A Divided Nation
I remember Thanksgiving when I was kid. It was great. A 4-day vacation from school. We got to go to our grandparents’ house in Buxton, North Dakota, and if you counted every tree, cat, and dog the population was at the most 300. It was a great time to play with our cousins. Cousins are the best when you are a kid. The food, well, the food was the best part. We would have turkey, of course, and all the trimmings. Since we were Norwegian, we had lefse, krumkeke, and kingles among other delicacies. Nobody, not even my grandparents, however, would eat lutefisk, fish that had been preserved in lye. This is what Thanksgiving meant to me as a kid.
But then I grew up and learned about the origins of Thanksgiving. Lincoln proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1863 during the midst of the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg had been fought in July. Three days. 50,000 casualties. We know now that Gettysburg was the turning point in the war. However, no one knew that in the fall of 1863. The outcome of the war was still in doubt. This was a dark time in the history of our nation. There was every reason to be pessimistic about the future of our nation.
In the midst of this uncertainty, in the midst of this division, Lincoln declares a National Day of Thanksgiving. Unbelievable. What in God’s name was there to be thankful for? Now, this is why I consider Lincoln to be the greatest American theologian. Not, of course, in the classical sense, but nevertheless a genuine theologian. Lincoln understood that our hope is not grounded in what we see with the senses. That our hope is not grounded in what we can achieve through our own efforts. Lincoln saw clearly that the future, our hope, depends on God who is at works in the events of our life. That God has not abandoned us even in the darkest of times. That in the midst of this terrible Civil War God is our strength, wisdom, and courage. And we place our lives in his hands. God was at work preserving the union.
Our nation is divided today. Is it not? Isn’t that what was revealed in this past election? Some historians argue that this is the most divided our nation has been since the Civil War. Articles appear in newspapers and magazines asking how we move forward, how we heal our broken nation. Each side is suspicious of the other. Each side does not trust the other. So, what are we to do?
Well, what would Lincoln say? How appropriate it is that after this election we now celebrate a National Day of Thanksgiving. To engage in thanksgiving is to reaffirm our faith in God in whom we trust. As Lincoln did. Not our own wisdom, not own efforts, but in God. God can do what seems impossible to us, to heal a deeply divided nation. It calls for us to accept the risk of faith. That hidden deeply in our lives, in our actions, God, a forgiving God, a loving God, is at work to do his will, to bestow his grace, and to preserve the union. Amen.