Thanksgiving Day 2019

The Epistle – St. James 1:16-27

The Gospel – St. Matthew 6:25-34

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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In the 16th century, after the Church of England had separated from Rome and began working to shed herself from some of the excesses of the Medieval Church… like all movements of change and reform, some wanted more…and more.

 

Elizabeth ascended the throne on November 17th 1558 at the age of 25.

 

 

She worked to bring unity and conformity to the Church of England.

 

Some who were more Protestant minded even than Elizabeth, had fled to Holland where they could exercise their religious beliefs and practices without the interference of the Crown or the established Church.

 

The Puritans, or at least this strain of Puritan, more precisely known as “Separatists” or “Saints” as they called themselves, wanted the Church of England to remove itself even further from the established system that it still held on to.

 

They wanted a congregational style of Church government and worship.

They rejected many of the remaining things in the Church of England, doctrinally, as well as even the use of vestments and the Prayer Book.

 

Once they found that even England was not going to go that far, their next step was to look to the continent of Europe. The Netherlands in particular.

 

Life, even in Holland was not to their liking. They were relegated to low-paying jobs. Residents of Holland did not approve of immigrants. Further, the Puritans disliked the lifestyle in Holland and thought it was too relaxed and alluring.

They feared this would lead their children away from the faith.

 

So, they decided to move to a place where there would be no government or Church interference at all.

 

The New World was their destination. They first went to London. There they got permission from the Virginia Company to establish a new home in the New World.

 

In August, 1620, about 40 “Saints” joined a larger group for a total of 102 passengers.

 

They set sail from Southampton on two merchant ships. The Mayflower and the Speedwell.

The Speedwell had troubles and began to take on water.

They docked in Plymouth, all boarded the Mayflower and were on their way to America.

 

The trip across the Atlantic was horrible. Severe weather, cramped living space, sickness & disease.

 

After 2 months on the ocean, on November 9th, 1620, they arrived…a little off from where they intended. They landed in today’s Cape Cod.

 

Two days later, after failed attempts to sail to the Virginia Colony’s location the returned and anchored in Cape Cod again.

 

By the time of their arrival or soon after, the number dead was 49.

During the first winter there, half of the remaining 49 died. 

 

We can go on from here with the first winter being extremely cold. They had to start almost from scratch with food and shelter.

 

But despite so many obstacles and losses, these “Saints” or “Separatists” were determined to see their entire journey as a divine event…divinely guided.

 

They believed the hand of God was with them. It was the just hand of God that was in motion and was at work in their plans.

 

They never saw their journey as anything but divinely guided.

 

No matter how severe things were, they always saw things as divinely ordained for a greater good that they might not at the time be able to fathom…but they trusted God all the way along.

 

They trusted God completely and they thanked God for their arrival, despite all of the loss of life, belongings, homeland, etc.

 

They remained thankful to God for His grace and mercy in allowing them to arrive in the New World.

 

 

We can say that we are descendants of these brave, determined and pious people as we both share with them our roots in the English Church and our allegiance to the United States.

 

We, as Anglicans are part of what Elizabeth envisioned and they, though separated from the Anglican Church, still had their beginnings in the Church of England as well.

 

In other words, we share a common heritage. And we share with them a common love for the Word of God, the Scriptures…which is what they relied on for their faith to remain strong.

 

We share with them a devout and pious style of worship.

We share with them in that we too are thankful for God’s guiding hand in all that comes to pass for us….difficult or not.

 

Part of what we remember today is the difficult conditions those people went through and their perseverance in faith.

 

Today, here we are, just shy of 400 years from their first setting sail for the New World. They left with very little and in the Providence of God, they were enabled to survive, build and eventually prosper.

 

We are inheritors of their great determination and perseverance.

 

We should look then, this day, to what God has done for each of us. We should look at the abundance that God has showered upon this land and upon us since that time.

 

Look where we are in food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health care, and many other things.

 

We are richly blessed.

 

We prayed at the start of the service this prayer. “O MOST merciful Father, who has blessed the labors of the husbandman [the farmer] in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty;

 

beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

As we focus narrowly on the fruits of the land yielding her increase, we should think of the vast farming industry here in America, and how we feed the world.

 

But since the farming industry is much more established and in no threat of decline, we should expand our understanding of the words of this prayer.

 

 

 

We do focus today on the fact that we are about to eat very well, but our vision should be expanded to all of the ways God has been gracious to us.

 

God has most certainly given us a bounty, but of more than just the crops of the field…the fruits of the earth.

