Thanksgiving For Materialistic Blessings
Today is Thanksgiving and it is a great day, a great day for celebrating. A great day for celebrating God’s gift of food...family...friends...and the fertility of the earth, the fecundity of the earth, that the earth is so bountiful and plentiful. Of all the places in the universe, our earth is the most fertile of all soils. Today, we thank God for this good earth.
From the book of Leviticus, I have chosen this text: “You shall have a GREAT DAY of feasting unto the Lord.”
I like the words to an old song: It’s a great day for singing a song; it’s a great day for moving along; it’s a great day for shining your shoes; it’s a great day for singing the blues; it’s a great day ....from morning till night.
It’s a great day to celebrate family. People often “come home” to be with family during the Thanksgiving holiday. I-5 is jammed with thousands of cars on Wednesday night carrying people home. Thanksgiving is one of the biggest travel weekends of the year. You see, there is this “homing instinct” in all human beings; this being drawn back home. When in Nairobi, Kenya, people told of that special holiday when everyone returned home to their tribal villages back in the bush. When in Arequippa, Peru, I heard the same stories.....people looking forward to returning to their home villages in the high Andean mountains. It’s the same all over the earth; all cultures have homecoming rituals and days, when people return to their families and places or origin. And at Thanksgiving, we Americans often travel back home, just as all cultures do. Children come home from college. Families drive hundreds of miles to gather around a Thanksgiving table. Or, if you can’t go home, you often telephone home. I will telephone my brothers and sisters today; my wife will do the same with her side of the family. It’s Thanksgiving! It’s a great day to connect with home. And if you don’t have family, you look to close friends who are like family to you. And so to all of you who have come home today, we say “welcome home.” It’s a great day to be with family, and if you are with family, it’s a great day.
Thanksgiving is a great day to thank God not only for the big things of life but for the little things. Not only for....love....God’s great love for all humanity....the great love which is found between a husband and wife....a great love found for our children .... a great love that we have for friends. But this is a day in which we are grateful for the little things. .....for a baby’s smile....a gigantic hug from your child as he/she comes home from school....for the children’s pictures on your bedroom wall....for a phone call...a letter...a conversation with an old friend. Yes, we are thankful to God not only for the big things but the little things of life.
Thanksgiving is not only a great day to thank God for big things like the Bread of Life, for Jesus Christ, the True Bread which never molds or spoils or decays; whoever eats this Bread will never die; whomever eats this Bread will live forever. But it’s also a day to thank God for the little breads of life: the banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, ryebread, pizzabread, pocket bread, and for Don Miller’s freshly baked homemade Hawaiian coconut bread that melts in your mouth at the Senior’s potlucks. We thank God not only for the eternal Bread of life, but for Don Miller’s homemade Hawaiian coconut bread.
Thanksgiving is a great day to thank God not only for life itself, for the privilege of being alive, for the air, the atmosphere, for this one greenish blue planet in the universe of which we know there is life. But it is also a day in which we are grateful for little beginnings of life: for the first little signs of spring, the first bud on the tree, the first crocuses, for tadpoles and a million salmon fingerlings and newborn fawns and calves and baby otters and baby seals.
Yes, thanksgiving is a time not only for appreciation of the big things of life but the little things of life.
And on this day, we are grateful not only for big things like food, but also for all the little tastes and textures of the foods found on this biologically diverse planet earth. For the tastes and the textures of all the foods that God has created for us to enjoy. For the textures and tastes of grains. Imagine if you, the crunch of fresh corn on the cob on your teeth; the soft texture of whole wheat bread; the crunch of wheaties and rice crispies; the tastes of oatmeal with honey on it. The whole earth feasts on grains, the basic staple for the human race. And how about your vegetables. Let your imaginations flow. Think about your teeth munching down on a carrot; fresh peas from the pod popped into your mouth; the crunch of hard crisp celery, then brochchili, spinach, fresh lettuce. And how about the tastes and textures of fruit: imagine fresh watermelon in your mouth....then cantaloupe...then a lucious red strawberry.... then an apple...a pear....a plum....an orange...a pineapples. O, the tastes and textures are wonderful, delectable, sumptuous. A now let’s try some meat: a T-bone streak, ....then a pork chop....then ham....then bacon frying in the pan on Saturday morning. . And let’s try fish: first....salmon....then a piece of white cod....then crab with butter running over it. And fowl? Turkey...white meat, then dark meat. Chicken Kiev. Pheasant. Duck. And let’s not forget dessert: a triple scoop of ice-cream coated with hot chocolate, whipped cream, nuts and a maraschino cherry; warm pecan pie with melting cold ice-cream; freshly baked and soft high chocolate cake like my mother made years ago. And children, of course, may also appreciate jelly beans, rootbeer floats, bubble gum, popcorn and of course, pizza of all sizes shapes and tastes. Thanksgiving is that day in which we are not only grateful to God for food....but for the particularity and variety of tastes and textures of God’s glorious creation. We are thankful not only for the big broad category called food, but for the immense diversity of the little and subtle tastes and textures on this incredible planet called Earth.
