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 Thanksgiving Day -- USA  (cycle a)

Thanksgiving Video: I Want to Thank You

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"The First Thanksgiving"

Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims seem to go together, but the truth is, the Pilgrims never held an autumnal Thanksgiving feast. Before you cancel the turkey, take a look at the origin of that particular myth. In some ways, the truth is even more intriguing.

The Pilgrims did have a feast in 1621, after their first harvest, and it is this feast which people often refer to as "The First Thanksgiving". This feast was never repeated, though, so it can't be called the beginning of a tradition, nor was it termed by the colonists or "Pilgrims" a Thanksgiving Feast. In fact, to these devoutly religious people, a day of thanksgiving was a day of prayer and fasting, and would have been held any time that they felt an extra day of thanks was called for. Nevertheless, the 1621 feast has become a model that we think of for our own Thanksgiving celebration and we do know something of the truth about it.

We can assume, for example, that the harvest feast was eaten outside based on the fact that the Colonists didn't have a building large enough to accommodate all the people who came. Native people were definitely among the invited guests, and it's possible, even probable, that turkey (roasted but not stuffed) and pumpkin in some form, found their way to the table. And it gets better. This is the way the feast was described in a first-hand account presumably by a leader of the colony, Edward Winslow, as it appears in Mourt's Relation:

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, Many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

From this we know that the feast went on for three days , included ninety "Indians", and food was plentiful. In addition, to the venison provided by the Indians, there was enough wild fowl to supply the village for a week. The fowl would have included ducks, geese, turkeys and even swans.

Much of the information we have about the feast, and this period in the lives of these people, is the result of research conducted by the staff at Plymouth Plantation. From this research we know about the foods that would have been available to them, and from two first hand accounts (the second was written by William Bradford, Governor of the colony for 33 years, and can be read in Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647), we have a good idea of how the village looked, what the colonists wore, how they spoke, what animals they owned and how they lived. We even know what games they played, what their views may have been on everything from their new home to religion and politics.

The modern American Thanksgiving tradition grew over time taking on mythical elements.   It functions as a myth of beginnings, very similar to the  Passover celebration.  An origination myth like the story of the Pilgrims has roots in historic events and has the power to unify persons from all backgrounds, immigrants from different cultures and languages.  People with ethnic roots in Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia, Latin America along with native American people can come together on Thanksgiving Day to find meaning and strength in a common story of origin in which they can all partake by celebrating it.




Call to Worship (Psalm 100)
L: Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
P: Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
L: Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
P: Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
L: For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Come let us worship our Lord!

You may also consider the following Psalms for a call to worship: Psalms 33, 45, 66, 67, 92, 111, 136, 126

A Thanksgiving Prayer

For the haunting rhythm of our universe,
we thank you, Creator and Lord.
For the still-reaching reachers of our world,
we thank you, Creator and Lord.

For giving us a history and a destiny,
we thank you, Redeemer and Lord.
For becoming yourself, a man among men,
we thank you, Redeemer and Lord.

For drawing us into the mystery of life and love,
we thank you, Spirit and Lord.
For touching us with stars and blades of grass,
we thank you, Spirit and Lord.

by Keren Michael Stein

What is my prayer of thankfulness?

I thank You, Lord . . .

For having a warm place to stay.
For having enough food to eat.
For having an abundance of clothing.
For giving me friends.
For giving me kind words to say.
For peace in the knowledge I belong to you.
For loving me unconditionally.
For your patience with me.
For the assurance that I'm going to heaven.
For the courage to not look at things as they are, but instead to look at things from God's perspective.
For your assurance that I can give all my cares and burdens to you.
For always being there to hear my prayers.
For answering some I haven't even said yet.
For making my cup to runneth over with joy when there's absolutely no natural reason for it.

Thank you, Lord.  Amen.



All Creatures of Our God
What Gift Can We Bring
We Gather Together
Come Ye Thankful People, Come
Now Thank We All Our God
For the Beauty of the Earth
His Eye is on the Sparrow
Praise And Thanksgiving (Lutheran hymnal- to the tune of "Morning Has Broken")
We praise You For the Sun
Thank You, Lord
We Praise You, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator
Let All Things Now Living
For the Fruit of All Creation
When All Your Mercies O My God
Mountains Are All Aglow
Let Us With a Gladsome Mind
Now to Your Table Spread
All Who Hunger

Shout To the Lord, All the Earth Let Us Sing
This is the Day
Rejoice in the Lord Always
I'm Forever Grateful
I Am Amazed At Your Love
I Could Sing of Your Love Forever
Thank You, Lord, I Just Want to Thank You
Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart
Great Is The Lord, And Most Worthy of Praise


Please choose from the following children's sermons:

  • The Gratitude Attitude, Giving thanks
    by Rev. Frank Schaefer
  • Thanksgiving Cards for God
    children's sermon suggestion by a DPSer


The Gratitude Attitude
Theme: Giving thanks
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

Hi boys and girls, today we will talk about a very important word.    And that word is . . . "thanks."  If I didn't know better I'd say this word has magical powers.  You know why?  Because it makes people smile.    Have you ever noticed that?  It doesn't always work, but most of the time when we say "thank you" to someone, they smile.  It makes them feel good to be thanked.

When do you use that word "thanks?"  When do you say "thanks" to someone?  (let the children name examples and encourage their answers).

I have another question: do you think that we can say "thanks" to God too? (Nod slightly to encourage the yes answer) What do you think, does God smile when you say "thank you" to him?  (Nod slightly).  Yes, you are absolutely right: the bible tells us that God likes our offerings of thanksgiving and praise.  It makes God feel good.

And actually, that's what we're doing today (tonight): we have a Thanksgiving Service.  What do we thank God for? (let the children give answers, help only if they are stuck; if you have fruits/ears of grain, etc. on the altar you may want to point to them).

How about if we give God thanks right now and pray a little prayer together?

Thanksgiving Cards for God
suggestion by a DPSer

Props: Have available simple thank you cards on colorful paper.

Ask: have you ever sent a thank you card to someone? Has anyone in your family? What were you given? Have you ever made a card for God?

Next, you may talk about the weekly offering and its use for the church, missions, and help for the community. (Be prepared: some children think the minister gets to keep the money).

What other ways can we show thanks? What can kids do? Invite them to make thank-you cards for God, and suggest to hang them up in the Sunday School room, church lobby, etc.



Featured Sermon of the Week:



Remember the Goodness of God and Be Thankful!
a Thanksgiving sermon based on Deuteronomy 8:7-18
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with our turkeys, stuffing and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pies, we need to remember that Thanksgiving should be more than a once-a-year celebration--Thanksgiving is a state of mind. God calls us to be Thanksgiving people--people who have an attitude of gratitude.

When we read our scripture reading we realize what a promise of blessing God gave his children: "For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills" (Verse 7)

The children of Israel, were instructed in this passage to . . .

a) remember where they came from (the hardship and oppression of Egypt)

b) remember who delivered them, protected them and provided for them

c) be thankful and bless God for those blessings.


Verse ten sums it up nicely (especially for our celebration of Thanksgiving):

"You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you."

We are here in this sanctuary to bless God today; to praise God for the provisions of another year and the many other blessings God has bestowed on us.  And on Thanksgiving Day we shall certainly  fulfill the other part of this verse: we shall eat our fill (You know me: I can't wait for that part).

What can we say about Thanksgiving? What can we learn from this text? Perhaps, we need to look at this call to thanksgiving and compare it with the reality of every-day life.

For the call for remembrance of God's goodness and blessings and protection in our Scripture reading from Deuteronomy stands in stark contrast to the actual attitude the children of Israel had when they went through the wilderness (and even after they occupied the promised land).

Time and again, the people grumbled and complained instead of giving thanks and being grateful for so many miraculous provisions God provided for them. Often times, Moses was on the receiving end of all the yelling and complaining.  In fact, each time the going got rough, they would make their way to Moses' tent and yell and complain bitterly.

The height of their complaints was the statement , "If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots and ate our fill of bread."

Can you imagine the sadness in God's heart upon seeing them with this kind of attitude? Especially since God reminds us of the kind of attitude we should assume in our bible text in Deuteronomy.  God had protected them from the various plagues in the wilderness, provided for them and had led them through the Red Sea. 

So many times, God overlooked their disrespect and ungrateful attitude and even gave them bread from heaven as a breakfast provision and fresh quail meat for supper.  All they have to do was go and get it.  But even then, they weren't happy because they had to gather it every day, and they couldn't gather enough for more than one day.

Robert Fulghum, author of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," wrote a very interesting piece about yelling and complaining.  He says:

"In the Solomon Islands in the south Pacific some villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it... Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.

