MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION OF MY
HEART BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN THY SIGHT OH LORD MY STRENGH AND MY REDEEMER.
The Gift of Thanksgiving
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father." St. James i. 16
The comment was made to me a few weeks ago 'I've never heard of a Thanksgiving Day church service, it's not a religious day like Christmas or Easter.' In fact Harvest festivals were universally observed by ancient religions, both Jewish and pagan. In medieval England Lammas Day (August 1st) was known a 'loaf-mass' from the loaf made of the newly harvested wheat blessed on that day. In America the first Thanksgiving Day was observed in 1621 by the Pilgrims. The proposed prayer book of 1786 contained a form of Prayer and Thanksgiving to Almighty God, for the Fruits of the Earth, and all the other Blessings of his merciful Providence and it was included in the final version of the prayer book issued in 1789. So the Thanksgiving Day service has been a religious day for more than 200 years. Some might wonder what the connection is between turkey, football and God. The answer is in the first few lines of St. James Epistle that we heard this morning – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father". This is one of the fundamental beliefs of all Christians that everything we have or achieve is a gift from god. And we should at all times and in all places give Thanks to God for all that he has given us. So what do you have to be thankful for today? The congregation of Grace Anglican Church is especially thankful for a few things this day. First, we are thankful that everyone joined us here today; second, this is our first service in our new building and it has taken five long hard months of renovations to get to today. We are therefore thankful to be in this building today Thanksgiving Day; thirdly we are thankful for all those who have helped us during these past months. The staff at the Sumter County Building Services office who patiently guided us through the approval process, Emmet Sapp who gave of his time, expertise and contacts asking nothing in return. Joe who was referred to us by Emmet has been a hard worker who jumped in and helped never backing down from a challenging task. None of these good things would have happened without God's help. The renovation of this building has at times been a real test of our faith.
St. James warns us that we need to commit ourselves to Christ's ethical and moral system, not the worlds. We are not to adapt to the world's value system, which is based on money, power and pleasure. True faith means nothing if we are contaminated with such values.
So James argues against favoritism and for the necessity of good deeds. He presents three principles of faith: (1) Commitment is an essential part of faith. You cannot be a Christian simply by affirming the right doctrines or agreeing with Biblical facts. You must commit your mind and heart to Christ. (2) Right actions are the natural by-products of true faith. And as a result of right actions a genuine Christian will have a changed life. (3) Faith without good deeds does not do anybody any good. It's useless. We must use the gifts God gives us to do good deeds for others.
Lets' look a bit closer at these three principles. Baptized Christians committed themselves to Christ at the time of their baptism and their rebirth into the family and possession of God occurs at that time. In the ancient world it was the law that all first fruits were sacred to God. They were offered in grateful sacrifice to God because they belonged to him. So, when we are reborn by the true word of the gospel, we become the property of God, just like the first fruits of the harvest did. If we live our life following the law, love God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as thyself we will naturally do the right thing. By doing right our lives will change in ways we can not anticipate. Having faith but not using the gifts God has given you to help others renders your faith useless. It is by helping others that you put your faith into action. Just like Emmet helped us with the renovation of this building.
The appropriateness of the lesson from St. James for Thanksgiving Day is clear from the notes struck at the beginning and the end of the passage: the acknowledgement that God is the source of all good gifts and the duty of compassionate sharing of these good gifts with the unfortunate, if we are to make any claim to being Christians. The material connecting these two themes emphasizes the truth that belief in the first must issue in performance of the second if our religion is not to be vain.
Let us pray.
Lord of all power and might, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift: pour out thy blessings upon our land, that we may have grace to use thy rich gifts according to thy holy will; and strengthen us to seek peace and justice for all mankind. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed all might, majesty, power and dominion as is most justly due this day; world without end. AMEN