16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:16-18
When we think about what many claim to be the first Thanksgiving we are reminded of the familiar story of Pilgrims and Natives surviving and celebrating the blessings of God’s providence. But these Pilgrims came to America to establish a religious theocracy and to make money. Unprepared for the harshness of this new world, they were dependent on the grace and skill of the natives in the land to make it. The most famous of these natives was a man named Squanto. Years earlier Squanto was captured and enslaved and then taken to England. When he returned to the land of his birth as an interpreter and guide, Squanto would find his own home village decimated by disease carried by the very same people he’d been enslaved by. He’d been placed in the conflicted position of teaching his captors how to survive. He taught them how to grow corn and how to navigate the dangers of their new home.
Now we live years later celebrating this story by gathering around thanksgiving tables, reflecting on God’s goodness to us as we come to the close of another season, another harvest, another year. But I submit to you that our thanksgiving celebrations present us with something of a paradox.
In our current social and political context where strangers and foreigners are feared and rejected, demonized, and robbed of dignity, it seems we have forgotten how the first Americans, these European immigrants, were able to survive their earliest years. It’s an odd way to say thanks. We celebrate the fact that we live in one of the greatest and wealthiest countries on our planet, and yet, in all our abundance we curse the legacy of Native’s stolen lands and distort the heritage of Africa’s stolen men and women who made this wealth a possibility!
It’s an odd way to say thanks.
We are here now in this American promised land because of the kindness of strangers, and we do well to remember it when we think about the immigrants that come here in search of the same refuge, the same hope, the same possibilities that we now enjoy. We do well to remember the stranger, the widow, the orphans that are among us. We do well to consider not only our national past but also the spiritual and moral responsibility we bear as Christians. We do well to remember the tragedies, trials, and troubles our ancestors endured as they were pushed to the margins, exploited, and mistreated, while we labor to ensure that no other human being is subjected to what we’ve been forced to endure.
We do well to consider the words of scripture here in 1 John 3:16-18.
John reminds us that our material blessings are accompanied by a tremendous responsibility. As we have received of the LORD’s grace through Christ – we who were not His people are now among His people. We who were strangers are now members of God’s household owing to the grace and generosity of Christ. We have received this kindness and now it is required of us!
We know love because He laid down His life for us. We enjoy the grace of God in His provisions for us. So then, if we are truly grateful, our gratitude must be made known in our generosity toward others.
Selfishness, coldness, and callousness toward those in need belies our faith and undermines our witness. Hostility toward the foreigner, cruelty toward the orphan, stinginess to the widow, rejection of the other – these are not only an affront to our national identity but a failure of our faith!
We celebrate thanksgiving- it is a national holiday – but I say to you today that we have an odd way of saying, ‘thanks!’
The American Christian hypocrisy that prevails in our current politics is a travesty. The lack of kindness and acceptance that marks our current social and even our religious contexts are evidence of the sham that Christianity has become in the West. The Church has bowed before the idols of racism, classism, sexism, capitalism, individualism, and greed -and we are bearing a terrible witness to a world desperate and needy for a faithful witness.
So, for this thanksgiving, I pray we consider the kindness and grace shown to us and ask ourselves, what does God require of us – in our personal lives, of us and our families, of our politics, and of our pocketbooks?
Make sure there is room at your table and in your heart for the stranger, the lost, the last, the least and the other! Be sure to remember in your prayers the homeless and helpless, the outcasts and the ostracized, the faceless and the forgotten, and then do what you can (either through personal direct action, or as an advocate for policy reforms) to alleviate their suffering- not words and talk but in deeds and in truth!
If we will not, it is not their worthiness that will be judged, but our own…
17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
Our mandate as we celebrate this thanksgiving season, is to reject the hypocrisy, hatefulness, and the hardheartedness of our day and do as John admonishes.
18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Love is as love does. True gratitude must be expressed in grace and generosity toward others – period.