Today is not Easter when we thank God for the resurrection and eternal life. Today is not Good Friday when we thank God for the cross and his atoning blood. Today is not Christmas in which we thank God for becoming a human being like us. Today is not Pentecost when we thank God for his indwelling Spirit who gives us strength to live each day. No, today is Thanksgiving. We are much more materialistic today. We are not any less spiritual, but the focus of our spirituality in on the material world. The focus is on our gratitude to God for wheat and carrots and apples and pork and hot fudge sundaes.
The origins or beginnings of this great day are to be found in the Old Testament. 4500 years ago, the Jews had a festival of ingathering where they gathered in their harvest of crops; it was very similar to our Thanksgiving. In the book of Leviticus, God says: “When you have gathered the fruit of the land in the fall, you shall have a GREAT FEAST to the Lord....and be happy for seven days.” I like that, a seven day festival; it’s better than a three day weekend. And Moses wrote: “After you have gathered in from the threshing floor and the winepress, you shall rejoice in the feast and the Lord shall bless you for all of your bounty, and you shall be happy for seven days.” Again, seven days are better than three.
And so like the Jews of old, we gather together today to thank God for his abundant material prosperity that he has showered upon us.
But now, in contrast to 4500 years ago, nowadays, many Christians, rather than feeling gratitude, have become “ascetics”, “hairshirts,” “kill joys” who want to make us feel guilty about living in the breadbasket of the world. And many Christians nowadays feel guilty that we live in such an abundance of food as there is in America.
But there is no need to feel guilty about living in material abundance. Let me explain. We don’t necessarily feel guilty about other blessings that God has showered upon us. Such as, if God blessed you with an IQ of l35 and you are really bright intellectually; and somebody next to you has an average intelligence of 110, you don’t feel guilty for being intelligent. Or, if God has blessed you with two parents, both of whom live to 95 and they are blessed with long-lived genes; and somebody next to you has parents who died much younger, you don’t feel guilty about being blessed with long-lived parents or grandparents. Or, if God has blessed you with the ability to sing like a meadowlark and the person next to you can only sing like a growling bear, you don’t feel guilty about that. And if God has blessed you with living in the most productive land and soil on Mother Earth, we don’t feel guilty about that. That’s a blessing that God has showered upon us. We don’t feel guilt but gratitude.
And we are to use God’s gifts responsibly: We are blessed with singing, so we use ourvoices to benefit the world and ourselves. We use our minds for our benefit and the world around us. We use the years that God has given to us for our benefit and the world around us. And we use our material resources and abundance for our benefit and those around us. We use all the gifts that God has abundantly showered upon us to make God’s world a better place. That’s God’s plan, design, the way things are to be done.
It’s a great day for singing a song; it’s a great day for moving along; it’s a great day for shining my shoes; it’s a great day for singing the blues; it’s a great day, from morning till night.
But on great days, there are always great dangers. No matter how great the day, there are always those dangerous disasters that seem to occur. It’s a great day, and we have a flat tire. It’s a great day, and the transmission goes out on the car. It’s a great day, and the toilet clogs just as people are coming over for Thanksgiving Dinner. On the great days of life, there are always those great dangers and disaster lurking nearby.
Briefly, three great dangers when the days are great.
