From the Pulpit: “Thanksgiving in Us”

Shared by Pastor Seong Jae Jo, Associate Pastor at Thrasher Memorial UMC

Let us consistently and intentionally give thanks to our God!

Today is Thanksgiving Sunday in the Korean Church calendar. Thanksgiving Sunday in Korean Church culture is such a huge Sunday, like Christmas and Easter Sunday. Even decorations on the altar are huge, with fruits, vegetables, rices, and so on. That Sunday is when people give the biggest offering to the church–I mean ultimately to God. Also, we call November the “Month of Thanksgiving” in Korean church culture so we can be more intentional to be thankful and remember the grace of God that He has given us as a gift.

But it seems like there is no such Thanksgiving Sunday in the churches of the United States. So, I just wanted to introduce this kind of Korean church culture and tradition because we don’t have it here in the Unites States. Some of you may have already noticed that our Thrasher Prayer Ministry Team has been updating “prayers of gratitude” on Facebook page. We have to be intentional to give thanks to God, more especially in the pandemic.

So as we prepare our hearts for Advent and for the birth of Jesus, I want to share with you today the theme of “gratitude” as Thanksgiving Day is coming soon.

I have studied about the origin and history of Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It has a long history and tradition. However, I personally feel and experience that in many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance; instead, it now centers on cooking and sharing a plentiful meal with family and even friends.

So, let me ask you, “What is Thanksgiving Day?”

It’s literally a day to give thanks to God, right? How simple it is. But it seems that Thanksgiving Day is such a big holiday here in the United States that gathers together families to eat and bond together. That’s good. Spending time with family is always great. I like that kind of tradition.

But what I want to say is that we have to be reminded that family should not be above God. God is first, and family is second! If not, family becomes my idol, which I love and prioritize more than God. And as you know that’s sin.

Therefore, I hope and pray that when you gather together with your family on Thanksgiving Day this year or in the future, let us go and bring back to the original and ultimate significance of Thanksgiving: “give thanks to God.”

I know some of you decided not to gather with your whole big family because we are still in the pandemic, so maybe this year would be a great opportunity to be more intentional to give thanks to God.

Some of you might say, “how can we be thankful in the pandemic?” “I can’t find any reason to be thankful.” That’s why I’m sharing about gratitude with you today.

As I mentioned earlier, today [November 15] is Thanksgiving Sunday in the Korean Church calendar. Thanksgiving Sunday is a day to give thanks to God, confess what God has done, and respond to God’s grace through praise, worship, prayer, and offering.

It is absolutely obvious and natural for Christians to give thanks to God in our daily lives. But we fail to do that. That’s why the Korean Church specifically designated Thanksgiving Sunday to be more intentional to give thanks to God as we remember what God has done for me and for us.

Today my intention in introducing the Korean Church Thanksgiving Sunday to you is to give thanks to God for protecting and guiding our lives this year, especially in the midst of the pandemic. When we worship God with gratitude today, I hope “giving thanks” can be restored and overflow in our lives. I pray that we don’t just give thanks to God today, but every day in our lives.

In today’s passage from Colossians 3:15-17, the same word appears in each verse. In verse 15, “be thankful”, in verse 16, “praise God with a heart of gratitude”, and in verse 17, “give thanks to God.” What does it mean to repeat the same word over and over? It means that it’s being emphasized. The Apostle Paul is teaching, emphasizing, and exhorting to the church in Colosse, to “give thanks.”

It isn’t just Paul who said to be thankful. The phrase “give thanks” has been repeatedly written in the Bible.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstance”; Ephesians 5:20 says, “give thanks to God all the time and for everything”; again 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “give thanks constantly”, and Colossians 4:2 says, “stay alert in thanksgiving”.

You can be thankful as much as you decide to live thankfully. If I decide to be thankful today, no matter what hardships or obstacles, I can find that happiness, joy, and gratitude in the midst of those struggles. On the other hand, if you decide to live with complaints today, you can only find dissatisfaction and unhappiness no matter what great things happen. In other words, your life and attitude depend on your decision and willingness.

Some people might ask, “is there something to be thankful for?” and some others say, “it is difficult to find a reason to thank in the global pandemic that we are facing right now.” I want to say to be more intentional to find the object to be thankful for, not the reason. “Giving thanks” is not and should not be conditional.

Psalm 107:1 says, “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His love endures forever.”

The objective to be thankful is more important than a reason to be thankful. We give thanks to God, we give thanks for God, and we give thanks because of God. God is the object of thanksgiving, and at the same time He is the reason to be thankful.

You can give thanks for some reason, but you can be thankful for no reason as well. For God is good and His love endures forever as God loves us. I hope and pray that all of us give thanks to God for His grace towards us.

According to Tina Yates, our Christian Formation Director, there are people who she calls “joy suckers.” I totally agree with her. There are people who try to suck my joy and gratitude with their complaints. I’m like, “don’t you dare suck my joy and gratitude from me.”

I hear their complaints in one ear, and I let it go and pass through to the other ear. Because I try to live a life with gratitude intentionally. That’s why when I pray every Sunday in worship service, I start my prayer with giving thanks to God. I even have an app on my phone that pops up “a phrase of gratitude” twice a day: when I wake up, and when I go to bed.

Apostle Paul is telling us to “give thanks” in all circumstances; whether we are happy or sad, whether we are in peace or struggling. He is telling us that is the true faith. “Giving thanks” has to be part of your life, your spiritual discipline, your daily routine.

Nothing comes automatically or naturally. It has to be intentional, even giving thanks to God. If you believe that you are saved through Jesus Christ, there is no way that you can’t find something to give thanks for in your daily life.

So, let me ask you a question, “what are you thankful today?” What are you thankful for even in the midst of the pandemic?” Yes, there are hardships, difficulties, obstacles, and struggles, but don’t let complaints and negativity control and dominate your heart and your life. If you start complaining, it never ends. You just do what you can do the best in the moment. Let us make the best and the most out of it. And “give thanks” to God.

“Giving thanks to God” is the essence of faith. “Gratitude” is the secret to open the door of blessing. Today’s “thanksgiving” becomes tomorrow’s miracle. I hope and pray that miracle of “thanksgiving” will be with each and every one of you. The only vaccine that heals the virus of unbelief, dissatisfaction, and complains is “giving thank,s” “thanksgiving,” “gratitude.”

Gracious Loving God, thank you for being our Father. We give thanks for who you are and for who we are in You. We give you thanks for You are good and Your love endures forever. You are the reason that we praise, pray, worship, and glorify your name today. Thank you for receiving our heart of worship and our everything. We thank you; we praise you; we worship you; we love you; and we pray in your holy precious name, of Jesus Christ our Savior and our Lord. Amen.


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