Harrowing Of Hell
November 23, 2023

May Your Thanksgiving be Full of Gratitude

Diane Carlisle, Lay Preacher

Good Morning and Happy Thanksgiving!

I love Thanksgiving. It is probably my favorite secular holiday. Perhaps you too have memories of family Thanksgivings, getting together with the cousins and running around grandma and grandpa’s farm. Those are my early memories. I also remember spending a Thanksgiving during my college years with my then boyfriend cooking and serving food at the Union Gospel Mission. More recent memories include spending the past six Thanksgivings (covid excluded) with parishioners and friends enjoying a feast here in our Great Hall. My husband is currently in the kitchen preparing the turkeys for today’s feast. All of these Thanksgivings have been full of love and thankfulness.

There has been some movement towards renaming Thanksgiving as “Friendsgiving” , the act of sharing a meal with friends. I contend that we don’t give friends so that name doesn’t quite work. I totally understand the desire to separate the celebration of this feast day from the history of our First Thanksgiving. 

There is a lot of misinformation about what we know as the first Thanksgiving. As a teacher for 30 years I unknowingly contributed to this largely false storyline. I am glad that the truth is coming out and we are rewriting our history books to more accurately reflect what actually happened. In fact, Thanksgiving as a fall harvest feast existed long before Squanto and Massasoit and Miles Stanton ever even met.  Canada and even other settlements in what is now the United States had Thanksgiving feasts decades before that famous First Thanksgiving.

I believe we should keep celebrating Thanksgiving as this is a day when people from all backgrounds traditionally come together to  give thanks for a multitude of things. Even people who are not religious give thanks on this day.

Have you ever stood around in a circle and said what you were thankful for? I have, and often the things people are thankful for are things such as good health, a nice family, financial stability, or a new puppy. It makes people feel good to give thanks, to remember the good things. 

But I would like to talk about an attitude rather than a feeling. Thankfulness is a feeling. Feelings come and go. An attitude is a way of being. Gratitude is an attitude of appreciation under any circumstance. Gratitude involves being thankful, but it is more than that. Gratitude means expressing thankfulness and being appreciative of life daily even when nothing exciting happens and even when seemingly bad things happen.

In AA and other 12 step programs, November is Gratitude month. Many groups have a gratitude potluck before or after one of their meetings. The people at these meals are full of gratitude, not for their addiction, but for the opportunity to move beyond using and abusing to a life filled with gratitude, no matter their circumstances. I have to admit to gaining a few pounds early in my sobriety by attending many gratitude potlucks and meetings. I wanted what they had. What I saw in every meeting was joy and happiness. This was expressed by those who had little and those who appeared to have everything. At that time I was not feeling gratitude for much of anything. I was thankful to be sober, but not exactly full of gratitude for being an alcoholic. What I did learn over the years is that adjusting my attitude to one of gratefulness was life changing. 

Gratitude gives us reason for celebrating all we have been given by God, whether because of, or in spite of, what it might be. Gratitude can be misunderstood when we think that it exists on the condition of our getting something, especially something pleasant or desired or hoped for.

It  goes deeper than simply finding the right words to respond to what we get, though words are perhaps the most convenient way we have to express gratitude. But it, too, must come from a deeper place. It, too, must reside within us; otherwise, it becomes mere lip service.

Gratitude is a way of seeing and of being. It does not come and go. It is not conditional, but fully expresses itself in the way we see and live our lives. It frames our response to all situations. Gratitude is a way of honoring God through our actions. It also acknowledges that the bad thing is never the last thing.

I have a friend who used to sing in the Epiphany choir. It was something he absolutely cherished. Unfortunately he developed a condition which inhibited his ability to match pitch and he could no longer sing in the choir. He really had two choices: be angry, perhaps even angry with God for taking away his ability to sing in the choir, or he could be grateful. He chose to be grateful to God for the time he was able to sing in the choir, for the long lasting friendships he developed, for his continued involvement in the church, and the knowledge he gained about hymnody and God’s word expressed through singing. He is still active at Epiphany, rarely missing his beloved Evensong, where now he can revel in the beautiful music with a deep understanding of what is being sung.

If we go back to the Bible’s original language, the Greek word for gratitude: “χάριτι”(charis) refers to the quality of showing appreciation and returning kindness. This is in contrast to how Merriam-Webster defines “gratitude,” which is more of thankfulness for a personal benefit, such as being “thankful” for something that happened to you. Saying “thank you” doesn’t automatically mean you’re actually grateful. You may be just saying it to be polite.

Biblical gratitude is an approach to doing something, sustenance that strengthens you, and the intention behind your actions. Gratitude is a positive response to experiencing God’s goodness and grace. In other words, once you realize that God is working in your life, you’ll show gratefulness in how you live.

Gratitude is mentioned a lot in the Bible. It helps us develop all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul says that by being grateful to God, we’ll have joy, peace, and self-control, be patient, kind, gentle, and generous toward others, and be utterly faithful to God. Gratitude is at the root of our spiritual growth.

The Bible gives many examples of people who were grateful to God in all circumstances – even challenging ones. 

Paul used to persecute Christians. But after experiencing a change of heart, he became a grateful person for God. He was beaten, shipwrecked, and thrown in prison. Yet, he was grateful to God, who gave him life. (Philippians 4:11-12)

Job lost everything, including his children, possessions, and health. Even in complete loss, however, Job decided that God was bigger than his struggles and continued to be worthy of praise. Because of this, God blessed Job with even more than he had before. (Job 1:1-22)

In today’s Gospel Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem when He met 10 people with leprosy. Out of His love and sovereignty, He miraculously healed all 10 lepers. However, only one of them returned, praised God, threw themself on Jesus’ feet, and thanked Him. Jesus then asks why the other nine did not come and then added, “Your faith has made you well.”(Luke 17:11-19)

That is what is important to remember. His faith made him well. His acknowledgement of God’s grace and gratitude to Jesus is what has healed him. 

Whenever we struggle to be grateful, the best solution is to turn to God. God will give us the peace and strength needed to push through. By God’s goodness and grace, we can rest easy and be grateful for everything God is doing in our lives – just like Biblical figures like the leper have done before.

So as you return to your homes or the home of a friend or relative to celebrate this day of Thanksgiving, my prayer for you is that your hearts are full of gratitude, full of gratitude for God’s presence in your lives and the lives of your loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!