A great danger is living in a materially abundance world is to come to expect that material abundance and no longer feel deep gratitude in one’s heart. To illustrate, at your house, have you ever experienced a Christmas where a child has just received ten Christmas presents and then asks: “Is that all? Isn’t there more?” And then next Christmas, when the child is older and they receive only five gifts, they say: “Well, it wasn’t quite as good a Christmas as last year?” When a person receives so many presents, one no longer has that deep inner gratitude but rather the expectation of more abundance. By contrast, if a person has never received a Christmas present and receives one present, that person is overwhelmed with delight at that one gift. I’ll never forget my mother’s story of her most memorable Christmas. My mom, an immigrant, was raised in dirt poverty, and when she received an orange that Christmas, her heart was overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving. That single orange was the best and most memorable Christmas present she ever received. Why? Because there is something about poverty that enables one’s heart to be filled with gratitude. One of the greatest dangers of living with material abundance is that one loses a deep feeling of gratitude but rather develops an expectation for more abundance.
A second danger of living with material abundance is to believe that material abundance is the source of happiness. Years ago, I read that research study that indicated that people in Germany were no happier than people living in Egypt. This didn’t make sense to me at the time because the standard of living was four times greater in Germany than in Egypt; therefore, the level of happiness should be much greater in Germany than Egypt. But that is not true. Foolish is the person who believes that happiness and inner satisfaction is in the accumulation of material abundance. A second research study was equally important to me; that everyone thought that having 25% more abundance would make them happier. The rich wanted 25% more; the middle-class wanted 25% more; and the poor wanted 25% more. None of them were content; all thought that 25% more would give them the more happiness they were lacking. And when they finally got the 25% more, were they happier? Not one bit. They simply wanted and now needed 25% more. .... The great and grave (deadly) danger of living in abundance is the foolish mistake of coming to believe that material abundance is the primary source of happiness.
And the third danger of living in American abundance is that one gradually and ever so slowly loses one’s love for God. With abundance around us, something happens inside, and we gradually lose our love and affection for God. It is a great and grave (deadly) danger.
To illustrate, I would like to tell you a love story.
One day, I woke up in the morning and walked to my window to watch the sunrise. Ah, the beauty of God’s creation is beyond description. As I watched the sunrise, I praised God for the colors of the morning light, for the sounds of the morning symphony by the meadowlark. As I stood there quietly, I felt the Lord’s presence with me. God asked me: Do you love me? I answered. Of course God; I love you. I thank you for your beautiful world.
Then God asked me, “If you were physically handicapped and could not walk to the window or use your hands to move the curtain to see the sunrise, would you still love and thank me?” ..... I paused. I was perplexed. I looked down at my arms and legs and the rest of my body and wondered how many things I wouldn’t be able to do, the many movements I took for granted. But then I thought of all the people who love and appreciate God, without the use of hands or legs. So I answered: It would be tough, very tough but I would still love and thank you.
Then God asked me: “If you were blind, would you still love me and be thankful for the colors of the morning light?” How could I love something without being able to see it? Then I thought of all the blind people in the world and how many of them still love God and creation. So I answered; “It’s hard to think of it, but I would still love and thank you.”
Then the Lord asked me, “If you were deaf, would you still love and thank me?” And I thought, How could I listen to the sounds of the nature’s symphonies. But I see deaf people communicating with each other all the time, cheerfully, happily. So I replied: it would be difficult, very difficult, but I would still love and thank you.
And God said: “You may not understand, but it is easier to love me when you are blind...deaf... or handicapped in the use of your arms and legs and hands. For in those situations, you sense a greater need for me. Your heart is softer towards me. It is easier to love me. It is more difficult to love me if you have an abundance of health and an abundance of material possessions. For often you are too...preoccupied...to either truly thank or truly love me.”
As I walked into church today, I met a friend. I had heard that her cancer returned, that she was beginning chemotherapy. She briefly talked about vanity and losing one’s hair. And she said: “On this Thanksgiving, I am living only one day at a time.” She smiled and walked into church. On this Thanksgiving Day, her gratitude will be deeper and so will her love and appreciation for God and those around her. That’s usually the way it works when one faces the difficult challenges of life.
It’s a great day for singing a song; it’s a great day for moving along; it’s a great day for shining my shoes; it’s a great day for singing the blues; it’s a great day...from morning till night. And God said: It shall be a great day of feasting. .... And so today we are grateful to God for food....and family....and friends...and the miraculous fertility of this miraculous little planet called Earth. It’s a great day, Thanksgiving Day!
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