Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in eerything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God
then ………….. Psalm 100:4 – 5 Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courtts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.
The preacher placed two identical jars on the table next to the pulpit. He quoted 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. A human looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
“These jars came from the same factory, were made of the same materials, and can hold the same amount, but they are different,” he explained.
Then he upset one and it oozed out honey. He turned over the other, and vinegar spilled out. “When a jar is upset, whatever is in it comes out. Until the jars were upset, they looked alike. The difference was within, and could not be seen. When they were upset, their contents were revealed.
“Until we are upset, we put on a good front. But when we are upset, we reveal our innermost thoughts and attitudes for ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.’ Luke 6:45”
What if someone “tipped you over” today? What would flow out? Would you reveal the “honey” of grace and patience and overwhelming gratitude to God, or the “vinegar” of anger and sarcasm? Above all, love each other deeply, because “love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
This week, through Thanksgiving and gratitude, we will restore the interior of each of us, from bitterness to sweetness.
Allow me to share this inscription that appears on the Plymouth Rock Monument in Massachusetts: “This monument marks the first burying ground in Plymouth of the passengers of the Mayflower. Here, under cover of darkness, the fast dwindling company laid their dead, leveling the earth above them lest the Indians should learn how many were in the graves. History records no nobler venture for faith and freedom than of this Pilgrim band. In weariness and painfulness, in watching often in hunger and cold, they laid the foundation of a state wherein every human through countless ages should have liberty to worship God in his or her own way. May their example inspire thee to do thy part in perpetuating and spreading the lofty ideals of our republic throughout the world.”
This Thursday, we are going to celebrate the greatness of God’s good. It will begin Thursday morning, as we notice the wonderful smell of a turkey in the oven, wafting out from the kitchen. There is no smell like that in the world. Right now, we can smell it – the aroma of the turkey browning and the spices cooking through it seems to fill the air. Some of you will have a mother, a grandmother, a wife, or a husband who will be in the kitchen. This wonderful aroma, floating through the air, seems to lift everyone in the household.
There are other smells too. I love the smell of cooking candied yams. Often, everyone is in such a good mood because of the smells, that there is singing going on in the kitchen. It seems like no matter how small the kitchen is, everyone is gathering there. Other large rooms are standing empty, but everyone is in the kitchen because they want to breathe in all this good that God has created.
As you are celebrating and smelling all these wonderful smells on Thursday, will you stop to think why Thanksgiving is on Thursday? What an odd day of the week on which to celebrate Thanksgiving. Why not celebrate Thanksgiving on a Sunday? Why would it be in the middle of the week? Who would have picked Thursday? If you are going to have it on a weekday, maybe Monday or Friday would be better? Why not celebrate on Saturday, when the majority of people are off of work for the weekend?
I want you to think about something else, also. Not only is it on a Thursday, but it is in November. Why is it in November? If we are celebrating the harvest, it was months ago. Why do we have this one day in November when we are celebrate and give thanks to God for all that God has done? Yet, does it matter what day and what month? We should celebrate our thanksgiving to God every day of the year.
The symbol of Thanksgiving is the fatted bird-the turkey. “Birds of a Feather.” That is a saying in this country. I do not know how old the saying is, but “birds of a feather” means things, or people, of like mind or like activities. We are all going to do basically the same thing on Thanksgiving. We may eat turkey or we may not, but we will all be doing the same thing – at some point, during that day, we will take a moment and realize (more than we do ordinarily) how good God has been to us, and how wonderful it is to be healthy and alive.
Thanksgiving is a day to recognize God in our lives, and we will feel good. We will express our gratitude to God through praise, and we are going to see the good everywhere. We will know that God will provide, and everything will be fine.
I share a story with you that takes place in Bethany. This particular day was hot, dry, and dusty, with a hot wind blowing. I do not know of anything more miserable to the human spirit than a hot, dusty wind. You are all clean, you go outside, and a hot, dusty wind hits you in the face. The air seems so thick with dust that it is difficult to breathe. You feel down because of the environment.
