Forever on Thanksgiving Day the heart will find the pathway home. -Wilbur D. Nesbit
I suppose it is almost obligatory to write something about Thanksgiving around this time. Like many of you, I traveled over the holiday. I drove up to Kings Mountain, NC Tuesday to spend the holiday with my mother and sisters. We returned to Tampa Friday in an effort to miss traffic.
This is a time of reflecting and “giving thanks” for our blessings and one of the things I’m most thankful for is that my immediate family remains intact, and that I still have a home and hometown to which I can return. The parents’ of an old high school friend of mine died some years ago. He now lives in Asheville, NC and his sister in Charlotte. He made a comment a few years ago about how sad he was that for the first time, he really had no reason to go to Kings Mountain for the holidays. Because of the tight relationship I have with my family, and the love for the small town in which I grew up, I thought that was very poignant, and that is not a feeling I want to experience any time soon. So I’m thankful for home and family.
Thursday night, Lay and I went out riding around, and I pointed out so many of the local landmarks that were part of my growing up years. Being that it’s a small town, I could tell him who (at least) used to live in nearly every house in town. Not coming from a small town, he doesn’t have the same frame of reference to understand that, for all the drawbacks of growing up in small town, there are many benefits to knowing nearly everyone in town.
With a twelve-hour drive home, I had ample time to reflect on Thanksgiving and what this time of year means. I personally have had an OK year. There are things in my life that I wish were different, but on the whole, I am very blessed. So it seems almost curmudgeonly to think about what a bad year it’s been from a societal perspective.
The first thing that leaps to mind is the storms of the Gulf Coast and destruction they wrought. Then there is my disagreement with the federal government position on so many social issues from Gay rights to funding for social programs…and there is the on-going conflict in Iraq.
But for all of that, most of us in America have much for which to be thankful, especially if you consider our situations as compared to so many around the world and here too.
So I think the “thanks” part of Thanksgiving is the easy part. It’s the “giving” part that is often a little more difficult.
It will surprise many of you (but shouldn’t) that we Americans were late to the table when it came to a Thanksgiving holiday. We like to claim it for ourselves, but really we Americans didn’t invent Thanksgiving. The ancient Jews did. They called it the Passover. We read about it in Deuteronomy 14:22-27. In gratitude for God’s deliverance from their enemies and for provisions to meet their daily needs, the Jewish people were directed to come to their temple in the city of Jerusalem once a year, bringing one-tenth of their wealth for a gigantic party.
Mosaic Law provided one other instruction pertaining to this Thanksgiving feast. It was to make sure that the poor and needy were brought into the festivities. They especially were to be included. Widows and orphans were singled out to be honored guests and to equally share in the bounty of the occasion. A celebration that ignored the less fortunate was considered a sin against God.
Thousands of years later, those of us who claim the Judeo-Christian tradition must ask ourselves whether the Bible’s prescription for thanksgiving should be applied today. Reflecting on and being thankful for our blessings is a good and right thing, but we must not let our Thanksgiving prayer become one of self-congratulations. Our prosperity is not a sign of divine election, but an awesome responsibility. Jesus said: “From those who have much, much is expected.”
If we’re just counting our blessings and stopping there, we’re not being good Christians. In the midst of our feasting we must remember the poor and oppressed in the world, and make commitments to share our blessings with them? Part of being people of faith is not just giving thanks, but giving back. On Thanksgiving Day, as on every day, 35,000 children around the world died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. AIDS ravages Africa, leaving 13 million children orphaned. Here in our own country, the homeless number in the tens of thousands and the number of families falling below the poverty level increases every day.
To obey the Bible, we need to do something about these who have been shut out of the feasting.
On the societal level, we might reconsider our government’s priorities. We Americans are 6% of the world’s population; we consume 43% of the world’s resources; but we allot less than two-tenths of one percent of our federal budget to help the poor of the world. Of the 22 industrialized nations, that puts us next to last on a per-capita basis when it comes to giving. As a country, we ought to be doing more.
On a personal level, that challenge to each of us is to find that way to use our gifts and graces to make the life of someone else in our sphere of influence a little better. It’s our job, as Christians, to ensure that all are special guests to the bounty of our world.
On that great judgment day, which all of us must one day face, we will be asked of the Lord, “Did you feed me when I was hungry? Clothe me when I was naked? And care for me when I was sick?” (Matt. 25:34-46).
So my Thanksgiving prayer for myself and all of you this year is that there will be someone by our side on that day, who will say, “Yes Lord, he did something.”