Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was a small and kind of ordinary affair for me. Most years, seated around the Thanksgiving table were me, my brother, and my mother, or me, my brother, and my father. We had the turkey, the stuffing, and the mashed potatoes, but other than that, our Thanksgiving meal did not look much different from any other meal that we might have shared together. It was still special in that it was held on Thanksgiving day when we are encouraged to give thanks for the people and provisions of our lives, but that was just about the only significant difference between this holiday meal and any other one.
To be honest, I never really minded the small gatherings and I still don’t. I like how the meal wasn’t that different from other meals during the year. It wasn’t a big to-do with people flying in from all over the country, but it was still nice to set aside the day to give thanks. These small holiday gatherings got me thinking though- why do I have to wait until Thanksgiving day to give thanks for the people, events, and things of my life when most other meals look so similar to this one? I could try to remember to be thankful on those days too. It is, however, often a struggle to give thanks to God always on ordinary days. It is especially hard to give thanks to God on tough days- when we aren’t sure that we will have enough to eat, when we aren’t sure that we will have clothing, when we aren’t sure that we will have housing, when we aren’t sure that we will have adequate medical care, or when we aren’t sure that we will have peace. When Jesus says not to worry about our life and its many needs, we might think to ourselves, “Easier said than done.”
There is a strain of religious thought called Deism that used to be very popular and in many ways still is popular. Not as many people identify as Deists today as they did a few hundred years ago, but plenty of people still live out their religious lives with a similar set of beliefs. Deism believes God to be a sort of great watchmaker. Like a timepiece or a wind-up toy, God set the universe in motion placing stars, planets, our world, and humanity into motion and then God stepped back and let it run. In this religious framework, God wound up the universe, set it on autopilot, and now watches it hobble on from afar.
The witness of Scripture and the many saints of God throughout all places and time testify that God is constantly at work. God did not retire from God’s office after Creation, but God is actively nurturing and loving this world. God is at work in the creation of the Cosmos. God is at work in the big to-dos with dozens of people gathered around a Last Supper of disciples or a Passover meal on the eve of the Exodus. God is consistently at work also in the small things. God is providing food for little birds. God is gardening barren lands to become rich, fertile lands. God is bringing rain upon dry fields. God is clothing the flowers of the field in fancier adornments than even Solomon, the wealthiest king of Israel, ever wore.
God is constantly at work in the midst of pain and suffering. When Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, God was with him and through dreams God used him to prevent thousands from dying of starvation. When the people of Israel cried out in their slavery in Egypt, God heard their cries and delivered them to freedom. When the world was in darkness, God sent Jesus the Christ to be the light of the world bringing forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Even through the pain and suffering of the Cross, God brought about forgiveness and the Kingdom of God draws near for all people.
God did not wind-up the world like a child’s toy and sit idly by while it marched on into confusion, sin, and death. God is constantly accompanying us in this world through great care and faithful love. God is with us in the big, monumental events of the world and God is with us in the small, even mundane events of the world. Most importantly, God is with us in the tough times when suffering is present and we are unsure whether or not we will have enough to provide for even our most basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and peace. Christ reminds us that our God is not a one-and-done kind of person. God is with us for the long haul. The same God who doesn’t forget about feeding the little chickadees or clothing the lilies of field, could never forget about us when we are hungry, naked, alone, or scared. Jesus proclaims this truth to us even when it might be hard for us to believe. By the grace of God, we are given the faith and trust to believe that God really has not forgotten us and will provide for all our needs. For that we can give thanks, not just once per year, but every day.
The Christian Church has been participating in Thanksgiving meals long before Thanksgiving as a holiday was celebrated in the United States. The Lord’s Supper is also known as the Eucharist which means “Thanksgiving.” It has been called that for good reason as it is a meal in which Jesus gave thanks over the bread and wine, but also one for which the Church continues to give thanks. “In the night in which he was betrayed our Lord, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat. This is my body given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’ Again after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.’” This meal in which we encounter the very real and promised presence of Jesus who gave himself away as a meal for hungry sinners is something that we give thanks for as often as we can. In this meal we encounter God who is too in love with us to stay away and watch us from a distance. In this meal we encounter God who dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ and would go to any length to keep us close to God’s side- even if that meant death on a cross. We are deeply and completely loved by God.
We don’t have to wait once per year to give thanks for the blessings we have in our lives. If God opens our eyes, we can see that God’s blessings are around us all of the time. God’s grace and love have been freely given to us in the person of Jesus Christ and we celebrate that gift with a Thanksgiving meal of bread and wine around the Eucharist table. God is present in the big Thanksgiving meals with aunts and uncles, grandpas and grandmas, cousins, and everybody else. God is present in the smaller meals of just three people. God is present in the hearts of those who are sitting at the table, but very much hurting because they are missing those who are not sitting at the table. God is present in the big and grand, God is present in the mundane, and God is present in the pain. God truly loves the birds of the air and flowers of the field, and God truly loves you. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. Amen.