For many of us our notions about Thanksgiving come from our earliest days in school when we learned about Pilgrims and American Indians, turkey dinners and the Plymouth Colony of 1621. However, the first American Thanksgiving didn’t occur in 1621. The first recorded Thanksgiving took place in Jamestown more than 11 years earlier, and it wasn’t a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown had reduced a group of 409 settlers to 60. The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was held to give thanks to God. This was the first Thanksgiving and it was held by starving people in the midst of a terrible time.
Did you know that Thanksgiving was not officially recognized by Congress as a national holiday until 1863 when this nation was in the middle of the Civil War? George Washington tried to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789 in honor of the ratification of the Constitution, but congress denied his request.
I think it is fascinating and telling about the true nature of this day that we decided to have a national day to give thanks for the blessings of our land when we were consumed by the bloodiest war our country has ever seen. I think this points out the truth that there is something about crisis, tragedy and turmoil that seem to always remind us of the blessings that fill our lives. When life is good and the living is easy, we tend to take much for granted; we lose our perspective and fail to see the precious nature of all that we possess. It is only when our blessings are threatened, when our bounty seems capable of disappearing that we really see how fortunate we are. Out of the great suffering of the Civil War came our greatest national expression of gratitude. And so I suggest to you this morning that in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the Afghan war, the anthrax attacks, the economic turmoil and the crash of flight 587, we have all the more reason to celebrate Thanksgiving.( Brett Blair, September, 2001.)
Given that so much has happened in such a short time to this country we love, what does it means for us to celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Since the tragedy of September 11th there has been an email floating around that several people have sent me. You might have seen it. It is called, “What a Difference a Day Makes,” and I think it is pretty powerful.
On Monday, we e-mailed jokes.
On Tuesday, we did not.
On Monday, we were fussing about praying in school.
On Tuesday, we would have been hard pressed
to find a school where someone was not praying.
On Monday, our heroes were athletes.
On Tuesday, we relearned who heroes are.
On Monday, there were people trying to
separate us by race, sex, color, and creed.
On Tuesday, we were all holding hands.
On Monday, we were irritated that our
rebate checks had not arrived.
On Tuesday, we gave money away gladly
to people we had never met.
On Monday, we were upset that we had
to wait 5 minutes in a fast food line.
On Tuesday, we stood in line for 3 to 5 hours
to give blood for the dying.
On Monday, we argued with our kids to
clean up their rooms.
On Tuesday, we couldn’t get home fast
enough to hug our kids.
On Monday, we went to work as usual.
On Tuesday, we went to work, but
some of us didn’t come home.
On Monday, we had families.
On Tuesday, we had orphans.
On Monday, September 10th, life felt routine.
On Tuesday, September 11th, it did not.
What a difference a day makes. How do we celebrate Thanksgiving now that September 11th has changed everything? First, we remember. We remember what life was like before September 11th just as we must never forget the bitter sweetness of life since September 11th. We remember all that we have been given and all that we have lost. We remember all those who have given their lives, all those who have sacrificed and fought to guarantee the freedoms we enjoy. We remember that without the hard work and service of so many we would have very little. Our freedom of religion, our freedom or speech, the gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all these gifts have not come cheaply and in order to appreciate them fully we must always remember their cost with grateful hearts.
Secondly, in order to be thankful people this Thanksgiving Day we need to remember that we are called to be people of humility. Most of us have done nothing to deserve the freedoms we enjoy. None of us have done anything to deserve our birth as Americans. We could just as easily have been born in Afghanistan, Palestine or Beijing. We are the beneficiaries of circumstance just as so many in our world are the victims of circumstance. As the beneficiaries of so much, we have a huge responsibility to share the bounty that is not rightfully ours to hoard. In other words, we cannot really give thanks this day if we are not humbly willing to live out our thankfulness. Our words of “thank you” are hollow if there are no deeds to match.
Finally, we also need to remember that our forefathers and mothers were not so much thankful for something as they were thankful in something. In bounty or in want they were thankful. In feast or in famine they were thankful. In joy or in misery they were thankful. There is a big difference between being thankful for things and being thankful in all things. (Brett Blair, November 2000.) Let us this Thanksgiving Day learn to be thankful in all things. Let us learn to say thank you to God for all our struggles – as easily as we say thank you God for all our blessings. Let us learn to say thank you God when we have only a little – as easily as we say thank you God when our lives are rich and full. Let us learn to say thank you God for the challenges confronting our nation – as easily as we say thank you God for the bounty of these United States.
This life is a gift and the God of goodness has blessed us in ways unimaginable. In order for us to live life faithfully as Christians, we must also live life gratefully. The two go hand in hand. Let us pray this day that the God of grace will give us thankful hearts and willing hands. Let us pray for thankful hearts that we might never forget all that we have been given. Let us pray for willing hands that by our very lives we might give something back in return. Amen.