SCRIPTURES – Ps. 103; Mal. 3:13-18; Col. 1:13-20; Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103:2-5
This year, as you gather with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day and sit down for your annual feast, there is a special group you need to thank: the Congress of the United States. Let’s add the President, too. Yes, the Congress and the President! Give thanks for them, for they are the reason we have this wonderful holiday to enjoy. Read later the Thanksgiving proclamations of Presidents Washington and Lincoln on your bulletin insert and you will see this. Washington’s Proclamation set aside Nov. 26, 1789 as the first national Thanksgiving Day, and he gave Congress the credit for this:
“both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.””
And Lincoln fixed the date of Thanksgiving as the last Thursday of November.
Remarkably – many today would be shocked! – the President and Congress established Thanksgiving as a religious holiday. In his Proclamation Washington said: “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” And in his Proclamation, after listing a number of blessings the nation enjoyed, Lincoln said: “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” With these words, Lincoln especially captures the main reason we have to give thanks to God: He remembers mercy.
Ultimately, mercy is the cause of the blessings you receive from God. As Ps. 103 begins listing God’s blessings, it begins: “He forgives all your iniquity, He heals all your diseases, He redeems your life from the pit, He crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” (vss. 4-5) And, as to why He does this, verse 8 says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” It’s His nature to have mercy! And so, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” (vs. 10) Forgiving our sins is His greatest mercy.
It is easy to forget this and not be thankful, and even think you have good reason to not be thankful. Just think about what you don’t have! And, focus upon what others – especially those who are less deserving than you – have that you don’t have. This is what the people of Israel were doing in the days of Malachi. They were grumbling: “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.” In other words: “I’ve been good! How come those people – who aren’t as good as me – are better off than I am? It’s not fair!” Oh, we’re usually not so blatant about this, of course. At least, I hope not. But, do not such thoughts arise in our hearts? They do, and they separate us.
Ø They separate us from God by making Him seem unjust.
Ø They separate us from one another by filling us with envy and a lack of compassion.
Ø They obscure the blessings we do have, and make them seem poorer.
How often this can happen even in church! You come here, confessing your sins… and God responds by pouring out His mercy upon you in His Son and forgiving every one of them through the mouth of His pastor! He speaks His mercy to you as His words are read to you. Finally, He puts the very body and blood of His Son, which hung on a cross to pay for your sins, into your mouths; and you receive the forgiveness He won for you. And yet, we can go home afterward and feel as if we got nothing out of church that day!
When you long for fairness instead of mercy, for visible and obvious examples of what you think you deserve, remember: there will be a day of fairness, a day when God, who has no problem distinguishing the good and the bad and seeing not only everything that is done but the attitude with which it is done, remembers sins and gives those who commit them what they deserve. As Jesus tells us in His parable of the weeds and the wheat, “at the end of the age the Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” God will no longer mercifully overlook bad deeds and injustices but will punish those who commit them for every one of them. “He who has ears, let him hear.” Turn from your sins and look to Him now for His mercy in Christ!
And, above all, look at and rejoice in the mercy you have right now in Christ. “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” says Colossians 1:13. Pay close attention to the tense of the verbs. God has delivered us from darkness and has transferred us to His Son’s kingdom. These are past tense verbs. They tell us that it is done! Through faith in Jesus we live in His kingdom now! And in that kingdom we have redemption; this is present tense. The forgiveness of sins is ours now, and so we can look forward without fear to the coming of His visible kingdom. We “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of [our] Father!”
This is what you have to look forward to in Him, for God is, as Pres. Washington said, a “great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” He gives us “many and signal favors.” They are all the result of God’s mercy in His Son, whose mercy was poured out in blood on the cross.
This day, then, and always, rejoice and say: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His mercy endures forever!” (Ps. 136, and many other places.) In the name of Jesus, our merciful Savior. Amen.
Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day
October 3, 1863
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.