Tomorrow is the US holiday of Thanksgiving. There are many wonderful stories about days of thanksgiving to God, in the early years of the European colonists, and the holiday has been observed in many different ways. Today, it is primarily observed as a day of thanks for the gifts of our harvest. Of course, most of us do not harvest grains or vegetables or meats; rather, our harvest is a paycheck or possibly an electronic deposit to the bank account that leaves no tangible trace behind. But with that money, we partake of a much richer harvest, including not only the food that sustains and nourishes us, but also our homes, our cars, our clothing, and all the many things that fill our surroundings. Of course, we earn this harvest through our hard work, but we could not even put forth that effort without the gifts, talents, and graces we’ve been given by God. Thus, on this day, we take the time to intentionally note our harvest and the gifts we’ve received that enable us to reap that harvest, and we take the time for the intentional practice of giving thanks.
The lectionary readings for Thanksgiving Day reflect these observations, this practice of gratitude. Beginning with the poetic description of the Promised Land in the Old Testament reading, we are reminded by Moses,
Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
In America, we do live in the promised land, in a good land that flows with streams and springs, where we eat bread without scarcity, where we mine iron and copper. But we did not create this land, though it does take hard work to enjoy the fruits of the land. These gifts were here long before European colonists were, long before humans were.
Paul’s advice in the epistle reading is the next step, after we recognize that our harvest flows from the gifts God has given us. We are not expected to hoard our great harvests, to sit on stockpiles of grain – or of money – while others around us go without essential needs. No, God intended the riches of this promised land for everyone. What’s more, when we share the gifts we were given, then God pours out yet more and more and more gifts upon us. The entire point of every grace that is given to us by God, is that it is to be shared. A harvest does nobody any good when it is locked in an impenetrable silo. Nor do forgiveness or openness or love or generosity do anyone any good when they are locked within an impenetrable heart.
I’ve always found this particular gospel passage a bit disquieting. Ten lepers approach Jesus and beg for healing, so he sends them to the priests in the temple – who are the only people who can declare these men to be ritually clean, so that they can once again take part in society – but only one of the ten comes back to Jesus to thank him for this amazing gift of healing. The others just kind of say, “Huh, whaddayaknow. Didn’t think that was going to work!” and go on their way. Jesus lifts up this man who returned to show gratitude, and praises his faith. But then, the evangelist Luke throws a wrench into the whole thing. This one man, the one who was healed of his disease and returned to thank Jesus? He’s a Samaritan, a member of a race despised by the Jews. It would be like telling this same story today, but making the one man a pedophile or a rapist or the CEO of an American automaker. The other nine men, probably all observant Jews despite their ritual uncleanness and exclusion, likely accepted the healing as their due, their entitlement. “Of course he healed me; I’m not a terrible sinner like those awful, dirty Samaritans!” But this one man, who could not take part in Jewish society anyway, he prostrates himself at the feet of Jesus, shouts praises to God, and gives his personal thanks to the man who healed him.
So on this holiday, this Thanksgiving Day, we are reminded how important it is to give thanks. Of course, just like forgiveness and openness and love and generosity, our gratitude does nobody any good when it is locked up within our hearts and minds. My challenge to myself, and to everyone else, is to pour out this gift of gratitude upon God and upon the people in our lives. I’ve said before that we must love extravagantly, and my challenge today is to thank extravagantly. Thank your parents, your siblings, your children for what they’ve added to your life. Thank your boss and your coworkers – yes, even that annoying guy in accounting – and thank the lady who empties the garbage can in your office every day. Thank the cashier in the grocery store for her hard work, and thank the girl in the drive-through window at Burger King. Thank your bank teller. And for God’s sake, if you go shopping to celebrate Black Friday, thank every single person you encounter.
Then we can pray together, in the words of tomorrow’s collect,
Almighty and gracious Father,
we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season
and for the labors of those who harvest them.
Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty,
for the provision of our necessities
and the relief of all who are in need,
to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
And thank you, my beloved friend, for taking the time to read these words. I’m glad you stopped by, and I hope you’ll visit again. And I hope that your life overflows with blessings, always.