The Scripture says to give honor to whom honor is due and so I need to say that this sermon was inspired by a talk from an Orthodox nun named, Sister Vassa. In her talk she linked the Eucharist to our celebration of Thanksgiving in America and I want to use her idea and offer my own thoughts on the subject. So if you hate this sermon it’s the nuns’ fault.
The reason that she linked the Eucharist to this holiday is because as you know, Eucharist means to give thanks. President George Washington said at the beginning of his proclamation, “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…” Of course the miracle here is that both Houses of Congress could agree on anything much less calling us to a day of prayer and thanksgiving and so we continue in that spirit today.
While God is honored in such a holiday we must also know that thanksgiving should be more than one day. It should be a way of life for us as Christians. The makeup of the Eucharist as thanksgiving instructs us how to be a thankful people. The Eucharist or Holy Communion has three major components to it. They are “remembering” “thanksgiving” and “offering” and when we take these ideas beyond the Mass and into our daily lives then we become the thankful people that God has made us to be. Let’s look at each component.
Remembering. Rite Two of the Holy Eucharist does this quite well. “We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word spoken through the prophets.” Remembering is in the Jewish roots of Christianity. Every year they would retell the story of the Exodus in their Passover celebrations taking great care that each successive generation would know who they are and from whence they came and above all to know the faithfulness of God to His people. Many times the Prophets called on the people not to forget but to remember.
In spite of all of our nation’s problems, we should be able to look back over our history and see the faithfulness of God and as President Washington said, acknowledge the providence of Almighty God. But I fear that awareness is being lost in our day. I grew up being taught about God’s hand guiding our nation but when my son was in grammar school I attended his thanksgiving play and there was not one mention of God or even of the religious motivations of the first pilgrims. Our history was revised to make it simply a celebration between Europeans and Native Americans but it was vastly more than that. That experience with my son was over 20 years ago. I don’t imagine it has improved.
And lets be honest. The true story of the first Thanksgiving does not put Anglicans in a good light. They came here to get away from us. They came here pursuing religious freedom from the Anglican Church and England where Church and State were one (but we’re baaaaaack!). Steeped in the Scriptures, and drawing their images heavily from the Old Testament, the first pilgrims made a covenant. They saw themselves as a new Israel coming to a new Promised Land, but they discovered it was not a land flowing with milk and honey, at least not at first. In the first year about a half of them died. Those who survived and began to flourish gathered to give thanks to God for His mercies.
Remembering. Beyond looking at our corporate history and being thankful, what about your personal history? Are you thankful there too? All of us have hurts and failures from our past but if we can look with eyes of faith we will see the goodness of God all around. Even the scars that you would not wish on your worst enemy have been woven by God into the tapestry of your life and you are who you are today because of them. The poem called Footsteps became so popular because most people can look back on their lives and know that there were times that they were being carried by God. So when we remember we can see God’s faithfulness and this fills us with gratitude and wonder.
Filled with gratitude and wonder then we move to actually giving thanks. In the Mass we are told that the first thing that Jesus did after He took the bread and after He took that cup, was to do what? To give thanks. But if truth be told most of us don’t do this enough. We are like the 10 lepers that Jesus healed but only one came back to give thanks.
What is interesting in that story is that the Greek uses different words for what happened to those lepers. It says that the nine who went on their way were healed but the one who came back to give thanks was made whole. You don’t have to dig too deeply to know that there is a vast difference between the two. We are around people all day that are well but are not necessarily whole but by the grace of God we are seeking the latter. We are seeking to be made whole and giving thanks is a means of getting us there.
Look with me at I Thessalonians 5 beginning at verse 16. “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I would like to say a couple things about this passage. First there is a difference between giving thanks FOR everything and giving thanks IN everything. Let me give you a silly illustration. I’m sure that in the great scheme of things there is a reason for roaches but I don’t know what that is and so I find it difficult to give thanks FOR roaches. But if you have roaches in your house then it also means that you have food in your house. And since that is more than many folks around the world can say, then you can give thanks to God in the midst of your roaches. Okay again, that is silly but you won’t forget the difference, will you? Giving thanks IN all things is why the Apostles could write such uplifting words while they were in prison.
Second, notice the weight the Apostle puts behind his call for us to give thanks in all things. He says this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. Giving thanks is not some good idea that a preacher dreamed up to make church more pleasant. Nor was it something that Dale Carnegie made up to make us more successful. Giving thanks is actually God’s will. Also you will notice that it is put in the imperative, which means it is a commandment.
Giving thanks in all things is powerful medicine for the soul. If you are a glass half empty type of person, giving thanks will change that. If you are down about your current circumstances, giving thanks will change that. If you find yourself comparing yourself to others and always coming up short, guess what? Yep. Giving thanks will change that. I don’t mean that it will change your personality or put you aboard the Good Ship Lollipop. But what it will do is open the door for the fruits of the Spirit to replace the negativity, anger and hopelessness that are the hallmarks of this world.
Remember, give thanks, and then offer. When we look back over our lives and see God’s faithfulness, we are moved to gratitude, and so the next right thing to do is to offer ourselves to Him as an act of thanksgiving. And so we say in the Mass, “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee….” God has purchased us with the blood of the Lamb. He has freed us from captivity. He has “brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.”
While it may not have been actually lived out in any culture, there is a notion in many cultures that if someone saves your life then you are indebted to them forever. That is certainly how the Apostle Paul saw it. While he held the office and title of Apostle, what did he most often call himself? Bondservant. He used that title because Christ had both saved and purchased him and as a consequence St. Paul did not see himself any longer as owning his own life.
Okay but St. Paul didn’t have three kids and a mortgage so what would that look like for us who live in McWorld? I suggest that while our lifestyles are very different from St. Paul, we can nonetheless share his perspective. In our morning prayer we can offer ourselves afresh to Christ as His servant. We can view life through the lens of one whose life is not our own but as one who belongs to Another. We can break down the wall that separates secular things from spiritual things and “do all things as unto the Lord” (Col 3:23). We can start our day by confessing that we will go where He wants us to go, that we will do what He wants us to do and that we will say what He wants us to say. Then after that prayer we get in our cars and drive to the office instead of boarding a ship and sailing to Thessalonica, but still like St. Paul, we go as His servants. We offer to God our time and our treasure and our talents and we do this not out of compulsion or like some bill that we have to pay. We seek first the kingdom of God by putting God and we do that by giving Him the first of our time and talent and treasure. We do this out of thanksgiving for all that He has done for us knowing that “every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
As Anglicans we have the rich heritage of the Book of Common Prayer to guide us in being a thankful people. I want to end by praying one most beautiful prayers ever written to expresses our gratitude. Please join me. Let us pray.
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we thine unworthy servants
do give thee most humble and hearty thanks
for all thy goodness and loving kindness
to us and to all men.
We bless thee for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for thine inestimable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we beseech thee,
give us that due sense of all thy mercies,
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;
and that we show forth thy praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to thy service,
and by walking before thee
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost,
be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.