The Healing Power of Gratitude: Sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday, 2017

If you’re like me, you grew up with a certain version of the Thanksgiving story. My particular source for the story was the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials. There I learned that after a hard first winter in Plymouth, the Pilgrims, aided by the local Native American community, survived to plant crops and then collect a mighty harvest.

Filled with gratitude for having survived, the Pilgrims threw the first Thanksgiving dinner. They invited their Native American friends too, who brought more food. And together, at a big table filled with turkeys and cranberries and everything else, they had a happy feast with one another.

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe. It probably didn’t go do exactly like this.

And because of that, every November we do the same. And it certainly seemed to me like the show was saying this had been done every November since then, and like every great American from Washington to Lincoln had grown up sitting around the Thanksgiving table. But history, as I’ve said before, is often a little more complicated than that.

But first, the Scripture for this morning. Jesus is traveling and he comes to the outskirts of a village. He’s met there by ten lepers, who stand far away from him and yell “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They had leprosy, which was the most dreaded disease of that time. It was also highly contagious, so there was a lot of fear of the people who had it. They stayed far away from Jesus because they knew that they couldn’t come near anyone.

Jesus looks at them and says, “go show yourselves to the priests” and they are healed. They all take off running back towards town, back to show the priests what had happened to them. And nine of them keep running the whole way. But one…he turns back. And he starts to praise God. And he falls down in front of Jesus, and just keeps thanking him. And, most surprising of all, he’s a Samaritan, and Samaritans didn’t mix with good Jewish folks like Jesus.

And Jesus looks down at him and he realizes something. He asks, “Hey, didn’t I heal ten of you? Where are the other nine? Only this Samaritan, who doesn’t even follow our religion, came back and said ‘thank you’.” And Jesus looks at him and says, “go ahead and go…your faith has made you well.”

I used to read this text and think about those other nine who didn’t come back. In some ways I wondered if they were actually trying to do the right thing. See, I thought Jesus wanted them to go and show the priests that they were well again because then the priests would know that Jesus had healed them. Maybe then the priests would understand that there was something about this Jesus guy that they should pay attention to.

But then I learned a little more about what it meant to have leprosy in that time. If you had any signs of leprosy, just a little spot, you literally lost everything. You lost your home, you lost your community, and you lost your right to even live in town. You were sent to the outskirts of the city where you had to live with the other lepers. You couldn’t see your family or friends. You couldn’t have any kind of human interaction except from afar. That’s how scared people were of getting the disease. And, by extension, that’s how scared people were of you.
The only way to escape this life was to show the priests, the ones who would diagnose the illness, that somehow you had been healed. So when Jesus healed the ten, and told them to go see the priests, he was really telling them “you can go get your old life back now”. And that’s why they ran. Everything they had known before leprosy was waiting for them. Ten of them had been healed. Nine of them ran all the way to town. But only one said “thank you”.

Jesus says that it was the one who came back who was truly healed, and I think that’s true. That’s not to say that the others weren’t healed of their leprosy, but that is to say that only one of them had been truly transformed. Only one of them knew the amazing grace that he had received, and only one of them put saying “thank you” above reclaiming the life he had before leprosy.

The reality is that when you have been truly healed, and you know that healing, you know that you cannot go back to the way things used to be. You have experienced something so profoundly terrible that you have been changed by it. When you know that, and when you find some sort of healing or grace in the midst of it, your life will never be the same again, and it will never be the same again because now you have the chance to be grateful.

The other nine who didn’t give thanks…they just didn’t have leprosy anymore,…but they weren’t necessarily healed.

The hardest times in my life have also been the times when I have felt God’s healing the most. Those times have transformed me, and I am not the same. I do not look back and think “I wish that never happened” anymore. Now I look back and think, “that shouldn’t have happened, but it did, and God was there with me, and God saved me”. And I truly believe that the gratitude I have found as a result is what has truly healed me.

In this season we think about gratitude a lot. We think about what it means to give thanks, and that’s a very good thing. But there’s something that we as Christians should remember, and that is that Thanksgiving is not actually a Christian holiday. It’s actually a national holiday. We celebrate it in November. Other countries have something similar that is all their own. Canadians have their Thanksgiving in October, for instance.

