Pastor Tim Inman
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it will be here in just a few weeks. I believe it is actually one of the most spiritual holidays - since the beginning it has been about people recognizing God for Provision, together. I have already heard men debating the benefits of smoking vs. baking vs. frying the turkey and my sister-in-laws already have a text-message thread going on about who is going to bring which side dish.
You probably have heard the history of our American Thanksgiving Day. The Pilgrims sailed to America for religious freedom in 1620. Food was scarce and disease was rampant. Over half of them died during their first winter in New England. By Spring they had met Squanto, a member of a local Native American tribe. He showed them how to hunt and plant corn in their new surroundings, and it probably saved the colony. With a sense of relief and gratitude, the pilgrims shared a thanks-giving celebration with their Native American neighbors.
Edward Winslow was one of those settlers. Just about everything we know about that first American Thanksgiving we have learned from a letter he sent to friends and family back in England. In the letter, he described not a day, but a week - of hunting, recreation, and feasting, in which they were joined by King Massasoit and 90 of his men. His description of their party sounds almost like a brag to friends back home and ends with these words:
“And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
I have two stand-out memories from the Thanksgiving dinners of my own childhood: The first is a memory of the family sitting around the table after the meal, taking turns singing songs, reading poems, and talking about what we were thankful for. I felt a wonderful feeling of security as I heard the adults in my life speak of God’s faithfulness, and I was excited to join in.
Secondly, I remember the great lengths that people went to extend hospitality to one another. Everyone was busy cleaning, cooking, and creating. There were numerous pies. My mother used to make little name badges for each place-setting. Something about gratitude seems to make us want to do good to each-other. Holiday dinners with family aren’t always so idyllic. In fact, problems, hurts, and offenses often exist - so much so that the Holidays can be a real ‘down’ time for lots of people. This makes it even more important to learn the skill of gratitude.
Gratitude isn’t pretending life is perfect. It is simply practicing the belief that there is good in the world and that this good has come to us from outside ourselves. When we acknowledge the good that has come from God and others, we are practicing gratitude, and it has lots of personal benefits:
1. Gratitude is Good for you:
Evidence from behavioral science demonstates that gratitude has the following benefits:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated.
- Science is confirming what scripture has already taught us:
- A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. (Prov 17:22)
Author Melody Beattie puts it this way:
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." Gratitude is clearly more than a feeling, it’s a response.
2. Gratitude inspires generosity
The University of Notre Dame funded a study on the ‘Science of Generosity’ which found a ‘ripple-effect’ cycle of generosity where where one person’s kindness inspired the person who had been the subject of kindness to show kindness to another down the road.
Bill Gates is the world’s wealthiest man with over 82 Billion in net assets. As the head of Microsoft, he was known for being aggressively competitive with a ‘winner takes all’ approach to business. I doubt I was the only one who was shocked in the year 2000, when he stepped down as CEO of Microsoft, established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and pledged to give most of his personal wealth away. The foundation works to improve education and eradicate diseases like Polio and Malaria. The foundation’s guiding principles are:
1. “Every life has equal value, no matter where it is lived.”
2. To whom much has been given, much is expected.
Those are both great principles which find lots of support in Scripture. Now, out of a realization that he is one to whom much has been given, Mr. Gates feels compelled to be generous. He has said that he learned the second principle, “To whom much is given, much is expected” from his mother. She didn’t invent it, though, it was a principle Jesus taught in Luke chapter 7, the Bible tells a story of a Pharisee named Simon, who had a thing or two to learn from Jesus about gratitude:
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat.[h] 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” 40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.” “Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied. 41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver[i] to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.” “That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. 47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?” 50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
This woman’s gratitude inspired great generosity, in terms of the cost of her perfume, of personal service, as she attended to Him and washed his feet with her own tears and hair. For each of us who profess to believe that Christ endured the cross to purchase our freedom, this woman’s story challenges us to ask ourselves: how are we demonstrating our gratitude?
3. Gratitude calls us to live for a cause greater than our own comfort.
Christ engaged our gratitude by dying for us and acknowledging Him fuels us in selfless service. When speaking about his motive for his mission of persuasion, in 2 Corinthians, 5:14 & 15, the Apostle Paul said,
"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again."
Paul saw his ministry as a response to Jesus’ goodness to him. Philippians chapter 3, verse 12 echoes this theme:
I have not yet been made perfect, but I move on to take hold of what Christ Jesus took hold of me for. Jesus paid with His life to save mine, so now, rather than spend my life in service of my own wants, I’ll gratefully spend it serving Him.
In conclusion I shared a story from my college years when I was very down because I was failing at some important goals. In a Christian service at the University, I found freedom and encouragement when I realized Christ’s sacrifice covered my imperfections and failings. Recognizing and acknowledging what Jesus accomplished for me changed my life. In our concluding prayer I challenged us to think about how our gratitude for God’s work is demonstrated in our lives. I invited people who had never before put their faith in Christ for forgiveness to join us in a prayer of faith.