Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving Homily

This is a homily I gave at the Thanksgiving Ecumenical Communion Service at Baptist Hospital today (the day before Thanksgiving 2005). The text is Psalm 107:1-16, but I don't mention the text in the homily. For those who know about this stuff -- I'm curious what you think. I think the homily brings out the message of the text (which was read aloud) but does not prove the point from the text. The audience is friendly to me and my message, so I don't feel bad about not "proving" my point from the text. Time pressure is another reason here. We had staff folks who were on their lunch break, and the service had to be very quick. Anyway, enjoy --

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the wonderful gifts that God has given us out of his immeasurable supply of grace.

Thanksgiving began in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday. Of course, he was remembering, and we remember the first Thanksgiving, in the fall of 1621, more than 200 years earlier.

We remember the pilgrims who came to this land on a boat called the Mayflower. They landed the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock about this time of year, just before the winter. There were no cities, no houses, no grocery stores, no shops that sold blankets or clothes or even wood to make a house or a bed. God helped them to survive through the cold cold winter of what later became Massachusetts. They met some Indian friends who were tremendously helpful. When springtime came, their new friends helped them plant corn and cranberries and other vegetables. God helped them all along the way and when November came around again, they were so thankful to their Indian friends and especially to God that they had a special celebration. The pilgrims invited their friends and had a party that lasted for 3 days. They ate fish, chicken, turkey, corn, strawberries, grapes, beans, walnuts and a variety of other foods. This was the first Thanksgiving.

On this special holiday we remember all the things we are thankful for. What were the pilgrims thankful for? Why did they start the tradition of Thanksgiving? Well, to answer this question, we need to remember their story.

Before the pilgrims lived in America, they lived in England. Now in the early 1600s England was a very different place than it is now. This is shortly after the Reformation and religious tension is high. There was no such thing as religious freedom – the state dictated how and when and who you would worship. Our future pilgrims were caught between their conscience and the King, which meant that many of them were killed for their faith.

The pilgrims were desperate. They dreamed of a free country, but they needed a lot of money to sail all the way across the ocean to America. God performed a miracle to provide a boat called the Mayflower. It was a risky venture to travel on the open sea, especially for amateurs.

Now, the trip from the Old World to the New World took about 2 months. The Mayflower was not a big boat; really, it was pretty small. Many of the pilgrims got seasick, but they prayed to God, and they knew that he was in control. In the end, none of the pilgrims died on the journey, which was a small miracle in itself.

So what were the pilgrims thankful for when they had the first thanksgiving meal in 1621? Certainly they were thankful for the good food, and their friends the Indians, and for the safe trip on the Mayflower, and for their families. But most of all, they were thankful that God saved them from a country where they could not worship him.

Today we are also thankful for good food we will enjoy tomorrow, for the company of family and friends, for the safe journey of those who have traveled far. But more than all of this, we are thankful that Christ saved us from a place where we could not worship him. All of us were once enemies of God, but Christ, by his life and death and resurrection, has brought us into a relationship with himself. We have been brought from death to life, from darkness to light, from oppression, to liberty.

In a few weeks, we will celebrate the time when Christ became a human to die in our place so that we could know and love him. The pilgrims were given the life-giving freedom to worship by the dangerous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. We have been given the freedom to worship for eternity by the fatal crushing of Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And this is love, not that we loved him, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the substitute for our sin so that those of us to believe in Christ and call on his name, should not perish, but should be adopted as sons of the living God. This is what we are thankful for today, above all.


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