Date: November 28, 1935
Our God, we thank Thee. – 1 Chronicles 29:13
Our heavenly Father, Thou Giver of every good and perfect gift: We raise our hearts to Thine infinite mercy and goodness to thank Thee for the innumerable blessings of soul and body which Thou hast granted to us in this richly endowed nation. For our food and clothing, for Thy blessings upon the harvest of our fields, the yield of our orchards, the products of our industries, and the blessings of our commerce we give Thee our humble and heartfelt thanks. Forgive us, for Jesus’ sake, the ingratitude of our cold hearts and the thanklessness of our sealed lips. Deepen our vision, so that we may recognize in our national reverses and international difficulties the power of Thy hand and the call which would summon us to individual and national repentance and thanksgiving. Above all, draw us closer to Christ and fill our hearts and lives with thanks to Him and His sure mercies. Help us to translate our thankful thoughts into thankful deeds, to remember the armies of our fellow-men who have not been blessed as we, and as we offer them a helping hand and an encouraging word, we commend to Thy merciful remembrance the multiplied miseries of this bewildered day. Teach us to serve Thee in willing obedience and daily to present our hearts to Thee as acceptable thank-offerings; through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer. Amen.
MILLIONS of bushels of corn and wheat stored in bulging grain elevators, yet long, winding breadlines in our streets; gold steadily transported to our shores, yet the most protracted financial stringency in modern history; unparalleled natural resources and widespread industry, yet more than 10,000,000 unemployed American workers pacing the streets in search of gainful occupation,—these are some of the glaring contrasts that intrude themselves on this day of our country’s Thanksgiving.
As these words in their vast sweep speed out into our land, it is inevitable that they enter unnumbered homes in which the question has been asked, either in thought or in words, “Can we truly give thanks this year?” Families that have lost their homes, their life-savings, their financial reserve; individuals who have sacrificed their happiness, their health, their hope for the future,—all may be tempted to view the day of our national gratitude with the spirit of protest.
Yet in the face of the hardship and failure that may surround many of us I firmly believe that there are few who, if they would but count their blessings, would not find room and reason to join in—
OUR THANKSGIVING GRATITUDE
and to pray the prayer which I would put into your hearts and on your lips today: “Our God, we thank Thee,” 1 Chron. 29, 13.
THANKS, EVEN IN DIFFICULT DAYS, FOR BODILY BLESSINGS
To realize our own blessings, restricted though they may be for some and increased as they certainly are for others, we need but think, by contrast, of courageous men and women of God who, triumphing over their sorrows, sang praises to the Almighty. St. Paul calls out to his Christians at Thessalonica, “In everything give thanks,” and he meant that even in the midst of their bloody persecutions, their poverty, their suffering, these first witnesses of Christ were to raise grateful hearts to God.
The first American Thanksgiving Day was celebrated within sight of forty graves in the Plymouth cemetery, while fifty-five English-speaking people, including only four women, survivors of the original band of Pilgrim exiles, gathered to praise God after the epidemic and death of that first crushing twelvemonth.
Martin Rinckart, whose paean of praise “Now Thank We All Our God” is sung this morning in thousands of churches, penned this hymn during an epidemic in which the number of the dead was so great that they had to be buried in trenches. His own wife was taken away; he lost his property and was driven to desperate extremes in finding food and clothes for his children. Yet he triumphed over despair to sing:—
All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given.
Again hosts of worshipers this morning sing:—
Oh, that I had a thousand voices,
A mouth to speak with thousand tongues!
But how many who sing these lines of praise know that they were written by John Menzer after his house burned to the ground and all his possessions were destroyed? Yet in the depth of that sorrow he showed the triumph of grateful faith and composed the choral that has survived him by two centuries.
The personal history of the English essayist Charles Lamb offers a similar challenge. For a time he was confined to an asylum. His sister, in a fit of insanity, killed his invalid mother. A morbid depression continually hung over his life. Yet with these and other shadows overcasting his life, Lamb writes that he feels the inclination to say grace on twenty occasions each day besides at his meals.
Now, I submit that in comparison with the sufferings and sorrows of these heroic figures every one of us has been blessed with such evident benedictions that even a faulty sense of gratitude should impel us to approach our heavenly Father and declare: “Our God, we thank Thee.”
