Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday in American history. Seeking to re-locate the narrative of the origins of the United States away from Jamestown in Confederate Virginia, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in the middle of the Civil War, even though Jamestown was founded a decade before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. He also made Thanksgiving a national holiday with the intent of forcing the nation to recognize those whom God made their neighbors, both in the North and in the South, when our country was torn apart by civil war. He set aside Thanksgiving as the holiday in which we challenge ourselves to be grateful when it seems there is little to be grateful for, showing gratitude specifically to neighbors who are different than us.
There are some things which are easy to be grateful for while there are other things that are challenging to show gratitude toward, just as there are some people in our lives for whom it is easy to be grateful while it is quite difficult to be glad that others are around us at all. It is easy to be grateful for the good people around us who help us to get by in easy, reliable, and respectful ways. On the other hand, it is quite difficult to be grateful for those in our lives who may offer aid, but in ways that we perceive to be prideful, selfish, or with other ulterior motives. There are many things and people in our lives which undeniably aid us, but often times can be difficult to be grateful for. It is easier to be grateful for kind neighbors who bring you a plate of cookies every once in a while, than those who have loud parties into the night but will graciously plough your sidewalk when it snows. In times of grief, it is easy to be grateful for the consolation offered by a friend, but difficult to receive consolation from an enemy. Many times it is easy to show gratitude to those in our own communities and social circles, but quite difficult to show gratitude to those whose policies, politics, practices, party, or tribe are at odds with our own. It is easy to show gratitude to some, but quite difficult to show gratitude to others.
These sentiments are captured in the scriptural writings of the Apostle Paul. Paul, at the beginning of most of his letters, offered a salutation to the church community that he was writing to. The community in Corinth was one of these, to whom he wrote at the beginning of his letter, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4, NRSV). Paul began his first letter to the Corinthians showing gratitude to them for how God moved in their community to show them grace. Yet, Paul spends much of the rest of the letter trying to get them to shape up for their ungodly behavior which he condemned as a poor reflection of Christ. Paul, even while at odds with and frustrated by the dysfunctional church in Corinth, was able to greet them with gratitude. I have no doubt that it was easier for Paul to be grateful for many other churches than the one in Corinth, but he showed them gratitude nonetheless.
I, for one, am grateful for a holiday and season in which we have an intentional opportunity to reflect on what it is to show gratitude without partiality. If not for the Thanksgiving holiday, I must quite honestly say that there are things in life that I would never be grateful for, even though I know I should be. Without a chance to stop and reflect on the varied and surprising ways in which God has provided for me every year, I am not sure that I would come to show the gratitude that I should. I hope that you can show gratitude this Thanksgiving season for people and blessings in your life, those that it is easy to be grateful for and others that are quite challenging.
Pastor Seth Nelson