Fulghum observes, "Ah, those poor naive innocents. Such quaintly charming habits of the jungle. Screaming at trees, indeed. How primitive! Too bad they don't have the advantages of modern technology and the scientific mind."

Then he adds, "Me? I yell at my wife. And yell at the telephone and the lawn mower. And yell at the TV and the newspaper and my children. I've been known to shake my fist and yell at the sky at times.

"The man next door yells at his car a lot. And this summer I heard him yell at a stepladder for most of an afternoon. We modern, urban, educated folks yell at traffic and umpires and bills and banks and machines--especially machines. Machines and relatives get most of the yelling."

It's easy to point a finger at the complaining people of Israel and wonder why they didn't have a better attitude.  But before we point an accusing finger, we need to remember our own attitude toward God.  Perhaps it's easy to feel thankful on a day like today when we gather in the sanctuary to celebrate Thanksgiving. But what about the rest of the time? What about the times when things are not going so well? Are we trusting God in those times that God will come through for us as God has before? Can we be thankful in those moments as well? Or are we going to complain?

Interestingly, God puts the hard times we go through in the context of a test, of a lesson we need to learn in humility. In verse 16 it says: " . . . and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. But God promises to lead us out of the hard times, for in the end, it will be to our own good! And yet, I think we all have a tendency to complain in spite of all that is done for us--it seems to be a human condition.

Somewhere I read the story of a grandmother who had taken her 3-year-old grandson to the beach one summer day.  A powerful rip tide caught the boy and pulled him out to sea and under the water.  The frantic grandmother began to cry and scream.  In desperation, she cried out to God, "Oh, please, God, hear my prayer and give my grandson back to me."  Well, sure enough, the very next wave came crashing to the shore and threw her grandson right back at her feet.  She picked the boy up and found that he was breathing fine and doing well.  But then she noticed that the hat he wore—the one she had just bought him was no longer on his head. And she turned her head upward and with an exasperated tone of voice said, "Well, Lord!  He had a hat on!"

Perhaps this Scripture passage can be a lesson for all of us to take a long hard look at our attitude.  Attitude can make all the difference in our lives.

We really do have a choice about our attitude.  Like the Israelites, we can be critical and complain about everything that happens to us.  Or we can look on the positive side with an attitude of faith that the God who parted the Red Sea just might still be at work in the world.

I remember reading about a certain man who went to church one Sunday.  He frowned when the organist missed a note. He glared at two whispering teenagers. He looked repeatedly at his watch. When the offering plate was passed, he felt that the usher was watching to see how much he gave. He sat tight-lipped during all of the hymn singing.  During the sermon, he felt pleased with himself when he caught the preacher making a grammatical mistake. As he was leaving the church, he muttered to himself, "That was a terrible service, why do I bother?"

Another man went to church on the same Sunday. He chuckled at the sight of a father hugging his toddler.  During the Offertory he wondered, "God has given me so much.  Am I giving enough?" He struggled honestly with the scripture readings to find a word to live by. Part of the sermon helped him with a question he had often thought about. He enthusiastically joined in the singing of the closing hymn. As he left the church, he thought to himself, "How good it is to be here together in God's presence."

Both men had gone to the same church, on the same Sunday, and each had found exactly what he was looking for.   Attitude made all the difference.

But sometimes we find it hard to have a positive attitude.  It is so easy to complain about dirty dishes, stinky laundry, and unmade beds.  It's so easy to look on the negative side.  I suppose the Israelites got really tired of quail and manna after they had tried Manna Soup, Manna & Quail Casserole, Quail & Manna Casserole, Hot & Spicy Shredded Manna, Baked Quail with Sour Manna Sauce, and Sweet & Sour Manna.  I'm sure they got tired of the same food every day, but they had the wrong attitude.  They forgot how bad things would be without God's help.

One lady demonstrated the attitude we need to have when she wrote this unusual prayer:

Dear Lord,
Thank you for this sink of dirty dishes; we have plenty of food to eat.
Thank you for this pile of dirty, stinky laundry; we have plenty of nice clothes to wear.
And I would like to thank you, Lord, for those unmade beds; they were so warm and comfortable last night.  I know that many have no bed.  My thanks to you, Lord for this bathroom, complete with all the splattered, messy, soggy, grimy towels and the dirty lavatory, they are so convenient.

Attitude is a choice, but it makes all the difference. Let us make a choice to be thankful all the time, not just on this Thanksgiving Day. Amen.