A Thanksgiving Sermon preached at the C-T Ministerium Service at St. Luke's United Church of Christ, Trappe, PA
2 Corinthians 9:10 and 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
A national day of Thanksgiving can be carried off in many different directions, with one of them being the present-day greeting, “Happy Thanksgiving Day” which generates some interesting responses. Like one centering in the typical holiday table with family and invited guests sitting around, waiting for the signal to fill their plates and then their stomachs.
In one home the mother turned to her young daughter and asked her to offer the prayer. An awkward pause followed, and so the mother said, "Just pray what Mommy would pray,". The little girl thought for a moment, bowed her head and then prayed, "Dear Lord, why did I invite these people to dinner?" (Quoted from the Rev. Dorothy Okray)
What many who are cooking at home or chefs and wait staff in restaurants may be praying!
There is also the tendency in this time of working hard at being all-inclusive, to re-present (and the hyphen is intended) by listing all the present-day races and cultures in America and give each equal recognition, so as to counter-balance the stories of Christian immigrants from England, called Pilgrims, sitting down with a welcoming Indian tribe in the autumn of 1621 for what is credited as the first Thanksgiving feast, that lasted three days, with Edward Winslow reporting a first-hand description of the menu; followed by the second, two years later to give thanks to God for a bountiful harvest of corn after a long drought.
Because some are saying it is time to dismiss our national Day of Thanksgiving for being limited to the “Christian” heritage from the English immigrants who settled the Plymouth Colony, the whole story, as told by historians, needs to be recalled:
President Abraham Lincoln issued a renewed call in the most unlikely time – in 1863 after the Union victory at Gettysburg and the previous July with a combined 51,000 estimated casualties, nearly 8,000 dead, draft protesters rioting in Northern cities, and he and his wife, Mary, still mourning the loss of their 11-year-old son, Willie, who had died the year before; yet he proclaimed the last day in November to be thankful that:
“peace has been preserved with all nations, order maintained, the laws respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict.”
But it took President Franklin D. Roosevelt to make it a nation-wide holiday In 1939 it fell on the last day of the month; fearing a nation struggling from the Great Depression needed more time to kick off holiday shopping, he moved it up one week which led some to call it “Franksgiving Day.”
In 1941, President Roosevelt signed the legislation to fix the date on the fourth Thursday in November.
These are the stories held in the soil of our nation of short-lived, sporadic thanks, of a feast that gave Spaniards the strength to launch a massacre, of a date-change to stimulate retail profits.
Soil that sings of short-lived gratitude, of violence, of marketing.
And soil that sings a song of unyielding devotion to God, and unwavering praise of God, when there seemed to be no reason to believe in a gracious God, or that God even exists, doubt from which atheists are made; yet there are those who tenaciously held on to singing: “Now thank we all our God...who hath blessed us with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.”
What do we hear? What songs are held in the soil beneath our feet? What songs of thanks echo back to 1717
now being celebrated as Trappe 300?
Our first response might be to say, “Unfortunately we did not have someone like the Plymouth Colony’s Edward Winslow, and Henry Melchior Muhlenberg did not begin his diary until 1742.”
But what we DO have is the history and the heritage of the first settlers to what was called Providence. They – first Mennonites, followed by German Reformed, Lutherans and still later, Roman Catholics, – came from wars and plagues that devastated the Palatine’s Rhine Valley – saying, “If we stay we will die, if we go we might die, we will go.”
They came with Bible and Catechism in hand that had them (as Paul told the Corinthian Christians) making EVERY day a day to give thanks as they planted seeds, and then harvested crops, and (as they read in 1 Thessalonians) were able to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;
Whether life was long or short, they entrusted themselves to God, the Giver of life eternal, saying and believing:
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
From the earth that sang a song of praise to God, set to the tune of an abundant harvest, they learned to produce the fruits of generosity;
But, not all of the “they” picked up the soil’s song.
Gottleib Mittelberger, German writer, schoolmaster, organ builder and Lutheran pastor, extolled the song of the earth sung in lush growth and amazing harvests, like walnuts the size of a man’s fist, but he despaired over individuals who sang a song of religious intolerance and sexual promiscuity that sent him back to Wurttemberg where he died in 1754.
“Even the soil is singing” the song that extends a national Day of Thanksgiving into every day, the song held in the time capsule of Trappe 300, the song it’s our turn to sing and when we do, will a future generation be able to say:
O God, beneath your guiding hand
Our exiled fathers crossed the sea;
And echoed o'er the wintry strand,
Their psalms and prayers in worship free.
And here your name, O God of love,
Their children's children shall adore,
Till these eternal hills remove,
And spring adorns the earth no more.
Leonard Bacon, 1833
Text: Matthew 25: 14,15, 19
Rev. Dr. Martha B. Kriebel is Pastor Emerita of Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ in Collegeville, PA