I have spent a lot of time thinking about Thanksgiving this week. We have church at Trinity at 5:30 on Wednesday night and 7 PM at Zion. Thanksgiving services were poorly attended so we went to Thanksgiving Eve services to at least give people the chance to pretend that they are thankful but that sounds harsh. The truth is that most of what we think of as thanksgiving is a myth, from the belief that it was first celebrated by the Pilgrims to the idea that it is a religious holiday. In the midst of my Thanksgiving preparation my Mother was admitted to the hospital a hundred miles away so I have had to think about what I am thankful for as well. I’m tired of being cranky about unthankfulness and complete misunderstandings about faith and trust and worship that I am going to let someone else vent for me.
Pastor Terry Obrien is a Pastor in Illinois. I know of him because in 2008 he was one of six Concordia Seminary students selected to participate in a 10-day “Mercy Mission” to the Lutheran Church of the island nation of Madagascar. He writes about thanksgiving myths in a sermon from a few years back. Here is a part of his sermon.
Probably the greatest myth of all on this Thanksgiving Day 2012 is that most Americans are truly thankful to God about much of anything. Sure, in many homes a prayer of thanks will be spoken before digging into the turkey and dressing tomorrow – but for many it’s just a quick formality before focusing on the overloaded plates sitting on our tables. God’s name may be mentioned, but it’s not often given much thought. For most people the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are replaced on Thanksgiving Day by the three more immediate gods of food, football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In our Introit this Thanksgiving Eve we sang these words: “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”
As Christians redeemed by Christ, we know that we should not set aside just one day a year to praise and give thanks to our God for His countless blessings, the “good things” mentioned by the psalmist. The life of the Christian is one of continuous thanks and praise. Martin Luther, in his “what does this mean” explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, gave us these timeless words: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them; also clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life; that He defends me against all danger, and guards me and protects me from all evil; and all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which it is my duty to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
I’d like to suggest that Luther’s list here – which admittedly focuses only on the First Article of the Apostle’s Creed – leaves us with an incomplete Thanksgiving picture unless we look further at the blessings we have received from God. In the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed we focus on the work of God the Son – of Jesus Christ – who suffered and died for our sin so that our transgressions might be forgiven and that curse of death might be banished. In the Third Article of the Creed we focus on the work of God the Holy Spirit – who graciously brings us to faith in Christ and who zealously keeps us in the one true faith.
Just as we cannot divide the three persons of the Trinity into three separate gods, we cannot divide the blessings of the Holy Trinity. All come together in a unity of blessing that is simply beyond our understanding. Just as we cannot and never will understand the mystery of the Trinity – three persons but yet one God – I don’t think that any of us can ever fully truly understand and appreciate the blessings that have been showered on us by our loving God and which continue to be showered on us both in this life on earth as well as our eternal life in heaven.
None of this is a Thanksgiving myth. This is our Thanksgiving reality. This is our reality in every day of our lives and not on just the fourth Thursday of November. This is the reality of the Christian Church. This is the Gospel truth of our life – now and always – in Christ.