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Saturday, November 1, 2014

November 2014

It's November again (already) and you know what that means... my Facebook feed is about to be filled up with friends participating in the 30-Day Thankfulness Challenge. People will be challenged to take this month, known for giving thanks, and write on their post one thing for which they are thankful. The goal here is to get people out of a constant cycle of negativity by helping them look for the positive in their lives. By searching their worlds for good things they will see that life is really pretty good after all. Taking part in the challenge means not reducing yourself to just one day of giving thanks; you do it the whole month long!

I hear this a lot this time of year, that we should not relegate only one day to giving thanks, but we should make every day Thanksgiving. Now, if this means taking every day to eat tons of turkey, watch tons of football, and celebrate the goodness of God's creation, I'm on board. But, I have a feeling that's not what is meant here. No, the idea is that we need to be more thankful. On the flip side, then, is the implication that something is wrong with us if we are not.

Though I agree with St. Paul that we should "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4), there is something about all of this scheduled giving of thanks that doesn't sit quite right with me. It seems to me that thankfulness is not something that can be forced upon us by Thursday football and turkey comas. Most certainly a heart of thankfulness cannot be produced by the "law" which says, "You should be thankful every day! You should always force yourself into a position of gratitude." Thankfulness cannot be imposed.

It is also worth noting that there are times when we just aren't thankful and that is okay. There are times of where we are angry, sad, confused, and depressed. Consider Solomon's wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3: 1 & 4: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven...a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.." There is a time for giving thanks, but there is also a time to lament. There is a time to sing songs of praise, but there is also a need to hear the blues.
For many of us, the reality is that attitudes of thanks and joy are demanded of us during the holidays when we feel the most depressed. If this isn't true for you, please realize it is true for your brothers and sisters. Feelings of loneliness and sorrow are only amplified during the season when we are being told to be thankful and happy.

Thanksgiving can't be imposed by a holiday law. Giving thanks cannot be forced. It's downright heartless to demand laughter and dancing from those who are in a season of weeping and mourning. So, what does Paul mean when he tells us to "rejoice" always? How can we offer up "sacrifices of praise" (Hebrews 13:15) when we are struggling to get to day four in our Thankfulness Challenge? I suggest that thanks cannot be demanded or conjured up. Thanks itself must be given to us. That is to say, we must have a reason to give thanks. Thankfulness is always the result of someone else's giving.

As the church, we are a people who exist because we have been "given to" by God. Ours is a life and a salvation that is given, by grace alone, from God the Father, through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. You have been given something more precious than turkey and football and parades and family. You have been given the Son of God for life and salvation. God gives you His love, God gives you His attention, God gives you His affection, God gives you a seat at His table, God gives you the body and blood of Christ to feast, God gives you His name in baptism as a pure gift and gives you a home His Son has prepared for you in heaven. God gives to you. (Perhaps, this is why the Lord's Supper used to be known as the Eucharist, which translated, means: "meal of thanksgiving." There at the altar, God gives you His sacrificed and risen Son in the bread and the wine. And you give thanks! Or do you get it from Him?"

This year as you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, remember that it is the giving of God that produces the thanks. Thankful hearts are a gift from the God who graciously gives. And, remember those who will be giving God their weeping and mourning. Invite them to dinner. Give them a reason to give thanks. Remember, thanks comes from the giving.

Pastor Bob

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