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Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

I’ve been trying to remember when I stopped thinking of Thanksgiving as just a holiday and more as an attitude.

Growing up, “thanksgiving” was the name of a day that we gathered with the extended family for a big meal. Not so impressive when you consider that we all lived within a half mile of each other. I do not recall any prayers being said or any particularly religious talk as we gathered around table. Nothing was too out of the ordinary. We just gathered and ate, played and joked. Sometimes the occasional relative would drop in from some far off state. And when enough of them showed up to bring their musical instruments and play tunes – that was special. When a relative presented my grandfather a bottle of German wine, that was special – very special when he allowed my cousins and me a sip without anyone else knowing. But I cannot recall that I or anyone else was aware of any special ceremony. We certainly didn’t stand on rituals.

We were God-fearing, but we weren’t particularly religious. However, there was a certain spirit required for our gatherings – even if we never used such language to describe it. Looking back, I would say that Grace was required and expected. We had all worked so hard to own property near each other and live together on our farm. It just wouldn’t have been proper to be anything less that gracious. So family tensions and worries were set aside. Discontent and disrespect were not proper – at least not for that one day. Though we may not have expressed our thanks in words and prayers, graciousness and gratitude was expected in everything we did. So whatever we did, in word or deed, he had to do it with the right attitude.

It’s not the details of our thanksgiving gatherings that made an impact on me. I don’t remember what year we had the best ham. I don’t remember the time we had dry turkey. I don’t remember if grandma ever burnt the rolls. I do remember that someone made pineapple sauce because it was a running joke about me liking it so well from that point on. It’s not the details that I remember, but I remember the spirit.

I share this with you so that we may hopefully reflect together on how thanksgiving needs to be more than a day. Thanksgiving need to be a spirit of thankfulness that leads to thanks-living. Thanks-giving should be our natural state. It must become the atmosphere, the climate, the background of everything else we do.

I hope you noticed that Paul encouraged the Colossians to worship and live with gratitude in their hearts to God. He mentions the details: teaching, counseling, singing songs, hymns, spiritual songs to God. But bracketing the details he mentions the spirit and the attitude that MUST accompany these details: “be thankful ... with gratitude.” What good does it do to teach and counsel without heavenly wisdom? What good does it do to sing a cappella with grumpy attitudes and self-righteous pitch perfection.

Gratitude rhymes with attitude. Maybe that’s just an accident – but we’ll make a point of it today. Gratitude is the attitude of being thankful. It is the atmosphere that must permeate our Christian walk. If we try to manufacture it, then it certainly can seem artificial. We would rather cultivate it. Plant seeds. Nurture them. Let them grow and reap the harvest and give it to God. In recalling my family gatherings, I am thankful for the gracious spirit, but I think the roots might have gone deeper, the blooms might have lasted longer if we had been a bit more intentional about the basis of being gracious.

God has clever ways of getting us to cultivate gratitude. In Leviticus 22 he describes how we wants the people to bring him a thank offering. After all, when one truly reflects on God you want to let him know that you’re thankful. Mostly we like to keep that between us and God. There’s a special relationship there after all. God says he wants a thank offering – and in Leviticus that means some returning of the good things God provided. Say, a ram or a steer – livestock. But here’s the really clever part. God is only going to accept it if you eat it that same day. Why? Because if you are going to eat a whole animal, you are going to have to call in friends. When you are thankful to God, He wants you to share it. He wants it to form a gracious, thankful gathering. The offering will be consumed, but the gratitude will continue. Our thankfulness toward God becomes something we demonstrate by sharing and giving just as he did. We become more like him.

That’s what we are going to do this morning. We are going to bring thank offering. We’ve worked so hard to be together. We have been through a lot together. Christ has done so much to make us one. Let’s be gracious. Let’s be thankful. Let’s share it.

Cards: These are on the pew next to you. Take a minute and write or draw on them. Talk to each other. Help the young ones. Help the old ones. We are going to collect these and use them for the basis of congregational prayers. We may use them for bulletins, bulletin boards, videos. A harvest of thanksgiving. You don’t have to put your name on these. You can write or draw whatever you want. You are giving this to God, but then it is shared with everyone else (just like the thank offering). What ever you write, write it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Pray ...

I am thankful to God because ...

I will show my gratitude by ...

Now, you may bring your card to the people holding baskets. If you want to pass them all to someone on the outside of the pew, that’s fine. We are going to gather our offerings in a basket.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 22 November 2009

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