THANKS, and AMEN! Thanksgiving Sermon

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Mon, 11/19/2018 - 9:15am

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.”