These are certainly good celebrations, in line with our faith, and in line with many other faiths as well, but they are not church holidays. I’m not telling you this to be a church curmudgeon. It’s still good that we sing “We Gather Together” and decorate the sanctuary. But I’m saying this because if we limit our gratitude to one day a year, we are in danger of being a lot like those nine who just kept running. For Christians, every single day should be a day of thanksgiving. Every single day should be one where we run back to Jesus, fall down in awe, and say “thank you for everything”. We don’t need a holiday for that.

And that’s where I’m reminded of that old Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. I learned years later that Thanksgiving was not a 400 year old tradition. The Pilgrims were very religious people, and so they probably did have some kind of celebratory meal back in 1621 to thank God for the harvest. The Native Americans were probably not invited, by the way. And the meal became far from a yearly event. There would occasionally be times when various governors would call for days of thanksgiving to God, but it wasn’t routine. George Washington tried to start a tradition, but Thomas Jefferson, who believed in a strict separation of church and state, didn’t think there should be a national holiday that gave thanks to God, and so he ended it.

Abraham_Lincoln_O-77_matte_collodion_printBut then, in 1863, as a beleaguered and divided nation fought a great Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wanted to give thanks for the Union victory at Gettysburg that, despite the massive casualties on both sides, had turned the tide of the war. And so he proclaimed that every fourth Thursday of November would now be known as Thanksgiving Day.

The stories of a first Thanksgiving, embellished a little with Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting side by side, held special meaning for a nation divided into North and South. The holiday became a tradition, first in the north, and then in the reunited nation. And that’s why you and I will sit down to turkey and potatoes on Thursday, and we will give thanks.

It’s also why Charles Schultz, who may or may not have known the real story wrote a story about Charlie Brown, the hapless hero who was pressed into preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for his friends. Being a child, though one who seems routinely unsupervised by any kind of adults whatsoever, he cannot make a turkey. And so he makes toast, and popcorn, and jelly beans, and serves them to his friends.

Sitting down at the table, Peppermint Patty, who had invited herself over, is less than impressed. Where are the mashed potatoes? Where’s the cranberry sauce? Where’s the pumpkin pie?

CHEF SNOOPY PRESENTS THANKSGIVING DINNER AS A CONFUSED PEPPERMINT PATTY LOOKS ONWhat follows is a reminder of what it means to be grateful, even when your plate only has toast and jelly beans. After some arm-twisting, Peppermint Patty apologized to Charlie Brown and thanks him for the meal. An invitation from a grandmother whose Thanksgiving table never seems to stop growing is offered to all of the kids. And Snoopy and Woodstock even roast their own turkey which, as an aside, somehow Woodstock, the bird, feels fine eating. Weird, right?

We’ve all been Charlie Brown at one point or another, trying to do the right thing despite the odds. We’ve all also been Peppermint Patty, forgetting to be grateful when so much has been given to us. Likewise we’ve all been the one person who has run to God to say “thank you”. And we’ve all been one of the nine who has kept running after all that we think that we should have.

Thanksgiving is a day for all of us to stop running, and to take a seat at a table that is big enough for all. It’s a time for us to reflect on what God has given us, and it’s a time to say “thank you”. Though the food may be a little better on this particular day of thanksgiving, it’s worth remembering that it’s just one day of many that God has given us for giving thanks. May we never take our gifts for granted, and may we never forget the one who gives them to us.

 

Thanksgiving or Black Friday: Choosing Which We Will Live – Sermon for November 22, 2015

I’m not a big Black Friday shopper. The few times in my life that I’ve shopped on Black Friday I’ve done so under duress, and I’ve never liked it. I’ve watched people swarm into stores, fight over toys and TVs, and spend more money than they have trying to make this the best Christmas ever.

This year Black Friday will once again start early. Some stores will open at midnight after Thanksgiving. Others even earlier, during the time when families could still be gathering around the turkey. And once again crowds will be there. A few years ago a crowd walked over a man who was having a heart attack, ignoring him. The next year, a man pulled a gun on someone who had cut in line.

