THANKS, and AMEN! Thanksgiving Sermon
Thanksgiving sermon 2018 at Harbor Church “Thanks and Amen!”
This coming week, people across our country will celebrate part of our nation’s history by observing the Thanksgiving holiday. As I reflected on this, I considered the practice of historical revisionism . This is the critical examination of the historicity, or historical accuracy of much of what has been handed down to us as facts in the grammar school textbooks we studied in school as children. It usually means challenging the orthodox (established, accepted or traditional) views held by professional scholars about a historical event, introducing contrary evidence, or reinterpreting the motivations and decisions of the people involved. There are certainly excesses to which certain historians will go to reinterpret traditional histories ; often they will attempt to remove the worldview and bias of an original author, only to replace it with their own. For instance, some revisionists would suggest that first Thanksgiving wasn’t about the Pilgrims giving Thanks to God for establishing them in their new home; they would instead propose it was simply the settlers thanking the native Americans for helping them through a rough winter. Nevertheless, it certainly is a valuable discipline in modern scholarship. An insight that I read by sociologist and author James Loewen states that:
It’s been taught that the Pilgrims came because they were seeking religious freedom, but that’s not entirely true…They were [also] coming here in order to establish a religious theocracy, which they did,” he said. “That’s not exactly the same as coming here for religious freedom. It’s kind of coming here against religious freedom.” An example of a modern theocracy exists in Saudi Arabia where the Koran is the state constitution and the basis for law and governance. If you don’t practice the religion of Islam in a Muslim state, you can feel the oppression, or at the very least, pressure to conform to the state religion. Ironically, it was a similar atmosphere created by the puritans in the new world that was one of the factors that led the first settlers to Block Island. It is this rich spiritual heritage that the founders of Block Island imparted to us that I would like us to give thanks for today.
The Block Island Historical Society published occasional papers entitled The Real Mystery of Block Island and the origins of the Island Colony which were written by Arthur Kinoy.
PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANT in its illuminating insight into the fundamental reasons for the establishment of the Island Colony was the nature of the Church which first arose. For some forty years the elders of the settlement, Captain Sands and Simon Ray, alternating posts as First and Second Warden, provided in their homes religious instruction and inspiration to the Island families. The early records are surprisingly free of any resort to civil power to enforce religious conformity, in contrast to the pattern of conduct commonplace in orthodox Puritan settlements. But when the First Church was established, although the settlers were by and large Massachusetts men, the Church setup was not an orthodox Puritan Congregational Church, but a Baptist congregation, -anathema to Orthodox Puritans, and a flower of the Hutchinson controversy. No man committed to the old way would have dared build a Baptist Church. For Massachusetts men to be Baptists in the seventeenth century took courage and deep conviction… The men of Massachusetts and Rhode Island who built and led the first settlement on Block Island were not primarily moved by the generally present drive in colonial America for better land, for trading and mercantile opportunities, for material advance. The Massachusetts sixteen and James and Sarah Sands sought out a sanctuary, far from Massachusetts' punishing hand, where they could live at peace and build religious and political institutions which reflected the power of their convictions. These concepts emerged in the dawn of our history with bitterness and intensity around Anne Hutchinson. Block Island, Newport, and the New Hampshire settlements were the shelters for those who stood up courageously for these newly emerging principles of the equality and dignity of man, of the separation of church and state, of the ultimate repository of all civil power in the assembly of all free men, of the right to hold opinions divergent from the dominant majority. These are principles which were long after merged into the main stream of American thinking and were codified in such permanent statements of our national purpose as the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Often too much stress is laid upon the European antecedents of these great documents, while we are unaware of the emergence and development of those principles out of the struggles of America itself. The men who settled Block Island were pioneers in the deepest sense. Men of courage and stubborn conviction, they were pioneers in the development of ideas and principles, then the property of a harried few, and today the intellectual property of all who look to America as a land in which freedom shall truly ring. In this sense, the history of the settlement of the Block Island colony … belongs to all of us. [excerpts, p.22-27]
So let’s begin our holiday season, by celebrating not the only the heritage of Plymouth rock, but of Setter’s Rock as well. Let’s thank God for The pioneers of our Island who did so much to contribute to the spirit that still exists on our island today. A spirit that rejects conformity and embraced diversity. A spirit that affirms the strength of individuals’ convictions while at the same time validating divergent opinions and positions. A spirit which created a climate in which an ecumenical choir that represents all of the faith traditions in our community can celebrate our essential unity. A spirit which created a climate in which the Block Island Ecumenical Ministries group was formed to bring together these same traditions in cooperative ventures to work for the good of our entire community. And it is this same founding spirit which continues to shape a spiritual climate in which we can continue to practice all the distinctives of our Christian faith and our Baptist tradition with boldness and without apology to anyone.
