A REAL Thanksgiving
Wednesday of Pentecost 24
22 November 2017
I heard radio talk show hosts carping about an article in USA Today ("Florida teacher chips away at Plymouth Rock Thanksgiving myth"), claiming that the first "Thanksgiving" in the Western hemisphere occurred in 1565 not 1620 in Plymouth. Spanish explorer, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, would have celebrated this putative first "REAL" thanksgiving at St. Augustine, Florida. Of course, the point of this claim is to call into doubt the uniquely "American" character of the celebration of Thanksgiving. The attempt to cast doubt on the American-ness of Thanksgiving is misguided on several grounds. Even if de Aviles was in no way "American," the Pilgrims were no more so. The American Revolution was still 150 years in the future. Despite suffering official persecution for their peculiar religious practices at the hands of the British crown, the Pilgrims were decidedly and decisively subjects of His Royal Highness, King James I. There is not much American about that.
After the Pilgrim evolution of Thanksgiving there were thanksgiving proclamations by President Washington in 1789 and by President Lincoln while the Civil War raged. Unknown to many is the formal thanksgiving celebrated by Martin Frobisher, the English explorer, in Canada in 1578. The history of the "first" (REAL or otherwise) Thanksgiving is quite muddied. So? I find enormously ironic that our secular culture has gotten into a shouting match about who was first to have a formal thanksgiving in the new world. All those implicated in the "first" Thanksgivings, whether de Aviles, Governor John Carver, or Frobisher, were themselves devout Christians. They were giving thanks to God for his delivery of them in rather straightened circumstances.
Compared to those devout thanksgivings of long ago what we call Thanksgiving bears very little resemblance to the faithful Christian worship of those who first gave thanks here. An acquaintance of mine expressed surprise when I said that our congregation was having a worship service on the morning of Thanksgiving Day. "Why would you go to church on Thanksgiving?" What we now call the "first" Thanksgivings were nothing of the sort. They had none of the inordinate feasting and reveling characteristic of what is now called "Thanksgiving." The priests with de Aviles said mass for the sailors and troops, who received the body of Christ. At Plymouth Thanksgiving consisted of a full day of prayer and worship and probably very little revelry.
Christians have been celebrating thanksgivings for divine rescue for some centuries. This long and holy history of thanksgiving mocks the claims to being "first." The Bible records the thanksgiving of the children of Israel after God had led them through the Red Sea on dry ground, rescuing them from the Egyptians (Ex 15:1-21). Nearly every Pauline epistle begins with a thanksgiving to God for His blessings. One of my favorite liturgical texts, Te Deum Laudamus, "We Praise You, O God," is the church's continual song of thanksgiving. 

It doesn't matter whose thanksgiving was first, but it does matter that we are uncertain whom we are thanking. Whether it is the "first" or the last, a Thanksgiving offered to no one is a blasphemy. John Chrysostom preached about Paul's prayer of thanksgiving at the beginning of the first epistle to the Corinthians. "I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge" (1Co 1:4-5). Now that's a REAL Thanksgiving.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"That which Paul exhorts others to do, saying, 'Let your requests with thanksgiving be made known unto God' (Phil 4:6), the same also he used to do himself, teaching us to begin always from these words, and before all things to give thanks unto God. For nothing is as acceptable to God as that men should be thankful, both for themselves and for others. Therefore, he also prefaces almost every epistle with this. But the occasion for his doing so is even more urgent here than in the other epistles. For he gives thanks, both for being well off, and in acknowledgment of a blessing. A blessing is not a debt nor a requital nor a payment, which indeed everywhere is important to be said, but much more in the case of the Corinthians who were gaping after the dividers of the Church.
"'Unto my God.' Out of great affection Paul seizes on that which belongs to everyone, and makes it his own, as the prophets also from time to time use to say, 'O God, my God' (Ps 43:4), and by way of encouragement he motivates the Corinthians to use the same language also themselves. For such expressions belong to one who is retiring from all secular things, and moving towards Him whom he calls on with so much earnestness. Since he alone can truly say this, who from things of this life is ever mounting upwards unto God, and always preferring Him to all, and giving thanks continually, not [only] for the grace already given, but whatever blessing will be at any time bestowed, for this also he offers unto Him the same praise. Therefore he does not say merely, 'I give thanks,' but 'at all times, concerning you,' instructing them to be thankful both always, and to no one else save God only.
"'For the grace of God.' See how from every quarter he draws topics for correcting the Corinthians? For where 'grace' is, 'works' are not, and where 'works' are, there is no 'grace.' If therefore it is 'grace,' why are you lofty-minded? How have you been puffed up?
"'Which is given you.' And by whom was it given? By me, or by another Apostle? Not at all, but 'by Jesus Christ.' 'That in every thing you were enriched.' Again, by whom? By Him, is the reply. And not merely 'you were enriched, but 'in every way.' Since then it is first of all, 'riches' then, 'riches of God,' next, 'in every way,' and lastly, 'through the Only-Begotten,' reflect on the ineffable treasure!"

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 2.1-3
Psalm 106:1-23, 42-48

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD, or declare all his praise? Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times! Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them, that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory with your inheritance. Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness. Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the Sea, at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make known his mighty power. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert. So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel.
Their enemies oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their power. Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity. Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love. He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive. Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, "Amen!" Praise the LORD!(ESV)
Almighty God, whose mercies are new every morning and whose goodness, though undeserved, still abundantly provides for all our wants of body and soul, grant us, we humbly pray, Your Holy Spirit that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness toward us, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For all those traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday, that God their Father would give them safe ways
For all those struggling to make a Christian confession in the face of our pagan culture, that the Lord Jesus would send them His Spirit unto their courage and joy
For the family of Ryan Jones, who was suddenly taken from them, that they might be led by the Spirit of Christ in a time of sorrow
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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