I was standing at the door greeting people after a Thanksgiving Day service when a member of the congregation said to me, “I think you missed the point in your sermon. Thanksgiving is a national holiday, and the emphasis should be on our nation giving thanks to God for His blessings.”
It was a constructive criticism that I have never forgotten. This man had been born in another country and seemed to have a special appreciation for America. So, because of his counsel, I want to speak primarily regarding our nation giving thanks to God for His kindness to us in every way.
Let’s look at two scripture passages. The Psalmist writes, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance” (Psalm 33:12). Moses writes, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord has chosen you out of all the people on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
Scripture makes it clear that Israel was THE chosen people of God. No other nation has ever had that distinction. It was out of Israel that all the people of the world would be blessed. From this nation was to come the Savior of the world.
The United States can never claim to be THE people of God. Yet is it possible that we could call our nation A people of God? Don Williams, in his commentary, writes, “While Psalm 33:12 refers to Israel, this promise is extended to God’s new Israel, the Church, who are the baptized believers in Jesus Christ.”
History reveals the United States is a nation highly populated with people who confess Christ as Savior and Lord and desire to live in harmony with His will. In 1621, only one year after the settlers had landed on these shores, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of special thanksgiving for God’s blessings on the people. After the colonies received their independence, President Washington delivered a like proclamation, as did Lincoln following the Civil War. It is a tradition. Each year our president calls upon the nation to give thanks to God in their homes and churches for His goodness to us as a nation.
Until recently, the Bible has been open in our schools. The day was started with prayer. The children were taught the Ten Commandments and respected them as divine absolutes, which gave clear guidance regarding what is right and wrong. “In God we trust” is printed on our coins. The pledge of allegiance reminds us that we are “one nation under God.”
Is there evidence that God has blessed us? There certainly is! Every American is free. Sometimes we wonder if this freedom is not carried a bit too far. We have opportunities to make the most of our talents. This is America where all who wish can have the “good life.”
Our daughter recently sent us a sheet showing what advancements have come to America in the last 100 years making life much more secure, enjoyable, and easier:
“One hundred years ago, the average life expectancy was 47. Fourteen percent of the homes had bathtubs. Eight percent of the homes had telephones. There were 8,000 cars in the United States and 144 miles of paved roads. Six percent of Americans were high school graduates. Ninety percent of all U.S. physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as substandard. What a difference a century makes!”
Are we thankful we are citizens of the United States? Let my close friend answer this question. He was born and raised in Germany. He fought in the German army. After World War II he came to the United States. Later he and his fiancee, who was also from Germany, were married and located in Iowa. While they enjoy many material blessings, their greatest thrill as American citizens is the freedom they enjoy and the opportunities to make the most of their talents. Their license plate reads, “USA IOU.”
Yet the greatest blessings God has given to us are not material but spiritual. This is the confession of all who know Christ as Savior and Lord. God’s law is still taught in many of our churches as absolute truth, and we know what is right and wrong. We have the Gospel, where Jesus Christ is proclaimed, on the basis of Scripture, as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He died for our sins. For all who will receive Him, Christ forgives our sins. We have the assurance that He walks with us and, at the end of this life, He will bring us home to heaven.
Thanksgiving Day is a special time to pray for our nation. We have not become a part of the post-Christian age. It is becoming more difficult to be a vocal Christian without experiencing criticism. Our rights to give expression of our faith in public places will be challenged in the very name of the Bill of Rights, which gave us these privileges.
As we lift our voices in prayer giving thanks to God, let us pray for a spiritual awakening in our blessed land. Let us pray that those who do not know Christ in a personal way will receive Him. Let us pray that the Church will be fearless and faithful in preaching Law and Gospel. May Christ be held up as God’s unspeakable gift and the only way of salvation.