All of this to celebrate Christmas, which is ironic in many ways, not least of which is that we are not in the Christmas season yet. In fact, we aren’t even in the Advent season of waiting and preparing for Christmas. In the church calendar we are celebrating the last Sunday of the year, a day called Christ the King Sunday. Today is the day when Christians proclaim that our allegiance is to nothing less than the power of Christ’s love. Christ is king, not the world, and not Black Friday.

And at the same time, we’re celebrating another holiday: Thanksgiving. This week we’re supposed to reflect on all we’ve been given, and thank God for it. It’s supposed to be a celebration of our gratitude. Yes, we eat the bird and the potatoes and pie. We spend time with family and watch football. But more than anything else, we are called to look around at our lives and look at what is good, and to say to God, quite simply, thank you.

But in our cultural rewrite of Thanksgiving, gratitude is slowly being replaced by the desire for more, and the one day a year we set aside for giving thanks is literally losing time to a day when we bow down to the pressure to try to buy our Christmas joy.

Which is why texts like the one we read today are such a powerful reminder of what it means to claim Christ as king. Jesus tells his followers not to worry. Not about food, or clothing, or anything else. He says “consider the lilies of the field” and how beautiful they are. If God clothes them like this, how much more will he give to you?

Instead of worrying about what you do not have, he says, do this: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In other words, don’t let your anxieties about not having enough consume your life. Instead, focus your mind on God, and on creating God’s reign of peace here on earth, and you will find true peace and never want for anything.

Put that in modern terms. Don’t worry about the store with the better sale. Don’t concern yourself with commercials and big screen TVs. Don’t join the crowds that trample one another for 20% discounts. Instead, consider what God has already given you, and have faith that God will provide what you need.

2BF0413000000578-3222405-Sanctuary_Although_the_vast_majority_of_Syrian_refugees_live_in_-m-73_1441380822991It’s pretty counter-cultural, isn’t it? While the world worries about finding the best deal, Christ calls us to give thanks for what we’ve already been given for free. When the world asks us to crown retail king, Christ instead reminds us of the reign of God. When the world asks “how can we get more”, Christ tells us we will always have enough.

But that’s not always a popular sentiment.The irony isn’t lost on me that the whole point of Black Friday is to prepare for Christmas, the birth of Christ. The same Christ who tells us in today’s passage to not worry about material things and to instead focus on helping to create God’s kingdom here on earth. I don’t think that’s done by rushing the doors of the mall when it opens, but more than that, I don’t think that’s done by cutting short the one day of the year we explicitly set aside for gratitude.

That’s too bad, because gratitude can change everything. People in early recovery from addiction who hit a hard point are often told to make a “gratitude list”. They’re told to take a piece of paper, look around at their life, and list everything for which they are grateful. Usually the list starts pretty basically: I have enough to eat, I sleep in a warm bed, I can make ends meet. But as the list goes on, more and more is added: I’m grateful for people who love me, for family who care about me, for a chance to make a difference with my life.

By the time most people are done, it’s hard to look at their lives and feel anything but gratitude. More than that, it’s hard not to realize that the good in our life is far greater than anything we have worked for. Because what has been freely given to us is grace. And that grace comes from God.

Grace and gratitude always go together. Grace comes from God and the only proper response is to thank God. Because of that, the measure of the Christian life is only this: how well you say thank you. And if you really feel that gratitude, and really understand what God has done in your life, you will say thank you by passing on God’s grace to everyone you meet. Because it is impossible to truly feel God’s grace and not share it.

And yet, I think sometimes that gratitude is our biggest cultural problem in this country. And I think that’s because we don’t know how much we really have, and we don’t know how destructive our fears about not having, doing, and being enough can be.

That’s dangerous, because that means our culture is at odds with our faith. Because the Christian life, at its core, is a journey of Thanksgiving. Without gratitude, we have nothing.

And if we act in our daily lives like we do not have enough, and like we have not indeed received grace upon grace, and if we live in such a way that our fears, and not our love of God dictate the way we treat others, then we are not living our faith.

We have enough. We have enough for ourselves, and we have enough for others. And we can’t look at the other with fear. We have to be able to look at others and see the image of Christ that is within them. Because there are people literally willing to risk their lives to live as we do. The least we can do is open our hearts to them.

