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Committed to Thanksgiving

As we continue to move towards this end of the year that is dedicated to Commitment, we pause during this month of November to focus on our commitment to thanksgiving.  Now I’m not speaking just about the fourth Thursday during this month when we pause to remember the founding colony of pilgrims in Massachusetts, but rather to an attitude that should pervade our souls and our lives throughout the entire year.

In fact, in President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a holiday of Thanksgiving, there is no mention of the pilgrims.  He rather sets aside a day of Thanksgiving for the preservation of the union which was involved in civil war and strife.  President Lincoln proclaims: “The year that is drawing to its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”  After enumerating all of the wonderful blessings of the American nation and its people, President Lincoln goes on to say: “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are gracious gifts of the Most High God … It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People.”  He ends by declaring to the people of the nation: “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.”

So we see in this holiday of Thanksgiving, we are not only to give thanks for the many blessing we have received, but we are also to seek the forgiveness of Almighty God for the many ways in which we are responsible for removing those blessings from others.  So as we spend some time this year focusing on giving thanks for all of the blessings we have: within our nation, within our families, and within our holy church, we are also to put that thanksgiving into action.  This is what truly shows a commitment to thanksgiving that goes beyond just a passive feeling.

One of the Gospel readings given for the holiday of Thanksgiving reminds us of this attitude.  We read in the Gospel of St. Luke: “Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Avoid greed in all its forms.  A man may be wealthy, but his possessions do not guarantee him life.’  He told them a parable in these words: ‘There was a rich man who had a good harvest.  What shall I do? He asked himself.  I have no place to store my harvest.  I know! He said.  I will pull down my grain bins and build larger ones.  All my grain and my goods will go there.  Then I will say to myself: You have blessings in reserve for years to come.  Relax!  Eat heartily, drink well.  Enjoy yourself.  But God said to him, You fool!  This very night your life shall be required of you.  To whom will all this piled up wealth of yours go?  That is the way it works with the man who grows rich for himself instead of growing rich in the sight of God.’” (Luke 12:15-21)

We see within this Gospel reading that the rich man was very thankful for the harvest that he had received.  In fact I’m sure that he looked upon himself as receiving a special blessing from Almighty God and was grateful for it.  But unfortunately it went no further.  There was no humble penitence where he could reflect on any sins that he may have committed, where he might have robbed blessings from others.  In this extraordinary blessing from God, he now had the opportunity to right these wrongs, but this opportunity was squandered.  And beyond this he was not seeking charity and love for a neighbor.  This blessing from God would have allowed him to be a blessing to others and share what he had received in loving service, but he chose not to.  The rich man had only a feeling of thankfulness without the actions of true thankfulness.

So now as we ponder our commitment to thanksgiving during this time of year we must realize that a mere sentiment or feeling is not really what is called for.  That alone is not truly giving thanks.  Like all of what we are called to within the Christian faith, action is required.  We must put our thanksgiving into action.  We see this attitude fully in St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.  Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect.  Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace.  Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. … Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Give thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:12-15, 17)

We see here that thankfulness is not a virtue that is expressed alone, rather it spreads outward to many others.  One who is thankful to Almighty God is one who has mercy, is one who is kind, is one who has humility, meekness and patience.  Likewise forgiveness is a virtue of one who is thankful.  If we are truly thankful to God for having forgiven us, then we must also express that forgiveness to others.  Lastly the virtue of love, a love which is an all self-sacrificing love, must be the virtue which penetrates all that we do.  In this way love binds the rest together and is the ultimate expression of our thanks to God.

And of course we also know that this thankfulness is expressed in the way in which we worship Almighty God.  We are called to gather together in thanksgiving to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ, to hear His Holy Word in the readings and have them explained in the Sacrament of the Word of God, to receive Him in the reception of Holy Communion and also to be united together within the entire Body of Christ that is the Church.  And all of this is to be done in a spirit of thanksgiving.  In fact the name given to our worship celebration is “Eucharist” – a word which means ‘thanksgiving.’  It is this common worship that is truly an expression of the thanks that we show to Almighty God for all of His blessings given to us and it spurs us to further acts of thanksgiving within our families, our community and our world.

My dear brother and sisters, I encourage you, especially during this season when we are encouraged within our wider culture to offer thanks for all of the blessings we have received, let us evaluate the thanks that we show to God and also how we then express that thanks in dealing with each other.

As I was preparing for my homilies in the upcoming weeks I was reading the Gospel from St. Matthew that is read on the 33rd Sunday this year and I was struck by a thought I had never considered before.  During the parable of the talents, the Master responds to the servant who did well and turned the 5 talents into 10 and the 2 talents into 4.  He says: “Well done!  You are an industrious and reliable servant.  Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs.  Come, share your master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:21)  This verse hit me strongly because I realize that I, as well as many others, often pray for some very grand things, such as peace on earth, an end to all violence in the world, the end of world hunger and many more.  These are certainly some “larger affairs” that God desires for our world.  And yet the Master says that we must begin with “small matters.”  These small matters are also things that God commands of us, and they begin with being thankful for the blessings we have received from the hands of God and then sharing them as well.  As a servant of God, I need to make sure that the “small matters” like being thankful and showing that thankfulness are in order, so that I can then move on to the “larger affairs.”

So let us be truly thankful during this time of year and all others as well, by our worship of Almighty God in the highest form of thankfulness, the Holy Eucharist, in our moments of thanksgiving in quiet prayer and our resolve to share what we have in thankfulness as well.  Let us be committed, not just to a day of thanksgiving, but rather a life of thankfulness to God.


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