Lets give thanks for all of this, and at the same time remember that the people whose names appear on Settlers Rock faced many of the same tremendous challenges and hardships as the original founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The pioneers of both Massachusetts and Rhode Island are an example to us of how the human spirit can rise above all manner of privations and give thanks to God in all things, in all circumstances, no matter what it faces.
This year, I would like to suggest that we begin our Thanksgiving observances by adopting a modest practice that might carry us through the entire season. It is simply this: Whenever you pray, or whenever you turn your thoughts toward God, be mindful about consciously expressing in every prayer “a Thank You and an Amen.” The essence of this approach to prayer is described in 1Thessalonians 5:18.
The Thank You. It says, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” There is a tiny preposition in this phrase that can make a world of difference in our prayers and in our attitudes. Paul says, give thanks IN all things, not FOR all things. We aren’t expected to be thankful for everything that happens. The holidays can hold much joy for us, but they can also be filled with challenging circumstances as well. Who could honestly be thankful for a lonely holiday, or a holiday that we are observing for the first time without a dearly and recently departed loved one. Who can be grateful when we gather together with friends or family, and the time is filled with tension, unresolved conflict, or other interpersonal tensions? Or when people we love drink too much every time we gather together?. Or when there isn’t enough money for the food or presents we long to share with one another? We can’t, and aren’t able to, and shouldn’t expect to give thanks for such things. But here’s what we can do – We can strive to have a thankful spirit in spite of, and not because of these circumstances. Being thankful IN all things means recognizing that God is with us regardless of whatever situation we face. It means acknowledging the Immanuel of Christmastime, the Spirit who sustains us, the One who encourages and comforts us. It means choosing to remember the God who uplifts us and give us sufficient grace for each moment of our lives when we call upon His name. Adopting an Attitude of Gratitude allows us to experience joy and gladness in spite of anything that may happen, because the God of our salvation is with us and will never leave us or forsake us. So, as an expression of our faith in the faithful One, we can learn to give thanks in all things, yet not because of them. This thought is captured eloquently in a 365 Day Devotional* that I return to year after year where it says Give God the gift of a thankful heart. Try to see causes of thankfulness in your everyday life. When life seems hard and troubles crowd, then look for some reasons for thankfulness. There is nearly always something you can be thankful for. The offering of thanksgiving is indeed a sweet incense going up to God throughout a busy day. Seek diligently for something to be glad and thankful about. You will acquire in time the habit of being constantly grateful to God for all His blessings. Each new day some new cause for joy and gratitude will spring to your mind and you will thank God sincerely.
* [ref: Twenty-Four Hours a Day Hazelden Publishing, Day-July 31]
The Amen. This practice of giving thanks leads to an inevitable conclusion; the simple ‘Amen’. This is not merely a period at the end of the last sentence of prayer. Or, if we do want to see it as a form or punctuation, let’s not make it a period, but an exclamation point! Let’s make it an affirmation of what we have prayed or expressed – Let it be a declaration: “Yes Lord, let it be so!” When Mary, the mother of Jesus, discovered that she had a baby on the way, I seriously doubt she her initial reaction was gratitude – she was a teenager facing a crisis pregnancy. Yet her response was a profound Amen. In essence, Mary said, “Let it be as you have said it will be” May your will be done. Mary demonstrated acceptance of her circumstance, and rested in God’s plan and provision for her life. I am reminded of this truth as it was captured in the lyrics of an old Beatle’s song: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, whispering words of wisdom, Let it be, Let it be…”
Amen! May it be so… Yes, Lord, and Amen! This holiday, my prayer for you, my prayer for us all, is that regardless of what the season brings to each one of us, we may all be able to say, again and again from our heart, “Thank You,… and Amen.”