And so I feel compelled to say this. My ancestors who emigrated to this country came here in many different ways. Some came from England on boats that arrived nearly 400 years ago so they could live their faith. Others came from Scotland as prisoners. Others came later from County Galway because there was no food at home. And others later from the mountains of Italy, because there was no work.

Of the ones who came voluntarily, none of them left home because they were having a good day. All came because home was a place where they could no longer live. I suspect that that is true of most your families as well. And if it is not, if your family is one of the ones who was here before others came, then you understand in a profound way the cost of welcoming the other.

In this season when we get ready to enter a new church year, one that starts with the story of a child who was born on a night when his family could not find shelter, it’s worth considering the ways in which our own families have been given grace. And it’s worth asking how we will pass that grace on to others, because our gratitude requires no less.

I’ll close with this: Thanksgiving isn’t a church holiday. It’s a national one. It’s not in the Bible or on any church calendar, but it’s in our hearts and so we gather. But the reality is that for people of faith, Thanksgiving Day doesn’t come once a year. Thanksgiving Day is every day because we are called to live in gratitude for what God has already given us, and to pass it on.

When you are able to do that, you will know that Christ, and no one else, is the king of your life.

And so here’s my challenge for you this week: will you live Thanksgiving? Or will you live Black Friday? Will you live like you have been given grace upon grace? Or will you live in the fear that you do not have enough, not just in terms of presents under the tree, but in terms of how you will treat this world.

In just a few minutes, we are going to baptize Tana and Bower. We are going to welcome them into this community of faith. And their parents, along with all of us, are going to promise to raise them to trust in God’s abundance, and not in fear. We are going to teach them this, because if we are serious about proclaiming Christ as our King, we can teach them nothing else.

So as we make the baptismal vows, and bless them off on a lifetime journey of grace, I ask you to pause a moment. Can you make those vows with hearts that are filled with gratitude, and willing to pass it on to them? I hope so. And I hope you will. Because the world needs these children to grow up to live lives of gratitude, and to share God’s grace with others. And it needs us to be the ones to teach them how. Amen?

Gratitude Lists: Sermon for Thanksgiving Week, 2014

Luke 17:11-19
17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.

17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,

17:13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.

17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

17:17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

17:19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Last Sunday a group of our third through fifth graders gathered at the church in the afternoon for our own Charlie Brown Thanksgiving dinner. If you’ve never seen “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”, or if it’s been a while, let me remind you what was on that menu: jelly beans, toast, popcorn, and pretzels. Not exactly turkey and mashed potatoes, but our kids seemed happy. Their parents, who we sent them home to after giving them lots of sugar? I’m not so sure.

Regardless, spending the afternoon with them helped put me in the Thanksgiving mood. That’s in part because as long as I can remember, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” has been a part of my Thanksgiving tradition. We always watched it in my house growing up. And I love it, except for one thing.

The story revolves around Charlie Brown, and Thanksgiving dinner. Charlie Brown is supposed to go to his grandmother’s for Thanksgiving. But before he can, his friend Peppermint Patty calls him and invites herself, and a group of other friends, over to his house for Thanksgiving dinner. And then, when she comes to dinner and gets served the improvised menu of popcorn and jelly beans, she criticizes her host and tells him that she is having a terrible Thanksgiving because of him.

That’s the part of the story that has always upset me, even as a small child. Because I always felt so bad for Charlie Brown who didn’t ask for guests on Thanksgiving, and who had done his best. And in the end he doesn’t even get a “thank you”.

ABC#00841I think, in an odd way, that Jesus would understand Charlie Brown. He knew what it was like to not even get a “thank you”. In today’s Scripture ten lepers, ten people who have been completely outcast from society, are following behind him. And they are calling out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Jesus tells them to go and see the priests, and as they leave he heals them. All ten of them suddenly are clean. No more leprosy. No more being outcast. No more pain.

They are only a little ways down the road from Jesus when this happens, and they suddenly realize they have been healed. And as soon as it happens one of them, a Samaritan, turns around and runs back to him. And he begins praising God, and falls at Jesus’ feet thanking him.

