God welcomes words of thanks

Published 2:08 pm Monday, December 2, 2019

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By Sam Askew

Is the federal holiday of Thanksgiving a secular or religious holiday? The religious or secular attachment of Christmas and Easter is obvious with Jesus having the starring role. Although, the Christmas Hallmark movie channel does reach a much larger audience than the church.

It might be said that in celebrating the holiday of Thanksgiving families are devoted to maintaining various customs and rituals religiously. The responsibilities for the meal being delegated out among certain family members because their dressing, mashed potatoes, yams, gravy, pumpkin pie, etc. is the best. The cousins planning the backyard touch football game against their parents. The same humorous stories to be shared about a memorable year when the turkey burned, when grandma let her hair go gray, or when little Johnny got locked in the bathroom and no one noticed for over an hour.

Is there a religious connection through the Plymouth Colony of Massachusetts? Out of 102 passengers arriving as first settlers of the colony, 51 survived the year of 1620-1621. They were a group who made the journey with the one desire to worship God freely. The first Thanksgiving was a festival to celebrate the first harvest. It was a three-day event held at the end of October of feasting, games and military exercises, according to the history recorded on the museum website. I found nothing about having designated time to give thanks to God.

There is recorded a Thanksgiving observance that took place the year before that of the Plymouth colony. An article published in the Richmond News Leader in April of 1931 revealed a collection known as the Nibley Papers that were a record of the Berkley settlement of Virginia from 1609 to 1622. Included was mentioned that the investors of the Berkley Company had given specific instruction to the settlers. The first was that upon landing they were to give a prayer of Thanksgiving for their safe voyage and to do so annually and perpetually thereafter. This brief moment of prayer, less than two minutes I figure from reading the prayer, took place on Dec. 4, 1619 lead by Captain Woodlief.

It would seem logical that the morning of a day designated by the federal government as a day of Thanksgiving would begin with citizens in all states gathering at one or more locations for a time of giving thanks. The tradition is instead people gathering in homes to watch the Macy’s parade, visit with family, feast on turkey, and digest the meal settled on the couch watching a ball game.

The Bible offers passages of thanksgivings such as the Scripture Luke 17:11-19. It concerns 10 lepers who called out to Jesus. Jesus sends the men on ahead into the village to the priests so that they can affirm the men are no longer diseased. One of the men, upon realizing he was healed, in a loud voice gave praise to God. He then threw himself at the feet of Jesus and gave thanks to him. Jesus then asked about the other nine who were no longer his companions.

The point of the story is not about the poor behavior of the nine who obviously did not listen to their mothers when reminded always to give thanks for gifts given them. Jesus points out that the one who returned was a foreigner, a Samaritan. His leprosy had caused him, along with the others, to be designated as unclean and unable to live among the people of God and worship in the house of the Lord. Though now cleansed of leprosy, he was still a Samaritan. In the eyes of the people of God he was unclean and unworthy to worship with the people of God in the house of the Lord. His social status had not changed and yet, he rejoiced in a loud voice of praise and thanksgiving to God. The certainty of God’s love for him had been affirmed.

My view is that the day designated as Thanksgiving connects poorly with God. However, in the 17th century venturing out into the ocean in small small ships was an act of faith and trust in God for those who landed in Plymouth and those in Virginia. When half of those who traveled with you to a land of uncertainty die within the first year, I expect those who survived were thankful and needed a three-day festival to lighten the burden of despair and see with new eyes of thankfulness a bountiful harvest provided by God.

Giving thanks to God is about being who we are and knowing that we are not alone in dealing with the challenges that disrupt the peace and joy of life. Whether we give thanks in quiet meditation or with loud voices; whether in the house of the Lord or with family and friends gathered around a table or television, our words of thanks are acceptable and pleasing to God. God choose to reveal himself to us and seeks to maintain the relationship of Creator and created as established. Let us give thanks with grateful hearts that in all times and all places God has been, God is, and God will be present for the healing of people and thus the healing of nations. Thanks be to God!

Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Sam


SAM ASKEW is pastor of Windsor Congregational Christian Church. Contact him at 242-4794.