“Three Words for Thanksgiving: Think, Thank, Talk” (Philippians 4:6-20)
Today I have three words for you. These are three things you can do to celebrate this Day of Thanksgiving. They are three words that are easy for you to remember for the rest of this day. And here they are: “Three Words for Thanksgiving: Think, Thank, Talk.”
We find all three of these ideas present in the Epistle lesson for today, from Philippians 4. First of all, we’ll start with the word “Think.” Paul addresses his brothers at the congregation in Philippi and he says: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
“Think about these things.” Let your mind be lifted to more noble thoughts. And on this Thanksgiving Day, think about all the great things God has done for you. Think of all the blessings that God has bestowed upon you, starting with the blessings of this life. God the Creator made you. He gave you your body and your mind, so marvelous in all their inner workings. God continues to take care of you. Think of all the many blessings he showers upon you day by day.
You know, in the Explanation of the First Article of the Creed, Luther says of God the Father: “He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” And Luther could have left it at that. But he doesn’t. He includes a number of specific examples of all that God provides: “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.” Likewise, under the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther explains what is meant by “daily bread”: “food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”
Now why these long “laundry lists” of specific items? Just to make it harder for kids in catechism class to do their memory work? No. I think Luther lists all these things precisely to make a point: that we begin to think, to think about all the blessings that God provides us on a daily basis, which we might otherwise take for granted. By going through a list of specific examples and counting them off, we begin to see how countless God’s blessings really are. By naming these items and categories of blessings, we start to think about them. And so our minds are moved toward thankfulness.
That is what I would like you to do today: Think. Think about all the many ways in which God has blessed you over this past year. Food, shelter, clothing? Family and friends? Health care that helped you? Education? Travel? What things worthy of praise are you grateful for this year? Think about these things.
Today specifically is the Day of National Thanksgiving. The purpose of this day is to take time out to think especially about how God has blessed this nation of ours, and to thank him for it. God has given us a land rich in resources: great rivers and lakes and oceans, fertile farmlands, vast mineral deposits, magnificent hills and mountains, forests and trees for timber and beauty. Truly God has brought us Americans into a land so bountiful and beautiful!
As bountiful as the Promised Land of old, like we heard in the reading from Deuteronomy: “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.”
“And you shall eat and be full.” That will certainly be the case this afternoon! “And you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” Yes, what a good land God has given us here in America!
So think about the many blessings of creation that God has poured out on you personally and upon us as a nation. But now think about what is even greater: This same Lord, the God of Creation, is also the God of our Redemption! He sent his Son into the world to redeem us, to set us free, to be our Savior! Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and was buried to redeem us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Christ then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and we will live with him forever in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Think about that!
And then think about how the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Christ and keeps us growing strong in this faith through the gospel, within the one holy Christian church. How about the fact that you have a church, here at St. Matthew’s, where you can hear God’s word taught in its truth and purity and where the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution? This is no small blessing indeed! So think about how the God of Creation is also the God of our Redemption and Sanctification. So much to think about and be thankful for!
Yes, plenty of blessings to think about today! So think, that’s the first thing. And then, second, “Thank.” That’s the second of our three words for Thanksgiving Day: “Thank.” Yes, thank God for all these blessings. Don’t just think about them; express your thoughts in words, words of thanksgiving addressed to God. Give thanks to God in prayer and praise. In our Epistle reading from Philippians, St. Paul says to come to God in prayer “with thanksgiving.” So today when you gather at the dinner table, say out loud a prayer of thanksgiving, or ask the host to do so. Such a prayer could include many things, or it could be as simple as saying, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.”
And today here in church we are doing just that: We are thanking God out loud with our lips. We’re joining together in songs of praise and thanksgiving, and it is fitting that we do so. As the psalmist says, and as we sang in the Venite: “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving, let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise.”
Yes, think of all the things that you have to be thankful for. And then thank God for them. We do this with the hymns we sing and the prayers we speak, addressed to God.
Think. Thank. And then the third thing: Talk. Talk to others about what you’re thankful for. Don’t be afraid to tell other people today what you’re grateful to God for. What better day to do this than on the Day of Thanksgiving? It’s a natural! So often we Christians are afraid to open our mouths and tell others what God and his blessings mean to us. Don’t let that stop you today.
Too often we Christians are dragged down by the world around us. We talk only about negative things. We complain, we criticize; we grouse and gripe and grumble. Maybe we’re not used to speaking positively. But today I suggest that we do that sort of speaking. Talk to people at your gathering today about the things you’re thankful for. Tell them what Thanksgiving means to you. And maybe ask them what they’re thankful for. You could go around the table and do that. You might be surprised how refreshing it is to have that kind of a conversation for a change, where God is spoken of as the giver of good gifts.
For example, talk about the people that God has blessed you with. And if you have a chance, tell those persons directly how God has blessed you through them. That’s what Paul does in his epistle. He tells the Philippians: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. . . . I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” You see, the Philippians were helping to support Paul with their gifts, and Paul tells them how grateful he is for their generosity.
And so I as your pastor thank God for you, the members of St. Matthew’s. You are a channel of God’s blessing for me. I have the privilege of preaching the gospel to you, and you respond by supporting this ministry in your midst. Blessings flowing both ways! It all comes from God, of course–he gets all the glory–but he uses people to be the instruments of his blessing. And so I encourage you to tell some people today how God is blessing you through them: mothers, fathers, children, friends, whomever God is using to bless you.
Think. Thank. Talk. Those are the words for Thanksgiving today. Three good words. First, think. Think about all the many ways God has blessed you, his blessings of Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification. Think about how God has blessed you this past year, personally and as a citizen of this nation. Second, thank. Thank the Lord, out loud, here at church and then at home. Thank him with psalms and hymns and prayers and praise. Then third, talk. Talk to others about how God has blessed you. Tell them how God has blessed you through them. And in so doing, you yourself may be a blessing from God to them, because you will be encouraging them also to think, thank, and talk.