Remembering to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving 2018
First Reading at Ecumenical Service – Isaiah 63:7-9
First Reading at Mass – Sirach 50:22-24
Luke 17:11-19
November 22, 2018

We are here in recognition of our national Thanksgiving day holiday.  The story of the first Thanksgiving goes back to the early days of the European colonization and the Puritans.

They had survived a difficult voyage across the Atlantic Ocean only to face a difficult first year.  When they completed the first harvest, they gathered in thanksgiving, to celebrate with gratitude, the help they received from the natives and for God bringing forth that first harvest.

I had always figured that the Thanksgiving holiday quickly became a tradition but I just read this week that it did not become an official national holiday until Abraham Lincoln declared it as such during the Civil War.  The Civil War was a very trying time.  Many might have felt they had little to be thankful for, making it all the more important to celebrate Thanksgiving to encourage us to realize that even in trying times we can find something to be thankful for.

Today, most people get their food from the grocery store.  So, we are less attached to the harvest time.  Regardless of the season, the food is always available at the store.  Of course, living in a rural area, we have some awareness of the harvest time as we drive down the road, see the farmers at work in the field and the fruit and the vegetable stands open.

Of course, that was a couple of weeks ago, before the snow.  After last week’s snow, it might seem the harvest was some time ago.

I hope everyone takes some time during this holiday to think about the blessings that you have received this year.  Sometimes the greatest blessing in a difficult time might simply be being aware of God’s presence in the midst of whatever suffering we face.

We celebrate Thanksgiving holiday once a year but giving thanks to God should not be limited to a single day out of 365 days.  Giving thanks to God did not begin with the Puritans.  They just put into practice in a way that stuck with us.

What might we be thankful for?

Are we thankful, like the Puritans in the Massachusetts colony for the food we have or do we take it for granted that we will have food to eat?  Why should we take it for granted?  After all, how many people don’t have enough food to it as shown by those who come to our Community Food Closet and our individual churches looking for assistance with food?

The Puritans were grateful for the assistance of the natives.  Are we grateful for the help we receive from others?

Are we grateful for having a roof over our heads or do we take it for granted?  What about those who are homeless?  For them, some in our area have started a local chapter of Family Promise to provide a warm, dry place to sleep for homeless along with food to eat.

What about the medical care we receive when we are ill?  We just heard the story of the ten lepers.  They suffered physically from lepers and, to protect the health of others, suffered by being isolated from others.  Have you ever wondered which was worse, the physical suffering of leprosy or the isolation?

In their suffering, when they called out to Jesus to have pity on them.  He told them to go show themselves to the priests and they went.  On the way, they were healed.  Only one saw Jesus as the source of the healing and returned to him to give thanks.

When we are ill, we do two things.  We ask God to heal us and we seek medical treatment.  When we are healed we might be grateful to the medical people but do we give thanks to God?

In Isaiah 63:7 we read, “The favors of the LORD, I will recall, the glorious deeds of the LORD.”  When was the last time you stopped to reflect and recall the glorious deeds of the Lord?  As you do so, think not just of what God has done for you but for all his people.

Sometimes we lament that we don’t have anything to be thankful for.  Do we really not have anything to be thankful for or do we just get caught up in what we want that we don’t have and fail to appreciate what we do have?  It’s that old saying, do you see the cup as half-empty or half-full.

If we see it as half-empty, we feel like either God doesn’t care or that God doesn’t even exist.  If we see our cup as half-full (or more), we see the blessings that God has given us to lead us to living every day with an “attitude of gratitude.”  Then, our sufferings become easier because we know that God is with us.

How are we to change from seeing the cup as half-empty to half-full?

Here I encourage you to consider writing a daily journal about how each day goes from the perspective of faith.  Of course, that alone might lead you to write about the problems, the sufferings we face.  I know sometimes in my journal that I focus on the challenges of the day.

So, how do we come to see the blessings?

Have you ever made a point to journal daily by listing something from each day you are thankful for?

The first time I remember hearing about this was about four years after I was ordained.  I was at a parish meeting and we were talking about trying to stay positive in our faith journey.  A parishioner spoke up to say she journals by listing five things every day, that she is thankful for.  I have to admit that it seemed impossible to me to find five things every day to be thankful for.

I don’t do this anywhere near enough in my journal but when I do, it is a tremendous help to bring a better end to a difficult day.

You see, if we truly want to live as Christian disciples with an attitude of gratitude for our blessings, giving thanks once a year on Thanksgiving is not enough.  We need to remember to give thanks every day.  God will appreciate it and we will be blessed with joy.

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