A long time ago, in a sermon about this time of year, I made the statement, “Sometimes it is hard to find Thanksgiving.” Even though I explained myself fairly well, or at least I thought I had, a little boy came up to me and said, “Thanksgiving is easy to find. It is the fourth Thursday of November.” At the time, all I could do was smile. But I thought about what the boy had said, and I began to think about it. I think of the concept of thanksgiving and the day of Thanksgiving in very different ways. The day of Thanksgiving is an American holiday when we are asked to be thankful, whereas thanksgiving is a lifestyle.
Within the teachings of Christ, the choice to follow Christ is not a choice to better yourself in this world, but it is to prepare yourself for the next. Jesus spoke against the religious zealots who put the law before compassion. He spoke against those who lost sight of God in the midst of their practices of faith. He showed his wrath when he saw the temple working to profit itself over celebrating God.
When one comes to believe in Christ, they welcome a life that will undoubtedly be difficult. But before there is the choice, there is the call. Calls are always difficult. Whether it is the call to go on a mission or the call to raise a family, calls should never be entered into lightly, or for reward. That never works out well: just watch the movie Mommy Dearest. Our great examples of the reluctant prophets who often risked their life and comfort by speaking the word of God teach us that to take up a call, we have to make the choice to put ourselves within the hands of God, knowing that it will work out in the direction God has planned.
This is different from the understanding of election and predestination, since it is your choice whether or not to accept the path that has been laid out before you. When that choice is made, one must learn to trust and know that in the end, it will work out to the good. And if the wrong choice is made, we ask God for the grace to reopen the door to allow us to find the right choice again. I think about that when I think of my colleagues who joined the clergy later in life; they could mark all the times God had called them, but they turned the other direction.
At the end of choice and call comes thanksgiving, since, ultimately, we realize that in the midst of our choices and our life, God is ever present, and though we may not receive the glory and reward in this life, we will certainly find it in the next. Thus, giving time to give thanks to God is very important, because to avoid it is to leave God out of the equation and lose sight of the role God is playing in your life. Though we have free will, that does not make our lives devoid of the presence of God. In fact, if we learn anything from Christ, keeping God central to our life changes our priorities and challenges us in our relationships, and leads us to see the love that God truly has for us.
Don’t forget God in the midst of this Thanksgiving celebration, and don’t let thanksgiving be constrained to that day. Rather, let yourself be transformed by the grace and love that God has given to you through the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen