In the name of God, the creator, the giver, the gift. Amen.
We’ve all seen it before. A child is offered a piece of candy and there is a momentary hesitation while the parent listens and watches. Finally it comes. “What do you say?” “Thank you,” the child responds dutifully and everyone breathes a sigh of relief, as though some important transaction has taken place. There is something going on in this cultural ritual of “Thank You” that is much deeper than just good manners. If a ‘thank you’ doesn’t materialize at the appropriate time, it’s as if some trust has been broken or some obligation denied. Our gratitude, hopefully genuine, counts for something.
Gratitude, it has been said, is at the heart of prayer. Our response to the God who made us is founded on and grounded in gratefulness to that God for what he or she has given us. But gratitude is much more than being thankful for stuff. It is the engine by which everything in creation is driven. This is why the Psalmist speaks of the hills being clothed with joy, and the meadows having covered themselves with flocks, the valleys cloaking themselves with grain, shouting for joy and singing. Gratitude is the source of life. Grudging gratitude, the obligatory, perfunctory “thank you” squelches not only the spirit, but life itself.
Three things happen when we are grateful, and they are all essential. First, with gratitude, we learn to appreciate things. It is not possible to be grateful for a gift without appreciating that gift. All of us have at one time or another received a gift that made us kind of shake our heads. It may have been a pen and pencil set the bank was giving away for free, the one your three sisters also received on their birthdays, that didn’t make you feel particularly special. It’s not possible to appreciate things, like shutdowns and mask-wearing, when we are not especially grateful for them.
And you know, sometimes the things that come to us are not things, but experiences. Think about this year and what it has meant for you and for those you love. Think about what it has meant for the world and for this nation. We are currently living through this time and yet we find, buried in here somewhere, things for which to be grateful, things we had taken for granted. Zoom meetings when without them we would be so distant. Time at home, to just sit and reflect. Cooking more and eating better. Using our car less. The birds chirping at the bird-feeder. When the realization comes that some good came out of this hard time, when gratitude is born in our hearts, then appreciation can follow, even for unexpected gifts.
The second thing, following on our appreciation of the gift, is that we are grateful for the giver. All of us have something for which we have great appreciation – something which came to us at just the right time and from just the right person. A flower that appeared on your desk, a little ring that says “You are special to me”, the assurance that somebody is praying for you, the holiday gift from a child that was kind of wonky and was also especially meaningful and thoughtful. The fall foliage this year, the colors in the sunsets. Our deep appreciation for the gift nurtures the love for the giver, and now our gratitude is for him, for her, too.
And the third thing about gratitude is this. When we are grateful, we are stirred to do and to give in return. We become the benefactors – the makers of good – and gratitude, with its gifts of appreciating and warm heartedness, is born in someone else, someone we have touched by our giving. The truth is that life is all about thanksgiving, an endless circle of gratitude for the gifts and the giver, a circle that moves out like ripples in a pool to make givers of us and others.
As we gather here this morning we give thanks to the God who has gifted each of us in so many ways, and realize that life is really about thanksgiving, each and every day. Today as a nation we recall all the riches God has poured out upon us, the feeding, the nurturing, the caring, the assurance: “Don’t worry so much”, the sustaining, the promise of eternal life. At our tables today we call to mind those moments of gratitude for food, and family and friends who may not be with us this us this year, for big things and little things, and for Jesus and his presence with us. It is here that we remember, with deep appreciation, real warmth, and a desire to make some kind of return, just how much God has given us.
On this Thanksgiving Day toward the end of a very challenging year, when we spend time with others, one way or another, in our national celebration of turkey and football, may our prayers of thanks be to God who has made us and claims us for his own, a God who, believe it or not, thanks us for being here, too. Happy Thanksgiving. Amen.