Date: November 27, 1930
In everything give thanks. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18
ANOTHER annual Thanksgiving Day, that happy American institution by which the Christians of our country express their gratitude for our manifold national blessings, is drawing to a close. But before the memories and the message of this day are set aside in the millions of our American homes from coast to coast, let us stop for a moment to remind ourselves that of all the Thanksgiving days in recent years this one stands out with notable significance.
The past months have not been marked by the usual bounty and prosperity that many of us have come to regard as quite inevitable in these United States. First of all, the heavens have withheld their rain, and our agricultural regions have suffered one of the most prolonged and disastrous droughts in the history of the nation, with the result that parched fields and seared orchards stand as ghastly specters of blasted hopes and futile efforts. And as though this visitation were not sufficient to remind the people of our nation of the God from whom all blessings flow, there came the aftermath of an industrial crisis, which threw several million American workers engaged in productive occupations into unemployment and idleness.
As these words go out tonight, there are doubtless uncounted homes in which the question has been asked, either in thought or in words, “Can we really give thanks this year?” There are doubtless many in the agricultural belts of the nation tonight who have harvested not even as much as the seed which they sowed in the spring; those in our large cities who have vainly sought even part-time employment and who have experienced financial disappointments and reverses; and those who felt the hand of sorrow and affliction rest heavily upon them through sickness, family troubles, death, or through the long list of other visitations in which adversity may express itself. And from these homes, on the one day of the year on which the inhabitants of our country are especially called upon to raise their hearts and voices in thanks to God, comes the plaintive question, “Why Thanksgiving? Have we actually reason to give thanks this year?”
OUR NATIONAL BLESSINGS, THOUGH RESTRICTED, CALL FOR THANKS.
Now, what does the Bible say? Here are the words of divine and heavenly Wisdom, “In everything give thanks,” and that means that, if we today pause to take inventory of the blessings that have been showered down upon us, we must come to the unavoidable conclusion that this year, too, God’s mercy and tender kindness is beyond the power of measurement and computation. Foreign visitors to our shores who have found the tranquility of the nation disturbed by the hard times of which we hear so much, tell us that the United States does not know what really hard times are and that the comforts which we enjoy even in this period of depression are relatively so tremendous that they fairly overwhelm the people of other nations. You speak of drought; but let me point you to the indescribable sorrows that have engulfed vast areas in China. For four years uncounted millions have suffered from drought which, combined with civil war, has brought about the most calamitous period in the history of China, perhaps even in the history of the world. Eyewitnesses tell us that whole villages desperately endeavored to keep alive by devouring leaves, scraping the bark off trees, and mixing grass roots and chaff with earth and clay. In one province alone 80,000 women and girls were sold into slavery in order to ward off the pangs of this gnawing hunger. You speak of unemployment; but think of postwar Europe and the countries that have not enjoyed a year of real, normal industry and employment since the conclusion of the World War, countries in which government doles, destructive labor troubles, and communistic agitation emphasize the most striking contrast between the Old World and the blessings which we enjoy here in the New. Survey all this, and you will apply to our country what the psalmist said of the Promised Land, O America, “the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.”
So, if we hear the echo of the apostle’s word, “In everything give thanks,” let us tonight give thanks for the fact that we are living in a country in which the horn of divine plenty has been poured out in a truly unparalleled degree. Remember, there is in this country today the greatest accumulation of wealth ever known to man. At a time when bank deposits, in spite of unemployment, are still at a staggering peak; when there is an automobile for every sixth person in the country; when skilled and unskilled labor, in spite of wage reductions, is paid more for a day of eight hours than these same trades and occupations received a generation ago for a week of ten or twelve hour days, at this time we can well agree that the Prosperity of our nation must be spelled with a capital P and that it stands absolutely unequaled in any other land or other age of history. Consider our home life as it is shaped and molded by the progress and the resources of the present hour. There is no people on earth that has the variety and the quantity of food that graces the average American table three times every day. The London Daily Mail recently called attention to the fact that, while the white population of the United States is about twice as large as that of Great Britain, the United States has not only twice as many telephones and motor-cars as England, but fifteen times as many. We have our comfortable homes, our radios, our musical instruments, our jewels, our expensive clothing, our endless catalog of luxuries, in a measure which baffles the poverty-pinched people of other nations.
