Posted by: gbake783 | December 20, 2012

Valley News Thanksgiving Sermon

I’m sorry this is a little late, but here is the sermon that our local newspapaer, The Valley News, let me publish for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving expresses our cultural identity. Consider the 2012 version: Americans will celebrate by eating 45 million turkeys, watching four televised football games, and spending over $30 million in retail shopping on Thanksgiving night alone. This isn’t a complaint – I plan to eat my weight in dark meat and watch a football game … or two. (I’ll gladly leave the late-night mall excursions to the more intrepid.) My point is simply this – the way we celebrate Thanksgiving tells us who we are. And that’s been the case since the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving in early November of 1621.

Most people know the story of the first Thanksgiving: for three days thankful Pilgrims feasted with local Native tribes on cod, bass, turkey, venison, and, as William Bradford notes, much Indian corn. And I don’t care what the historians say, I want to believe that someone baked a pumpkin pie.

The Pilgrims, though very grateful to make it through the first winter that claimed nearly half their number, celebrated Thanksgiving because of a deep-rooted theological conviction that they shared in God’s covenant blessings.

One hundred two Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620 after a twelve year stint in Holland. They thought Holland might provide them liberty to worship according to their consciences, which they believed impossible in England under the thumb of the state-run Anglican Church. Fortunately for us, the Holland experiment didn’t go as they’d hoped. So, true to their title, the Pilgrims sailed to the New World.

The word pilgrim appears in two New Testament verses. The first, Hebrews 11:13, commends Old Testament saints like Abraham and Sarah who, though never witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promises, died believing them. These people, the verse says, were content not to see those promises yet fulfilled because they “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” The second verse, 1 Peter 2:1, encourages Christians to avoid acting out sinful desires because they are “strangers and pilgrims.” The Pilgrims adopted the title not only because of their absolute faith in God’s covenant promises, but because of their insistence to live differently from the world around them.

Further, the Pilgrims believed that because of their faith in Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the Old Testament’s demands (Matthew 5:17), they would inherit the covenant promises God made in the Old Testament. I realize, of course, that the above statement is a theological mouthful. Suffice it to say, the Old Testament was not only deeply meaningful to the Pilgrims, but authoritative.

The Old Testament term “thanksgiving” is most closely associated with worship – thanksgiving sacrifices (Leviticus 7), thanksgiving over King David’s placing the ark in the tabernacle (1 Chronicles 16), King Solomon’s bringing the ark into God’s temple (2 Chronicles 5), and Nehemiah’s restoration of thanksgiving praise after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed that same temple (Nehemiah 12). Also, the Pilgrims paid careful attention to  thanksgiving as it related to Old Testament feasts – God commanded His people to observe seven in all: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths.

The Pilgrims sought thanksgiving expressions that resembled what they read in the Old Testament – they believed that God delights when His people feast together in an act of grateful worship. The first Thanksgiving, therefore, was praise not just for God’s material provision, but the spiritual provision of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, which, when accepted by faith, causes those who believe to become heirs of God’s covenant promises (Ephesians 3:6).

What does all this mean for Thanksgiving 2012? Should we make Thanksgiving more God-focused simply because the Pilgrims did? No, Pilgrim convictions alone aren’t enough to justify a change. But perhaps we should consider the way we celebrate Thanksgiving in light of the Bible’s clear message. God not only delights when we praise Him (Psalm 69:30), but demands it (1 Chronicles 16:28-33). Must Thanksgiving be the exclusive holiday to obey God’s clear command? I suppose not. Though it is a wonderful opportunity to do so.

Consider this recommendation. As the family, friends, or loved ones gather for the feast, with the television turned off, and before the midnight shopping plans are made, I suggest repose. Open a Bible and read Psalm 100, which is entitled, “A Psalm for Giving Thanks”:

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.


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