But Jesus realizes that he’s the only one. And he asks, “Wait a minute…didn’t I heal ten of you? And only you, a Samaritan who doesn’t even share our faith, came back to praise God?”

When we read this story, we all know what the other nine should have done. They should have come back, right? They should have praised God. They should have said “thank you”. It’s as obvious as the fact that Peppermint Patty shouldn’t have invited herself over for Thanksgiving dinner. And any of us who grew up being told to write thank you notes, and have good manners know that.

But is this really just about good etiquette? Or is it something more?

I believe good manners and thank you notes are important, but I also believe that the Gospel is rarely just about social niceties. Jesus wasn’t upset that he was missing nine thank you notes. It went much deeper than that.

And that’s because this is about gratitude. And gratitude always goes deep. Because gratitude is about more than just saying “thanks”, though that’s important. It’s about living a life of thanksgiving.

That’s an important distinction to make this week as we approach Thanksgiving Day. Because come Thursday we will be sitting at our tables, enjoying dinner, celebrating with friends and family. And there may even be that moment when everyone goes around the table and names something for which they are grateful. And that’s all wonderful.

But, if that moment of gratitude ends as soon as the pumpkin pie is put away on Thursday night, then we are doing it all wrong. Because giving thanks is not something that should happen once a year. Hopefully we know that, but sometimes our actions don’t always show it.

Many others have pointed it out, but have you ever considered the irony of how on Thanksgiving we talk about how grateful we are for all we have. And then the next day (or even that same night) we start the annual run-up to Christmas where we try to get even more? I think it goes to show that gratitude is an incredibly fleeting feeling. It doesn’t take long to lose.

I think that’s because gratitude takes work. Because the thing about gratitude is that it’s more than just counting our blessings. Like I said last week, we aren’t blessed just to be blessed. We are blessed for a reason. And likewise, when we receive grace of any kind, it’s not enough just to receive it. We are called to do more. We are called to respond to it.

And that’s what gratitude is all about. It’s about responding to the grace we have received. And when Jesus healed the ten, and only one showed any kind of response, any kind of gratitude, I think that’s what bothered Jesus the most. It wasn’t just Peppermint Patty inviting herself to dinner. It was Jesus offering something life changing, and only one out of ten recognizing it.

Because in the end, that’s what it means to be grateful. It’s to see the way your life has been changed by the blessings you have received. And it’s about more than just saying “thank you”. It’s about deciding to live your life as a “thank you”.

I sometimes wonder if Jesus didn’t care much about being thanked. He wasn’t someone who did things for accolades after all. But maybe why he really wanted to know whether or not those nine other people were grateful is because he wanted to know if the lives of those other nine people had been changed. Maybe he wanted to know if their whole lives would now become “thank yous.”

And maybe he wanted to know that they had been healed for something, and not just from something.

We can read this story and think, “How could their lives not be changed?” And we reassure ourselves that we would do things differently if we were one of the nine. But sometimes I wonder, “Would I?” I sure hope so, but I’ll bet those nine people who kept on going thought they would too.

And I wonder, did they keep going because they somehow justified it? Did they think maybe they had deserved the healing? Did they think they had done it themselves? Were they so excited they forgot to turn around? Or, when the healing happened, did everything change so radically that all they could think about was “what next”? And all of a sudden they had a whole other set of things to worry about.

I think we’ve all had those experiences. We have wanted something so badly that when we got it we forgot to be grateful. We just moved on to the next step, the next want. I think that’s why all too often Thanksgiving becomes a once a year holiday, and not a daily practice.

But what if it doesn’t have to be that way?

People in the recovery community have long used a tool called a “gratitude list”. The idea is that when things feel hard, or when it feels like nothing is good in your life, that’s when you make a list of all that you have to be thankful for. The first time someone told me to make a gratitude list I immediately felt less-than-grateful for them. But I tried it.

And what I found is this. There is no way, for me at least, to make that list and not feel grateful. You start with the easy things: I have a warm place to live, I have enough food to eat, I am safe. And then you move on to the deeply meaningful things: I have people I love who love me. I have meaning. Until finally you reach this conclusion: I have more than I need. I have plenty to give away. I have a life I can give to God to use.

