Sermon: The Wisdom of Thanksgiving

18 November 2007

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)
November 18, 2007

Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Wisdom of Thanksgiving

Ephesians 5:15-20

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“Be careful then how you live,” the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the churches of Ephesus, on what is now the western coast of Turkey.  Live “not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time” you have to live on this earth.  “Be filled with the Spirit” of love all the time, “singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.” Wow!  All our hearts together, always singing songs of thanksgiving to God – if we could ever truly manage that, what a wonderful world this would be!  It would be thanksgiving every day, not just once a year!  But what a challenge it is for us to be as wise as Paul says, “giving thanks to God … at all times and for everything…”

I don’t know about you, but even though we were a very church-involved and faithful Christian family, my days were never spent singing songs of praise in constant Thanksgiving.  Sure, we remembered to give thanks.  Like many of us who grew up Christian in the United States, saying “grace” before each of our 3 square meals a day was as much a part of our daily routine as it would be to a Muslim to unroll a prayer rug several times a day to praise Allah.  At my house, my dad’s usual prayer was “May God’s hand bless us, and the food we’re about to receive, Amen.”  If you think that’s fast, you should have heard my husband John’s family – I never could figure out what they were praying.  And they could say it all together, in unison: “Bless, O Lord, these Thy gifts we are about to receive from the bounty of Christ, Amen.” When I asked John to teach it to me, he was UNABLE to repeat it slowly! The secret to both these prayers was SPEED, because both our moms were great cooks, and all their wonderful food was waiting right under our noses. 

On Thanksgiving Day itself, our holiday was marked not so much by the sound of happy disciples singing praise to God, but by the sounds of football on TV and relatives yakking, or snoring peacefully on their comfy chairs and couches.  And, yes, we said a prayer of thanks before we ate – but we took a little more time with it that day.  We would hold hands and my father’s dad would offer HIS usual grace from the head of the table.  My grandfather would say: “Be present at our table, Lord.  Be here and everywhere adored.  Thy people bless, and grant that we may feast in paradise with Thee.  Amen.” I loved his prayers because he’d always say the words so carefully, so …intimately, I always knew the Lord WAS there with us at the table. 

We’d resume our usual eating speed with his “amen,” passing around all those yummy Thanksgiving dishes – my Mam-ma’s turkey with stuffing and gravy, my Mom’s sweet potato and apple casserole, Southern green beans slow-cooked with pork, and my Nana’s delicious pumpkin meringue pie.  It’s all good.  I’m sure we’re all looking forward to it – especially the 4-day weekend!  But this text reminds us that the wisdom of Thanksgiving is not just about remembering to observe Thanksgiving Day, which as Joanne Smart reminded our kids, only became a national holiday back in Abraham Lincoln’s time.  The wisdom of Thanksgiving isn’t even just about faithfully following a daily routine of prayer at mealtime.  The wisdom of Thanksgiving, Paul says, is about giving thanks to God “at all times and for everything.” 

That “everything” encompasses a whole lot of stuff.  Our altar today is already piled high with the bounty of God – symbolic representations of our many blessings – and our gift-bringing Harvest Festival offerings have not yet been brought forward!  But what else would we bring to the altar if we were to truly give thanks for everything?  Our parking tickets?  Crutches?  Old medicine bottles?  Bad report cards?

My 30th high school reunion, which I just attended back in October, was organized by Jenny Wrenn, now Jenny Casanega.  She was very busy running the party, so I didn’t talk much with her – but it really struck me from a distance that she seemed to be happier and more alive than she’d ever been.  (And she was always a really cheerful and popular girl – as she’d kind of have to be to be elected class president.)  I was so grateful for all the hard work and planning that I knew had to go into organizing the weekend, I sent her a thank-you note, and her response really shocked me.

She said how much it had meant to her to see everyone again, and to have made it through reunion in such good health.  It seems the party had been scheduled during only a brief window in some very exhausting treatments for a brain tumor.  She was so happy to hear I am now a pastor, because she and her family are a part of a very evangelical Christian church.  She said she was so grateful for the opportunity her illness had given her to bear witness to her faith to all who were reaching out to her during her time of trial.  She said she rejoices in every day God gives her to be alive to praise Him, and to be with those she loves.

Not everyone can remain so positive in the face of hard times, so we have to be careful not to discourage people in terrible pain by preaching at them.  We don’t need to add guilt to the suffering of our brothers and sisters by telling them real Christians are happy all the time.  The Gospels teach us that just as Jesus bore real human pain on the cross, the Lord will support us through whatever pain comes to us here on earth.  In fact, as the Body of Christ, we are called to offer both prayers and acts of comfort to those in need of help.  Suffering is a part of human life, and the Holy Spirit we share in our church is given to help us bear it, and to support others.  But the flip side of that, I believe, is that our awareness of suffering can lead us to feel genuine gratitude for what is good in our lives.  One great gift of being a part of a faith community, both today and in generations past, is the connection we make with the stories of others – whether from Paul’s letters reminding us of persecution in the early church, or from a coffee hour conversation today with a friend who’s hurting. 

The wisdom of Thanksgiving, this counting our blessings, is central to our life of faith.  We make what the Hebrews called “a sacrifice of praise” not for God, because God needs it, but for us, because we need it.  In our Harvest Festival, as symbolic gifts of light and life are brought forward to the communion table, we are reminded to be grateful for all that we have – for our health and strength, for the beauty of the earth, for our families, for nourishing food, and for the gift of Jesus and His call to discipleship. 

In Christian worship, not just this Thanksgiving Sunday but every Sunday, we have a chance to “be filled with the Spirit.” When that happens, the genuine gratitude we feel, for health and strength and daily food, wells up from a place deep inside.  It becomes something so delicious, we long to taste it more and more often – and the beauty and joy of a regular practice of thanksgiving can be as sweet and addicting as my Nana’s pumpkin pie. 

Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen.


This page was last updated on 02/08/2014 09:04 AM.
Please send any feedback, updates, corrections, or new content to .