There is a beautiful scene of God at work in William Inge’s novel, My Son is a Splendid Driver. Inge is especially adept at describing family strain and alienation. But in this scene, there is a real moment of love and thanksgiving.
A college-aged son visits his ailing and elderly father in the hospital. His father had always been remote and seemingly unloving toward his son. But as the son sees his father suffering, he has an affecting insight. “He felt an intuitive worry about my future, and was trusting others to prepare me for life, knowing he had failed. And he had never been generous with me because he never felt he had anything of himself…that was worth giving. It was not true, after all, that he did not love me. He just never had the confidence to give.”
Moved by this revelation, the son imagines a speech to his dad. “’My dear Father’, I would have liked to say, ‘Please forgive me for not understanding you all these years. I see how hard your life has been. I see the fear with which you meet it. I understand the fear. I forgive you anything. I love you.’ I would have liked to say these things, but he wouldn’t have understood them. He had grown up in a world which didn’t permit a man expression of feeling. All I could do was bring him cheap cigars.”
That kind of compassionate connection in the face of family friction can only come from God. In fact, Thanksgiving is the day we especially recognize that everything we have comes from God. This is clear in our reading this morning. “Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.”
So this Thanksgiving Day it may be true that “you shall eat your fill”, as our Deuteronomy passage says, but what will ultimately fulfill us is to “bless the Lord.” Bless the Lord, our beneficent Father, remembering that “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”