A Thanksgiving Message

Sermon from Wednesday evening service, 11/24/10

Happy Thanksgiving to you this evening.  Tomorrow you may celebrate with food, family, football.  Some will travel across town, across the state, or stay comfortably bundled in our own homes.  Perhaps you will get the ads out of the paper and lay out an intricate map of which stores, which products, and which deals you will be seeking out on Friday morning.

I told a friend that I was preaching on Thanksgiving Eve.  His response was, “that’s a religious holiday?”  He did not recall his devout Catholic mother bringing him to services as a kid.  It has become a civil holiday in our country, but the roots of Thanksgiving are indeed important for us to remember as we gather tonight.

When we think of Thanksgiving historically, the first images that may come to mind are those of the Pilgrims.

While it is disputed when Thanksgiving day got its origin, the modern Thanksgiving that we celebrate takes its origin from 1621 at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts.  The celebration was modeled after European harvest festivals that the settlers would’ve brought over with them.

Those who celebrated that day were the Pilgrims, the name that stuck with them much later—but those folks were undertaking a pilgrimage from England to New England.  They sought religious freedom and a land of their own.  In England, they were known as Separatists—a name that isn’t particularly flattering.  They were non-conformers and different before nonconformity and being different was cool.

They didn’t hold the same beliefs as the Church of England and those who disagreed were subject to the penalties of the 1559 Act of Uniformity.  If you skipped church, you were fined!  Wanna find more jobs in today’s economy, find people to enforce that law.  In 1593, two Separatists were executed for sedition—killed for resisting the established authority.  Nowadays, if you are in mainstream media and you aren’t resisting established authority, nobody’s listening to you.

So, the Separatists wandered.  By 1607, a group made it to Amsterdam.  Over the next several years, however, the new land and new culture was wearing off on the kids of these settlers, and they were becoming more Dutch.  For this pious group of Christians, the ultra liberal Dutch were a threat to their existence.  They needed to uproot again.

Thus, the Mayflower. In 1620, a group of just over 100 boarded this now famous ship and sailed to present day Massachusetts.  Between landing in November and the following March, only 47 were left.  The Governor, William Bradford—who took over in 1621 for John Carver after he passed away, wrote about the experience.

It was Bradford who used the name “Pilgrims” for his group.  He was quoting Scripture.  From Hebrews.  “They were pilgrims & looked not much on these things; but lift their eyes up to the heavens.”  They could’ve returned to their home country of England, back to the persecution and injustice, but longed for a better life.  They longed for America.

When they made it to the harvest that year, they celebrated.  They finally had the freedom they longed for so they ate a feast.  They praised God for surviving the journey, surviving the winter, and for providing for them.

Their story is not that different from the one we heard in Deuteronomy of the Israelites.  They came to the land that the Lord promised.  They possessed it, settled it, and then they took the first fruits of the land they harvested and they gave it to God.

But the journey was difficult.  The Egyptians, much like the Church of England, treated them harshly.  The LORD brought them out of Egypt to the land of milk and honey.  The Israelites had a chance to turn back, but Moses kept leading them to the promised land.  Then, when they got to the land, they offered up thanks.

In the midst of our lives, we struggle.  The economic uncertainties have put pressures on us individually, as families, as a state, and as a church.  We offer up donations to the Food Shelf tonight.  This entire month, Como Evening Prayer has been devoted to praying for the hungry and those who provide for the hungry.

And if we think we are fighting for our own survival, on our own, we’re always going to have a burden weighing on us.  We may say Thanks for the resources we cling to… but we are missing the Giving—the sharing of ourselves, our first fruits, our abundance.

We have a promised land too.  We have a land of milk and honey.  John’s gospel is a reminder of where our priorities should be as we breeze by Thanksgiving and roll into Advent and Christmas.  Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

No matter what trials and tribulations we face, we get the greatest meal of all through Christ.  We get to taste the bread from heaven.  We are never hungry and our thirst is always quenched.  Through all life’s hardships, through the fears, the worries, the sadness, the pain… Christ is always there.  The Word is always at our side, comforting us when our reality isn’t rosy.

Through the persecution and the difficult journey’s, the pilgrims and the Israelites persevered.  They saw Thanksgiving as a real reason to rejoice.  More than just a break from work or school between Fall break and Christmas, Thanksgiving is a real reason for us to rejoice too.

Thanks to our culture, we often forget the reason why we celebrate Thanksgiving.  But Thanksgiving is more than just a religious holiday.  It’s a great reminder of the difficult journey we take.  The journey that leads us to the promise—the promise of Christ, our Bread of Life.  Amen

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