“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endures forever.” “It is truly good, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
We don’t really need a presidential proclamation, or an act of Congress, or a special Thursday in November to give thanks to God, do we? Thanksgiving is our priestly duty as baptized believers. That’s what priests do. They offer sacrifices. Thanksgiving is eucharistic sacrifice, thank offering to God for all His blessings not only to us, but to the whole world.
Faithful hearts are also grateful hearts. We are thankful for the gifts of creation – for this planet we live on, for sun, moon, stars, rain, soil, plants, birds, fish, animals. For our own life – our body and breath, eyes, ears, all our 2000 or so parts, our reason, our senses. We are thankful for God’s preserving gifts of clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, family. For His departments of defense – the military, the police, government, courts, laws, liberties. All this God gives and gives, purely out of fatherly goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. And we, as His children, say “thank you” for the gifts.
We thank God for the gifts of redemption – for the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ, for His perfect life and death, for His rising from the dead, for His atonement for the sin of the world, for His reign over all things that we might belong to Him and serve Him in His kingdom.
We thank God for the gifts of the Spirit: the preaching of the Gospel, the church and her pastors, our own rebirth and renewal in Baptism, our refreshment in the Lord’s Supper, our fellowship together with all the saints in Christ, the resurrection of our bodies, guaranteed by Christ’s resurrection, and the sure hope of eternal life. What else can you say but “thank you.”
Moses spoke to Israel on the threshold of the promised land. “Remember the Lord,“ he said. He brought you out of Egypt and through the wilderness. He made you hungry, and He fed you. He trained you to live not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from His mouth. And now He’s bringing you into a good land of rivers and springs, wheat and barley, olive oil and honey, bread without end. A land where even the rocks are full of iron and copper. It was a foretaste of the feast of come, a preview of heaven itself, where God sets the table and His people eat and drink in joy and freedom.
Moses knew the impediments to thanksgiving. “Watch out,” he warned, “lest after you have eaten and drunk your fill in your comfortable homes, and your investments have multiplied, you forget the Lord your God.” “And then you will start to say, ‘My power and my strong hand got me all these things. I’m dependent on no one. I’m a self-made man, a self-made woman. I did all these. Me. Number one.” The idolatry of the self.
“Remember the Lord, your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth.” He causes the rain and sunshine in their season, who gives grain to the sower and bread to the eater. He gives you life and all that you have, and He can take it all away in an instant, if He decides that is best for you. A tiny burst blood vessel in your brain, a hurricane, a tidal wave, an earthquake. Every moment we live by the goodness of His hand.
It’s so terribly easy to forget the Lord who hides under means. We think of the farmer, the miller, the baker, the grocer. We note our own paychecks, our hard earned income, our strength, our power, our intelligence, our skill. We forget the hidden Lord who works in, with, under the created order. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but bread never materializes out of nothing on the table. God works through means, and the means can easily become the idols, bread gods before which we bow down and worship.
Idolatry gives rise to anxiety. Anxiety happens when our false gods let us down at crunch time. We thought the money would hold, the retirement was safe, our health secure, the economy strong.
“Be anxious about nothing,” the apostle Paul says. I know what you’re thinking. “That’s easy for him to say. He wasn’t facing the stuff I am.” Perhaps. But remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote those words. Picture Paul in some jail cell with a guard posted at the door. “Be anxious about nothing.” Easy for him to say? Well, sort of. “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength,” he said.
Be anxious about nothing. So what are you supposed to do? Take a pill? Talk to God. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Ask Him whatever you want. Talk about whatever is causing you anxiety. And do it with thanksgiving. Are you hungry? Then pray for food, and thank God for your hunger. Are you lonely? Then pray for a friend and thank God for the solitude. Are you sick? Then pray for healing and thank God for your illness. Only faith in crucified and risen Jesus can pray that way.
Thanksgiving as an act of worship is still a minority opinion. Ten out of ten lepers were cleansed that day they encountered Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. One out of ten returned to give thanks at the feet of Jesus. Ten were healed, one worshipped. Seems to be about the average, doesn’t it? Ten percent or so, on any given Thanksgiving eve. The worshipper turns out to be a half-breed heretic Samaritan. That’s pretty much how it goes too. Outsiders seem to get the Jesus point a lot more than do the religious insiders.
Thanksgiving is more than a pious prayer and an attitude of gratitude sandwiched between the turkey and the pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is a concrete, tangible, real act of worship. Heads bowed, knees bent, hands folded, hearts uplifted in psalms and hymns and songs. Money in offering plates. Ears inclined to the Word. Mouths filled with prayer and praise.
I’m sure that the other nine lepers were grateful in their hearts as they went off to show themselves to the priests. I’m sure that they all talked about what a great guy Jesus was and thanked their lucky stars they met Him on the road to Jerusalem. But only one turned around on the road, walked back, and fell down flat on his face at the feet of Jesus. That’s the faithful one. “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.”
And the other nine? Not much to say, is there? What did they do after they went to the priests? Did they have faith that saved them? Hard to say. Faith is seen only by its works, as James reminds us. This kind of thanksgiving at the feet of Jesus is the fruit of faith in Jesus, to whom we are indebted not only for daily bread but for our life. He is the Word in the flesh, living Bread come down from heaven, our daily Bread of Life. He is the Word through whom all things are made, in whom all things have their being, and for whom all things exist – the turkey, the cranberry, the potato, the pumpkin, the grape (Cabernet, Chardonney, and Pinot Noir) – all are His gifts given in blessing to you. Gifts received with thanksgiving.
You are cared for by God. More than you could ever care for yourself. Even the hairs of your head are numbered, as are your days and the hour of your death. No detail of your life is too small or insignificant. You are precious and holy to Him. As precious as the blood of His Son that purchased you from sin and death. As holy as the pure and perfect life of Jesus who became your sin so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God.
Every good and perfect gift He pours down, without any merit or worthiness in us. For all this it is our duty, our privilege, our priestly responsibility, to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
Thanks be to God.
In the name of Jesus,