A Thanksgiving Sermon
By Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
25 Nov 2015
Based on Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Common English Bible)
One of the best parts of my seminary experience was not part of the curriculum, not even something the seminary intentionally planned. I had classmates from several different countries. I recall one specific pair who I was close to who were mystified at our Thanksgiving celebration. They understood the sense of a harvest celebration, a day to thank God for the goodness of the earth. But they pointed out there is a certain irony in celebrating the harvest when most of us in this country are not related to food production. For most of us, the bounty of the earth is known not from our working the soil but driving to the grocery store.
My friends also found odd how much food we prepare for this feast. They knew Thanksgiving from their own homes, but for them Thanksgiving was not a day or a meal but a practice that occurred several times in the year that dedicated to prayer and fasting. Try that one with your family tomorrow: “This year for thanksgiving we’re going to fast and dedicate the day to prayer – which means we’re also going to turn off the TV.” Go ahead: try it. I’d love to hear how well it goes.
When you ask people what they are planning for Thanksgiving, you’ll probably hear about the foods they are preparing. Try asking, “Why are you doing that?” You’ll get a blank stare as though you had suddenly grown antennae from the top of your head.
You might meet someone who is able to think quickly on their feet, they will probably say this feast is connected to the feast the pilgrims had in New England the 1620’s. Have you ever looked into the menu of the Pilgrim’s meal? I suspect there is a lot of food that was on their tables that will not be on most of ours. Eels and shellfish and other seafood were plentiful and probably made up most of the protein. There was also some venison, plus wild fowl including turkey, swan, passenger pigeon. Yes they were stuffed – probably not with bread but with onions and herbs. They had lots of vegetables: corn and squash, carrots and turnips and bunches of beans. But not anything with cream or butter or sugar – so no pumpkin pie. Also no mashed potatoes – no potatoes at all, nor cranberries. So, since we are not recreating the Pilgrim’s meal, what are we attempting to do as we celebrate thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is not a meal, it is not a day on the calendar, it is an attitude that connects us to God’s activities in human history. If we limit our thanksgiving to one day, we run the risk of forgetting how to be thankful all the other days. If we limit our willingness to celebrate the bounty that surrounds us every day, we run the risk of assuming we live in scarcity. If we limit thanksgiving to one day a year, then the other days of the year become times for alarm and panic, times to assume we do not have enough, times that cause us to hold back and save up for bad times that are certainly coming.
When we introduce thanksgiving as a spiritual practice into our daily lives, we learn to approach life with a different perspective. When we introduce thanksgiving as a spiritual practice into our daily lives, we begin looking for more situations to be thankful. Those challenges that are part of every day life, when approached with a sense of thanksgiving are less likely to be cause for distress and instead become opportunities from God to consider the potential for new faith. This is not some magical power of positive thinking. Thanksgiving is an orientation of faith that reshapes our behavior, our thinking, even our deepest spiritual being.
So let us give thanks, not only today and tomorrow but every day. As families and congregations, let us remember to give thanks throughout the year for the many opportunities we have to be faithful. Let us become a communities where thankfulness is part of our discipline – for what we eat and also in more deliberately paying attention to identify what God is providing us. May we all rejoice in the Lord this Thanksgiving, and may we give thanks to God today and every day for the rich gifts we have received.