Giving Thanks (Even Now) –
By Shannon Vowell –
This is the first Thanksgiving in my adult life when the scripture verse that most accurately describes our collective mood seems to be Matthew 10:34-36.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
Enmity dominates. From the profound evils of attempted genocide and ongoing war internationally, to the more plebian peevishness of home-grown politicians, the world is living up to its reputation for worldliness.
If only it were “just” the world!
Methodist schism, that necessary but excruciating process of separation, has put both profound evils and plebian peevishness on display in the Church – and Methodists of all stripes are the walking wounded.
As we stagger toward Thanksgiving, temptations abound: Deny the undeniably grim status quo and put on a good show for the sake of faux festivity. Embrace the cynical pessimism of the zeitgeist (implicitly implying Christ isn’t big enough for these problems). Duke it out with whomever still has energy to fight. Etc.
Such temptations, while understandable, exacerbate the misery that inspires them.
Where to turn for alternatives?
Blessedly, Jesus doesn’t just offer us an accurate description of our sorry situation. He also offers us a bridge to beyond the heaviness of the present moment. The bridge, of course, is himself.
In Matthew 5:11-12, he says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
In Luke 21:19, he says, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
In John 16:33, he says, “In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!”
This aspect of discipleship is not our favorite. It contradicts the prosperity gospel and undermines the American Dream and inverts all our wishful thinking about waking up in Heaven after a pleasant and painless life. But because Jesus so accurately predicts our need for endurance and courage, it’s wise to not just believe him – but to receive what he offers by way of sustenance for the battle.
In John 4:14, Jesus promises refreshment. “… those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
In John 10:11, Jesus promises protection. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
In Matthew 11:28 – 30, Jesus promises rest. “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Claiming those blessings from Jesus doesn’t instantly transform the troubles of our times, but it does transform us – even as we navigate those troubles. He replaces our lack with his lavishness. He lifts our burdens so we can stand tall to praise him. He shines his light into those dark corners, and in that shining he banishes the demons of doubt and despair.
It may be helpful to remember that the first Thanksgiving officially celebrated as a national holiday occurred in the middle of the bloody, bitter Civil War – a conflict which still holds the dubious distinction of costing more American lives than any other. In November of 1863, Lincoln enjoined an exhausted, traumatized, demoralized nation:
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that (God’s mercies) should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
If we had nothing else for which to praise him, God’s mercies would be more than enough.
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “For our slight, momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen, for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
The approach of Thanksgiving this year need not be “one more thing” to endure. If we rest in our Savior and recall the example of the Great Emancipator, we can be empowered to live into a national holiday as citizens of Heaven – and what glory to our King that kind of witness generates!
Paul’s pragmatic advice on the “how” of this witnessing gives us a step-by-step manual, easier (by far) than the checklist most turkey feasts require.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).
May we be fueled by our faith this holiday season, that others might be encouraged by glimpses of Christ in us.
Shannon Vowell, a frequent contributor to Good News, blogs at shannonvowell.com. She is the author of Beginning … Again: Discovering and Delighting in God’s Plan for your Future, available on Amazon. Photo: Shutterstock