Today we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, when we take a break out of our regular lives to stop and give thanks to God for all he has given us. Unfortunately, developing an attitude of thankfulness is not that easy!
The Israelites needed 40 years in the wilderness to develop thankful hearts. Forty years! They were not thankful when God freed them from the Egyptians, or when God led them with by a pillar of fire and pillar of smoke. They were not even thankful, for long anyway, when God made manna and quail rain down from the heavens. The Israelites needed forty years to fully appreciate that everything they had was from God.
Ironically, it was not until the Israelites had all their creature comforts stripped from them, that they were able to deeply understand the nature of God’s providence. God provides everything. Every morsel of food that passed through their lips. Every drop of water that refreshed them after a long day of walking. God provided every stick that they used to build huts to provide them some shelter against the elements.
In order not to forget the hard lesson learned in the wilderness, those of the Jewish tradition continue to celebrate Sukkot, a holiday during which they build huts out of sticks and remember God’s provision for the Israelites in the wilderness.
We continue this tradition of giving thanks to God during the American holiday of Thanksgiving. History tells us that Thanksgiving was first celebrated by pilgrims in 1621. Like the Israelites, the pilgrims were strangers in a strange land and relied on God and friendly natives to provide for them. Their dependence on the elements must have been terrifying. In the fall of 1621, when the pilgrims saw the abundance of their harvest, they were overjoyed and grateful to God for his provision.
An attitude of thanksgiving is a key part of our faith, but it can be easy to forget that. Even in the midst of the Thanksgiving holidays, we can get caught up in worry. “What if the turkey is dry? What if our guests don’t get along? What if we need something at the last minute but the store is closed!” (Of course, I don’t worry about these things, but I’ve heard some people do.)
Our Gospel reading today reminds us that Jesus told his listeners “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? 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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
Remembering that we are dependent on God is difficult. Remembering that we are dependent on a gracious, giving God is even more difficult. Yet every day, as we go about our days, we are living lives that have been granted to us as gift. And the proper response to a gift, is an attitude of thanks.
Thanksgiving is not just a holiday or a once-a-year remembrance. Thanksgiving is a frame of mind and a way of life.
We can live like the Israelites did, resisting the truth of God’s care for us, for the next forty years. Or, we can begin to explore the possibility that God is for us, with us. That God has been and will continue to provide for us our entire lives.
And so, we pray alongside the great poet and writer George Herbert, saying.
Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, – a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.