Then let us thank God that we have been placed into the world at a time which is so rich in opportunities and blessings. Go back to the Middle Ages, when the destinies of men were held and swayed by a group of autocratic tyrants, so that there was little real joy in life. Contrast that age with our own. Think of the forward strides in medicine, the astounding progress in the application of anesthetics, the marvels of twentieth-century surgery, and the conquests which medical science has made over contagious diseases. Think of the blessings of peace we have enjoyed for more than a decade while our neighbors in Latin America have been torn with constant dissension and civil war. Think of the progress of education, the establishment of the greatest system of free institutions of learning, both elementary and advanced, known to history. Think of all this and of the many other evidences of the advance and progress of the American nation today, and you will agree that this present age has brought God’s most complete answer to the material needs of humanity. But especially let us thank God for the blessings of the soul and for the free course of the holy Gospel; for the fact that in this remarkable age and in this remarkable country all who will, can enjoy the preaching of the Word of God, the blessings of church membership, the glorious comfort of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in which there is offered fully and freely, without price or restriction, the complete atonement for our sins and the hope of happiness here and hereafter. Remember that you who are listening in tonight are enjoying spiritual liberty and freedom, to attain which hundreds of thousands have shed their lifeblood or have perished under the most fiendish forms of persecution which human depravity in its most degenerate depth could invent. I refer directly to the complete and absolute separation of Church and State, according to which, on the one hand, every church body is forever prohibited from interfering in the political and governmental affairs of the nation, just as, on the other hand, the government is permanently restrained from establishing a national religion or meddling in the religious exercises of its citizens. Contrast our land and the joy of this freedom to worship God according to the Scriptures and the dictates of our Christian conscience with conditions in those areas of the globe where Christians are persecuted either by arrogant churches or by brutal scoffers, where the God of the Bible is ruled out of existence, where Christianity is regarded as an opiate for the masses, and where the effigies of the divine Son of God are shamelessly dragged through the mud to show the triumph of cold reason over Christ’s religion. Compare all of this with the blessings that you enjoy, and who is there tonight that can refrain from breaking forth into the psalmist’s hymn of praise, “Let us give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; because His mercy endureth forever”?
But when the apostle says “In EVERYTHING give thanks,” he gives us a divine philosophy for human life before which a materialistic world stands speechless and in wide-eyed wonder. People can understand how individuals upon whom a lavish profusion of wealth and success has been showered can raise their voice in thanksgiving. But to thank God in sickness and adversity; to lift your heart in gratitude to God when your bank has failed or your business has collapsed; to celebrate Thanksgiving when you have lost your employment, contracted disease, or found yourself engulfed in any one of the many griefs and tragedies which may overwhelm men,—that is a defiant contradiction to any merely human and short-sighted attitude toward life. Yet when tonight’s Scripture text asks us to give thanks “in everything,” it tells us that just as soon as a man knows and accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, it does not matter what happens to him; for he can look through the bitterest tears of deepest tribulation to the Lord, “who doeth all things well.” He can always, under the most depressing surroundings and the most disintegrating forces, find in His Christian faith and hope abundant reason to thank God, first for the unsearchable riches of his Christian conviction and then for the abiding assurance of God’s ready help in every crisis and emergency of life. Let me say, then, tonight, to you who may look forward to weeks of privation and hopelessness and suffering that, if you have Christ in your heart, you, too, have reason today to thank God for the living certainty of His Word that “all things” (and that means especially the present-day issues of unemployment, financial restriction, and their resultant sorrows) work together for your good in time and in eternity. If you are Christ’s, you have His infallible pledge that our heavenly Father’s love and guidance in soul and body will give you the same impulse to ceaseless thanksgiving that it has awakened in the hearts and lives of the saints of God in all lands and ages.
