Leave Thanksgiving table nourished, strengthened

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Next Thursday, I’ll gather with family and friends and share both in the preparation and the eating of a wonderful meal. The foods are special and symbolic. The turkey and cranberries and corn pudding put us in mind of the English pilgrims whose first winter in Massachusetts was so hard; and how the Wampanoag people, native to that part of the country, who had already established a civilization there, found it in their hearts to share their wisdom and the bounty of the field, stream and forest with the strange, pale newcomers from the East. As children, we learned that the first Thanksgiving meal honored the Wampanoag people and that the pilgrims gave thanks to God for having enabled them to survive. Thanksgiving Day reminds us that it is good for us, in North Dakota in 2013, to sit around the table and express thanks to God for our many blessings.

Twice this fall our church’s readings from the Gospel of Luke have been about thanksgiving and gratitude.

We had the story of a man who stood up in the temple to thank God for his many blessings: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people robbers, evildoers, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get,” he said. The man’s thanksgiving was really not gratitude at all. It was a snide expression of his perceived superiority over others who clearly weren’t (in his eyes) as wonderful as he was. Jesus said that kind of thanksgiving did the man no good at all.

We also had the story of 10 men from a leper colony. They had to leave their hometowns because of their disfiguring and frightening disease. They heard that Jesus was coming by, and they asked him to heal them. Jesus, the Great Healer, did just that; and he sent them to the priests, who would certify that they were well and could rejoin their community again. Nine men ran joyfully off; one stopped, turned around, and said, “Thank you!” to the one who had healed him. Jesus did not un-heal the nine who did not express their gratitude but he sent the grateful man on his way with his encouragement and approval.

Anne Lamott wrote that there are really only three prayers that we pray to God: “Help!” “Thanks!” and “Wow!” She said in her book by that title, “Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled and pleased to give back” (p. 56-57).

On Thursday, we have the chance, from our hearts, to say “thank you” to God. Let’s not forget to do so and let’s make sure that the “thank you’s” propel us away from the bountiful table, nourished and strengthened to make the world a better place.