St. Philips Church, Charleston ,SC
Thursday, November 23rd, 2006
Here for Audio
I have to admit to you it wasn’t hard to come up with a topic for today’s sermon…
I will begin with a brief history of the holiday that we celebrate today.
Since 1492, Europeans have been visiting the new world.
The passengers on the Mayflower, (we call them “the Pilgrims”)
were not the first pioneers to come to our shores.
These so called pilgrims, were, in fact, a colony of English puritans
who were escaping religious persecution.
In those days religious persecution was more than losing your tax exempt status.
It could mean, at times, death. And the pilgrims understood religious persecution
first hand because decades before they had been the persecutors of those more
catholic in their theology.
And, with Oliver Cromwell had been one side of the English Civil War…
But the tide had turned and the puritans needed to find a new home.
The puritans were strict Calvinists. The only music they sang in church
was the psalms and they lived by very well defined purity laws. But they
were not the dower, stern people that we think of today. The puritans loved
colorful clothes, they painted their houses bright colors, and they were a
people who considered their pioneer lives a mission given them from God...
they considered it a great adventure.
And an adventure it was…After reaching the new world in 1620 most of
the women and children lived on the Mayflower for almost 6 months
before they had a settlement cleared and homes built. That winter so
many died that their numbers decreased by half.
By the end of that winter the new community had been befriended
by a local tribe of the Wampanoag Indians. Through these Native
Americans they made the acquaintance of a man named Squanto. Amazingly,
Squanto had been taken to England years before by English explorers and spoke
We all know Squanto and the other Native American’s rolls in the survival
of the pilgrim colony. They taught the English émigrés how to fish and plant
and hunt the American way and by Aug. of 1621 they had their first harvest
and a three day feast with the Wampanoag. They probably ate Goose, codfish,
and lobster instead of Turkey…there are more turkeys now then there were then.
And the pilgrims were thankful. Yes…just like today they all sat around
the table and said…gosh I’m thankful for our family…and gee I’m thankful
for my health…ya know I’m thankful for good weather….and no…no ..
that’s not how it went back then…
The Pilgrims were not just thankful. They were thankful to God that
they were alive. They had been delivered. They feasted those days
knowing that they had been millimeters from death.
And they rejoiced by singing the Psalms…they sang from psalm 100
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his [a] ;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations. KJV
They weren’t just happy that they had a feast …they were rejoicing
those days because they had been delivered by God. That day was
more about the deliverance of the folks at Plymouth than their comfort.
More about the saving grace of God the creator than Goose for everyone….
As I have watched the vapid and weak Thanksgiving specials on TV over
the years…the time always comes when the family joins hands around the
table before the turkey is carved and the chant always goes something like this:
Pa says” I’m thankful for my family and our cow.” Ma says” “I’m thankful for
enough time to get the biscuits done.. Little Billy says “I’m thankful that our
dog skip made it home before the storm hit… and on and on….and then I notice.
that yes they are all thankful… and for, , decent things you know.
I’m thankful that little dog Skip made it back from the storm…
But no one ever mentions TO WHOM they’re all thankful..
It’s as if their thanks kind of leaves their mouths and hangs in the air a bit….
and because it’s not really directed at anyone in particular ..it bursts,
into a mist and is gone….
Is that thankfulness? Don’t you have to actually thank someone to be
thankful… I’m thankful my mother survived the hurricane…thankful
to whom, the weather man, the firemen, the guy with the boat that came
by at the last second?
What if you ran up to a crowd of people who knew you and told them…
I’m in love! I’m in love and it’s wonderful….!
When they ask with whom you find yourself it love…you tell them…
no one….I’m just in love!
They will stare at you and think you odd….because being in love with
no one is not being it love…there is no object of your affection….
and you, you who are in love but with no one, you beloved are, … a nut.
The pilgrims were not just thankful….they were thankful to God the Creator
of all and continued to believe that His grace and His will was sufficient for all of them…
Many years later…
Following the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress recognized
the need to give thanks for the deliverance of the country from war
into independence. But they were not PC about it….
Listen to this…
Congress issued a proclamation on October 11, 1782:
By the United States in Congress assembled.
IT being the indispensable duty of all Nations, not only to offer up
their supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the giver of all good, for
his gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and
public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and
especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their
behalf: and it goes on to declare a day of national thanksgiving..
Later on, In 1863 4 months after the battle at Gettysburg, understanding
that the end of the Civil War was as much about Divine deliverance as it
was national unity, Abraham Lincoln officially made the 3rd Thursday of
every November a holiday for the entire country dedicated to offering
thanks to God.
So much for the separation of Church and state…
Our nation was giving thanks not just for peace, not just for and end to
war…but for deliverance from death into what would be a very
interesting and adventurous life.
And that, in a nutshell is the message of the Gospel.
We have deliverance in Jesus from sin and death.
We have deliverance in Jesus from bondage and finality.
We have deliverance in Jesus from self worship, and idolatry.
Without Jesus we have little but a long winter in the wilderness with no allies.
Without Jesus we are still in Egypt and not in the promised land.
Without Jesus we all we have is fear and uncertainty.
The truth is I know that you know this…I know that as I repeat
these words I am preaching to the choir…
But we leave these walls and head out into
a world that would reduce this Christ-Centered national holiday
to a good excuse to interrupt a diet followed by a football game
and a triptofan induced coma…
And it is our duty…yours and mine…to make sure that God is honored
at our tables and not just placed in the corner while the turkey is carved…
There maybe someone with you at the table who needs to know to
whom a prayer of thanks is to be directed for it to matter and be more
than just a gesture with no weight….
it may be your cousin or your business partner or your husband….
know that you are never alone when you take a risk for Jesus Christ…
And with that in mind I leave you with a prayer that was very likely
prayed by those survivors, those devout believers in the year of our
Lord 1621 at the new Plymouth settlement.
The Valley of Vision
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where
I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the
healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to
have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is
to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the
valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars
can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells
the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.
 Harry S. Stout, "The Puritans behind the Myths," [online]
Christianity Today, 2001, cited Nov. 23, 2006, available from http://www.christianitytoday.com/holidays/halloween/features/puritans.html.
 "Thanksgiving," [online] History Online, 2006, cited www.history.com