We Gather Together – Introduction
Thanksgiving is a time when families gather together and celebrate all for which they are thankful. Though each of us has our struggles, we all have so much for which to be thankful. Individually and collectively, we are truly blessed!
“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
This Thursday is Thanksgiving. It’s a national holiday here in the United States. We set aside time and we gather together with friends and family. We decorate our homes, and we may set a beautiful table. And, for many, we prepare a traditional meal – turkey (or, like me, homemade Tofurkey), stuffing, sweet potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and, of course, pumpkin pie. But, how many of us know where and how it all began?
A Little History
Thanksgiving proclamations had been made by the church in many nations for centuries. In the United States, before there was a United States, Thanksgiving was celebrated on various days of the year and, when states were formed, each set its own day of celebration. The fourth Thursday became the customary day for celebration in most states at the beginning of the 19th century (early 1800s). For 40 years, author Sarah Josepha Hale wrote letters to politicians trying to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. In an effort to foster a sense of unity between the Northern States and Southern States, President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be observed on the last Thursday in November. Reasoning that an earlier celebration of the holiday would give the country an economic boost, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday of November on December 26th, 1941.
It’s interesting to me that this appears to be the first introduction of commercialism set around Thanksgiving. Notice the reasoning and the timing. Changing the date would provide an economic boost – providing one additional week to the Christmas shopping season. And the joint resolution was signed the day after Christmas.
Thanks Be To God
From its beginning, Thanksgiving has been not just a day on which we gather together with family and friends to have a special meal. It was a day set aside to give thanks to God for all of the blessings in our lives. Days of Thanksgiving have always been a part of the church. Proclamations have been made in all faiths and all religions to set aside feast-days for Thanksgiving.
Though not the first of such proclamations, almost 400 hundred years ago, in 1623, three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth, Governor Bradford made the following proclamation:
“To all ye Pilgrims,
Inasmuch as the great father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, squashes and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the raids of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Plymouth rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
Is it right that we gather together, celebrate, and give thanks for the blessings in our lives? Absolutely. Of course, Scripture reminds us that being thankful isn’t something reserved for one day a year. Ephesians 5:19 & 20 says, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Notice Paul’s points – Praise and Thanksgiving…Continually. When he speaks of psalms, and singing hymns, he’s not talking about a church service; and he’s not talking about going about our day setting our conversations with one another to song. He’s talking about maintaining an attitude of the heart – “from the Spirit.”
An Attitude of Gratitude
We’ve all heard the saying before – “an attitude of gratitude.” Are there attitudes that inhibit or detract from our gratitude? Yes!
One thing that can steal away our gratitude is a prideful attitude. When we start thinking that no one ever gave us anything, we’ve had to work or study hard for everything we’ve ever gotten, and when we feel like we have no one to thank but ourselves, we lose sight of God working in our lives. We become focused on self, and we don’t recognize the blessings that we’ve received, or how others have helped and influenced us.
Another attitude that can steal our gratitude is when we adopt an attitude of complaining. My mom had a saying – “he’d complain if they hung him with a new rope.” We all know people who, no matter what they have, or what they’ve accomplished, simply aren’t happy unless they have something to complain about.
When we spend all of our time focused on what we don’t have, we lose sight of what we do have.
It reminds me of the Israelites in the wilderness. They were wandering and they were hungry. God provided manna. At first they were thankful, then they began to gripe and complain because it was the same thing over and over and over – every day. A complaining attitude literally stole their attitude of gratitude.
And that complaining attitude leads me to yet a third attitude that can steal away our gratitude – greed. Some people, no matter how much they have, or what they’ve achieved, always feel as if they need, or are entitled to, more. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting more – unless it gets in the way of being thankful for what we already have.
Want to begin living a life filled with gratitude? Start by simply saying “Thank you” – and mean it. Two simple, yet powerful words. Let me share a little story…
Rudyard Kipling was a great writer and poet. Unlike many old writers, Kipling was one of the few who had opportunity to enjoy his success while he lived. He also made a great deal of money.
One time a newspaper reporter came up to him and said, “Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make from your writings amounts to over a hundred dollars a word; Mr. Kipling raised his eyebrows and said, “Really, I certainly wasn’t aware of that.”
