Thanksgiving

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
    His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
    His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
    His love endures forever.
To him who alone does great wonders,
    His love endures forever.
Who by his understanding made the heavens,
    His love endures forever.
Who spread out the earth upon the waters,
    His love endures forever.
Who made the great lights—
    His love endures forever.
The sun to govern the day,

    His love endures forever.
The moon and stars to govern the night;
    His love endures forever.
He remembered us in our low estate
    His love endures forever.
And freed us from our enemies.
    His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
    His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven.
    His love endures forever.

 – Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

Good morning, Friends! Happy Thanksgiving!

Saying “Thank you!” to God really ought to be a real no-brainer.

We thank all kinds of people every day. We thank the person who holds the door open for us. We thank the person who serves us a meal at a restaurant. We thank the doctor who helps us get well.

So, why wouldn’t we thank God? God does all of these things, and so many more. God gave us the breath of life, and a world to live in. God opens doors for us. God gives us our daily bread. God is the greatest healer of all. Thanking God should be one of the biggest Christian holidays of the entire year!

Thanksgiving isn’t about watching parades and football games, you know. It originally started as a harvest festival, back in the early 1600’s.

One of the early settlers in Massachusetts wrote that in the early days, the Pilgrims had everything in common. People shared what they had, whether the times were good or hard. Their first leader, William Bradford, said :

“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength [from the long voyage and the difficulties of the first winter] and had all things in good plenty. . .some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached. And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week [corn meal, that’s 4 quarts a week] to a person, or now since harvest.” (William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation)

Over the years, Thanksgiving spread from Massachusetts and became a national tradition. When the new nation was started, after the Revolution, a proclamation of Thanksgiving encouraged people everywhere to give thanks to God. It said that even slaves shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving Day.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a permanent national holiday. Lincoln not only said that we should celebrate, but he said that

“In humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience,” we should “commend to [God’s] tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

So, Thanksgiving is a sort of a hybrid holiday. It’s a holiday proclaimed by the government. But it’s also a religious holiday, in which we give thanks to God.

The Psalm we read this morning was originally composed to be sung or chanted in the Temple, and it’s still used today in Jewish services at major festivals. It’s often called the “great hallel,” or the great psalm of thanksgiving. Hallel, of course, is related to the word, hallelujah, which means to give thanks or praise to God.

It starts out, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.”

Then it goes on to give thanks to God for doing great wonders, for making the heavens, for making the earth, for making the stars and the sun and moon. It gives thanks to God for remembering us in our time of trouble, for helping us when we have personal enemies, for giving food to all living things.

After each of these different lines, there’s that chorus or refrain of thanksgiving to God – “His love endures forever.”

That’s pretty important, and most English translations don’t really highlight how important it really is.

The word for “love” in Hebrew is chesed. I want you all to repeat that word with me – chesed.

Chesed, in the Hebrew mind, is God’s most outstanding characteristic. More than God’s power, more than God’s ability to know everything, chesed is what defines God. It means kindness. It means forgiveness. It means caring for people who are weary, or lost, or oppressed.

It means that God never forgets, even when we forget God. It means God rescues us from our enemies, when all is lost. It means preserving our lives, when death seems certain. It means birth and new life. It means freeing us from the giant, tangled, sticky spider web of sin and brokenness.

Chesed means that God remembers the promises which God made in the past – not just to us, but to our grandparents and to ancestors who are so remote that we don’t even know their names. God remembers those promises, and God fully intends to carry them out.

If God promised freedom many years ago, freedom is still God’s promise for us today. If God promised truth and justice, that is still God’s plan.

God has always been here for us. Through hard times, through lonely times, through troubled times. Through times of grief and loss. Through times when we didn’t know what to do. God is always here. That’s what “steadfast love” really means.

It says that God’s steadfast love endures forever. Literally, in Hebrew, it says that God’s love is to the coming age. “Forever” isn’t really about the past. It’s about the future. It’s about our future!

The God whose love we have witnessed – in creation, in healing, in resurrection, in salvation – that love will continue for all time to that is still to come. The story isn’t over! God’s love and mercy aren’t just for now, but for our future as well. God’s love is what we can confidently expect. It’s promised. It’s 1,000% guaranteed.

When we look at the future today, it can seem really scary. There are a lot of unknowns out there. There are a lot of fears facing us. There’s a lot of reason for us to think that we’re heading for trouble, for decline, for loss in our health and our way of life. I hear people all the time saying that faith is going down, that churches are going down, that decency and community and the common interest are gone forever.

Today’s scripture says something different. It says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good. God’s steadfast love is with us now, and God’s steadfast love will be with us, tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.”

When we give thanks to God, it’s really a prayer of hope. We aren’t just thanking God for what’s been. We’re thanking God, in advance, for the blessings we trust that God has yet to give us. We are expressing our thanks, but we’re also expressing our confidence in the future. We’re saying thanks for what we have received, but we’re also saying thanks for whatever is to come. That’s faith. That’s trust. That’s confidence in the steadfast love of God.

We trust that God has blessings in store for us. We trust that God’s plan isn’t for loss and depression, it’s for a bright future. We trust that God will walk with us, that God will open doors, that God will help things happen. Not because of what we’ve done – although God wants our cooperation! But because of who God is. Because steadfast love is what God is all about. That’s who God is. That’s what God does.

So, I’d like us, in our time of open worship this morning, to think about our blessings. Think about the things we’re grateful for, to the bottom of our hearts. They can be little things, but not trivial things. Some things that God blesses are small, but nothing that God blesses is unimportant.

Let’s think about our blessings, and let’s give thanks for our blessings. Too much of the time, we keep silent about God’s blessings, when we should share them! We may not be able to give back to God as much as God has given to us, but we can give back to God in another way.

We can thank God, and say it out loud. We can praise God, and let other people know that God has blessed us. Sharing our blessings is like sharing our faith. Sharing what God has done in our lives is sharing good news.

It doesn’t take too much courage to say, “God has blessed me, and I thank God.” Anyone can do that. Anyone can make that simple prayer.

We can say, “Thank God,” and then add, “Our hope is in God! We believe that God isn’t done with us. We believe that our best days are still ahead, because God has promised it! Yes, we’ve got troubles, but we believe that God is greater than any trouble that life can bring.”

We rejoice in the promises of God. We rejoice in God’s many great blessings to us. We rejoice that God’s hand is still strong. We rejoice that God’s arm still reaches out to save. His steadfast love endures forever, to us and to our children, and to all the generations still to come.

We shout our thanksgiving – not to the past, but to the future. We shout that thanksgiving so loud and clear that generations from now, they will hear us. Not that our ancestors had faith, but that we have faith, and we want them to know it.

The story of God’s blessing didn’t end, hundreds of years ago. Our own parents and grandparents were blessed, and so are we. And the story of God’s blessing doesn’t stop with us. We need to shout it forward, into the future, so that our children and their children will know that God’s blessing has been with us all the way.

Let’s spend some time in worship together, and let’s be open to the blessings of God. And let’s share those blessings aloud today, and stand up and tell all of God’s blessings into our future.

The riches, the healing, the divine wisdom, the grace, the strength and power, the vision, the love, the faith, the presence of God, the armor of God, the peace of God, the forgiveness of God, the things we needed, right when we needed them. That’s what I’m talking about.

The joy we felt when things turned around for us. The unexpected, amazing grace that we never thought might happen. The little things. The big things! The world around us that echoes and reflects the glory of God.

God’s promises that came true for us. God’s love that never failed. We need to tell these things to each other every day, and we need to shout those blessings into our future. Let’s do that today.

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