A Christian Thanksgiving

November 23, 1997

God calls his people to be a thankful people.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. . . .
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things. . . .
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men.
Let them sacrifice thank offerings
and tell of his works with songs of joy. . . .
Whoever is wise, let him heed these things
and consider the great love of the Lord (Psalm 107:1,8-9,21-22,43).


Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Godís will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

Yet we have become so cynical as a people that we are prone to wonder if it might not be wise to take Thanksgiving Day off our calendars. Political scandal, drugs, AIDS, racism, divorce, abused children ó for what do we give thanks this year?

The more our thinking tends in that direction, the less spiritual our hearts will be. One of the horrible things Paul saw in a world hostile to God was its lack of thanksgiving to the Lord. "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom. 1:21). I donít want to be a godless, thankless person!

Did you hear about Alvin the atheist? He sat down to his Thanksgiving Day feast and realized he was at his lowest point, for he felt grateful but had no one to thank! Iím not an atheist, and I believe these words from Jesusí half-brother: "Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Lights" (Jas. 1:17). I know whom to thank. I am always making requests of him ó shopping my "want list" at his throne like a child before Christmas. For all those requests he grants and for the many gifts I receive from him without taking notice, I refuse to be a thankless beggar. Iím glad we have a Thanksgiving Day on the American calendar to remind all of us to give thanks.

Todayís worship time will be filled with times of testimony and thanksgiving from several members of our church family. You will hear from several men, women, and children in our church family. They will let you look into their thankful hearts by sharing their sentiments with you on this special "Harvest Sunday" at Woodmont Hills.

Tie your own stories of thanksgiving to theirs. Let their public testimonies prompt your own private praise of Godís goodness. Let this day begin the week of our Thanksgiving Day holiday on a positive note for you. Let it banish cynicism and fill your heart with "thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men." Then, at the close of our public worship time, we will bring our gifts and offerings of food for hungry, hurting people and place them on this stage as a monument to the Lordís goodness to us that allows us to share with some who have much less.

* * * * * * * * * *

Are you aware that as early as 1400 B.C. the Israelites had a day of thanksgiving that was ordained by Yahweh? It came fifty days after the beginning of the harvest and was known as Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. By that time the grain had been harvested, the fruits gathered, and the olives pressed. In the midst of great rejoicing for the Lordís goodness, men from every tribe in Israel ó often accompanied by their entire families ó made their way to Jerusalem for eight days of feasting.

As a matter of fact, one could make a case for saying that all three of Israelís annual pilgrim feasts were thanksgiving festivals. Passover was certainly a time of thanksgiving to the Lord for his deliverance from Egypt in a great exodus of grace. It praised God for sparing the firstborn of Israelís children when death was being visited on the Egyptians. And the Feast of Tabernacles was a joyous festival that remembered Godís faithfulness to Israel during forty years of wilderness wandering.

God is glorified in the thanksgiving of his people!

* * * * * * * * * *

Our American Thanksgiving Day had its inception in 1621. When the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1620, they were not prepared for their new environment. They wheat they had brought from England would not grow in the rocky soil of New England. They needed to learn new ways for a new world. Without the help of a Native American named Squanto, that original group likely would not have survived. A member of the Pokanokit Wampanoag nation, he had gone to England fifteen years earlier with an English explorer named John Weymouth. While there, he learned to speak English.

Squanto returned to New England with Captain Weymouth and was later captured by a British slaver who raided his village and sold him to some Spanish settlers in the Caribbean islands. There a Franciscan priest befriended him, helped him get to Spain, and eventually to England. There he rejoined his friend Captain Weymouth, who arranged to get him back to New England.

By this circuitous route, Squanto and a friend found the Pilgrim group in the spring of 1621. They were in terrible condition. During the winter, half their number had died. The crops had been poor, and they were depending on wild game for meat. They were obviously desperate for help.

Squanto, who knew more English than any North American Indian of his time, chose to stay with the Pilgrims for several months to teach them how to survive in their new environment. He brought them deer meat and beaver skins. He taught them how to cultivate corn and other vegetables native to this continent. He taught them to dig and cook clams. He taught them how to get sap from maple trees. He showed them how to use fish for fertilizer. He taught them how to survive in their strange new environment.

In the fall of that same year ó with conditions much improved at Plymouth ó the Pilgrims determined to have a thanksgiving feast to celebrate Godís gracious providences to them. They had, after all, observed thanksgiving feasts in November as a religious obligation in England for many years before coming to the new world. Captain Miles Standish, the leader of the pilgrims, invited Squanto and two other Wampanoag leaders and their immediate families to join them. Those "immediate families" turned out to be around ninety relatives! Within the first hour, the leader of the Wampanoag, Massasoit, sent some of his men home for more food.

Supplying the majority of what was eaten, the group sat down to five deer, many wild turkeys, fish, beans, squash, cornbread, and berries. The feasted together for three days. The feast was quickly made an annual event among the Pilgrims.

Governor William Bradford posted this announcement "To All Ye Pilgrims" calling for a day of Thanksgiving in the year 1923:

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, 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 ravages 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 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 Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.


An attitude of gratitude is still the most appropriate spirit for the children of God to exhibit in this world of stress, challenge, and heartache. It is the alternative to and cure for such ills as joylessness, despair, and cynicism. As one spiritual pilgrim to another, may I remind you that it is still a good thing for "all ye pilgrims" to give thanks to "ye Almighty God." So with drumstick in one hand and TV remote in the other this Thursday, donít forget to give God the glory he deserves.



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