November 2018 - Giving Thanks
November – a month that includes both religious and civic observances: the festival of All Saints at the beginning of the month, mid-term elections that will bring to a blessed conclusion all of the mud-slinging campaign ads, and the Thanksgiving holiday when people come together and offer thanks for blessings received. Regardless of our political affiliation or where we stand on the outcomes of the mid-term elections, there is much to be thankful for.
I was reminded of this recently in the passing of a 92-year-old member of my congregation. Her name was Ruth, and she embodied a spirit of joyful thanksgiving. She made her home with her daughter, and I would go to visit and bring Holy Communion to her. Without fail, Ruth would always tell me how thankful she was. She was so richly blessed, she would say, how could she be anything but thankful? Though her memory was fading and she could not do the things she used to do, she was not frustrated or bitter about her situation in life. Quite the opposite! In spite of her infirmities, Ruth continued to sing the praises of the Lord in daily life. She was upbeat, positive, and a joy to be around. She was a living witness of what Paul the apostle writes: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
In preaching Ruth’s funeral sermon, I mentioned the above passage, calling to everyone’s attention that Paul does not say, “Give thanks for all circumstances.” Rather, he tells us, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” There is a difference between the two, and Ruth understood this. Further, she helped me to understand this. Whenever I think of what it looks like to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances, I will think of Ruth. She is now among that “great multitude which no man can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” (Revelation 7:9). For this, I give thanks and praise to God.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, what will you give thanks and praise to God for in your life? It’s easy to be thankful for the big gifts that may come our way in life: the promotion at work, the new car, the special vacation. These are wonderful things and should be received with thanks, of course. But just as important – perhaps even more so – are those ordinary, everyday gifts of God in life that can easily be overlooked or taken for granted: health, loved ones, employment, just to name a few. As Thanksgiving draws near, the challenge for all of us is to move from thanksgiving to thanksliving. How will a spirit of thankfulness get lived out in my daily life? What will this look like in interactions with family members, neighbors, co-workers, the person in front of me in the check-out line? For the child of God, each and every day becomes an opportunity to give thanks; it’s so much more than just one day in late November.
I wish you a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving holiday, but even more, I pray that you will come to know the spirit of thanksgiving that I saw in Ruth. Long after she is gone, her spirit of joyful thanksgiving will continue to impact the lives of those who were blessed to know her. I am among them.