First Mennonite Church
November 18, 2018
Give Thanks In All Circumstances
Text: Psalm 100; 1Thessalonians 5:18
Every year, in early November, Carolanna sends me the sign-up sheet with the Thanksgiving Sunday Dinner menu. Every time I get the menu, it seems as if the year got shorter than the previous one. And so, here we are once again, having our Thanksgiving Sunday service. As it happens every year, this Thursday families throughout this great land will celebrate Thanksgiving Day again. The obvious purpose of this special day is that we should give thanks. But after decades and in fact centuries of observing this day, many other things have been attached to it. Now it is hard to think of Thanksgiving Day without being reminded of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday or Giving Tuesday. What more will be added? One might wonder. But going again to the purpose of this special day, we realize that giving thanks requires more than the mere utterance of “thank you.” That is because a genuine “thank you” is only possible if it comes from the heart filled with gratitude and a mind that is fully aware of the reason for which one is being thankful. It should be good to remember that the conditions in which Abraham Lincoln made his Proclamation of October 3, 1863, establishing a national day of thanksgiving, seem similar to today’s. In that proclamation, Lincoln urged the citizens “in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands . . . ,”  to give thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings received through the year that was ending. But he also urged the people to repent for the “national perverseness and disobedience.” Lincoln pleaded for the remembrance and for acts of kindness towards “those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.” That proclamation took place at the height of the Civil War when families were mourning their dead, when farmers were under great hardship, when the country was fiercely divided. Besides all of these, many people were still being denied their rightful dignity as human beings. These were the slaves, whom Lincoln was also working hard to emancipate. Lincoln and the nation of that time were fully aware of their social environment. They knew their circumstance. They were aware of what was happening around them.
Paul says in 1Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:18). Genuine thanksgiving does not come from a vacuum or from someone unaware of his or her circumstances. Therefore, let us bear in mind the circumstances of today as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, this year.
This Thanksgiving Day we should remember the many families who lost their homes to the fires. They will not have a home to gather in. Many are sheltered under tents, venues or hosted by friends or family. In their circumstances even the words of Isaiah can seem taunting to them: “when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God.” (43:2, 3). That might be the same for those who lost their homes in the floods in Texas and the East Coast. How will they read the words: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you”? Our remembrance of these families should be accompanied with prayers for them. I want to remind everyone once more that this coming Sunday we will receive a special offering for the victims of the fire and wherever Mennonite Disaster Services chooses to help families rebuild their homes.
It is likely, however, that among the families who lost property are
those who are still thankful to God for sparing their lives and for the love and care of those who have hosted them.
This Thanksgiving Day many families will be celebrating without a loved one. Their loss might have been the result of an accident, illness, violence, or even suicide. And they will rejoice for those that are with them, but they will also grieve for the one who is not with them anymore. And we should pray that God’s promise of the resurrection fill their hearts with comfort and hope.
This Thanksgiving there are many who are living in discord and living in resentment. There are families who are split and separated. Some are being separated due to noble reasons such as those fighting the fires or serving in other capacities or because their children are away in school or living in faraway places. But there are many other families who are separated for other reasons, such as divorce, incarceration, or because of being undocumented. There are many children who will not have one or both parents with them and parents who will be missing their children. For those families we should also be praying for God’s peace, comfort and healing to be with them.
As for you, what are you thankful for today? The other day I came across this statement: “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it to someone.” You see, gratitude is an emotional response to being blessed, but it is also a choice we have expressing it. The incident during Jesus’ ministry, which we read this morning, can help us reflect on the issue of being thankful. As Jesus approached the outskirts of a Galilean village, he met a colony of lepers. The lepers, knowing that it was prohibited for them to approach anyone, cried out to Jesus. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus did not rebuke them for calling him from afar. He simply commanded them to go and show themselves to the priests. The priests were in charge of declaring whether or not a leprosy patient could be admitted into society. The ten lepers did not hesitate to obey Jesus. They all started their way to show themselves to the priests. As they were going, one of them, upon noticing that his deformed hands and feet had been made whole, stopped and turned around and began praising God for his healing. He came back to Jesus and knelt before him to give thanks. And then Jesus asked him about the other nine. They never came back to give thanks. Maybe they immediately went to be with their families and friends. Maybe they were shocked at the miracle that had just happened to them. Maybe they were so overwhelmed by the joy of their healing that they went to the places and people they had been forbidden to visit. Maybe, which is unlikely, they simply took their healing for granted. We do not know. But Jesus was stunned by the one who came, because he was a Samaritan, and as Luke would emphasize, this man was a “foreigner.”
As I said earlier, gratitude is a response, but also a choice we have of expressing it. The healed foreign leper expressed his joy and gratitude by praising God openly and loudly on the street. He also decided to find Jesus to give him thanks. He chose to express his gratitude in person and openly by kneeling down before Jesus.
There is a deeper truth in Luke’s emphasis that the one who came was a “foreigner.” The world in which we live becomes a “common place” to us. We begin to take for granted the things we have: our job, our lifestyle—whatever it is, the conveniences and services available to us, or our faith, our family, and friends. It is those who do not have these things that are keen to see the value, joy, or even privilege of having them. It is the one from outside, the foreigner, who if given the opportunity of having the things we have who might cherish them greater. Maybe for the other nine cleaned lepers, their healing was just one more benefit of their God to them. They knew about miracles; throughout their history God had performed them. But not so for the foreigner.
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Central America. In 1997, I attended the Mennonite World Conference in Calcutta (Kolkata since 2001) India. One day my Latin American friends and I decided to walk along the Hooghly River close to where we were staying. After we came back to the hotel, we were commenting about the sights we had seen. And then one of our walking companions from Nicaragua said, “We always say that we live in misery, but I did not know what misery looks like. I have a lot to give thanks for.”
On the other extreme of such a case, it might be the foreigner who can remind us how much we are blessed in this land. It might be the foreigner who can teach us how to express gratitude and appreciation for the things we might be taking for granted. It might be the foreigner who can tell us who it is we must give thanks to.
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a special gift and never giving it to the intended receiver. This Thanksgiving Day and season, let us choose to express our gratitude. Gratitude is an emotional response to being blessed. But gratitude is not the only emotion we have. There is anger, sadness, fear, frustration, joy, excitement, etc. Very often the circumstances we live in of stress, fast pace, uncertainty, and constant pressure make us display some emotions other than gratitude. Yet, how often is the emotion of gratitude displayed in the stage of our lives? How frequently do we give thanks to those around us or to God for the things that we can and cannot provide for ourselves?
We must decide to express gratitude more often. There are many reasons we should be grateful. These are the words of the Psalm:
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Let us take time to remember every way the Lord has been good. Let us thank him for his love and faithfulness.
On Thursday of this week we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. On that day those things that make up the American culture comes [things . . . come”] into full display. Delicious food and happy families combined with festive spirit engulf much of the land. Let us remember, however, that at the center of this tradition is the call to show genuine gratitude, repentance, and to show compassion. May the Lord bless all who will celebrate with joy this special day and may the Lord comfort those who with heavy hearts will approach this day. Amen!
 On October 3, 1789, George Washington did a Proclamation instituting Thanksgiving Day. John Adams and James Madison each did a similar proclamation during their respective administration. It was Abraham Lincoln who established it as a day to be celebrated throughout the US and for American everywhere.