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How To Give Thanks

by Nail-Bender in NC

based on Philippians 4:4-9

Today is Thanksgiving Day, but I suspect I don't need to tell you that. We are here today, I suspect, to come together to celebrate this Thanksgiving day.

And like millions of other Americans, we will consider this day in light of a long tradition of national thanks and celebration which stems all the way back to 1621. It is a holiday first suggested by Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony and later was characterized and shaped by such men as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

It is a day which is deeply tied to our national heritage and our understanding of who we are as a people. And I suspect, that we will thank God today for all the wonderful things that we believe God has done for us:

The fact that many of us will go home today and join friends and family for a magnificent Thanksgiving meal. The fact that we were born into a nation where we can be taught that we can be anyone we wish to be. The fact that we can look at ourselves as a strong and good people and be proud of our accomplishments, our world leadership, and ...

that we have the courage to set our own direction and can challenge anyone in the world in economic, military, and industrial might. For after all, we do believe that we deserve what we have achieved because we fought hard for it, and despite the odds, we as individuals and as a nation have achieved what many will never achieve.

And I suspect that most of us would just like to leave it right there, believing and thankful that God has provided us with such an abundance and thankful that we are ... Americans.


Now don't misunderstand me, do not think that I am saying that it is wrong to feel a love of country and a thankfulness for land rightly possessed - a thankfulness for land rightly possessed; however, if we leave today with only those thoughts, we will have missed Paul's point of proclamation.

Though certainly, as a Roman citizen Paul would seem to have reason to rejoice -- Rome, mighty Rome -- was arguably the greatest consolidation of power that humanity had known to that time. Rome was a marvel of might and technological prowess. Its roads, some which are still in use today, ran throughout its empire, an empire which stemmed from Spain to Turkey, from Africa to Germany an area roughly the size of the continental United States.

Rome, was also a marvel law and government -- for no nation had ever been administered as effectively as the Roman empire, and certainly, no nation had ever shown such a fair and equal justice system.

And so what if every now and again someone did receive unjust treatment ... in most other places, dissenters would just simply be put to death.

Certainly, if any nation was a nation to be thankful for, it was Rome. But isn't it strange ---- Paul's proclamation was not based on national heritage.

Paul was also deeply studied in the religious law of the land. As a member of the Pharisaic party, few would have known as much about the Jewish law and understanding of God's teachings as Paul. And as dominate and authoritative figures in Jewish society, religion, and politics, the Pharisees were usually admired by the Jewish people. It is probable that they studied extensively and worked hard for the respect and authority which they obtained. If anyone had a right to be proud and a right to rejoice concerning their religion, it was the Pharisees.

Yet, how odd it is ---- Paul's proclamation does rest on the pride of one's accomplishments or even the comfort of one's religious affiliation. And certainly, his call to rejoice is not based on his socioeconomic stance, for certainly at this point in his life, he could not be considered a materially wealthy man. No, Paul is not describing a rejoicing which comes form something of the individual. He does not rejoice from any personal or national achievement.

He rejoices because the Lord is at hand. And so God is ...

A few years ago I had the privilege to be asked to be a co-spokesperson at a missions event. We, a close Christian friend and I, had worked in the local missions field. We had the privilege and honor to lead several work teams which worked on homes of folks who were elderly or were in the lower income brackets - basically, we were trying to keep people from becoming homeless by putting new roofs on homes, patching holes, and other minor carpentry work. So because of our experiences and the things we had learned about the many facets of poverty, we had been asked to speak at this event.

It was a terrific night which featured missionaries from around the world sharing about their experiences and telling many stories of God's continuing presence in the world today. I remember being moved by the many things we heard that night but there is one particular event which particularly stands out in my mind --

A group of folks from the Board of Global Ministries, the missions arm of the United Methodist Church, had traveled to India to visit Calcutta. While there, they had the opportunity to gain an audience with Mother Teresa. The team leader described his feelings as the team waited for Mother Teresa in the foyer of the Convent. What would this nun whose life was enveloped with the poorest of the poor have to say to them? What would her words be, a woman who had given her life to caring for those who were dying on the Streets of Calcutta, a woman who daily was surrounded by disease, suffering, and poverty that would stagger the imagination? This small, frail woman who so often had held the head of a dying and suffering person who was an outcast from the Indian society -- what would her words of wisdom be?

