THANKSGIVING IS A MATTER OF THE HEART
Dear friends in Christ,
The bald eagle is the official bird of the United States of America. If Ben Franklin had his way, it might have been the turkey. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin wrote, “For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him…Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest.” On the other hand he said that the turkey was a bird of courage. “For the truth the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America… He is besides, though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.” I never thought that a watch dog might better be a watch turkey.
And if the national bird were determined by satisfying the appetite of this blessed country, the turkey would win hands down. According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans have turkey on Thanksgiving. We raise 254 million turkeys in United States. Minnesota raises more turkeys than any other state. Some of them are even birds.
Here we are on Thanksgiving Eve to give heartfelt thanks to God for blessings received. We are reminded by Psalm 50 that “Giving Thanks is a Heart Matter.” 1) Is yours a generic thank you? 2) Is yours a thank you from the heart?
People like Thanksgiving Day. There are few people who oppose setting aside a day dedicated to giving thanks.
Good parents want their children to be able to say ‘thanks’ so it rolls off their lips easily. Yet many a parent find themselves frustrated by how hard it can be to teach their children to say ‘thank you.’
Saying thanks is something that the LORD himself considers to be very important. When the Lord set up the Old Testament Church calendar, he had three major festivals on it. Pentecost celebrated at the grain harvest and the Festival of the Trumpets or Booths came at the end of fruit harvest. Both were thanksgivings.
Why do we like to set a day aside for thanksgiving? Some might like it because it signals the beginning of the Christmas season. After all, tomorrow is Black Friday. Others might say that Thanksgiving is a time to be with family. There is nothing like having a feast with the family around the table. Or maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is a day off from work.
The day Thanksgiving Day became a federal holiday occurred in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln was president. Strangely enough it was in the middle of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." It was celebrated on the last Thursday in November.
Yet that wasn’t really the first national Thanksgiving. George Washington declared a Thanksgiving Day in the initial years of our nation. But the origin of Thanksgiving goes back to the first one celebrated in the new world on November 21, 1621. Due to changes on the calendar since, it was really November 11th. That Thanksgiving lasted three days. It was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. An account by Edward Winslow is archived for history.
“Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” That’s the Pilgrim thanksgiving remembered in history.
But most people feel thankful, don’t you think? Nature gives us evidence that there is a God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hand.” There had to be a Creator who put this all in place. There has to be a cause why I have been put here so I can put food in my stomach and clothes on my back. Everyone gets to experience his kindness, believer or unbeliever alike. Jesus said. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
But to simply say ‘thank you’ to a generic God or force out there whose name is up for debate is not enough. The Bible tells us that when he talks about the second generation of people on this earth, the brothers Cain and Abel. “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” Both offered sacrifices to God. Somehow God made it known that he accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s. From the Genesis account it is impossible to see exactly why. In the book of Hebrews we are told why. “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.” Abel offered his in faith, Cain did not. Abel was a believer, Cain was not. Cain brought an offering but it was not given to the Lord out of love. It was simply an outward action. It seems he did it for show or to have others pat him on the back. Abel’s was brought out of love and faith.
That is the point of this psalm too. Israel was bringing their sacrifices, the sin offerings, thank offerings, guilt offerings, trespass offerings. He says to them in the following verses, “Listen, my people, and I will speak; I will testify against you, Israel: I am God, your God. I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.” The purposes of the sacrifices all right. There was a reason behind them. That’s why the Lord gave commands to do them. The problem was they were given robotically and mindlessly. They seemed to think that they were doing God a favor.
He says, “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” The sacrifices were not commanded because God needed them, they were to be done because the people needed them. They needed to say thanks. They needed to be able to worship and offer the Lord their gratitude.
I hear this a lot, “I need to get into the habit of going to church.” Church is a habit? I equate a habit like smoking cigarettes or drinking too much? A habit is something that we do mindlessly and without thought. Is “thank you” simply a habit? Is it simply going through the motions? The worship and giving of thanks to God is a great experience.
Tonight we are singing favorite hymns. Not every song we sing is necessarily your favorite hymn. Sometimes a song sung is labeled as boring! Think about that. The content of a song and the music that goes with it is music to God’s ears. The one who wrote the hymn put his heart and soul into writing the words and putting the notes to the words. God is pleased. How dare we think something is boring when God surely doesn’t! That’s like Cain hating Abel for his sacrifice.
Learn to say thanks. Start with humility. A proud person doesn’t look up. Nebuchadnezzar was once the most powerful king on this earth when he led the nation of Babylon. The book of Daniel reports his selfish boasting, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” The Scripture tells us there is more, “Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox.” God caused him to lose his sanity until he repented. If you won’t be humble king. I will make you humble.
Let’s face it, we are all just a heart attack away, a blood clot away, a reckless driver away, a bad doctor’s report away from a dramatic change of our lives. To say a godly thanks, start with a lot of humility.
Humbly remember God’s grace. While sin made us enemies with the Lord, the shed blood of Jesus makes us friends again. When a person is not capable of earning a wage, or win a prize, or deserve any award--yet receives a gift anyway--that is a good picture of God's unmerited favor. This is why God’s grace and Thanksgiving go together. Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of God’s grace day. But then every days is.
In saying thanks, the psalmist says, “Sacrifice thank offerings to God. Fulfill your vows to the Most High.” To the Old Testament people he said, “Go on sacrificing. Remember that you are sacrificing to God. Don’t just go through the motions. Fulfill your vows. Change your life so they are in accord with the God you love.
To us he says the same. When you worship, mean it. Don’t let your Christmas and Easter celebrations be some self-indulgent celebration for your own pleasure and entertainment. Don’t let Lent be a time to show sorrow over your sin but miss the change in your life that needs to follow. Don’t let your Thanksgiving be a day to give thanks without acknowledging you owe just as much thanks for every day that follows.
I want to return to Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War. Listen to more of his proclamation: “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It seems that he were writing about our nation today too. No more going through the motions in thanking God. Be merciful. O Lord. Forgive us, Lord! Give us thankful hearts. Make us a thankful nation, Lord.