INGRATITUDE IS A DANGEROUS AND DEADLY SIN.
We must give thanks because ingratitude is one of the most dangerous and deadly sins, especially for a nation that has enjoyed such an outpouring of blessings as we have. If there is one lesson that stands out boldly and dearly in the annals of human history, it is this: No nation has ever spurned the grace of God Almighty or refused to accept the guidance of His Word and will without bringing down upon it great and appalling national disasters. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” is the Scriptural warning that confronts us when we behold the crescent of Mohammedanism supplanting the Cross of Christ in the North Africa that once boasted of a long list of large, prosperous Christian communities; or when we stand before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and hear the penitential chants of those who yearn for the return of a national glory destroyed through ingratitude; or when, to take a modern example, we behold all the pride and pinnacles of human glory and human boastfulness that have been crushed out of existence by the World War. All this must lead us to the realization that there never has been a nation powerful enough and resourceful enough successfully to rise up over God, to forget His providential leadership, and to tread His proffered mercies under ruthless feet without inviting the calamities of destruction. The blessings that we have and enjoy come to us not by chance; they are not bestowed upon the American nation automatically or because of any national virtue or preeminence. They come to us wholly and completely from the unlimited munificence of God by the purest exhibition of His divine grace. As soon as people forget this and eat their three meals a day without a thought of God; as soon as they neglect the spiritual grace that He offers them, the spurned bounty of God invokes such visitations as the American nation has experienced during the past months. Let our military and naval experts insist upon increased appropriations for purposes of armament and defense at a time when four-fifths of our national income are spent (and much perhaps wisely spent) for purposes of war, past, present, and future; it may be well to hold up to the nation this vital and basic fact, that the greatest danger threatening the American people today is the sin of ingratitude and indifference, which would dethrone the almighty God and ascribe our national greatness to our own resourcefulness and management and capabilities. Let professional politicians warn us against the encroachment of blighting Communism; yet remember that, though the center of the world Communism may be several thousand miles away from the security of our American life, the same tragedies that have provoked the curses of groaning millions may be repeated in our fair land if the thankless unbelief and boastful materialism that has engulfed Russia inundates our own country.
Tonight, then, since by the very law of proportion there must be some listening in to whom Thanksgiving Day has meant just another holiday characterized chiefly by turkey and football, it may be well to send out two thoughts. First, this ungrateful, take-everything-for-granted, thoughtless spirit is a philosophy of life which drags men down to the level of the beast, yes, to an even lower level. For dumb, irrational creatures, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, seem to be guided by a certain sense of animal gratitude, while there are men who, though laying claim to intelligence, go on day after day, year after year, and accept the unnumbered outpourings of divine beneficence without pausing even for a fleeting moment to raise their hearts to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Let us approach our blessings with the realization to which St. Paul gives expression, “God giveth to all life, breath, and all things”; and let us get down on our knees before this day draws to a close to confess, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant.”
The other thought, correspondingly, is this: The path to the happiness of a productive life is the thanksgiving road. Anyone whose heart goes out to God in daily prayer, at meal time, at the beginning and at the close of day, and at other appropriate times; anyone who in the name of Jesus Christ translates thanksgiving into thanksliving and realizes that, as he has received these bounties from God, so he must be ready to share them with less fortunate brothers (especially in such months of depression as those through which we are now passing, when thousands of families throughout the country are confronted by actual want and depressing need); anyone who finds in Jesus Christ as He is revealed to us in His divine Word above all the Savior through whom we may obtain full and free remission of all our sins; all in whom Thanksgiving thus awakens the resolution to pray thanks, to live thanks, and to give thanks in word and in deed, all such have found the divine key to the joy and happiness of a spiritually enriched life. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.