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Monday, November 21, 2011

Who Will You Thank?

                     Who Will You Thank?
This week we’ll celebrate that very unique and wonderful American holiday, Thanksgiving.  Although the residents of the Virginia Colony actually celebrated a special day of thanks for their survival a few years earlier than the Pilgrims, it is the Pilgrims Thanksgiving celebration whose story is most often recounted.

Thanksgiving is, of course, a day known for its turkey dinners, football games and being with friends and family.  It’s recognized by everyone as a day to be truly thankful for all the blessings we have, but who are we thankful to?

Today our public schools teach our children to be thankful to the Indians who taught the Pilgrims about shell fish like oysters, about corn, about tomatoes, and even potatoes.   In fact, I am thankful that the peaceful Indians like Squanto were so helpful to the Pilgrims.  But is Thanksgiving about giving thanks to the Indians?

But who are you thankful to?  Who do you credit for all your blessings and who did the Pilgrims and our Forefathers credit for all their blessings?  Who do you believe is responsible for the blessings, the physical abundance of your life?  Yourself?Government?God?

Here is Massachusetts Governor William Bradford’s 1623 Thanksgiving proclamation…

        Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this
        year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat,
        peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables,
        and has made the forests to abound with game
        and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as
        he has protected us from the ravages of the savages,
        has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted
        us freedom to worship God according to the dictates
        of our own conscience.

        Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye
        Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do
        gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between
        the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday,
        November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand
        six hundred and twenty-three and the third year
        since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there
        to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye
        Almighty God for all His blessings.
Can any doubt that this proclamation of Thanksgiving was directed at any other party than the God of the Bible which the Governor and his fellow Pilgrims relied so heavily upon?

Moving along 166 years later to the Thanksgiving proclamation of our first President, General George Washington, to who did the Father of Our Country give thanks?

        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;

        WHEREAS, Both the 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 favorable interpositions of His
        providence in the course and conclusion of the late
        war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and
        plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable
        and rational manner in which we have been enable 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 transgressions; 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 show 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.

Washington’s proclamation wasn’t about some vague God, but about the very personal and loving God of the Bible to whom Washington ascribed all power, glory and honor.  Washington was, after all, not just a certified parishioner of the state church in Virginia, but an active Vestryman who not only worshiped regularly, but also prayed regularly to the God of the Bible.

Only 15 years earlier, Washington, as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses supported a resolution in support of the beleaguered Massachusetts Colony calling for a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer which read…

        Being deeply impressed with apprehension of the
        great dangers, to be derived to British America, from
        the hostile Invasion of the City of Boston, in our Sister
        Colony of Massachusetts bay, whose commerce and
        harbour are, on the first Day of June next, to be
        stopped by an Armed force, deem it highly necessary
        that the said first day of June be set apart, by the
        members of this House as a day of Fasting, Humiliation,
        and Prayer, devoutly to implore the divine interposition,
        for averting the heavy Calamity which threatens
        destruction to our Civil Rights, and the Evils of civil
        War; to give us one heart and one Mind firmly to
        oppose, by all just and proper means, every injury to
        American Rights; and that the Minds of his Majesty
        and his Parliament, may be inspired from above with
        Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice, to remove from
        the loyal People of America all cause of danger,
        from a continued pursuit of Measures, pregnant with
        their ruin.

        Ordered, therefore that the Members of this House
        do attend in their Places, at the hour of Ten in the
        forenoon, on the said first day of June next, in Order
        to proceed with the Speaker, and the Mace, to the
        Church in this City, for the purposes aforesaid...

