November 28, 2002
All Saints’, Briarcliff
Today, along with millions of our brothers and sisters across America, we will soon gather to celebrate the “3 F’s” traditionally associated with Thanksgiving Day – that is, food, family, and football. But first we gather as a faith community to give thanks. The true spirit of this day transcends our dinner tables, our football fields, and even our national heritage. The true spirit of Thanksgiving is exactly that – a day to give thanks.
But the following question always needs to be addressed: to whom do we extend our gratitude? Where does our thanks go? It gets a bit confusing because on this day we give thanks for many things – our families, our freedoms, even our athletes. But here’s a little secret about this day, something that has a tendency to get lost amidst all the preparations: the thanks actually goes to God. We give thanks today for all the blessings of this life but, above all, we must remember to give thanks to God for these blessings.
Put another way, it helps to ask precisely who are we giving thanks to as we gather at our dinner tables. Is it to Aunt Helen for not burning the turkey again this year? Is it to ourselves for setting the table with such perfection? Is it to Granddad for refraining from his unbearably distasteful political commentary? No, the thanks must go to God if we are to celebrate Thanksgiving authentically and reverently.
When we forget this, we end up giving ourselves the credit that is rightly due to God. And as much as we may want to take the credit for the things that go well in our lives, it just doesn’t work that way. As we hear in our reading from Deuteronomy, “Remember the Lord your God, for it is God who gives you power.” God is the one who gives us power to excel, to prosper, and to reap the many blessing of this life. Not we ourselves. And a mind-set of thanksgiving is so appropriate because we are dependent upon God for everything, even life itself.
It’s a bit odd to hear on this day of great feasting and abundance, at least for many of us, that “one does not live by bread alone.” But the reality is that we can stuff ourselves with all the bread and turkey and pies in the world but without God we are nothing. We can do nothing. Jesus is the bread of life and the cup of salvation. And he invites us to keep the heavenly feast at this table.
And again, Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink…Is not life more than food?” We live not to eat and drink, not to fret and worry, but to serve God. And we will all be looked after and cared for and loved in this life and the next. Thanks be to God.
So Thanksgiving is really an invitation. Not to a turkey dinner but an invitation to pause and give thanks to God. Those of us who have gathered this morning have paused in the midst of the busyness of this day to give thanks. You could be traveling or putting the turkey in the oven or cleaning the dining room before the guests arrive, but in the midst of the busyness of this day, you have paused and come to this place to give thanks. And only when we stop all the activity of our lives can we truly take the time to reflect upon the stunning goodness of God’s mercy, and give thanks for it.
And on this day especially set aside to give thanks, we thank God not just for the many blessings bestowed upon us, but simply for God’s presence among us. We give thanks that God cared enough for humanity to send Jesus Christ to live among us and to die for us. We give thanks for God’s presence in the midst of both adversity and joy. And I pray that this attitude of thanksgiving to God that we celebrate today may inform and enlighten each remaining day of your life.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2002