I always disappointed my mother – and it is good that she is not around to read this – when I said, “I don’t remember much of my early childhood.” However, the statement is absolutely true. Take Thanksgiving, for example. I really do not remember what we did for Thanksgiving before Monica was in my life. Then, for many years, we would eat two Thanksgiving dinners. First with my family at noon, and then, after 4:00 (when Monica’s dad got home from work) with her family. All things considered, that was pretty simple.
Then, once we got married, things became more complicated. For one thing, we were living in Detroit. For another thing, we had church services in Detroit on Thanksgiving morning. And then, over the years, add in winter storms and children, and the term flexibility became a constant in the annual event. We have been creative in scheduling family holiday gatherings ever since.
Now that Monica and I are matriarch and patriarch of the clan, things are pretty simple again – though finding a way to do anything with our siblings (or their families) on any holiday is virtually impossible. We have established a regular routine for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and even Easter. Of course, everything is up for grabs after February 19.
I found yesterday’s two worship services (they have been moved away from Thanksgiving Day for some time) to be somewhat emotional. Somewhere in the planning I realized that a) this was my last time around for these services and b) my time as STL’s pastor has been very special. With that in mind, we designed what one might call “grateful remembering” into the service, under the theme that “the Lord’s steadfast love endures … FOREVER.” (Psalm 136.1)
Instead of having volunteers give personal testimonies of thanksgiving I read three old “Thursday’s Thirsts” that had been written around Thanksgiving. The first was from Thanksgiving Day 2016 (“1, 3, 4 Thanksgiving”) a year when the holiday fell on November 22 – the same day JFK was assassinated. Another one was from a week before Thanksgiving (“Remembering”), and the third from the week after (“South-East-North-West”). All three were from different years and emphasized the item for which I am the most thankful – relationships.
It all goes back to the creation narrative when “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper corresponding to him.’” (Genesis 2.18) Humans are created in God’s image and, since God is relational, so are we. This is a part of the thought conveyed when “God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.’” (Genesis 1.26) … just as the “us” is partially explained as Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10.30)
The entire purpose of the incarnation (Christmas), crucifixion (Good Friday), and resurrection (Easter) of Jesus was to recreate the most important relationship of all – our relationship with our Creator. On the night in which he was betrayed Jesus prayed about this in the Garden of Gethsemane: “(Father), the glory you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17.22-24)
We are brought into God’s family as he adopts us in baptism. Paul describes this relationship as he writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8.16-17) While I recommend you take the time to read all the verses, our theme for yesterday’s services is proclaimed clearly at the beginning and end of Psalm 136. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures FOREVER … Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures FOREVER.” (Psalm 136.1, 26)
From this wonderful, forever relationship flows the power that creates all the other relationships we experience here on earth. At the core in each are love and forgiveness … which are wonderful gifts for which I also give thanks. You can read about this in 1 John 4, which neatly summarizes where my thanksgiving is focused. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. … Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4.9-12)
What I do remember from my early childhood is that I knew I was loved … by my family, by my God, and by many others. This love has continued to manifest itself over the years (and the changes in family) by the desire to get together and the flexibility demonstrated to make it happen. I hope I remember to express this later today … because as much as I enjoy the great food and football of this day, this really is what Thanksgivings past and present (and future) are all about.