Faith Forum: How should Thanksgiving be discussed in a religious context?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Rev. Tom Brady, senior pastor, First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt. and 867 Highway 40:

It’s possible to discuss Thanksgiving only in a historical context. Children are taught the history of Plymouth Rock and the gathering of Pilgrims and Native Americans for a feast. The traditional foods that are consumed are a part of that history. However, it becomes difficult to leave the story only in a historical context.

Thanksgiving is a religious observation. It is a harvest festival, giving thanks for all of God’s blessings. It is a time to remember when the Native American tribal peoples made survival possible for the early immigrants to the U.S. Native Americans have a variety of ceremonies for Thanksgiving which are related to the seasons of nature, for families to feast and pray, and to offer thanks to the Creator. The history has a religious context.

For those who believe in God, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to give thanks for all the blessings of life and to acknowledge God as the source of those blessings. Prayer is an important part of Thanksgiving Day, as friends and family typically gather and offer thanks through prayer. I like to encourage believers to take time to pray before diving into all the food.

Even those who do not believe in God can gather and give thanks. Give thanks to the people you are with on Thanksgiving Day for the ways in which they have had a positive influence in your life. Give thanks for homes, for food, for jobs, for families, and for whatever else for which you are truly thankful. Although it might not be thought of as a religious context, your gratitude will bring glory to God. Have a great Thanksgiving.

— Send e-mail to Tom Brady at tom@fumclawrence.org.

The Rev. Nate Rovenstine, pastor, Lawrence Wesleyan Church, 3705 Clinton Parkway:

The Bible says, “to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18). It is easy to view this command as a religious obligation. However there are many circumstances in our lives that defy thanksgiving.

The key to developing a thankful heart is to understand the difference between religion and revelation. It is “in Christ Jesus” that a thankful heart is possible. It is his revelation of love, not our religious pursuit that makes a thankful heart possible, because his love changes our heart.

While giving thanks is in season right now, we should “give thanks in all circumstances,” because God has displayed his love for us in sending Jesus to our planet. When we receive this act of love by faith, we view life through a different lens. We see things from the perspective of eternity, and realize that God’s love changes our viewpoint. Circumstances will change, but his display of love remains constant. We can make a religious determination to be thankful, but this will last only for a short time. A heart that is continuously thankful is energized by an eternal love that constantly sustains it.

Matthew Henry had such a heart. After being robbed, he offered this prayer: “Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

God’s love had changed his heart, the result was to be thankful, even in this difficult circumstance.

As God shows us his love, and as we respond to his revelation, our lives can be full of thanksgiving, regardless of the circumstances.

— Send e-mail to Nate Rovenstine at jnrovenstine@juno.com.