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A Day of Thanks, A Life of Thanks
Psalm 136:1

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Thanksgiving Eve—November 23, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In today’s Old Testament Reading, Moses tells the ancient people of God, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.” 

In the Old Testament they had several harvest festivals during the year, and we find this tradition of the harvest festival in cultures around the world.  In America, we call our harvest festival Thanksgiving Day.  Though similar to other harvest festivals, our Thanksgiving Day is a uniquely American holiday, with a long and rich history going back to the earliest European settlers in the New World.

The first American Thanksgiving Day was celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621.  Their small colony had been hit hard during their first winter in the New World.  But, the colony had survived, and reaped a good harvest in the fall.  So, they celebrated with a day of feasting, giving thanks to God for having brought them to their new land, bringing them through that deadly winter, and giving them a bountiful first harvest.

About 150 years later in 1789, George Washington issued a presidential proclamation establishing a national day of thanks for the newly formed United States of America.  The young nation had much to be thankful for.  That original small handful of struggling Pilgrims had not only survived but thrived.  Against great odds the colonies had won their independence.  The fledging new nation had come through a series of political and economic crises.  The people of America were plunging headfirst into a bold new experiment, a free nation with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  Like the Pilgrims before them, this new nation set aside a day in which they turned heavenward and thanked God for their many blessings.

But, less than 100 years later the nation was embroiled in the Civil War.  In the midst of the war in 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the most famous presidential proclamation of Thanksgiving Day:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven . . . we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. . . It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.  I do therefore invite my fellow citizens . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens.”

From that small band of struggling Pilgrims the United States has grown and prospered to become the most materially blessed nation on earth.  It is very fitting that for all these blessings we set aside a special day of thanks.

But, is a day of thanks enough?  There are 365 days in a year, and many, many years in the average American’s lifetime.  How many of those days pass without us giving a thought to God and his blessings!  God does not want just a day of thanks; he wants from you a life of thanks!

For, you see, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, did not give you just a day.  He gave you his very life.  “‘For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve,’ he said, ‘and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”  Because he gave for you his very life, as a ransom to pay for your sins, you have been given the greatest gift of all.  As Paul says in Romans, “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

And that is why you now live every day as Thanksgiving Day.  Oh, you don’t have a big family feast with turkey every day of the year—although it might seem that way as we eat leftovers the next few days!  We don’t take every day off from work or school, or have parades, and big football games, and special church services.  But, even without all those trappings, we live every day as Thanksgiving Day. 

Every day we show our thanks to God by sharing with others what he has given us.  Sharing not only our material blessings but also sharing the spiritual blessing of the Good News of forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.  Every day we show our thanks to God by wisely using whatever he has given to us, and by giving of ourselves and what we have to the work of his kingdom.  Every day we show our thanks to God as we are this evening, by praying, praising, and giving thanks for his goodness.  Not just a day of thanks, but a life of thanks.

“O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.”  Amen.

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