Now, let’s move forward in time another 74 years to Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 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 unequaled 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 defence, 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 one
        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.
Lest there be any doubt as to what God Lincoln was thanking, let us move back in time just a few months to March 30, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln, at the request of the United States Senate set aside a day of fasting…

        And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of
        men, to own their dependence upon the overruling
        power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions,
        in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine
        repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to
        recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy
        Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations
        only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

        And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law,
        nations like individuals are subjected to punishments
        and chastisements in this world, may we not justly
        fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now
        desolates the land, may be but a punishment,
        inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the
        needful end of our national reformation as a whole
        People? We have been the recipients of the choicest
        bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these
        many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown
        in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation
        has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have
        forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in
        peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened
        us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness
        of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced
        by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
        Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become
        too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming
        and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God
        that made us!

        It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the
        offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to
        pray for clemency and forgiveness.

        Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and
        fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by
        this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday,
        the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national
        humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby
        request all the People to abstain, on that day, from
        their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their
        several places of public worship and their respective
        homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and
        devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties
        proper to that solemn occasion.

        All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then
        rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine
        teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be
        heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less
        than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration
        of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former
        happy condition of unity and peace.

Every presidential proclamation of Thanksgiving, right up until the present time has clearly identified the source of our blessings, the God of the heavens and the creator of the universe.  The following Thanksgiving Day Proclamation by President John F. Kennedy is particularly poignant…

        "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord."

        More than three centuries ago, the Pilgrims, after
        a year of hardship and peril, humbly and reverently
        set aside a special day upon which to give thanks to
        God for their preservation and for the good harvest
        from the virgin soil upon which they had labored.
        Grave and unknown dangers remained. Yet by their
        faith and by their toil they had survived the rigors of
        the harsh New England winter. Hence they paused in
        their labors to give thanks for the blessings that had
        been bestowed upon them by Divine Providence.

        This year, as the harvest draws near its close and the
        year approaches its end, awesome perils again remain
        to be faced. Yet we have, as in the past, ample reason
        to be thankful for the abundance of our blessings. We
        are grateful for the blessings of faith and health and
        strength and for the imperishable spiritual gifts of love
        and hope. We give thanks, too, for our freedom as a
        nation; for the strength of our arms and the faith of our
        friends; for the beliefs and confidence we share; for our
        determination to stand firmly for what we believe to be
        right and to resist mightily what we believe to be base;
        and for the heritage of liberty bequeathed by our
        ancestors which we are privileged to preserve for our
        children and our children's children.

        It is right that we should be grateful for the plenty
        amidst which we live; the productivity of our farms,
        the output of our factories, the skill of our artisans,
        and the ingenuity of our investors. But in the midst of
        our thanksgiving, let us not be unmindful of the plight
        of those in many parts of the world to whom hunger is
        no stranger and the plight of those millions more who
        live without the blessings of liberty and freedom...

        I urge all citizens to make this Thanksgiving not merely
        a holiday from their labors, but rather a day of
        contemplation. I ask the head of each family to recount
        to his children the story of the first New England
        thanksgiving, thus to impress upon future generations
        the heritage of this nation born in toil, in danger, in
        purpose, and in the conviction that right and justice and
        freedom can through man’s efforts persevere and
        come to fruition with the blessing of God.

        Let us observe this day with reverence and with prayer
        that will rekindle in us the will and show us the way not
        only to preserve our blessings, but also to extend them
        to the four corners of the earth. Let us by our example,
        as well as by our material aid, assist all peoples of all
        nations who are striving to achieve a better life in freedom.

Our nation has a rich heritage of faith and freedom.  In fact, it is freedom rooted in faith that has blessed our nation with abundance far, far above that of any nation on the face of the earth.  It is through faith that we understand the fallen state of man, his human frailties and his sinfulness.  It is through faith that we have confidence that God will bless us as long as we bend our knee and acknowledge Him as our creator and redeemer.  And it is through grace that our forefathers were granted the faith and the understanding to create a society that restricted the power of those in government to control our lives.  They were wise men whose goal was to secure freedom for themselves and those that followed.  For more than 200 years their “experiment” has proved to be successful.  May it continue to be so for our children and for their children.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  Enjoy the good food, the football, family and friends as you give thanks for the blessings we enjoy as Americans.

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