A group of people were really feeling down. They were grieving. They were clinging together as grieving people often do. They were weeping and mourning outside a cave in Bethany that was serving as a tomb for Lazarus (the brother of Martha and Mary). He had been dead for four days. Those in the grieving group were talking as Jesus approached. They were saying things like, “If He had come earlier, this might not have happened. He could have healed our brother, and everything would have been okay. But look, He comes now when Lazarus has been dead for four days.”
Then the group is absolutely dumbfounded as they see Jesus kneel down, and with a smile on His face He begins to give thanks to God. Can you imagine? Imagine if I was performing a funeral service for someone you loved, and instead of grieving with you, I had a huge smile on my face and gave thanks to God. Can you imagine how dumbfounded, and possibly angry you would be?
I bring you John 11:38-44: “Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.'”
I imagine the people standing around were no longer a crowd, but were now
a mob. I imagine they were getting more and more angry at Jesus.
When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
A man is lying dead, and his friend is giving thanks. Everybody just looked at Jesus. Then, with His next breath, Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come out!” At this point, you can imagine how the atmosphere is electric. I am sure time was such that a few seconds seemed like an hour.
The “dead” man came out to them. What did that crowd feel? There was joy, shock, fear, and disbelief. But He gave thanks, and that set the miracle into motion.
A man in A. A. told his story. “God caused me to be raised from the dead.” This meant he had the power to give up drinking. Then he looked at all his friends – birds of a feather, people of like mind – and then with tears in his eyes he said to them, “You are unbinding me. Do not leave bound what God has unbound.”
God is constantly unbinding us. God is constantly telling us to come forth. If, after looking back at the past and what God has done in our lives, we hold that in our minds, we will have the incredible intelligence in human mind to give thanks in advance. We know, no matter what we face today, that God is with us. No matter how difficult it is in the moment, we can say, “Thank You, God. I know I am connected with You. I am not separate. I know that when I work with You as a partner, everything will work out all right.”
And I ask God to give me the power to unbind myself – not holding myself bound by the thoughts of the past – and I ask that my family and my friends not bind me, either, and that I have the power to go on.
During this Thanksgiving week, we need to ignite that feeling. Yes, we are thankful for the harvest, and we are thankful for what God has done in our lives in the past. But we are also thankful for the things that we have not seen as of yet. We are thankful because we know we have a God who responds. We know that everything will be fine. No matter how great our mountain, or how great our difficulty, God is a God who answers our present challenges, instantly, in a way that is beyond anything we can imagine.
Because this is Jesus’ way of prayer, a woman in need of her own healing placed a chair opposite her with a picture of Jesus Christ on it. Then she started to give thanks to God and to every part of her God-created body, starting at the top of her head.
She was in pain. Things were not going well. Our human reaction is to curse the things that are not quite right. Instead, this lady gave thanks to the body parts, for God working in the body parts, and brought them into new life, regenerated in the God-Truth that was already prepared for her. We can do the same with any situation in our lives. She gave thanks and unbound herself.
I am going to close with scripture from Romans. As you thank God for the gifts He has bestowed on you in the future, I ask you to remember this:
“In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the
love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:37-38].
Let us pray:
Thank You, dear, wonderful God, for my week of thanksgiving. Thank You for
bringing joy to my heart, and helping me to recall all the things to be thankful for. And thank You, in advance, for all the things I cannot yet see with my physical eyes, but that I know, through faith, Your blessings will come forth. I thank You in advance, and will do so all week.
In Jesus Christ’s name . . . Amen.
Father Alexander Schmemann was an acclaimed Orthodox theologian and one of the founders of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. The month before he passed on in 1983, he wrote a short piece that he read at his last Thanksgiving liturgy which even years later has been quoted:
Thank You, O Lord!
Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy…
Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Thank you, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the “one thing needed:” Your eternal Kingdom.
Thank you, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You.
Thank you, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your Holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.
Thank you, O Lord, for everyone and for everything.
Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.
And so we say, THANK YOU, HOLY ONE!