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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

A Sesquicentennial Celebration
November 28, 2013

On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November an annual national holiday, for the purpose of Thanksgiving. The context of the proclamation was the bloody civil war, with Gettysburg still mopping up from an epic three-day battle that had cost more than 50,000 American lives. Even though both sides sustained devastating losses, the war would continue for two more years.

Exactly one week before the inaugural official Thanksgiving holiday, national leaders gathered at Gettysburg to honor the fallen, and Lincoln gave the greatest speech of his career. If one word could summarize what it took Lincoln some 270 words to say, it might be this: Resolve. At the pinnacle of the short speech, Lincoln declared, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

As we celebrate today the 150th anniversary of this holiday, I invite us to consider thanksgiving as an act of resolve. Thanksgiving comes in a thousand varieties, from the mumbled forced “thanks” a parent cajoles out of an unwilling child to teach good manners, to corrupting bribes masquerading as thank-you gifts. Taken as an act of resolve, thanksgiving commits us to action. More than merely a reflective response to things past, it is a deliberate posture of intent toward the future.

According to 1 Timothy 4:4, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving.” Nothing is to be rejected – really?? At our baptism we vow to reject evil, and the pages of Scripture abound with counsel to do just that. But this text reminds us that nothing in God’s Creation is inherently evil. Living in thanksgiving for all that God has created is an act of resolve to be open and receptive. Openness to God necessarily entails openness to all that God has made. As a thanksgiving person, I resolve to be genuinely open, genuinely receptive, genuinely welcoming to all who come my way.

The necessary corollary is hope. I can afford to be open to whatever God brings my way only if I have an unshakable hope that it will work for the good. (Romans 8:28) My hope is based not on my assessment of my current situation, but on the conviction that my times are in the hands of a God who is, above all, good.

Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg is anchored in hope. That is why his resolve remains unbowed amid the most dreadful of circumstances. The early Christian church was assailed mightily by internal divisions and external persecutions, yet they dared to claim that everything created by God is good. It is precisely in the toughest of times that resolving to hope is most necessary. True thanksgiving shines ever more brightly as distress increases.

I love that Thanksgiving is immediately followed by Advent, our season of nurturing the Gospel hope that sustains us. All shall be well. “God-Who-Puts-Everything-Right” (Jeremiah 23:6, The Message) shall prevail. Jesus shall reign. As Advent dawns, let us resolve to fan the flames of this blessed hope. The first act in doing so so is to open our hearts to God by pouring out thanks for all that God has given us, and in the same moment opening our hearts to receive with gratitude whatever and whomever God may bring our way. Will you join me on this 150th Thanksgiving Day in doing just that?


The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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