Is this Anyway to say Thanks?
Saying "thank you" is important to people even though many respond, "Don't mention it." If you think thank you' is really something that doesn't have to be mentioned here's a quote from an article on planning your wedding. "If you want to be remembered forever, don't write a thank-you note for a wedding gift." Saying thanks' is important to God too. After only 1 of the 10 lepers returned to give thanks, Jesus asked, "Where are the 9?" Colossians 3:17 says, "Whatever you dodo it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Hebrews 12:28 concludes, "Since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us be thankful." Ephesians 5:20, says we're always to "give thanks to God the Father for everything." Finally, too many Psalms to count admonish us to "give thanks unto the Lord."
Martin Luther emphasized how important saying thanks to God was. He said, "We cannot perform any greater or better work for God, nor can we render a nobler service than thanking Him." In another place Luther says, Unthankfulness is the greatest and most shameful vice."
Okay, we should say thanks to God, but is this anyway to do it? Here I'm not referring to our worship service, we'll get to that in a moment, but to the American holiday called Thanksgiving. Is it fitting to say "thanks" to God by filling our faces on the one day our government sets aside?
First, do you really want your government setting aside a day of thanks to a Supreme Being? It's okay now because we're allowed to thank the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for all our blessings without joining in services with those who don't worship the true God. But what if, in the interest of national harmony, the government required us to join with all other religious groups and give thanks to a generic god? Think that's far fetched? That's exactly what Rome did with the goddess Roma, and she threw Christians to the lions when they wouldn't go along.
Second, even if you do think it's a good idea for government to set aside a day of Thanksgiving, isn't setting aside just one day out of 365 a bit stingy? We teach kids to say thank you' every time someone gives them something. We Lutherans confess that God "richly and daily" gives us all that we need to support this body and life. Yet our government thinks once a year is enough to say thanks. How long would you tolerate your kids not saying thanks? Would you say, "O that's all right; you said thanks last year?"
Third, is the tradition of filling our faces really anyway to say thanks? Wouldn't it be better to do as some churches suggest and give up our turkey meal and go serve in a homeless shelter? Shouldn't we say thanks by sacrificing, by working, by helping to feed those less fortunate than us?
What I'm going to say next will shock you. The problem with the American holiday of Thanksgiving is not that we gather in response to a governmental decree or that we fill our faces after. The problem is that it's only once a year. Thanksgiving should be a daily thing. Every meal should have a prayer of thanks. Everyday should be lived in thanksgiving "for clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals and all that I have."
Giving thanks to God reminds us that good things aren't bestowed on us by random chance. This is easy to forget in an age where coincidence, luck, chance, or fortune reigns supreme. Our society is inundated with the thinking that randomness rules. People think they're just lucky to have been born in a country that has such abundance. It's by chance that they were born here and not in a Third World country. They don't for a minute consider that their conception and birth were not accidents but the result of the deliberate will of God. No, luck, fortune, fate placed them in this country and brought them health and wealth. The idea of a personal, divine being directing and controlling every aspect of their life as a chess master does a chessboard is completely foreign to them.
But it isn't to Christians. We believe that God is our Creator and not some chance process. We believe that God personally preserves us, not the laws of nature. We believe that God knows every detail about us down to the number of hairs on our head and tear drops on our cheeks. Saying thanks' to the true God confesses He's our Creator and Preserver.
Christian thanksgiving acknowledges God as the source of every blessing. It centers on God, not the gift. Christian thanksgiving enjoys the Giver and uses His gifts. Pagan thanksgiving enjoys the gifts and uses the Giver as a means to get the gifts. Christian thanksgiving enjoys God regardless of how many or how few gifts there may be. Pagan thanksgiving flows from how much is in the bankbook, the cupboard, and the medical records.
