I’m here today to proclaim good news—
the good news that thanksgiving is GOOD for you!
Well, perhaps not the fat from the stuffing
or the gravy
or the butter on those heavenly mashed potatoes.
Nor maybe the sugar from the pumpkin pie and whipped cream.
Nor any of the additional calories we consume on “THE DAY.”
But thanks giving, giving thanks, is indeed healthy for you!
And there is even research to prove it.
The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study.
People who REMIND themselves of the things that they are grateful for—
people who count their blessings one by one, consciously, EVERY day—
show SIGNIFICANT improvements in mental and physical health.
Here’s how the study worked: College students were asked to fill out
a weekly report of five things they were grateful for.
They listed things like “the generosity of friends”
and “the Rolling Stones”.
Another group, made up of adults with chronic ailments like cancer and diabetes
was also asked to write down a list of things that made them thankful.
At the same time, comparable groups were asked to count their hassles,
instead of their blessings.
This other group listed aggravations such as “hard to find parking”
and “finances depleting quickly”.
Instead of focusing on how rich and gifted they were,
those in this other group meditated on their POVERTY.
In the end, the research showed:
grateful people FELT better about their lives
more optimistic about their prospects.
Not only that, there were unexpected PHYSICAL differences as well:
The thankful college students exercised more,
and the chronically ill adults, the ones who recounted their blessings
reported sleeping longer, and waking up more refreshed.
They reported being nicer to their neighbors.
They were more willing to help people with their personal problems,
All this lead the researchers to conclude that GRATITUDE
can serve as a “moral motivator”[i]
Now, I don’t think that you MUST be consistently thankful to be a good person.
This study doesn’t say that,
just that people who consciously counted
their blessings were somehow motivated to share them with others.
That’s a good thing. No one is thankful all the time. That’s not really possible.
But counting your blessings. It is so good for you. You know?
But, is it just me, or does it just FEEL HARDER to be grateful these days?
To recognize the goodness that surrounds us;
to trust the gift of other people in our lives
To see grace as it is coming down the road
rather than AFTER it smacks us upside the head?
One afternoon, a shopper at Oak Park Mall felt the need for a coffee break.
Around this time of year, you know, the lines start getting long.
the crowds get to be a bit impatient.
She bought herself a little bag of cookies and put them in her shopping bag.
She got in line for coffee and found a place to sit at one of the tables.
It was pretty crowded.
She took the lid off her coffee and took out a magazine.
She began to sip her coffee and read.
She began to RELAX from the ordeal of bumping into that fella at Macys
and having to wait FOREVER for that lady to count out
exact change for her order –$2.36 in quarters, dimes, and pennies. Ugh.
Across the table from her, a man sat reading a newspaper. No big deal.
After a minute or two, she reached out and took a cookie.
And as she did, the man across the table from her, he reached out and took one too.
Well, this put her off, but she didn’t say anything.
A few minutes later, she took another cookie. Once again, the man did so too.
Now, she was getting upset, but STILL she did not say anything.
See, she was too polite for that!
After having a couple of sips of coffee, she took another cookie. So did the man.
Now she was really steamed—especially since there was only ONE cookie left.
Apparently the man also saw that only one cookie remained.
Before she could say anything, he took it
broke it in half,
offered half to her,
and proceeded to eat the other half himself.
Then he smiled at her and, putting his paper under his arm, and walked off…
Boy, was she angry! She was hot!
Her coffee break was ruined!
Already thinking ahead about how she would tell this offense with her friends,
she folded her magazine with a huff and opened her shopping bag to put it away.
And there… she discovered her own unopened bag of cookies.
Maybe it is harder to be thankful, to be grateful,
because we just don’t have the time to stop and smell the roses.
Too often our life is like that, when it comes to recognizing God’s gifts to us.
We’re often too busy, or stressed, or preoccupied with petty matters
that we fail to see the everyday blessings that are before us.
And quick to assume that we are locked in a competitive world
where we must jostle for the best parking spot
or that we have to rush to nab the last clean table at the food court
or push front of the line at the United airline gate
lest we have to make our lives busier, more stressed, more distorted.
The good news today is that Thanksgiving is all about pausing in the midst of…this
to give our gratitude to the One from whom all blessings flow,
to reorient our whole lives towards living in the fullness of that Grace.
While we can’t avoid it, there’s danger in the stress of the modern world.