Gratitude can change everything. Our mood. Our actions. Our lives.

And the best news is this: it’s never too late. I don’t know what happened to those nine who didn’t come back to Jesus that day. But, I wonder if they came back later. I wonder if they were there in the end. Maybe they finally realized what they had been given, and they couldn’t help but to live their lives as “thank yous”.

The same is true for us. We have all been given so much to say “thank you” for in our lives. It’s not too late to use our lives to say that thanks. And this week is as good a time as any to start.

Last Sunday, before their Thanksgiving meal, our third, fourth and fifth graders all worked together on a craft project. They made turkeys out of paper plates and coffee filters and muffin wrappers. And they glued on leaves that said “you are blessed”. Those turkeys will go out today in our Thanksgiving baskets which are going to people who need the meals.

But I think our young people got that those leaves that said “you are blessed” were meant for them too. I think they understood that as afterwards they filled their plates with jellybeans and popcorn and we watched Charlie Brown. Because I think that sometimes the ones among us who still find joy in the smallest of gifts, even an afternoon spent serving others and having a little fun, understand gratitude the most.

I hope it’s something we continue to teach them, this intersection of joy and gratitude. But, equally important, I hope it’s something they continue to teach us. Because this Thanksgiving, I hope we take a page from them, and that we live a life of everyday joy, and everyday giving. And may each day, from this November until next, be a day of living our lives as a Thanksgiving to God. Amen.

Black Friday, Gratitude, and Christ the King: Sermon for November 25, 2012

Copyright, UCC

Matthew 6:25-33
6:25 “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?

6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

6:27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

6:28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,

6:29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?

6:31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’

6:32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

6:33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

I’m not a big Black Friday shopper. The few times in my life that I have shopped on Black Friday I’ve done so under duress, and I’ve never liked it much. People have swarmed into stores, fought over toys and TVs, and spent more money than they had trying to make this the best Christmas ever.

This year Black Friday started early. Wal Mart opened at 8pm on Thursday. Other stores opened at midnight. And once again crowds swarmed into stores. Last year a crowd walked over a man who was having a heart attack, ignoring him. This year, a man pulled a gun on another man who had cut in line.

All this to celebrate Christmas. Which is ironic in many ways, not least of which is that we are not in the Christmas season yet. In fact, we aren’t even in the Advent season, the season of waiting and preparing for Christmas, yet. In the church year calendar, we are today celebrating the last Sunday of the year, a day called Christ the King Sunday. Today is the day where we proclaim as Christians that our allegiance is to nothing less than the power of Christ’s love. Christ is king, not Black Friday.

And at the same time, we who are Americans are celebrating another holiday: Thanksgiving. It’s a few days after the fact, but this weekend we are supposed to reflect on all that we have been given, and give God thanks for it. It’s supposed to be a celebration of our gratitude. Yes, we eat the bird and the potatoes and dressing and pie. We spend time with family and watch football. But more than anything else, we are called to look around at our lives and look at what is good, and to say to God, quite simply, thank you.

But in our cultural rewrite of Thanksgiving, gratitude is slowly being replaced by the desire for more, and the one day a year we set aside for giving thanks is literally losing time to the one day of the year when we bow down to the pressure to try to buy our Christmas joy.

Which is why texts like the one we read today are such a powerful reminder of what it means to claim Christ as your king. Jesus is telling the people not to worry. He’s telling them to not worry about food, or clothing, or anything else. He tells them to “consider the lillies of the field” and how beautiful they are. He says, if God clothes them like this, how much more will he give to you?

Instead of worrying about what you do not have, he tells them, instead do this: But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. In other words, don’t let your anxieties about what you don’t have consume your life. Instead, focus your mind on God, and creating God’s kingdom here on earth, and you will find true peace and never want for anything.

Put that in modern terms. Don’t worry about the store with the better sale. Don’t concern yourself with Black Friday ads and big screen TVs. Don’t join the crowds that trample one another on the quest for 20% discounts. Instead, consider what God has already given you, and have faith that God will provide what you need.

