Thanks Be to God
By Dr. Keith Wagner
This Thanksgiving I will be joining my three brothers in the Smoky Mountains. It will be the first time we have been together since July when we were together for my father’s funeral. Since we will all be coming from great distances we will most likely go out to dinner instead of preparing a meal. It’s not a simple thing to put together a Thanksgiving dinner when you don’t have all the conveniences of home. Besides, which of our wives would be in charge?
I can remember years ago when my Mom would cook and Dad would carve the turkey. We used to fight over who would get the legs. Since there were four of us and only two legs it was a problem. After the meal we would gather in front of the television and watch football. Later we would go out in the yard and play a little touch football until we got hungry again.
Life seemed simpler then. Now we all live in different states. And, it has been over forty years since the four of us have been together. Like so many families we are scattered. Times of changed. Life today is not what it was in the l960’s. In the 60’s we had Vietnam, dial telephones and we watched the Rose Bowl in black in white. Now we have Afghanistan, cell phones and you can watch a football game on your computer in color.
I doubt if any of us could have survived that first Thanksgiving in 1621. Half of the pilgrims died from scurvy. The Wampanoag Indians too lost many of their tribe due to a plague. And yet they managed to get together, share their harvest and give thanks. According to historians it is doubtful that they ate turkey. Their main dish was venison. It has been documented that the Indians provided 5 deer. Their feast also included lobster, muscles, fish, corn, radishes, turnips and spinach.
Historian Richard Pickering, deputy director of Massachusetts’ Plymouth Plantation, says that the real miracle of Thanksgiving was that the Pilgrims and Indians actually had some fun together. Amazingly, their gratitude came after a very harsh winter and a great loss of life. In the midst of great suffering and loss they acknowledged the presence of God.
Here in the Revelation to John, Paul sent a message of praise and thanksgiving in his time to the church. He said, “Grace to you and peace from him who is, who was and is to come.” In other words, God was with them in the present, God was with them in the past and God would continue to be with them in the future. John was thankful for God’s constant presence in life and he was thankful for God’s gift through Jesus Christ.
Jesus was the “faithful witness, first born of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.” I believe the core of John’s message was Jesus’ forgiveness. “He loved us and freed us,” John said. What John wanted his listeners to remember most was why Jesus came in the first place; to forgive our sins. John’s message to the church also implies that Jesus is recognized every time we experience forgiveness. He is also recognized when we forgive others.
Today we have baptized two little boys. Another John, John the Baptist, “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Forgiveness is the cornerstone of our faith. When we forgive we are free. When we can’t forgive we will never find peace. We will be filled with anger or hate or bitterness. Our willingness to forgive gives us new life and releases the love of God that is within us.
A gentleman once saw a boy steal a flower from his flower garden. He went forth quietly in a roundabout way to meet the boy and, coming up behind him, laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder, saying: “Now, my boy, answer me one question: Which is the best flower in my garden?” The boy, finding no escape, looked around and after a few minutes’ pause, said, “That rose is best,” as he pointed to a beautiful moss rose.
The gentleman, still keeping one hand on the boy’s shoulder, reached out his other hand and, plucking the rose in all its beauty, gave it to the boy. As he released him he said, “There, take it, my boy.” The boy was amazed. Looking into the face of his strange benefactor, he said, “Aren’t you going to have me punished, sir?” “No,” was the reply; “but as I am going to give you the best flower in my garden, you will never steal from my flower beds again, will you?” The boy replied, “Never, sir, not as long as I live.”
The boy learned his lesson. Undoubtedly he will make mistakes in his future as we all do. However the gentlemen’s pardon will remain with him forever. The boy was grateful for his new found freedom and replied by saying to the gentleman, “Sir, isn’t there some little errand I can do for you?” From that time on the boy became a willing servant of his friend.
In these times we need more than ever willing servants. I was reading an article in the Dayton Daily News recently about a study that was made by Miami University, (Ohio). The study indicated that due to the economy many people have cut back on their charitable giving and their volunteer time. However, one group has stepped up to the plate and done more. It is the poor.
John was speaking to a servant church when he described them as “priests serving.” Just as the church had been faithful in the past, serving God and neighbor, John prayed that they would continue.
Today we give thanks for the Pilgrims and Indians who acted in neighborly love. They have set precedence for the future of our nation. We now live in a time almost 400 years later. We still face many hardships and challenges. Nevertheless, God is acting in our world today because the spirit of God is just as present now as it was in times past.
Yes, we can be thankful for the “good old days.” But we can also celebrate the fact that we are living in a time that God has chosen us to live. Let us claim our heritage of gratefulness and be grateful for today. Times have changed, but God has not ceased to love us. May we also be willing to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Thanks be to God!
Copyright 2009, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.