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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Thanksgiving 11/23

I have a confession to make; I like Thanksgiving, but I like it for all the wrong reasons, reasons which have nothing to do with giving thanks.  Let me count the ways…I like having a holiday, I like to eat, turkey with all the trimmings is one of my favorite meals, I like football, I like being with whatever part of the family we’re with or just being with friends on some of the years we’ve stayed home.  I like the decorations, cornucopia, cardboard Pilgrims and turkeys as hokey as they can be; if we travel I enjoy the ride through the barren November landscape listening to Thanksgiving music, if we stay home I always think I’m going to enjoy the Macy’s parade but I usually get bored with it pretty quickly, but I do enjoy it for awhile. 

Then there’s the memories of Thanksgiving at home back in Massachusetts, most of which again have nothing to do with giving thanks but are more about sleeping in, waking up to the smell of turkey cooking and anticipating a day of food, family and football, a long weekend off from school and as a kid, knowing that if this is Thanksgiving, Christmas can’t be too far away.

Now you’re all different I know.  You’re here tonight because you know that giving thanks to God is what Thanksgiving is all about so you’re here to make sure the holiday doesn’t slip by without you doing that.  You’re not trapped by all the trappings, in prayer and song, you are going to give thanks to God, and that’s good, because you know, for a lot of us, offering thanks is not the easiest thing to do.  We’re a pretty self-reliant, self-sufficient people, or at least we’d like to think so. 

Maybe it was different years ago, back in Pilgrim times or back when George Washington instituted our first national day of Thanksgiving in 1789 or when Abraham Lincoln etched it in stone as a national holiday in 1863.  Maybe there was more of a sense of God as the provider of all that we have and maybe more sense of a need to give thanks to God. 

I just finished reading a new biography of George Washington and while he was pretty private concerning his inner religious beliefs and didn’t tend to name God using our usual Christian ways of doing so, he did attend church quite regularly.  He was nominally an Anglican but throughout his life he attended churches of different denominations; he’d probably be OK with Lutherans and Methodists worshiping together.   In any case, in many of his writings he did seem quite conscious of God as provider and protector and that is very evident in his Thanksgiving proclamation of 1789 when the country was in the earliest stages of trying to make the new Constitution work. 

He wrote, “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits and humbly to implore his protection and favor; and whereas both houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”  It goes on in a similar vain for a couple of more paragraphs.

Presidents still make such proclamations, and out of curiosity I looked at some of the recent ones, from President Obama last year and President Bush before that, and it was interesting. While there is kind of nod toward God in these more recent proclamations, the emphasis seems to be more on thanking each other which isn’t a bad thing to do, but it kind of pushes God into the background and reinforces the image of ourselves as self-sufficient and self-reliant almost making Thanksgiving an exercise in self-congratulation concerning what wonderful people we are, quite different anyway, from what Washington said. 

When I was thinking about this sermon in the back of my mind I kept thinking about a movie or a clip of a movie I once saw a long time ago where the father in the movie offered a table grace that kind of got at our feelings of self-sufficiency.  With the wonder of the internet I think I found it; the movie was Shenandoah, a Civil War movie from back in 1965, in which Jimmy Stewart played Charlie Anderson, the father who offered the prayer.  He said, “Lord, we cleared this land.  We plowed it, sowed it and harvested it.  We cooked the harvest.  This food wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves.  We worked dog-gone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you Lord just the same for the food we are about to eat.  Amen,” at which point, if I remember correctly, he is reprimanded by his wife for his irreverence.  It’s just a movie, but you know that’s the attitude of a lot of people.  We’ve worked hard; we’ve made it happen; we’ve earned it, no thanks to God.

Thanksgiving is a contradiction of the values of a society and an economy that imagines that we are self-made and self-sufficient.  Now despite my confession a couple of minutes ago, as I said in my newsletter article that some of the Bethany people may have read, I think I do have my moments when thanks is real and I would guess that is probably the case for you too.  Like I said, you probably wouldn’t be here on a Tuesday night otherwise.  It may or may not happen on Thanksgiving day, but you have those moments when your thanks to God is genuine, and if nothing else, a service like this one is an opportunity to remind all of us that we aren’t as self sufficient as we might like to think, a reminder of the importance of giving thanks to God.

All of the lessons appointed for tonight obviously have to with giving thanks to God or with the ways God blesses and provides for us, but Psalm 100 I think is especially appropriate as it is a short but classic psalm of praise and thanksgiving, a psalm that quite clearly states the reason for praise.  “Give thanks to him, bless his name.  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever; and his faithfulness to all generations.”  It’s a summary statement to be sure, but it pretty much says what we need to know about God.  As Christians we can have a tendency to think of the God of the Old Testament as being harsh and judgmental, but the words used most frequently to describe God in the Old Testament are steadfast love and faithfulness, sometimes steadfast love is translated as loving kindness.  As you read the Psalms and other parts of the Old Testament, note how often these words pop up. 

They’re Hebrew words translated into English so it can sometimes be hard to get the meaning just right, but steadfast love or loving kindness has to do with God’s resolve to continue in relationship, to be loyal to those to whom he has made promises, despite the many ways we find to not be who he would have us be, despite the times we fail to give thanks as we should. Faithfulness has to do with God’s complete trustworthiness and reliability, again, no matter what.  In other words, the relationship between us and God is not going to be broken from God’s side. 

We can count on that; even being honest about our failings, we can count on that, which is one big reason, perhaps the biggest reason we have for giving thanks because that tells us that, whatever the future holds, the future is ruled by the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord, steadfast love and faithfulness that we find most fully revealed in Jesus Christ.  It’s not the kind of thing that any of us can keep in mind all the time, but when you stop and think about it, what a blessing that is, what a comfort it is, to know of that steadfast love and faithfulness. 

So that’s where our thanksgiving starts; all the other blessings for which we offer thanks flow from that steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord.  Like me, I’m sure you too enjoy many of the trappings of the holiday and that’s OK.  But it’s also good that we do come together tonight to remember that there is more to it than that.  It is right to give our thanks and praise, because the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.

Rev. Warren Geier

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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