It’s pretty counter-cultural, isn’t it? While the world worries about finding the best deal, Christ calls us to give thanks for what we’ve been given for free. When the world asks us to crown retail king, Christ instead reminds us of the reign of God. When the world asks “how can we get more”, Christ tells us we will always have enough.

But that’s not always a popular sentiment, even if you don’t bring religion into it. In Massachusetts there was a fight between some of the big box stores and the state because the old blue laws there, dating back from colonial times, prohibit stores to open on Thanksgiving. That’s because there, in the home of the first Thanksgiving, the day was set aside as a day of worship and thanks. But some large national retailers don’t agree with that, and want lawmakers to change the laws to allow their stores to open early on Thursdays. Instead, this year, they had to settle for 1am on Friday. And they weren’t happy about it.

The irony is not lost on me that the whole point of Black Friday is to prepare for Christmas, the birth of Christ, the same Christ who speaks to us in today’s passage telling us to not worry about material things and to instead focus on helping to create God’s kingdom here on earth. I don’t think that’s done by rushing the doors of the mall when it opens, but more than that, I don’t think that’s done by cutting short the one day of the year we set aside for gratitude.

That’s too bad, because gratitude can change everything. People in early recovery from addiction who hit a hard point where they feel miserable about the world around them are often told by sponsors to make a “gratitude list”. They’re told to take a piece of paper, look around at their life, and list everything that they are grateful for. And usually the list starts pretty basically: I’m thankful I have enough to eat, that I can sleep in a warm bed, that I can make ends meet. But as the list goes on, more and more is added: I’m grateful for people who love me, for family who care about me, for a chance to make a difference with my life.

By the time most people are done, it’s hard to turn around and look at their life and feel anything but gratitude. More than that, it’s hard to feel gratitude and not realized that the good in our life is far greater than anything we have worked for. And what has been freely given to us is grace. And that grace comes from God.

In seminary we were taught that grace and gratitude always went together. We were taught that grace came from God and the only proper response to grace was to say “thank you”. Because of that, the measure of the Christian life is only this: how well you say thank you. And if you really feel that gratitude, if you really understand what God has done in your life, you will say thank you by passing on God’s grace to everyone you meet. It’s impossible to truly feel God’s grace and to not be so thankful that you don’t pass it on.

But if you’re here, you probably already know that. It has been a hard year for many people in our country. We are living in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Many are out of work, some have lost homes, others just can’t make ends meet. We are at war with others, and we are fighting one another.  One might think that it would be easy to look around and say, “The world is a mess. What is there to be thankful for?”

And yet, you’re here. And let’s be clear, you’re not here because you don’t have anything else to do. You could be home eating turkey sandwiches. You could be home with family and friends who have come to join you. You could be out hunting or skiing. And yet, you came to this church because you wanted to say thank you. And you wouldn’t be here saying “thank you” if you couldn’t look around and see grace.

I’ve heard gratitude lately in some of the most unexpected places. Yesterday I heard it from small business owners in Wilmington who thanked people for coming out and giving their business to their neighbors, instead of saving a few dollars by buying something of lesser quality down the road. I head it from Rich Werner who, despite all his daughter is facing right now, talks about how grateful he is to have so many friends and a community like ours. I’ve even heard it expressed at the end of life, when we’ve said goodbye to people we love simply by saying “thank you”. Being able to say thank you, even in the midst of our times of greatest fear, or anxiety, or worry, is a true testament to God’s grace in us.

It’s what Thanksgiving is really about. And it’s what declaring Christ as the king of your life is really about too.

Thanksgiving is not a church holiday, you know. It’s a national one. It’s not in the Bible or on any church calendar, but it’s in our hearts and so we gather. But the reality is that for people of faith, Thanksgiving Day doesn’t come once a year. Thanksgiving Day is every day because we are called to live in gratitude for what God has already given us.

Between this Thanksgiving and next, I give you this challenge: how many days will be Thanksgiving for you? You don’t need a turkey or pie or mashed potatoes. You don’t need football on the TV or even a church service. You just need eyes for seeing grace, and a heart for gratitude. And then all you have to do is find a way to say “thank you”. Do that, let Christ’s love and assurance reign in your heart, and you will being celebrating Thanksgiving all year. May it be so. Amen.