- Eldon Peterson
Giving Thanks as a Community
Next week at this time, most of us will be with friends and family to celebrate Thanksgiving. If someone told us that they had the best Thanksgiving ever, alone, it is likely that we would think it odd. While the meal is an important part of Thanksgiving, we know that food without friends and family to share it with is not really Thanksgiving. God has created us to give thanks as part of a community.
Being born into a family, we instinctively appreciate the sadness of those whose community has been taken away. We grieve with the widows and orphans because to their lack of a supportive community. James 1:27 tells us, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
How does this apply to our Thanksgiving celebrations? I believe that it should remind us of the importance of sharing our homes with those who have nowhere to go for the holiday. Over the years, our family has done this by sharing our traditional Thanksgiving celebration with international students, with single parents, widows and others who are alone. Understanding the importance of community makes it is easy to open our home to those that lack community. It allows us to share more than just a meal together; we can share our lives with one another as well.
If we search the scriptures we find that thanks-giving is commonly done in community. The psalmist declares, “I will give you thanks in front of the great assembly. I will praise you before all the people.” (Psalms 35:18) While some may say that their faith is private – nothing could be further from the biblical call. Repeatedly the Psalms encourage the worshiper to give their thanks before the congregation. The Bible calls for us to live out our faith in community not in isolation. Psalms 111:1 puts it this way, “Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.”
Some think that this sounds like too much work; while isolation may seem easier, it will never be as rewarding. The Psalmist tells us to not withhold anything; to give thanks with our whole heart. In doing so, having the Lord clearly in view, my thanks-giving will come easily. However, if I am hesitant to share my thankfulness with others, then it is likely that my joyous praise will not be as loud. Therefore, we are to give thanks to God with everything we’ve got – not holding back anything!
Psalms 118:29 says, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” The order of these words are important. It begins by recognizing the Lord’s goodness. This then allows us to embrace the “steadfast love that never ceases” which makes it possible for us to give thanks in community. I realize that some will struggle here. Having been hurt or abandoned by their faith community, some are uncertain if finding community is even worth the effort! However, the best way to overcome such uncertainties is to step out and refuse to allow these fears to have authority in our lives.
When we stop and give thanks with others at Thanksgiving we will be reminded that we are not alone. Not only do we have the fellowship of others, but Jesus also invites us to come with our burdens, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and who carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Message words Matthew 11:28 saying, "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest.” Let us welcome one another with the same, “Come and let us take a real rest together.”
It all starts with community. Thanksgiving offers us the opportunity to gather with family and friends and new acquaintances to give thanks to the Lord for all he has done for us in the past year. As wonderful as our traditional Thanksgiving feast may be, I pray that we will find even greater fulfillment in connecting with others in Christian worship and by celebrating what the Lord has done in each other’s lives. May the Lord bless you this Thanksgiving with warm fellowship with both friends and strangers and may your conversations be filled with thanks-giving.