November 17 – The Thanksgiving Imperative

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18

The words are memorable and worth memorizing. The verbs are imperative. Commands. Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. The conditions are unyielding. Always. Without ceasing. In all circumstances.

Thanksgiving Day, the national holiday, falls next week.  National holiday or not, it is for many of us a favorite day.  Family. Feast. Football. All or some of the above.  Of course, not all of us will be able or want to be with family. Some of us don’t like turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pies, or Aunt Mary’s famous candied yams. And maybe you’re boycotting the NFL or just plain don’t care much for football.  Scrooge the holiday, but the biblical imperative remains. Give thanks in all circumstances.

It has been a hard week for some in our church family, a difficult season for others.  One chair will sit empty at the Thanksgiving Day table in too many of our homes. Death’s dark shadow has fallen cold and hard. Difficult diagnoses have been given; the road to recovery has been hard and has not yet reached its end. For others there will be no recovery.

The year has not been an easy one for our nation. Social, political, and cultural conflicts bubble and boil, their toxic fumes fouling the air all of us must breathe.

Concerned for the life of the Christian community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected.”  It can seem like that to us, too. But, says Bonhoeffer, we must give thanks for the community in which God has placed us.

Yes, of course, not all of us sense such sadness filling the skies.

The Apostle Paul’s imperative of thanks in all circumstances is not just to those for whom the skies dawn bright and clear day by day.  Nor is it a matter of simply calling to mind enough happy thoughts to cancel the sad thoughts that fill our hearts.  So long as I can muster a long list of things for which I am thankful this Thanksgiving, I will be okay.  It’s not like that.

Give thanks in all circumstances. Not for all circumstances, we are quick and right to point out. Neither can we deny or hide from all circumstances; a coat of cheap paint won’t hide the deep stains on the wall.

In the midst of loss and disappointment, sorrow and grief: give thanks. In the midst of joy and celebration, hope and good cheer: give thanks. When the morning falls on farthest hill; when dark trials come and my heart is filled with the weight of doubt: give thanks: praise him still.

As I write this morning, the hearse has already arrived at the church and the mourners are making their way into the chapel to greet the family.

Give thanks in all circumstances.  An imperative without conditions or exceptions.

Thanksgiving does not enter lightly into all circumstances, but we bid it come because we must. Thanksgiving prepares the way for hope, and hope does not disappoint us.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Weep with those who weep.  Give thanks in all circumstances.  We must. It is an unyielding imperative.

See you Sunday