Thanksgiving Homily 2018
Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again
be put to shame. (Joel 2:21-27)
• • •
I want to talk with you for a few minutes this morning about what a pastor should not say to the congregation on Thanksgiving.
It is hard to preach about giving thanks and being grateful. To me, it always sounds like a scold. Like a parent saying to a child, “Look how much we’ve given you. You should be thankful you have parents like us. Think about all those children who don’t have a nice home and a loving family and all the advantages you have.” We’ve probably all heard that before, and many of us have given that speech. How did it work out for you?
I hate to stand in front of a congregation and say year after year, “You should be thankful.” We all know that anyway, and I can’t believe it’s going to change anybody’s heart or disposition just because I’m standing in front of you saying, “You know, you really should be more grateful.” It’s bad preaching, it’s not the gospel, it’s bad human psychology, and it’s actually kind of rude, don’t you think? Who likes to be called an ingrate?
But there’s another reason a pastor should not preach this way on Thanksgiving, or, in my opinion, at any time. You see, as we come together at any given moment, we are all in different places. And we can see this in our text this morning from Joel.
Some of you have come here this morning specifically to say “Thank you” to God. Your life is in a good place now. You are feeling blessed. You have what you need and more, and it is no chore whatsoever for you to express gratitude. In fact, it’s quite natural and easy for you. Of course, it might help for someone to remind you where all these blessings come from, because we do have a tendency to forget and take them for granted. But even though you may not have intentionally voiced your feelings, you have the feeling inside, and you’ve come here to express it.
This text describes some people who look around them and see fig trees and vines full of fruit, threshing floors piled high with grain, vats filled with oil. There’s plenty to eat for man and beast, the pastures are green, the rains are falling at the right time, and there is a spirit of contentment and satisfaction.
These are times we might call seasons of ORIENTATION. All is right with the world. The Bible is filled with praise psalms and texts that describe what it is like in a time of blessing, when life is ordered aright and filled with goodness. If you’re here today and in one of those seasons in your life, I don’t need to stand up here and tell you to give thanks, because you feel it and are ready to join in the spirit of Thanksgiving today.
But this text also describes another kind of season that the Jewish people had gone through. Joel writes about years of crops eaten up by swarms of locusts, devastating the land and impoverishing the people. He mentions the word “shame” here several times. During those hard times, when people were poor and hungry, they felt ashamed, embarrassed , marginalized.
Maybe you’ve been through a tough time like that. Perhaps it wasn’t crop failure, but another kind of financial problem, or maybe a serious illness or an addiction, or a family problem like a divorce or serious family conflict. It’s possible that some of you are there right now. It’s hard to be at church at a time like that, isn’t it? It’s hard to put a smile on your face when people ask how you’re doing, and say, “I’m fine.”
We might call this a season of DISORIENTATION. Everything in your life seems topsy-turvy. You can’t seem to get a break. You feel lost, alone, and you wonder what to do, where to go. Now imagine that this is where you are and you come to church this morning, and I stand up here and say, “You ought to be more thankful.” How would that make you feel? Would that be a sensitive and pastoral way to speak to you?
You’re not ready to say “thank you” when you are in a season of disorientation, and no one has the right to demand that from you. Instead it is our job as a church family to be there for you, to help as we might be able, to sympathize with your situation, to pray for you, to weep with you, to care for you. So I refuse to stand up here today and say, “You should be more thankful,” knowing that at any time, there might be someone here who would only get beaten down more by hearing those words.
There is one final season described in Joel 2. This text envisages a time when the Lord delivers his exiled people from their season of distress and disorientation. It speaks here of “vindica-tion,” of God “dealing wondrously” with his hurting people, of God restoring, renewing, and replenishing their barren lives with fruitfulness and plenty.
This is the season of REORIENTATION. The Bible calls this “salvation,” or “redemption.” This is being set free, being lifted up, being made new again. Now, once again, if you are here today and you have just been brought back to life, I don’t need to tell you that you should be more grateful. You are grateful, and it’s going to come out naturally.
Here we are, all together. Each one of us is in a different place, with different needs, and able to express different sentiments. It is not my job to tell you how you should feel.
The pastor’s job is not to preach gratitude.
The pastor’s job is to preach grace — the grace of God that has come to us in Jesus Christ.
If you are in a season of orientation today, and all is going well, I encourage you to consider the grace of God that makes it so.
If you are in a season of disorientation today, and all is falling apart, I encourage you to consider the grace of God that is with you to comfort and see you through.
If you are in a season in which God has reoriented your life, I encourage you to praise God for the grace you have received, which turned everything around.
No matter where we are, no matter what season we find ourselves in, God is with us, and God’s grace is here for us.
The gratitude will come naturally when we get hold of that.
And so I commend you to the grace of God today.
Have a wonderful, grace-filled Thanksgiving.