Thanksgiving – Deuteronomy 26:1-11
What are you thankful for this year?
That is the big question this week. That is what much of the conversation is on social media right now, listing off the blessings of health, family, friends, shelter, and a host of other First Article gifts.
Of course who would not be thankful for the new family member that now sits around the table this Thanksgiving? Who would not be thankful upon seeing the impressive spread of food that will be enjoyed in many households? Who would not be thankful for the safety and protection and opportunity that this country affords to its citizens?
It is easy to be thankful for the good things in life, it is even easier to be thankful for the things that we want. But what if you spent this Thanksgiving in Syria or Iraq? Not as a member of the US military, but as a citizen of those countries? What would you have to be thankful for?
Or to bring it a little closer to home, what would you be thankful for if you did not find yourself as middle class Americans, but what if you lived below the poverty line? What if you were homeless? What if you were lying in the hospital, with an incurable disease? What would you be thankful for then?
How can you be thankful for good health, when you are definitely not healthy? How can you be thankful for First Article gifts when you do not have very many at all? How can you be thankful for good government and peace, when they are non-existent in your life?
Perhaps there is someone missing from your Thanksgiving this year; are you really thankful for that? Perhaps the spread this year is not quite as impressive as it has been in the past; are you thankful for that? Perhaps you fear for what the future will be for you and for your children; are you really thankful for that?
Have there been years when you thought about skipping Thanksgiving, because there just did not seem to be very much to be thankful for?
It has precedent after all. The pilgrims did not celebrate Thanksgiving when they got off the Mayflower; nor did they celebrate it after they all nearly died the first winter. Instead, they celebrated after the first successful harvest, and the help of the Indians.
Even in our Deuteronomy text, the sacrifice and the thanksgiving and the recitation of history of God helping His people and preserving them, all occur after the conquering of the Promised Land and the first harvest has been completed.
It is easy to celebrate Thanksgiving when things are going well; even easier to celebrate when things are going your way. But when life is hard, when the blessings are not nearly as clear and present before you, then you may feel like sleeping in tomorrow and waiting for it all to be over.
Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkart knows how you feel. He served in the town of Eilenburg, Germany during the horrors of the Thirty Years War of 1616-1648. During the war, the enclosed town of Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for the all surrounding area. As you might imagine, residents suffered from famine and disease.
At the beginning of the year 1637, the year of the Great Plague, or Black Death, there were 4 ministers serving in Eilenburg. One abandoned his post for a healthier area, and could not be persuaded to return. Pastor Rinkart would later preside at the funerals of the other two.
As the only pastor left, he often conducted services, burying as many as 40-50 people a day, totaling about 4500 by the end of the year. In May of that year, his own wife died. By the end of the year, the refugees had to be buried without services in trenches as there were not enough graves.
Yet in the midst of so much death, Pastor Rinkart wrote a prayer of thanksgiving for his children, whose familiar words we sing each year on Thanksgiving:
Now Thank we all our God. With hearts and hands and voices. Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices; Who from our mothers’ arms Has blest us on our way With countless gifts of love And still is ours today.
Oh, may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us, With ever joyful hearts And blessed peace to cheer us And keep us in His grace And guide us when perplexed And free us from all ills In this world and the next!
What does Pastor Rinkart teach us? Even with death all around us, God is still present, blessing His people with His countless gifts of love.
And so, should every comfort and blessing of this physical life be removed from us, we could still sing our praises to God, as nothing can remove us form His love for us in Christ.
Christ has still suffered, died and risen, for those who approach their last breaths in the hospital. Christ has still suffered and died and risen for those who find themselves on the streets this Thanksgiving. Christ has still suffered, died and risen for those who wish that Thanksgiving were over and that tomorrow was Monday.
And for those who give thanks for much, give thanks also that Christ has suffered, died and risen, so that even if you had nothing else to give thanks for, you could still give thanks for that.
And so tonight, and tomorrow, and each day that follows, give thanks for what God has done for you. Give thanks for the First Article gifts that surround you in food and home and clothes. Give thanks for the Second Article gift that is Christ Jesus. And give thanks for the Third Article gifts of Word and Sacrament and the promise of eternal life.