November 22nd, 2018

Everything good in Thanksgiving is a gift from the Father above.

James 1:17

November 22, 2017 – Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

Source of every gift

We white male Protestants try to claim too much credit for Thanksgiving.  Our legends often fail to acknowledge the partnership of others or our own blind spots.

In James 1:17, the brother of Jesus reminds us that what matters most is not what any human did or does.  Every good and perfect gift comes from the same heavenly Father who created the stars, sun, and moon.

Humans of many backgrounds and places gave us our traditions.  As I mention each one, I’ll say, “For this good gift,” and I invite you to respond, “Thanks be to God!”

Thanks be to God!

Almost every ancient civilization, whatever god or gods they worshiped, observed some type of harvest festival.  This includes the Hmong people, whose New Year festival annually celebrates the rice harvest.  Throughout history all over the globe humans have an instinct for thanking someone or something beyond themselves. For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

More than 1000 years before Christ, Moses commanded the Israelites to observe not one but two annual harvest festivals – one for the first fruits and another when the harvest was complete.  The Jews were way ahead of the Christians in thanksgiving.  For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

Jesus gave thanks for the food when he fed 5000 men plus women and children in Galilee, and at the Last Supper in Jerusalem, hours before he suffered and died for the sins of the world.  For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

Fast forward to 1565, when a group of 800 Spanish explorers in St. Augustine, Florida, invited the native Seloy tribe to join them in a Thanksgiving mass and feast.  The first community Thanksgiving in America was initiated by Catholics, not Protestants, and the worship was in Spanish, not English!  For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

In 1621, the first and most famous New England Thanksgiving was shared by 53 Mayflower survivors and 90 native Americans in a thanksgiving for friendship and food – including turkey. It won’t surprise you that four Pilgrim women with their daughters and servants took care of all the cooking.  For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

The Native American who taught that Plymouth colony how to hunt, fish, and grow corn, and who arranged the joint feast of Puritans and Wampanoags was named Squanto.  Seven years earlier, he had been captured by John Smith, sold as a slave, and taken to Spain where he was instructed in the Christian faith by Dominican friars.  So the party planner for America’s “first Thanksgiving” was a multi-lingual, Catholic, Native American.  For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

In 1777, The Continental Congress issued the first National Proclamation of Thanksgiving, which declared, “It is the indispensable duty of all men…to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to (Almighty God) for benefits received.”  For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

In 1846, Sarah Josepha Hale, an American patriot and author, began her campaign in earnest to declare a national Thanksgiving holiday, eventually pleading her case with five US Presidents.  For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, believing that freedom would ultimately win, declared the last Thursday in November as an annual American holiday for giving thanks.   For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

In 1899, an African American school principal named James Weldon Johnson, wrote a poem to celebrate the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.   Ever since, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the black national anthem, has expressed thanksgiving, hope, and solidarity for Americans of African descent. For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

In 1969 in Hickory, North Carolina, Pastor Gordon Sperry of Corinth Reformed Church initiated a tradition which returns us to this place on this day for the 50th consecutive year.  For this good gift, Thanks be to God!

And you

This morning, you woke up – a living soul created in the image of God, able to think and feel and choose.  By God’s providence you decided to worship here with friends and family, to remember that every good in Thanksgiving is from above, from the Father of the heavenly lights.  For this good gift, Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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