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Thanksgiving Day Year A 2008

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Theme: We celebrate Thanksgiving out of gratitude

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, we gather on this day to give thanks for what we have; bless us in your never ending love and help to always give thanks for your many gifts, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It is interesting to note that it wasn't until we were at war, the Civil War to be exact, that our Thanksgiving holiday was officially recognized by Congress. It had started in the small Plymouth Colony in 1621 when the English Pilgrims feasted with members of the Wampanoag (Wam.pa.no.ag) Indians who brought gifts of food as a gesture of goodwill. The custom grew in various colonies as a means of celebrating the harvest.

In 1777, over 100 years later, the continental congress proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving after the American Revolution victory at the Battle of Saratoga. But it was twelve years later that George Washington proclaimed another national day of thanksgiving in honor of the ratification of the Constitution and requested that the congress finally make it an annual event.

They declined and it would be another 100 years and the end of a bloody civil war before President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November Thanksgiving. The year was 1865. It might surprise you to learn that it took still another 40 years, the early 1900’s, before the tradition really caught on. For you see Lincoln's official Thanksgiving was sanctioned in order to bolster the Union's morale. Many Southerners saw the new holiday as an attempt to impose Northern customs on their conquered land.

Thanksgiving today is a mild-mannered holiday full of football, hot apple pie, and family reunions. (Thank God for microwaves.) But that's not a realistic historical picture of Thanksgiving. It is more often born of adversity and difficult times. So many of the greatest expressions of thanksgiving have occurred under circumstances so debilitating one wonders why people give thanks. It would seem the more reasonable response would be bitterness and ingratitude.

Paul writing from a prison cell and probably knowing that he would soon die writes to the Philippians, “I give thanks to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor imprisoned in 1943 for his political and Christian opposition to the Nazi regime, was executed two years later. On the day that the sentence was carried out he conducted a service for the other prisoners. One of those prisoners, an English officer who survived, wrote these words:

“Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident, and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive... He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near... On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, and the thoughts and resolutions it had brought us.

“He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, ‘Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.’ That had only one meaning for all prisoners – the gallows. We said good-bye to him. He took me aside: ‘This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life.’ The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.”

Most of what St. Paul writes to the Corinthian church is about settling their many disputes. In this part of 2 Corinthians, which may have been a separate letter added to this one, Paul is making an appeal to the generosity of the Corinthians to give money for the relief of the Christians in Jerusalem.

In this particular part of the letter, Paul begins by using an agriculture analogy. “A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop.” (The Message) Paul then attaches some theology to the analogy. How much we give must come from the heart. We should not feel that we must give. God loves people who love to give. God can bless us with everything we need. We will always have more than enough to share with others. The psalmist says, “God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right.” (CEV)

“God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food. He will increase what you have, so that you can give even more to those in need.” (CEV) Paul then puts his argument together by telling the Corinthians that they will be blessed in every way so that they can continue in their generosity. “Then many people will thank God when we deliver your gift.” (CEV)

“Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God.” (The Message) The money the Corinthians give will produce honors and blessings. Their generosity is the result of their faith in Christ. By giving, they are obeying Jesus’ words.

Though they are in different countries, both the Corinthians and the Christians in Jerusalem have the advantage of one currency in one empire. The Christians in Jerusalem prayed for the Corinthians and longed to see them, because God’s actions in the Corinthians produce blessings in the Jerusalem church. Paul concludes by thanking God for God’s glorious gift.

Central to Paul’s philosophy of Christian giving is the realization that God is the source of all our blessings, but along with those blessings comes responsibility. We are expected to sow bountifully, give cheerfully, and share abundantly in order to continue to be supplied out of the abundance of God. This is not an appeal to works righteousness; instead, Paul makes it clear that through our generosity we glorify God and demonstrate our obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ.

Yes, Paul says, sowing bountifully will enable us to reap bountifully. But the replenishment of our bounty comes in response to our faithfulness and for the purpose of continued generosity. As we give, more will be given to us as a sign of God’s grace and our response to God’s indescribable gift.

Out of great suffering have come the greatest expressions of gratitude. And so I suggest to you this morning, we have all the more reason to celebrate Thanksgiving.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks and praise for your many gifts that you have bestowed on us; give us especially the gift of gratitude so that, in humility, we may always give you thanks, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (NRSV)
6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written,

“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;

his righteousnessb endures forever.”

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.c 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

[1]


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b  Or benevolence

c  Or benevolence

[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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