My Struggle . . . To Give Thanks
I love Thanksgiving. Early in my life it included travel to grandparents and cousins, games and play, love and laugher, food and fun. For the past 26 years of ministry, it has been the one of the “big three” (Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving) that didn’t require a boat load of work to prepare for, sometimes even remaining in tee shirt and sweat pants the entire day before and after. I love Thanksgiving. I have much for which to be thankful.
Leading into Thanksgiving 2022 I was excited. For the first time in many years, we were leaving town for a whole week to spend time with family. St. Peter’s was in good hands for two Sundays and for any pastoral care that might arise. I WAS STOKED!
We arrived in Nashville on Friday, went to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday, and the week was off to an even better start than I had imagined.
Then I awoke on Sunday to learn of the Club Q shooting in Colorado. Memories of the Pulse Nightclub rushed back, my mind darted to Uvalde, Buffalo, Parkwood, Las Vegas, New Town, and all the way back to Columbine. I was saddened that there are others that I’ve simply forgotten.
I became angry, and the Chesapeake Walmart shooting was yet to come.
My anger wasn’t rooted in guns, or politics, though it certainly could be. My anger wasn’t grounded in favor of one political party over another, though it certainly could be.
Instead, my anger was rooted in the reality that for all the advancements, achievements, accomplishments of human kind we still can’t seem to learn to live together, love one another, and value, protect, and preserve life.
On Thursday my sister-in-law asked if I would say the blessing for the meal (I get that request a lot ya know). I certainly said yes. And then it hit me. It hit me that I was struggling to give thanks. In the time from our Friday arrival in Nashville to early Thanksgiving morning, it was as though the grief of all humanity lay heavy in, on, and around my heart.
How could I pray and give thanks for all the blessings in my life, when the needs (much less blessings) of so many others went unmet or were swept up in grief and sorrow. As my mind raced, my heart ached, and my soul cried out, I thought of all who would spend the day cold, hungry, alone, afraid, grieving, forgotten, sick, and dying.
I asked myself, “how can you stand here in a warm house, filled with family, friends, food, and laughter and give thanks for all our blessings while so many others had no such blessings.
It felt like pouring salt in their wounds.
Now on the hook to pray, not able find the words, not able to set aside the grief, not able to forget the injustice, I was in a state of lament. I was not in a state of joy and thanksgiving.
That’s when it hit me. Lament is often the rich soil that grows the fruit of thanksgiving. Looking at, seeing, feeling, the state of the world as it is, on its own, and entering into that unwelcome place of lament, gnashing of teeth, and tear-filled eyes is necessary even if it is unwelcome.
Lament removes the rose-colored glasses, looks at the world as it really is, and turns us to the healing power of faith.
For Jesus’ people, lament turns us to faith in Jesus.
As I struggled with the hurt, injustice, and suffering of our world I was reminded that it was, is, and will be into this world that Jesus came, comes, and will come again.
Jesus. Jesus was, is, and will be my Thanksgiving.
Jesus. Jesus was, is, and will be our Thanksgiving.
The words of John 3:16-17 came over me, “For God so loved the world (the cosmos, all creation, every little nook and cranny) that he gave his only Son . . . For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world (seems we’re pretty good at condemning ourselves), but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
The God who is all in all, creator, author, and giver of life and all that is, seen and unseen, sent Jesus to this crazy and messed up place we call home to save us. It is possible, even necessary, to pass through the lament in order to get to the giving thanks, without diminishing either the pain of the lament or power of our thanks.
So, here’s where my journey to giving thanks took me this year. Here is where I encountered Jesus in the midst of my struggle and my lament.
Jesus’ entry into this world, in and of itself, his taking on of human flesh as God made human is and forever will be an act of grace, hope, and love.
Grace: God’s unexpected, undeserved, unearned act of love-driven mercy poured out for the whole cosmos. It is in Jesus that the grace of forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and adoption abundantly and lavishly washes over us and all creation. It is in Jesus that we face our broken world and see not only the pain of brokenness; but, also the promise of creation’s salvation in, with, and by Jesus. All is not lost to suffering, pain, and death because Jesus has conquered, is conquering, and will conquer all in all.
Hope: In the death (unjust, humiliating, painful death) and resurrection (vindicating, triumphant, eternal life) of Jesus hope lives (in us, in the cosmos) as the revelation and reality of God’s mercy poured out for the world (1 Peter 1:3).
If the optimist looks at suffering, sadness, pain, and injustice with the belief that “the sun will come out tomorrow” the one held in hope (you and me) looks at any moment, at any time, in any state of human condition and sees Jesus there in, with, and beside whatever might confront us. Death looks at hope and sees the reflection of its own defeat because of Jesus (inspired by Henri Nouwen).
Love: Yes, we know love because God loved, loves, and will always love us (as Luther said “warts and all”). The God that sent Jesus is the God that has shown us divine patience and kindness, bearing all our pain and sorrow, without resentment or arrogance, and always enduring all that brokenness unfolds (1 Corinthians 13).
My lament transforming to the joy of thanksgiving, I was reminded that this God of grace, hope, and love has called us into divine service as ambassadors of Jesus. To let the light of Christ shine through us that the world may know Jesus. We see the world through Jesus. And we respond to the sufferings of this world through the lens of death’s defeat and resurrection’s glory.
In this way, we not only confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:19), as important as that might be, we are brought into God’s redemptive plan, purpose, and promise for the salvation of the cosmos.
Indeed, simply put, we are called and empowered to grow grace, live hope, serve love.
Grow Grace: As those born of grace, we are sent to share the unexpected, undeserved, and unearned act of love-driven mercy, which we have received, with all that we meet. Called to be agents of forgiveness and reconciliation for a split, divided, and suffering world in order that the world might know Jesus.
Live Hope: Jesus is in this moment. Jesus is in this moment of joy. Jesus is in this moment of sorrow. Jesus is in this world. Because Jesus is in the midst of it all, hope lives in spite of it all. In living, celebrating, and trusting the death-defying resurrection of Jesus we live as ambassadors of true and meaningful hope.
Serve Love: In this life many pursuits, desires, and distractions will call us to service. However, as the God made flesh, Jesus, we are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve only love. A love born of patience, kindness, humility, and truth. A love that powers our work and our witness and calls us into service in order that the world might know Jesus, the one that the God who so loved the world has sent. It is the love of Jesus that calls us to the fruit of forgiveness and love, for friend and enemy alike.
Our Thanksgiving isn’t simply about the abundance of “stuff” (house, income, health, safety, status, etc.) born of this world. Our THANKSGIVING is in Jesus, divine love made flesh, who made suffering, injustice, pain, and grief his own in order that we might have hope and life in him as our own identity and calling.
For this call, this identity, this ambassadorship I am forever thankful!
As we journey together through this season of Advent, let us remember that the God who sent us Jesus, is the God who assures us that the work of salvation is not yet concluded, that the one who came is the one who is to come. In the meantime, God sends us is in order that the world might know God’s love poured out in Jesus.