Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
Thanksgiving is here once again! What a glorious day it is. Is it a Holy-day or is it a Holiday?? There’s no doubt that our word Holiday comes from Holy-day - a special day with religious meaning. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are all examples of this. Very Holy-days they are, this that’s for sure. And normally our civic or national holidays come from the Holy-days! Seldom does it go the other way though. Civic holidays don’t usually swim upstream into our church calendar. But the holiday of Thanksgiving is an example of exactly this! Now our American friends south of the border will tell you that Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. But, we will have to burst their bubble!
For the first ‘official’ Thanksgiving by Europeans in North America was by none other than Sir Martin Frobisher in the Canadian Arctic in 1578! Turkey and punkin’ pie were swapped out for Salted Beef, Biscuits and Mushy Peas though. They gave thanks to God for their safe arrival into what we now know as Nunavut. The Chaplain, Robert Wolfall celebrated Holy Communion and gave a rip roaring sermon about thankfulness to God for ‘strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places.’ By contrast, the Americans were a little late to the Thanksgiving party with their 1621 Harvest feast between the Pilgrims and Indians. In 1879, Canada declared the official Holiday of Thanksgiving to take place on November 6. But in 1957 the Canadian Parliament changed the date to the second Monday in October which maybe lined up a little nicer with our farmers wrapping up harvest … And also not having to wear a parka to eviscerate Turkeys on the farm in November! And so, here we are! Proud Canadians celebrating the holiday of Thanksgiving, a civic holiday that swam upstream and became a Holy-day in the church calendar.
And this is because Thanksgiving is a super-appropriate thing for Christians to celebrate, commemorate and emulate. When we look to the Scriptures, they are chockfull of the theme of Thanksgiving. Our Deuteronomy reading (Ch.8) appointed for today really hammers it out. “10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” The very first verse of the reading drives home the point that all of our earthly blessings come from the Lord. He alone is the giver of every good and perfect gift. And because He is so gracious and merciful, our response is blessing. Our response is thanksgiving. The reading gives a bit of a warning for us to this regard: “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God.” Lest you forget His commandments and all His benefits to you. Food and fullness. Houses and herds. Silver and gold. When all of this is multiplied by the grace of our God, don’t fall into the trap of the temptation to forget from Whom all these blessings flow. “17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
This is why we have no problem celebrating, commemorating and emulating Thanksgiving in the church. It is a recognition of our Lord and His gifts to us. And, it is a recognition of our human nature and the tendency to be stingy with our thankfulness. It’s too easy to grow thankless and begin to take our Lord’s gracious generosity for granted. And here is where we enter our Gospel reading for Thanksgiving. Jesus and the 10 lepers. He shows to them incredible mercy. These poor, sick and dying societal outcasts, it is to them that He performs a special miracle of healing them of their disease. Instantly, they are restored to wholeness and health. They can run home to the people they loved and cared about after a long time in seclusion and isolation from the rest of the community.
These people have a new lease on life! How long had they prayed for God to be merciful and heal them! How long had they plead for God to be gracious to them! And in the blink of an eye, it happens! The Lord showers His grace and mercy upon them in miraculous fullness! An incredible thing this is for all who behold it. A true miracle, publicly, in the sight of many people. But the gospel reading doesn’t really focus the ensuing celebration. In fact, it does the opposite! It showcases the thanklessness of 9 of the 10! “15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?”
It becomes a message of warning, much like our Deuteronomy reading. In our day, as people drift further and further into the thankless, godless paganism of the world, an attitude of entitlement and grievance collecting has emerged! By and large, we see thanklessness prevailing. In yesteryear, the majority of folks simply rejected any kind of notion that anything other than their hard work or good management was the source of food on the table, clothing on their back and cars in the driveway. That attitude denied that God was the source of the blessings. But now, a spirit of entitlement is dominant. I deserve these blessings. I should get free money from the government because I exist. Get up and go to work every day?! That’s crazy talk! It’s like thanklessness on steroids! God doesn’t even come into the equation at all – much like for these 10 lepers. Jesus healed them all, but then has to say ‘Oi vei! I thought I healed 10 of you sickies, where’d the other 9 go?!’ Only one of the ten came back. 1 in 10. 10 percent, if my math is correct.
So there is this stark warning about all of these thankless attitudes. But there is also the other side of the coin too. Grateful and thankful praise, like that lone “thanksgiving turkey” who comes back falling on his face at Jesus’ feet. A Samaritan no less, an outsider, an alien, not even a child of Abraham like the rest of the Jews. The one who by birth was “unworthy” to even speak to a Jewish Rabbi is the one who comes back to Jesus to give thanks. This foreigner realized from where his help came. He realized that this Jesus standing before Him was indeed the one true God to whom all praise, glory and thanksgiving belong.
We, like the Samaritan, are thankful for the same reasons. God still provides for all of our needs generously, even though we are sinners, undeserving and unworthy in every way to stand before Him. We are thankful because we know and have experienced the goodness of God. It has changed our lives. It has forgiven our sins and healed our sickness of sin by those outstretched arms of the Savior on the cross. It has conquered our condition of death by the stone that was rolled away from the empty tomb. Our God provides for us. He cares for us. He protects us. We have food, family, clothing and good ol’ fun times because of the vast grace of our Heavenly Father to us in Christ our Lord. God has given us much and blessed us with more. So much so, it may even be to our detriment!
When we read the Bible, and most especially the Old Testament, we see this exact same pattern. The poeple struggle, God blesses His people, they enjoy fullness and good times and soon they begin to forget the Divine source of their blessings. Think of Exodus. Slavery and rough times. God hears the cries of His people, bares His mighty arm and delivers them from oppression! Good stuff. The people are free and movin’ on up. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing” (Deut. 8:7-9). God abundantly blesses His people! But then, what happens? It wasn’t all that long after they settle the promise land and start “livin’ the dream” when they forget all about God’s generosity, His awesome deliverance from slavery and never-ending care for their daily needs. Then, they turned away from Him, ungratefully and thanklessly, and began worshipping false gods and trusting in their money.
Whenever God blesses His people with a beautiful life of abundant goodness – like the one we enjoy on a daily basis – people are quick to forget from where it all comes. We get busy with our activities, and jobs and hobbies and we forget to be thankful. Even when God does miracles in our midst, Baptizing us and richly forgiving us our sins, feeding us with the fullness of His body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine at His table. How quickly do we fall into that group of the other nine “thanksgiving turkeys” whose attitude of gratitude was nowhere to be seen!
We are a people who have truly been blessed much! God has shown us His grace and favour in sending Christ Jesus to be our Saviour and our Messiah. In Him is the promise of eternal life and the promised land of heaven for all who believe. And even though we may be less thankful than we ought, our Lord still richly blesses us, sustains our earthly needs, and provides for us in many and various ways. Such grace has blessed us and opened our eyes to the truth. Whether we have been given lots or little in life, the one thing we need most of all has been freely given in the cross of Christ our Saviour. And truly it is right to give Him thanks and praise, now and forever more. Amen!