Thanksgiving: An Attitude of the Heart

Matthew 6:25-33
South Presbyterian Church – November 24, 2013
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

                 At Casual Praise on Thursday night, we got in a great discussion about saying Thank You … how we learn to do that … how we teach our children that it’s polite … but we also talked about saying thank you to other people vs. saying thank you to God.

            I found it interesting because some people felt it easier to say Thank You to someone else and others found it easier to say Thank You to God. But the REAL question is how … or maybe WHEN … did you first find yourself FEELING thanks to God.

            For some of us it was when we’d lost something or someone important. For others, it was growing up with nothing so that EVERYTHING was something to be thankful for.

            Well, I’ve found myself reflecting on that ever since. ESPECIALLY when I look at our country and where we are in our country’s history right now.

            I’m sad to say that I’m experiencing a lot of our country’s responses to situations to be born out of fear today. Fear of another financial crisis … Fear of losing power in the world (whatever that means) … Fear of losing influence … Fear of losing military might …

            And it’s not just our country … it’s individuals, too, and advertisers prey upon that fear:  I won’t be pretty enough if I don’t have that $600 pair of shoes … I won’t be sexy enough if I don’t have that $40,000 sports car … If I’m not married by the time I’m 30 I’ll be alone for the rest of my life and that can’t possibly be a good thing …

            Fear … fear … fear …

            But as Barb reminded us last week. 365 times the Bible says, “Fear not.” There’s enough there for one Fear Not every day of the year … well, except for Leap Year … maybe we’re allowed to be afraid one day out of every four years. J

            Seriously, though … we think WE’VE got it bad? Try being in a part of the world today where people are killed at random … either for their beliefs or just because of what they look like … OR for no reason at all.

            That’s pretty much what it was like for the Jewish people under Roman Rule. They didn’t need a lot of reason to torture and terrorize, let alone to kill you.

            It feels to me like the people Jesus was talking with probably had good reason to be afraid. But he sits them down and he says, don’t worry about your life.   Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink. Don’t worry about your body, OR about what you’ll wear.  This is a passage that Madison Avenue DEFINITELY doesn’t want you to hear!

            Can you IMAGINE how powerful we would be as individuals or as a community if we DIDN’T worry about life or what we’ll eat, drink and wear?  That is such a RADICAL notion that it’s VERY powerful because we wouldn’t be able to be controlled by others who are preaching fear.

            If we could get just ONE of those things through to our children and young people, there would be no STOPPING them in terms of success, creativity and making the world a better place.

            We as a nation are held captive by the fears we take within ourselves and those that we ALLOW to hold sway over us through advertising and political messages. We seem to have forgotten as 1 John 4:4 SAYS:  Greater is the one who is in ME than the one who is in the WORLD.

            Think about that.

            Those people who sailed from England in search of a safe place to live and worship their God as they saw fit …they left because they were being persecuted. Now, we say the word persecuted and sometimes I think that we think that means ridiculed or teased.

            TORTURED.  It meant tortured … imprisoned … They were being imprisoned and KILLED because of what they believed … because they wanted to worship as they saw fit and not as someone else told them they had to.

            They had already gone to other countries like the Netherlands but they were still SEARCHING. God was CALLING them elsewhere. And so they boarded this little boat … and it IS little. If you haven’t seen the replica in Massachusetts, you should. It’s SMALL!!!! The trip would most likely kill you (or at least be so miserable you WISHED you were dead).

            But they held on because greater was God who was WITHIN them than the God of the British Empire … the God of the Anglican Church … the God of the dominant culture.

            They BELIEVED what Matthew said. They looked  at the birds in the sky. And they SAW that even though those birds didn’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns, yet their heavenly God fed them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? they asked themselves. And the answer was yes.

            So they came here and BOOM! New England winter. They were STARVING. They were DYING! And God sent them First Nations people … NATIVE American people … who taught them and showed them how to live in this strange new world.

            I wonder if they ever had questions about whether God was in this NEW place or not. I don’t think so. They knew that God has dominion over all of creation. So they knew that they were being watched over and cared for ever HERE … even where there was NOTHING to rely on except their faith.


            And what did they do? What was the first thing?

            Did they say, “Oh, gosh … we have to convert the Indians?” No. 

            Did they set out to see if there were other people to CONQUER?  No.

            Did they say, “Oh, I have to make my Pilgram hat more stylish?” No!

            They gave THANKS.  They thanked God for all they DID have and they didn’t focus on what they DIDN’T have. They were GRATEFUL… it was an attitude of gratitude that they had. And it was written on their HEARTS. It wasn’t something that was a publicity slogan … it was their inner REALITY.

            And THAT my friends, is the message for US this Thanksgiving. It’s a message of AUTHENTIC THANKS. It’s not a time for the PERFUNCTORY “What do you say?” response of a CHILD.

            It is a time for looking inside and digging DEEP to find that place where we KNOW that we can’t do this life on our own … any more than the Pilgrims could.

It’s a time for really having a “come to Jesus meeting” with ourselves in the quiet of the night or the early morning hours … a conversation where we fess up and really, REALLY admit that we’re not in charge.

And THEN … then we will have an attitude within our hearts that speaks to our God with pure Thanksgiving.

            And we SHOULD give thanks … as we say in our Communion Service: It is RIGHT to give our Thanks and Praise because without God, we are NOTHING … and WITH God, we are EVERYTHING.

            Like the Mayflower Sailors … we don’t know where we’re going, either. We don’t know what the future will bring … but I can tell you this … God has never failed us yet … and He’s not about to start now … God has never failed us yet …and She’s not about to start now …

            For we are loved even more than the birds in the trees and the lilies of the field … and God DELIGHTS in us.  Amen, Church?    Amen.


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