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Thanksgiving Sunday, Year A

Thanksgiving Sunday, Year A

Psalm 65

Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

Just before Thanksgiving, a teacher asked her class to tell her something they were thankful for. One seven-year-old boy raised his hand and said, “I’m grateful that I’m not a turkey.” 1

  

Then someone told me this story the other day: A pastor was presiding on a Thanksgiving Sunday. A ragged man in the audience asked, “What is there to be thankful for?”

  

Surprised, the pastor asked, “What is your name, sir?”

  

“Cause,” was the man’s reply.

  

“Well Cause, you could be thankful for your healthy body.”

  

“I’m blind and I have lung cancer,” Cause said.

  

“Or your family…” the pastor replied.

  

“I don’t have a family,” Cause answered.

  

“Or your home…” the pastor added.

  

“I don’t have a home,” said Cause.

  

The pastor then concluded: “Well, then I guess you’re a lost Cause!”

  

Contrary to this story, no one is a lost cause; nor is blindness, having no family and homelessness sufficient reason for not being thankful. In good times and in bad, there is always something and SOMEONE to be thankful for. It has never ceased to amaze me to discover that oftentimes those who have experienced the most suffering in life are also the most thankful. The thankful people are a resilient people, even when there seems little to be thankful for—nonetheless, what for us seems puny, for them is cause for significant gratitude. The following story of Martin Rinkhart is a good illustration of such gratitude.

 

Martin Rinkhart was a pastor in a little town of Eilenburg, Saxony, at the close of the dreadful Thirty Years’ War in 1648. He was the only surviving clergyperson in the town, which was so crowded with refugees and so ravaged with plague, disease, and famine that 75 funerals were held each day. Among those buried was Rinkhart’s own beloved wife. When news finally arrived that the war had ended, a decree was circulated ordering thanksgiving services to be held in every church. Pastors were requested to preach on the text, “Now bless the God of all, who everywhere works great wonders.” (Sir 50:22). Martin Rinkhart was so moved by the thought of this text that he sat down and wrote these words for his own thanks giving service:

 

Now thank we all our God

With heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things hath done,

In whom His world rejoices;

Who, from our mother’s arms,

Hath blest us on our way

With countless gifts of love,

And still is ours today.

 

Although Rinkhart had suffered much and his family, friends, parishioners and townspeople had suffered much, he still offered God his thanks and praise. 2

  

Sometimes we get so caught up in the present day-to-day existence of living that we may tend to forget our history and our reasons for observing certain traditions—including the celebration of Thanksgiving. As a bit of a history buff myself, I came across the following three traditions behind our Canadian Thanksgiving Day, by Craig I.W. Marlatt.

First, long ago, before the first Europeans arrived in North America, the farmers in Europe held celebrations at harvest time. To give thanks for their good fortune and the abundance of food, the farm workers filled a curved goat’s horn with fruit and grain. This symbol was called a cornucopia or horn of plenty. When they came to Canada they brought this tradition with them.

  

Second, in the year 1578, the English navigator Martin Frobisher held a formal ceremony, in what is now called Newfoundland, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. He was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him—Frobisher Bay. Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies.

  

The third tradition came in the year 1621, in what is now the United States, when the Pilgrims celebrated their harvest in the New World. The Pilgrims were English colonists who had founded a permanent European settlement at Plymouth Massachusetts. By the 1750’s, this joyous celebration was brought to Nova Scotia by American settlers from the south.

  

At the same time, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed “The Order of Good Cheer” and gladly shared their food with their Indian neighbours. 3

 

However, giving God thanks did not originate in North America with the arrival of European immigrants. Giving God thanks was an important practice among the ancient Israelites in biblical times, as we learn from Psalm 65 today. This psalm of thanksgiving, likely for the occasion of celebrating the harvest festival; takes great delight in thanking the LORD.

  

The setting of our psalm is the Jerusalem temple, and Israel gathered there to offer God their praise and thanksgiving for all of their blessings. Israel remembers their grace-filled relationship with God by offering praise and thanks for answering their prayers. God is not a God who remains indifferent to prayer. The LORD hears the prayers of the faithful and answers them. The answers come in many and varied ways. For ancient Israel, likely one very important way was favourable weather, allowing the crops to grow and be harvested. There is here a very intimate connection between the LORD and Israel, and the Promised Land; who not only gives them the land to live on, but then actively provides the necessary conditions for the land to flourish with life in all of its abundance. The whole psalm celebrates this generous, abundant activity of God among the Israelites themselves through forgiveness of sins and a saving, grace-filled relationship; and through the fertility of all creation.

  

We too, like ancient Israel, have many things to be thankful for: everything from the blessings of being in a loving, grace-filled, forgiving relationship with our God and with others, to our church through our baptism into Christ, to life itself, to our health, to family, friends, neighbours, to a free, democratic country, to God’s abundant provision of all our basic needs and much, much more.

  

As an exercise in thanksgiving, you may either individually or as a family wish to write down a list from A to Z, of all the blessings God has given each of you and then prayerfully offer your praise and thanks. You may even consider doing this each day or week or month, rather than only once a year at Thanksgiving. Those two words, Thank You, can make so much difference in so many ways. 

  

May our whole lives, every day, be so filled with gratitude to the LORD, that in all things we are able to spend our lives praising, thanking, blessing our God. 

  

 



1 Cited from: Clergy Talk November 2001, p. 27.

2 Cited from: The Clergy Journal, November/December 1998, p. 33.

3 Cited from: Craig I.W. Marlatt, Canadainfo web site.

 

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