Even in these days, when the hearts and lives of men are sorely tried, we enjoy outstanding blessings. We have no blood-swashing dictator seeking to embroil the country in the brutalities of war for conquest. The world has never seen any help for destitution as generous and far-reaching as our present public and private relief programs. In spite of unemployment, reduced family incomes, and the grim necessity of practising rigid restrictions many of you have found that life has never before been as full and deep and rich. Now, these blessings do not come of themselves; they are not automatic; they have not been earned. Why is it that our country is not suffering the fate of Ethiopia? Why is it that, when clouds of adversity overtake the nation, we are not driven, as the Chinese were in the last drought and famine, to sell our wives and daughters (and 80,000 were sold into slavery in one Chinese province alone) or to keep ourselves alive as they did by devouring leaves and scraping the bark off trees? All this is the pure, unmerited mercy of our heavenly Father. The benediction of America’s greatness comes from God, and from Him alone. And for the lavish outpouring of these blessings let the heart of America today beat in gratitude as its lips confess: “Our God, we thank Thee.”
Many of us ought to thank God, as contradictory as it seems, for the check and restraint which His infinite wisdom placed on our unworthy hopes and selfish ambitions. Hundreds of your letters testify to the sobering, strengthening, character-building influences of the hardships you have experienced. Husbands and wives, parents and children, have been welded more closely together by the fires of affliction. Proud hearts have been humbled, and many of those who had no fear and love of God in their lives learned to fall on their knees in prayer. I speak for hosts of you, my fellow-countrymen, when I say, “Our God, we thank Thee” for the blessings of adversity.
THANKS PARTICULARLY FOR THE GIFTS OF GRACE
Today, too, our fervent thanks should ascend to God on high because we can cherish hope in our country in spite of the drab pictures that may be drawn of our future. In 1857 the editor of Harper’s Weekly wrote: “In our country there is a universal commercial prostration and panic, and thousands of our poorest fellow-citizens are turned out against the approaching winter without employment. . . . Of our own troubles no one can see the end.” Yet God saw the end; and our days of difficulty can pass, too, if we learn to raise grateful hearts to God for our spiritual blessings and to say: “Our God, we thank Thee” for Thy grace in Christ and for His sinbearing love. Every one of you has the unspeakable blessing which millions of our fellow-men in the strongholds of heathen darkness have never had, the priceless privilege of hearing and believing that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Regardless of how rich or poor, how socially prominent or insignificant, how learned or ignorant, how blessed or underprivileged we may have been, this Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, has repeatedly knocked at the doors of our hearts and homes to offer us Heaven’s sacred gift: forgiven sins and the blood-sealed assurance of an eternity with Christ. For these blessings, which compensate a thousand thousand times for any setback in dollars and cents or any dire want of food or clothing, let us join in the Thanksgiving doxology and declare: “Our God, we thank Thee” for Thy saving Word, for the churches that have proclaimed the message of the Cross, for Thy ministers who have taught Thy sure mercies and the sure plan of salvation—we thank Thee for our Savior.
Our thanks, however, must be more than lip-worship; for our blessings are too high and too deep, too sacred and too holy, to be passed by with mere thanksgiving; they must be translated into thanksliving. How better can we show the deep grain of our thanks than to love God and to extend our blessings to our fellow-men? Today above all days our hearts should beat in sympathy for the sufferers along the hard paths of life’s pilgrimage; for the millions who through no fault of their own are the victims of organized selfishness and cruel injustice. As you who have never been cold or hungry sit down today to your Thanksgiving dinner in the warmth and comfort of your homes, resolve in Jesus’ name to offer a helping hand to your destitute brethren, remembering what Christ, the Good Samaritan, has promised: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”
If only throughout the nation today there will come into many hearts—as I now pray God that it may come into your hearts—the full realization of our indebtedness to God, so that men may be turned from their sins and their failures into the waiting arms of Him whose benediction reechoes over the land: “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”; if in the souls of those who have forgotten God there would spring up the resolution of the prodigal: “I will return unto my father,” then, truly, there would be thanksgiving above, in the heaven of heavens, where the angelic host sings hallelujahs when a lost soul is found again for Christ.
As I now commend you on this Day of Thanksgiving to the love of God and to the compassion of the crucified, but ever-living Savior, let me, as did once the priest of old, bless you who are God’s children with this benediction of love, hope, and assurance: “The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace.” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.