The reporter cynically reached down into his pocket and pulled out a one hundred dollar bill and gave it to Kipling and said, “Here’s a hundred dollar bill, Mr. Kipling. Now, you give me one of your hundred dollar words.” Mr. Kipling looked at that hundred dollar bill for a moment, took it and folded it up and put it in his pocket and said, “Thanks.”*
If we simply start and end each day with a “Thank You” to God, what a difference we would make in our lives. As go about our day, we should learn to recognize reasons to express our gratitude to God and to others. As individuals, as a community, and as a nation, we have so much to be thankful for. And we should strive to never lose sight of the many wonderful blessings we have in our lives. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” and Psalm 107:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
A thankful heart is also good for us – spiritually and psychologically. Luke 17:11-17 tells the story of Jesus healing ten men with leprosy – “Now on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then He said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Of ten people healed, only one came back to say “thank you.” And Jesus’ statement to him, “your faith has made you well,” speaks to the man being made whole – not just being healed physically, but emotionally and spiritually.
Renowned physician and endocrinologist, and the world’s foremost authority on stress, said, “Among all emotions, there is one which, more than any other, accounts for the presence or absence of stress in human relations: that is the feeling of gratitude.”
How can we maintain this attitude of gratitude? By being diligent. For example, many of us say a prayer of thanksgiving before our meals. While thanking God for the meal, also give thanks for all those involved – the growers, pickers, packers, shippers, and merchants. Give thanks for the prosperity created along the way. And, thank God for the prosperity that enabled you to purchase the food; as well as the hands and mind to prepare it.
Continually find things for which to be thankful. At times, we may not have much, but we can always find something for which we can give thanks.
I’ve been working with the Homeless Task Force. The more I learn about homelessness, especially as we enter what is likely to be one of the coldest winters in recent history, the more I realize just how much we take for granted:
- When you woke up this morning, in the comfort and safety of your home, were you in a warm bed?
- If your home was a little chilly, could you turn on a heater?
- Were you able to make a pot of coffee?
- When you turned the handle on the faucet, did you have water on demand?
- When nature called, did you have indoor plumbing?
- Were you able to bathe and/or shave – with plenty of hot water?
- Were you able to brush your teeth?
- Did you have clean, dry clothes to put on?
- Even if it’s not the newest, coolest model, whether car or bicycle, did you have transportation?
- Do you have internet access, cable or satellite, etc. – all on demand?
- Did you have at least one hot meal yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that?
Be diligent in your thanksgiving. Every day when you wake up, say a little prayer of thanksgiving that you’re waking up in a safe, comfortable, warm place. Every night before you go to sleep, say a little prayer of thanksgiving that you’re not going to bed hungry; that you’re safe, comfortable, and warm.
And, when troubles come, continue to be thankful. In Ephesians, Paul reminded us to always be thankful. Remember, Paul suffered terribly. He was persecuted, chased out of town, whipped and beaten, thrown in prison, naked, cold, hungry, shipwrecked, and even stoned – all because of his faith. And yet, he never stopped being thankful. It’s not that he was thanking God FOR his troubles. He was thankful IN THEM – thankful that God gave him strength to endure them. We, too, have that assurance.
We all have so much to be thankful for. We’ve just grown so accustomed to having it that we take it all for granted. And so it is, at this time of year, we gather together as family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. We should be thankful each and every day. But, it’s also good to take this time each year, as a nation, and collectively observe a day devoted to being thankful.
In our hustle-bustle lives, we tend to forget the meaning behind the holidays we celebrate. They become an excuse for a day off (unless you’re in retail). When I was in my corporate career, our company took a Thanksgiving recess – closing down on Friday in addition to Thursday. For many, Thanksgiving was and is the day that launches the Christmas shopping season.
Just as we talk about getting back to the meaning of Christmas and the reason we celebrate, or Easter, or any other holiday, I’d like for us to get back to the basics – and to celebrate the true meaning of Thanksgiving. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”
We can all have “enough” – as our quote says – by accumulating more or by desiring less. It’s a matter of perspective. The key is, no matter what, to remain ever thankful.
This week, as we gather together to celebrate, let’s all take time to think about all of the wonderful gifts in our lives. And, as Governor Bradford said almost 400 years ago, when you sit down to your turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie, remember to thank God for His abundant blessings.
*Acknowledgement – SteveMalone/SermonCentral
- Ephesians 5:19 & 20
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
- Psalm 100:4
- Psalm 107:1
- Luke 17:11-17
- James 1:17
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