 

He has blessed us, to quote another Prayer in the Prayer Book, with “honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners.”

 

Also, liberty, justice, and peace, the rule of law and prosperity.

 

 

 

Our Epistle this morning begins with the exhortation to us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

 

His very first line here has a lot wrapped up in it. He is saying, in other words, that God is not an arbitrary god of the stars or shifting shadows of light.

 

He is the creator of even the heavens and the heavenly lights. He is not capable of change.

 

He is all knowing and all loving and all that He causes to happen is good and perfect. All that happens is sent by Him to us for our good.

The things that come to us that challenge us or our faith, are not tests designed to trick us, but a testing of our mettle…a refining and a sharpening and a forming of us.

 

All things come of thee, O Lord. And even all that we have is Yours that we give back to You.

 

James goes on. “Of his own will [God] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

 

God created us as special and above all other created beings. He brought us forth, created us to be His highest and crown of creation by His will….His word of truth.

 

By His design and command.
By His decreeing it to be so.

 

So, if all of this is in such great and perfect control, why do we at times get so worried?

 

Jesus asks this question today in the Gospel.

 

“I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

 

All of the things that worry us to one degree or another. Jesus says, there is more to true life than these.

 

And these are essentials. Food, clothing. But even these, Jesus is calling us to a higher concern…and that is, the state and condition and future of our souls.

 

This seemed to be the concern for the Puritans. They held to the belief that what the Church was doing was not as edifying to the soul as it could be.

 

They then set out, under dangerous conditions, risking much, leaving behind much and taking a lot of chances to get to the place where they believed that they could exercise their Christian faith to its fullest.

 

Through their pioneering, we have come to enjoy that very thing. We can exercise our Christian Faith quite freely today. The question is, can we hang on to it?  It is in jeopardy in many places.

 

There is another term. That is, “Concurrence.”

 

An example of this came up in a weekly devotional recently. The Temple of Solomon was destroyed and eventually a new Temple was built. 

 

Apparently, it was not on the scale of the first, but it was completed, nevertheless.

 

In Ezra 6:14b, “…They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia…” (ESV)

 

And it was noted that we have an example of Concurrence there, where, the devotional said, “the Lord is working at the same time that people are working, and He uses them to fulfill His purposes.”

 

“Was the temple rebuilt and dedicated on account of the Lord’s working or the decisions and actions of the Persian kings? The biblical answer is both.”

 

“God’s decree ordains and governs all that comes to pass in history, and this decree is worked out in time through human beings.”[1]

 

 

So, the Puritans understood this. They understood that it was their desire to go somewhere, where they could worship God freely.

 

They set off for the New World. They knew that whatever happened, they still had to do what they thought was godly and necessary.

 

And yet at the same time, they knew that God was working His plan in and through them.

They, most likely had no idea that we would be here today reflecting on their actions. 

 

But we are.

And we are reflecting on the awesome God we worship, who calls us to faithfulness, and obedience and truth.

 

He calls us to know where we are at all times and who has gotten us there.

He calls us to follow Him in what He teaches us in the Scriptures and to do all to His glory.

 

But to always keep in mind how these two work together or are combined in our understanding of God. Concurrence.

 

Jesus again today, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

 

Are [we] not of more value than they?

We are valuable to God. He desires that we prosper and enjoy what He gives us. There should be no guilt in what we have.

 

But we should always remember from Whom they come.

 

Thanksgiving is based on the Puritans giving thanks to God, despite many hardships, for their arrival and preservation.

 

As you sit down this afternoon for dinner take a moment to give thanks to God for all that you enjoy and are blessed with.

 

 

 

But the greatest thing to give thanks for is not for food, or clothing or our homes or our jobs, but the divine goodness of God in revealing Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ…so that we know all of these things. …and for the salvation we have in Him.

 

This is what Jesus called His hearers to be concerned about that day when He taught them.

 

Their understanding of earthly things must be eclipsed by the heavenly. None of what we have around us matters in comparison to being in a saving relationship with Christ.

 

We don’t lay up for ourselves treasure on earth. We are to lay up treasure in Heaven.

 

There we have a lasting country.

There we have no worry about needs and wants. All that we desire and need and want will be supplied for us in the presence of God forever.

 

Give thanks then, this day for more than earthly things and accomplishments.

 

Give thanks this day for the opportunity to live concurrently with God in His creation and know that all that we do is working toward an eternal home with an eternal banquet where we will dwell with the Lord forever. Amen.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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[1] Tabletalk Magazine online. https://tabletalkmagazine.com/daily-study/2019/11/the-jews-complete-the-temple/