Lessons: Psalm 67, Deuteronomy 8:1-10, Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 17:11-19
Hymns: LSB 892, 948, 822, 956, 785, 794
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Many Americans believe there should be a fierce separation of Church and State. Some figure the language of the separation of Church and State is written somewhere in our Constitution or Bill of Rights. Our First Amendment guarantees religious liberty, that the government will not intrude upon the religious beliefs of our citizens. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
There are times, though, where those lines become blurred. We can see it many churches as they display American flags or sing patriotic hymns. Ironically many Christians want both of these but then don’t want the Church to inform them on how they should vote or conduct themselves as American citizens.
Anyway, those lines are also blurred by the National Day of Thanksgiving. Having church services to give thanks is not new to the Church. But it’s interesting that Thanksgiving observances in our country have historically been called for by the government to give thanks to God, our Creator. Some of our political leaders have even called for the American people to repent and beg God for forgiveness as part of our observance of Thanksgiving.
George Washington ordered a day of national Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 26, 1789. In his proclamation he asked the American people to ask God to pardon us of our national transgressions. Washington also called for a day of Thanksgiving on February 19, 1795. President John Adams declared a day of Thanksgiving in 1798 and 1799. President Thomas Jefferson was a deist and did not believe in divine intervention, so he did not call for any national days of Thanksgiving. In fact, he wrote against the government calling for a day to give thanks to God, citing the First Amendment and declaring a wall of separation between Church and State.
Before the Civil War, many state governments called on churches to pray to God on a day of Thanksgiving. For 36 years, Sarah Josepha Hale (who authored “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) published numerous editorials and sent many letters to governors, presidents, and other politicians asking to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She finally got her wish when Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be a day of national Thanksgiving. And so, from November 26, 1863, to this day, our nation has observed this holiday in November. It was established to ask churches to assemble in thanksgiving to God and in repentance over our transgressions. Lincoln wrote, “To set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his 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.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to encourage more holiday shopping so for three years he moved Thanksgiving up to the third Thursday in November (1939-1941), causing some to deride the holiday as Franksgiving. In recent years, we have Black Friday sales going on throughout all of November and many stores have already begun playing Christmas music. Halloween has become a hugely popular holiday, and it seems like we go from Halloween right to Christmas, with a giant shopping season in between.
I see this as an indication of our national gluttony and excess, our love of stuff, and our ingratitude. So, like those Presidents of long ago who called for national repentance, we, too, must repent. We do not deserve the material blessings we have. We have not used them in love for the benefit of our neighbor as we ought.
Our Epistle lesson teaches us to put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (Col. 3:12-15). In fact, fulfilling these words is demonstrating gratitude. When we are thankful, we become compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, and forgiving.
Being thankful is also Christlike. When Jesus fed the 4,000, He took the seven loaves and gave thanks (Mark: 8:6). When Jesus was in the Upper Room with His disciples on Maundy Thursday, He took bread, gave thanks, and distributed His Body to His disciples. After supper, He took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave them His Blood for the forgiveness of their sins. When Jesus fed the 5,000, He first gave thanks (John 6:23) before distributing the bread and fish. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He prayed, saying, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me” (John 11:41).
Giving thanks is, in fact, our duty as God’s redeemed children. Our reading from Colossians 3:15-17 continues, “And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” In the Divine liturgy when celebrating the Lord’s Supper, we pray, “It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” All times and all places! After confessing the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, acknowledging God our Father as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, we confess, “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” We thank God for our lives and livelihoods, family and friends, careers and country. We thank God for food and shelter, clothing, and clean water. We thank God for the harvest and for taking care of us yet another year. We thank God for our many freedoms.
We also give thanks for the spiritual blessings God has granted to us. Christ Jesus has freed us from the curse of the Law. He has paid for our many sins on the cross. He rose to give us the victory. And so, we thank God for sending His Son to pay for our sins, for being reconciled to our Father, for the forgiveness of sins, and for the gift of eternal life and salvation. We thank God for our Baptism into Christ, the opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper, and for being members of Christ’s Kingdom even now. We thank God for revealing to us His pure and saving Word that is preached in our midst.
As we sing in thanksgiving, we are being prepared for the joys that await us in Heaven. There, our songs of praise and thanksgiving will never end, for the victorious Lamb who is seated on the throne will be in our midst.
This past Sunday, we sang these words concerning those Christians who have gone before us, “Christ has wiped away their tears forever; They have that for which we still endeavor. By them are chanted Songs that ne’er to mortal ears were granted.” I love those words. The music we have in the Christian Church is already beautiful. Imagine what it will be like in Heaven! The words we sing are already powerful, joyful, and filled with thanksgiving. Imagine how much more so it will be when we are with the Lord in Paradise!
And so, my dear friends, I urge you to give thanks to God for all the blessings He grants to you, not just on this national day of Thanksgiving, but every day. For each day is a blessing from the Lord, and His mercies are new to you every morning. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen