As we gather this week, many of us are busy with preparations for the Thanksgiving holidays.  The guests are coming, so the house needs to be cleaned from top to bottom.  The food preparation is a job in and of itself:  Turkey, stuffing potatoes, vegetables, and it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the homemade pumpkin pie.  Don’t forget to put fresh batteries in the remote control and bring out the colors for your favorite team.

There is ample temptation to make ourselves so busy with the preparations for the holiday, that we fail to celebrate the holiday. Thanksgiving: we are to pause, and give thanks to God for the things in our lives that we’ve thankful for.  Are we thankful for the piles of dirty dishes that will result from the hours slaving away in the kitchen?  Are we really thankful for the opportunity to stick half our arm into a cold and wet turkey?  Or how about the argument that will inevitably come up with Uncle Ned about who has the better football team.

Sometimes it can be difficult to give thanks on Thanksgiving.  If we take a look at the world around us, it can also be difficult to give thanks this Thanksgiving.  Within our families, our children are falling victim to the dangers of alcohol, methamphetamines, and other drugs. Within our nation, we see scandal, dishonesty, and violence ruling the headlines and the city streets.  Within our communities, our farmers must work harder to make the same living that they earned two or more decades ago.  Within our churches, an aging population struggles to teach the faith to the younger generation, who all too often seems ambivalent or antagonistic to the faith.  As many people struggle with financial hardship and despair, it can be difficult to give thanks this Thanksgiving.

But the word of the Lord breaks into the chaos of our life: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ’What will we eat?’ or ’What will we drink?’ or ’What will we wear?’  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 31-33 NRSV)

Sometimes it can be so difficult for us not to worry.  The cares and troubles of this life can seem so overwhelming, that our efforts and labors seem to accomplish little or nothing at all.  Some days it seems that all we can do is worried.  We wonder, "Where is God when I am suffering so?  Doesn’t God care about my pain?”  And it is in moments like these were Jesus words speak to us most clearly: “Do not worry about your situation.  God will provide.”

Logically, we can step back and tell ourselves that things are not as bad as they seem.  The stress and the emotion of a difficult situation can often get the better of us, and we lose sight of the big picture.  There are indeed many blessings in our lives, but we are either too busy or too distracted to see them.  One great theologian asked the question, “What would happen if God took away all of those things that we neglected to give thanks for?  This world would be filled with people with one leg, no arms, and no eyes.  There would be no birds, no sky, and no flowers. The world as we know it would cease to exist.”

Our task as Christians is not to expect that God will hand everything to us on a platter.  Instead, we are to seek out those priceless gifts that we have already received, and to give thanks to our Creator.  St. Paul tells us to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”          (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NRSV)

Several churches in North Dakota were being served by a clever old preacher.  The people were always amazed, for no matter what the circumstances, the preacher could always find something to give thanks for.  As he made his rounds one cold December morning, he was late in getting to worship because of excessive snow drifts.  As he began the service with prayer, the parishioners were eager to see what the old preacher could come up with to be thankful for on this dismal and frigid morning.  "Gracious Lord," his prayer began, "we thank you that all days are not like today.”

As the people of God, we are called not only to praise the Lord with our voices, but to praise God with our lives as well.  When we stop worrying about our own needs and wants, we are free to live for others. When we stop looking at our own wants and desires, we can more clearly see the needs of others around us.  We can give freely of our time, talents, and treasures, trusting that the Lord will take care of us as well.  Four Jesus tells us, “Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:32-33 NRSV)

When we strive for the Kingdom of God, we look for opportunities to bring equality and justice to light in our communities.  We see the face of Jesus in those who are hurting and suffering in our own communities, and we work to free them from the chains of suffering and oppression that bind them and keep them down.  After all, our Lord Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice to free us from the chains of suffering and oppression that bound us in our sin.

Our Lord has freed us.  Freed us to love and served our neighbor, to act on behalf of those in need in our midst.  We have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  There is indeed much to give thanks for.

So go ahead.  Clean the house and prepare the turkey.  But remember to set aside some time to thank God for the many, many blessings that you have received, and ask God to use you to work for justice on behalf of those in need.  “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:32-33 NRSV) Amen.

Associate Pastor Frank Jackson
Rush Co. Community Thanksgiving
November 19, 2000,

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