Mary Lynn Tobin argues that one of the dangers of our modern culture
is that our stress-filled, activity-laden lives
lead us to more easily fall into the myth that WE are the only ones
responsible for the blessings in our lives.[ii]
In a sermon, Tobin recalls how, in the old Jimmy Stewart movie, Shenandoah,
the family is gathered the table for Thanksgiving dinner.
Stewart’s character, the father, gives the blessing,
and says something along the lines of
“We hewed the trees,
we tilled the soil,
we planted the seeds,
we weeded the garden,
we harvested the crops,
and we cooked the food,
BUT we thank you, Lord, just the same!”
“Look ma! I did it myself!”
Lift yourself by your own bootstraps!
Be a self-made man!
But the biblical story witnesses to a different mind-set.
From Adam and Eve to the New Testament Passover celebrations,
the people of God are urged to be steadfast in their attitudes of gratitude.
Our reading from Deuteronomy today
recounts how Moses urged the early Hebrew nation
to REMEMBER who it was that led them out of slavery
and into a bountiful land.
Moses notes the propensity of the human heart to look inward
to forget how no Man or Woman is an Island
to forget how we are ALL embedded in a world that is not our own creation
where instead we are nurtured and loved by the steadfast care of God.
The children of Israel took this to heart,
and celebrated a Thanksgiving festival three separate times a year.
Each time, they offered thanks to God for all God has done for them
and presented to God various offerings from the year’s crops or their herds
offerings that were both used in the worship of God in the temple and then,
from the temple, were disbursed to the poor and needy of the land.
There are some complexities with our own Thanksgiving celebrations,
which according to legend and lore were rooted in
a shared feast between Pilgrim immigrants
and native Americans who welcomed them.
Some scholars think that the first immigrants
certainly saw themselves living into covenant promises
similar to those offered to Moses and the Hebrew Nation.
While we can and should critique the colonialism underneath it,
it is fascinating to me that our Thanksgiving might have been inspired by the
word of God in Deuteronomy,
“When you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate
the feast of the Lord for seven days.”
Imagine it! A week-long Thanksgiving
—now those folks knew how to celebrate!
I find it so interesting that in our Presbyterian calendar,
no real liturgical day is set aside for giving thanks anymore.
Today, for example, is really “Christ the King” Sunday,
and if I were following the lectionary
I would be preaching about how Jesus is Lord of all.
Oh, there are Thanksgiving texts in the lectionary,
but it is not really considered a liturgical event,
a focus for the people assembled on Sunday.
We no longer have a RELIGIOUS feast day, not really.
Just a national holiday,
unique to North Americans in the United States and Canada.
I don’t know what to make of that.
So Luke tells us that Jesus was a healer.
He was walking through Galilee and 10 leapers approach him and he heals them.
They were made clean, which is huge, because without that they
lived on the fringes of society.
But they’re healed. And one of them comes back and thanks Jesus for this blessing.
One in ten. Not a great percentage.
But I don’t think its all that helpful to get on the case of the lepers
who didn’t return to Jesus.
After all, they were merely doing what Jesus ordered them to do:
“Go and show yourselves before the priests.” He said, after all.
This was not just a suggestion. It was a requirement that they had to fulfill.
The priests had to certify them as “clean” before they would be permitted access to
the community again.
But note well: it is the Samaritan, the foreigner, who returns to thank Jesus.
As Luke often notes, it is a foreigner, an outsider,
one despised and considered dangerous
it’s the Samaritan who pushes beyond the boundaries to make a point about God.
So, lets not focus on those nine who kept on going
but upon the one who hit a Speed Bump, the one who slowed down,
the one who returned to Jesus to offer thanks.
Fred Craddock once wrote about this passage.
He says that,
like the Samaritan leper,
“It is often the stranger [or newcomer] in the church
who sings heartily the hymns we have long left to the choir.
who expresses gratitude for blessings we had not noticed,
who listens attentively to that sermon we think we have
who gets excited about our old Bible,
and who becomes actively involves in acts of service to
which we send small donations.”[iii]
Thank God for the fresh eyes of strangers!
The stranger in our biblical text this morning NOTICES something.
He creates space for gratitude in his soul, and this stranger, this Samaritan, is healed.
That’s when Jesus says to him, and just to him, not to the other nine:
“Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well”
The ten were healed of leprosy. This One, alone, is made well.
The Greek word for “well” means something like wholeness, and even salvation.