He explained how his excitement grew as the appointed time came, the time when she would meet them in this reception area -- what would it be that this woman of God would teach them?

Suddenly the door to the room opened and there she was, standing before them. She smiled a smile which radiated a joy which could not be contained as she exclaimed: "Isn't it wonderful! We have a God who is the God of hope!"

What a magnificent thing for this remarkable woman to say! Though she experienced the deepest sufferings of so many each day; though she watched as thousands died while an uncaring world refused to respond to the need, refused to respond to the suffering; though each time she went into the streets and saw the pain, the anguish, and the horror of being alone and forgotten, she could still say: Isn't it wonderful! We have a God who is the God of hope!

And she could make this bold proclamation: Not because she had some Pollyanna view of the world -- Not because she naively believed that through the work of her convent that the suffering would ever cease -- Not because psychologically, she somehow minimized the horrible nightmare of the unbelievable suffering and poverty which she experienced - And not because her heart wasn't broken a hundred times each day.

No, she could make this bold proclamation because, like Paul, she had felt the fullness and promise of a God that loves us first. A God that, even while we were yet sinners ... even while we were detestable in God's sight, reached into the very heart of our deadness and brought us life.

Like Paul, she felt the fullness and promise of a God - that even when God's son was innocent of wrong doing, and was killed by us anyway - that even then, God is a God who still loves us and continues to offer God's forgiveness and the redemption of God's grace, even to the very end.

It is out the full acknowledgment of such an unbelievable gift that Paul moves past mere understanding and appreciation and into the realm of worship -- that thing that we do which demonstrates our deepest sense of gratitude, our deepest feeling of thanksgiving.

For an authentic thanksgiving is not just a mere intellectual assent to the gift that has been given. True thanksgiving does not allow us just to accept the gift and move on in the same manner as we have moved before. True thanksgiving involves seeking to respond to God in light of the gift received, seeking to respond in a way that is pleasing to God, seeking to do the thing that God would have us do.

And that is why Paul continues and states: Phil 4:9 "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me and the God of peace shall be with you."

You see, Paul knew that worship would be meaningless if it did not finally and ultimately end in an outward response in such a way that pleases God. So Paul, who was all things to all people in order to present the Kingdom - Paul, who was eager to remember the poor - Paul, who watched the killing of apostles and knew of the fate that would await him - Paul who knows worship would be meaningless if a person's actions continued focusing on themselves or refused to move beyond their personal realm - And Paul, who taught that the whole of worship, the whole of seeking to love God is tied to loving one's neighbor says - "those things which you have learned from me, and that you have watched me do, it is those things which you must do."

My dear friends, today many of our neighbors will not be sitting down to the feast that most of us will enjoy. Today, many of our neighbors will be all alone, as they are everyday. Today, many of our neighbors in this county -- black, white, and native American will be spending this Thanksgiving in homes that are unheated or unsafe. Today, many of our neighbors will be sick, or hungry, or homeless, or simply in need of affirmation as children of God.

If we refuse them our Love, then we refuse to worship God, and God's peace, God's gift of shalom will never be with us. For in the Kingdom, my Shalom is dependent on your shalom, and yours is dependent on mine.

So my question to you ... my question for me is simply this:

On this day, how will we express our thanksgiving to God? Will we simply word some empty prayer ... Or will we dedicate our lives to God as we seek to move into the world, expressing the hope of Jesus, seeking to bring his life in the midst of darkness, and ultimately demonstrating a worshipful expression of what it truly means to be thankful.

In the end ---

As Christians, Thanksgiving can never be about something as limited as being grateful that one is a citizen of some particular country, because, as Christians, it is not the country that ultimately defines who we are -- it is God -- the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the one who dwells in our very midst, -- the one who loves us first and offers us the possibility of a reconciled and eternal life, even when we would attempt to destroy his greatest gift - the Christ.

May God grant us the courage and the wisdom to move beyond the superficiality and deadness of empty thanks and empower us as we seek to move into the realm of Kingdom. Amen.