Thanksgiving Sermon–11/10/15

As two men were walking through a field one day, they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make it. Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!” John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.” “But you must now!” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.” “All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘For what we are about to receive, O Lord, make us truly thankful.’”[1]

True thankfulness can seem, at times, in short demand – can’t it? A fleeting moment of gratefulness seems to be the norm, rather than a life shaped and changed through true thankfulness for all of the blessings received in this life. Consider the nine lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus. What do you suppose stopped them from doing so? Perhaps a sense of duty, to see through to the end the task which He had given them – they weren’t going to go back to Him until they’d showed the priests that they’d been healed. Do you suppose that in the coming weeks there were healed lepers who trickled past Jesus thanking Him?

What about a sense of entitlement? They had asked the right guy to heal them, evident by the fact that they were now healed, and so while it would be nice to pass Him a word of gratitude, it certainly wasn’t necessary. They’d just received the just reward for their labour, right? What about a sense of busyness – they had many things to get to, which their leprosy had kept them from. It is right that they use this new lease on life to fulfill all of those duties, commitments, and desires that their sickness had kept them from – isn’t it?

These are the kinds of excuses that we make, that people we know make. They let us off the hook, in our own minds – though not in truth. They let us pander to our own whims, our own wants; they let us indulgently feed our egos, our pride; they let us ignore the Giver of all good things, instead serving things material and passing.

John Calvin[2] wrote that: “Herein appears the shameful ingratitude of men. Though they have in their own persons a factory where innumerable operations of God are carried on, and a magazine stored with treasures of inestimable value—instead of bursting forth in his praise, as they are bound to do, they, on the contrary, are the more inflated and swelled with pride.” Isn’t it true that those things for which we should be most easily thankful – life, breath, water, food, a country to live in where such things are in abundance – those things we should be most obviously grateful for, because they’re the most foundational for this life, we think least of, and when we do it is not in thankfulness to God, but in disdain because they’re things we share with everyone else?  Isn’t it true that those things over-and-above the necessities of life, for which we should also be thankful to God, tend to become sources of our own pride?

A man prayed that God would send him one hundred dollars. A vestry-member heard about the man’s need. At the next vestry meeting he related his concern and the man’s prayer. He suggested that they honor the man’s expression of faith by taking up an offering for him. They received seventy-five dollars and delivered it to the man. Later the man prayed again for God to send him one hundred dollars. Adding to his prayer this time, “Lord, if you don’t mind, this time please send it through the Lutherans. Last time those Anglicans kept twenty-five percent.”

There’s no pleasing some people, it seems.  Thomas à Kempis[3], the Christian mystic, wrote: “Whoever loves God receives from His hand the bitter as well as the sweet, and both with equal gratitude. And he who holds little by man, or by his own exertion, but puts all his trust in God, walks in the way that is right and good, and nothing shall turn him out of it.” How do you receive?

A man who had been charged with stealing a turkey appeared in court, and told the judge that his action was an answer to prayer. When the intrigued judge asked him to explain, the man said: “Well, judge, it was the night before Thanksgiving, and I didn’t have a turkey. I prayed for the Lord to send me one. At midnight I still had no turkey. So then I prayed for the Lord to send me after a turkey. He did!”[4]

Our tradition’s own Richard Hooker[5] wrote that: “Concerning the blessings of God, whether they tend unto this life or the life to come, there is great cause why we should delight more in giving thanks than in making requests for them; inasmuch as the one has pensiveness and fear, the other always joy attached; the one belongs to those who seek, the other to those who have found happiness; those who pray do but yet sow, those who give thanks declare they have reaped.”

This Thanksgiving, let us be known as a people who have reaped! May we be people whose lives speak of God’s goodness, of God’s generosity, of God’s blessing. May we be people who live generously, because we have received abundantly. Amen.


[1] Zuck, R. B. (1997). The speaker’s quote book: over 4,500 illustrations and quotations for all occasions (p. 379). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

2John Calvin John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 68.

3Thomas à Kempis Adapted from Thomas à Kempis, The Little Garden of Roses and Valley of Lilies (London: T. Jones, 1840), 17.

[4] Hobbs, H. H. (1990). My favorite illustrations (p. 196). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

5Richard Hooker Adapted from Richard Hooker, The Works of That Learned and Judicious Divine, Mr. Richard Hooker, Vol. II, ed. John Keble (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1874), 190.

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