In effect, Jesus is saying: Your faith has made you whole.
Your faith has saved you.
Your ability to acknowledge the One
who is the source of all healing… has saved you.
Giving God fair credit for your life… is what has saved you.
That appreciation has started you down the road of relationship
with the One who is at work in this world
healing and creating and working for Good!
Thanks be to God.
Thanksgiving is GOOD for us.
In many ways, it is the foundation for a right relationship with God
Not to mention that it might help us exercise more and feel better. That’d be nice too.
The trouble is, we get so far removed from the gift
that we can forget there is a giver.
It’s hard to be grateful for the miracles of sun and rain that make plants grow
when we pick our corn off the shelf in the grocery store.
Or we’re just so busy, or so scared that we won’t have enough
or are so exhausted from working to make ends meet…
The temptation is to return to notions of our self-sufficiency,
to forget God,
to say to ourselves, “my strength and my ability have gotten me thus far in life,
they’re the only things that can….”
Not so long ago people all over the world were featured in a magazine poll
which asked them the question –
“if you could be granted one wish that will come true right now
– what would that be?”
There were some very interesting responses –
But the best was: “I wish that I could be given an even greater ability
to appreciate all that I already have.”
How can we possibly start doing that?
Tobin has an interesting take on that.She noted how a marriage counselor once suggested
that one of our problems is that we act mainly on our feelings
—on whether or not we “feel” like doing something.
When we’ve lost a feeling for something, we discard it.
For example, we believe that
“if I feel love for you
THEN I will act in a loving way”
The counselor’s premise is the opposite.
“If I act in a loving way, my feelings of love will grow.”
And so he recommends to his clients various “caring exercises” to do each day
—one of which is, of course, the expression of appreciation and gratitude
The results: relationships that are more caring, more appreciative,
and, in turn, more loving.
Could it be possible:
Counting our blessings,
intentionally recognizing the gifts of our lives
our opportunities to make a living
and provide for ourselves and those who depend on us,
our skills, somewhat unique to us
our personality, totally what makes us who we are,
our profound good looks (oh, I meant to take that out)
the things that make us laugh and smile
our hobbies and our pets and our humor…
That giving thanks for these things, for noting their source as not merely of ourselves,
that is, that noting they are GIFTS,
could it be that this PRACTICE of thanksgiving might just make us
more thankful people, happier,
more connected to the one who gifts them to us?
This kind of intentional appreciation leads us
to living lives in grateful relationship with God.
It helps strengthen those strings between us, too,
because in gratitude we are opening up our lives to God
and moving toward giving God first place in our lives.
When we give thanks as a community and as a family,
we are reminded of all the good things and all the good people in our lives.
We remember that we have been blessed,
we remember that there is a greater good than ourselves.
And that is GOOD for us.
And that is GOOD for our world.
And when we give thanks to God,
we are reminded that the world does not in fact revolve around us
and in fact, that the world does not depend on us.
Martin Luther, the great leader of the Protestant Reformation put it this way:
“While I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer, the gospel runs its course.”
That’s a pretty good advertisement for beer.
But Luther was simply saying that the kingdom of God unfolds in our lives
despite our worry and all our frantic work,
despite our most embarrassing failures and our most wonderful achievements.
Whatever happens in the world around us,
God continues to work for healing and goodness.
We have work to do, to be sure, but we don’t have to do it all. What a relief!!!
And that is GOOD for us!
So I encourage us to relish the Speed Bump that we call Thanksgiving this week.
Taking our cue from this Samaritan, this foreigner,
who upon being healed of his physical condition
turned in gratitude to Christ
and began a deeper relationship
that healed his spirit
and freed him to lasting relationship with God and neighbor.
My Friends, Thanksgiving is good for you!
As the psalmist declares –
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to God’s name”
Praise be to God.
Brothers and Sisters, may we Count our many blessings,
this day and every day. Amen.
[i] Homiletics, November-December 2003 Vol 15, No 6, p. 37. See also “The Psychology of Giving Thanks” at https://psysociety.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/thanksgiving/ and “Choose to Be grateful. It will make you happy.” in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/opinion/sunday/choose-to-be-grateful-it-will-make-you-happier.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0
[ii] This section indebted to Rev. Mary Lynn Tobin’s Sermon “Thanksgiving: Response-abilty” 11/23/03
[iii] Fred B. Craddock in the Luke volume of Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, p. 203)