Sermon for a Day of Thanksgiving

November 21, 2018

Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Thanksgiving for the Word

   What have you do know about the first Thanksgiving or what have you been taught about it? I can’t say that I know what is being taught about it in today’s public schools, but I can’t imagine that, in today’s politically correct climate, teachers are allowed to teach the full truth of the event. My neighbor is a public school teacher here in Gorham and this year, she and one of her peers, were prevented from dressing in their customary fashion – one as an Indian, the other as a pilgrim. Afraid that even the costumes might offend somebody, I’m sure that the faith of the Pilgrims is stripped to its bare minimum if mentioned at all in classrooms. In reality, the Pilgrims were very devout Christians. The Plymouth settlers that set sail from Holland in 1619 were known as separatists. They held to a conviction that they could no longer worship alongside and with the Church of England and so they separated. Such a group, that found syncretistic worship with Anglicans unacceptable, certainly would not tolerate any kind of unionistic worship with the natives of North America.

With an inner drive, that to them, felt much like a call from God, their trek somewhat mimics that of the Israelites in the Exodus. These Pilgrims, left their land of plenty in England to follow their conscience in and exodus through Holland into an unexplored but promising land. They believed they were following God’s lead almost as clearly as the Israelites followed the pillar of cloud through the wilderness. The pilgrim’s hardship was every bit as difficult as Israel’s. Their population was halved during the first winter, yet they were thankful even with such hardship. That first year must have felt almost as a lifetime, but it was slightly shy of their first anniversary that they celebrated what we know as the first Thanksgiving.

I’m sure we are soft by comparison for we have so much more in material and temporal comfort for which to be thankful. We doubtfully know anybody that has actually starved to death, and scarcely anybody that has succumbed to pestilence or disease, whereas for them, it was a daily occurrence. We have much for which to thank God. Yet, despite the difference in circumstance, we, the Pilgrims, and the Israelites all have the same blessing for which to thank God.

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” God gave to Israel His Word. He gave to the Pilgrims His Word. He has given us His Word. We do have a fuller understanding of that Word that did Israel. We have a clearer understanding than did the Pilgrims. But each of us has been given the promise of God that if we but believe what He tells us, our reward is that we shall enter into His promised rest.

Tomorrow might be a national holiday, even what we may consider as a secular holiday. But it was not always so. A day of thanksgiving was not set aside that we might just give thanks in general. It was set aside that we might worship God and thank Him for all His benefits to us (read proclamation). Without God it may be a day of gluttony and football, but for us, who recognize that all good things come from God above, it is a day to thank our creator, our redeemer, our sanctifier. The temporal benefits of food, shelter, and friends, He gives to everybody, but to us, He has also given faith to believe and trust that He has also given His only Son, Jesus Christ for our salvation and now gives to us His Holy Spirit that we might be set apart as those that shall live long (eternally) and to go in and possess the land that He has sworn to give (heaven).

It is appropriate that we celebrate and give thanks to God that we have been so blessed to be born in America and to have lived in freedom here to pursue happiness and to exercise our religion as conscience dictates. Some of our liberties may be threatened and so they have since the formation of our nation and so shall they always be. But the liberty that is ours in Jesus Christ is forever secure and no one can rob us of it as we confess in the explanation to the Third Article of the Creed, “On the last day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” Amen

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

— George Washington

 

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