So when our government calls for a day of thanks, we Christians can always say, "Boy, do we have a lot to be thankful for" because our thanks flows from the Giver not the gifts. The only problem with our American way of thanking God is that it happens only once a year. Do you know what that means? It means filling our face IS a fine way to say thanks' to God! It means going down to work in a homeless shelter or giving up your Thanksgiving dinner for someone else is not a better way.
In fact, receiving God's gifts is the best way to say thank you. Luther said, "For only those are truly thankful who receive the gifts of God joyfully and rejoice in the Giver." Go ahead and eat that turkey raised on the sunshine and seed provided by God. Eat those potatoes grown in God's good earth. Drink those beverages made from the rain God sends. That's how to say thanks. And now we're to our service this evening. Our Thanksgiving service is a Communion service.
For the first time at Trinity, we have the Body and Blood of Christ here for us to eat and drink. This is as it should be. This is a distinctively Christian way of saying thanks. One of the New Testament names for Communion is the Greek word Eucharist which means "giving thanks." Christians say "thanks" by celebrating the meal where God comes in flesh and blood to feed us with forgiveness, life, and salvation.
This is very old theology. It goes back to the Old Testament Church. Psalm 116 says, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits towards me?" How shall I say thanks for all that I have in this life? The Psalmist answers his own question, "I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord." I will drink from the cup where salvation is, and I will call upon the Lord for even more.
Can you see how counter this is to what the world believes? All the world believes that you say thanks by giving back not by taking more. But read Psalm 81. What does the Lord say His people should do because He brought them out of the land of Egypt? Should they give to others or back to God? No God says, "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." "Fill your faces!" That's what God says! I want to do more for you. You show thanks by a wide-open mouth that seeks all that God has to give.
In the Old Testament it was the same even with their offering of tithes. Far from wanting them to give so He could get, God wanted them to give so they could enjoy. Read Deuteronomy 14:24-26. The Lord instructed, "You may spend the [tithe] money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, for sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and these you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice." Want to say thanks for all of My blessings and benefits to you? Then party hearty in My presence says the Lord.
Friend, we especially need to learn this lesson in the spiritual area, and that's where this service comes in. You say thanks to God for forgiving your sins by wallowing in being forgiven not by mourning over your sins or beating yourself up for your failings. You say thanks to God the Son for paying for your sins with His holy, precious blood and by His innocent suffering and death, not by feeling guilty or making yourself suffer but by taking the cup of salvation and drinking the blood He shed to forgive your sins. You say thanks to God by splashing around in your baptismal waters and rejoicing over the fact that sin can't touch you there.
I know this isn't the world's idea of Thanksgiving, but is it really the way of our Lord? Well He's the one who told the Pharisees, "Go and learn what this means; I desire compassion and not sacrifice." The Pharisees thought God wanted them to do things for Him more than He wanted to do things for them. The truth was God wanted to be compassionate toward them more than He wanted anything from them.
The same is true for you. It's not wrong to work in a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving. It's not wrong to give up your turkey dinner for the sake of someone else. But if you think you have to do that in order to say thanks' or that God is more pleased with you if you do, you're wrong. You have yet to learn that God wants you to receive compassion from Him more than He wants to get sacrifice from you.
The Lord's way to say thanks is to receive joyfully everything that He gives. Take the cup of salvation and drink deeply. Open your mouth wider so God can fill it again and again. The only thing your gracious, merciful, and compassionate God needs from you is your needs, your emptiness, and your sins, and friend, aren't these all you really have to give Him? He absolutely delights in taking these off your hands and heart and returning to you His blessedness, His fullness, His forgiveness. Your God's greatest delight is to see you enjoying yourself in His name.
And is that really so strange? How happy a mother feels when her family asks for more of her cooking as they sit around her table! How happy a father feels when his family uses what he provides as they party in his house! Their children's enjoyment of their good gifts is thanksgiving to the parents. Our heavenly Father is no different. He is thanked when we use His good and gracious gifts while enjoying His presence. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thanksgiving Eve (20061122)