A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
November 24, 2016
Giving thanks is the essential act of being in right relation to God and to God’s world. When we give thanks, we acknowledge that our life and welfare come not from our own efforts or merits, nor from sheer chance. They are all gifts. Our only appropriate response is, “Thanks!”
Our thanks goes first to our Creator. We are not self-made, nor are we self-sufficient, proclaims the psalmist: “It is God who has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving!” (Psalm 100:3-4) Giving thanks is the central act of being in right relation to God. Not appeasement. Not groveling. Not demanding. But giving thanks.
Leading with thanks not only positions us rightly before God – it does the same toward each other. Everything we have and are is ours because others have blessed us. Our family. Our church. Our schools. Our friends. Our colleagues. Our community. Our country. We owe each a debt of unqualified gratitude far beyond our ability to pay. Leading with thanks puts us in right relation to our neighbor.
Thanks-living is a choice. We could live instead by blame-mongering, by demanding apology rather than by giving thanks. We could live instead by resentment, jealous of blessings others enjoy that we don’t. We could live instead by fault-finding, seething over all that is wrong with our family or church or community or nation or world, not to mention all that has gone wrong for us personally. But we choose instead to give thanks.
Paul admonishes us, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) This, he says, is the secret to real peace: “With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
On the evening of his resurrection, Jesus goes on a long walk with two of his disciples, but they do not recognize him until he gives thanks at the table. (Luke 24:13-31) It is the essence of who he is – whether on the mountain feeding 5,000, at the Last Supper, or following his resurrection. Jesus’ trademark is thanksgiving. It ought to be the same for those who seek to follow him as well.
Thanks is not merely a word of appreciation; it is a way of life. Thus, “thanks-living.” It is to live in a way that seeks always to honor the other. It is to refrain from insisting on our own way, even when we hold strong convictions. It is to honor our neighbor, apart from whom our lives would be vastly poorer.
Above all, thanks-living acknowledges that God and God’s claim on us lie at the center of everything. God is, after all, objectively the center of the cosmos. To live as though we are the center, as though the world is there to serve us, is to be eccentric. Out of balance. To live in constant gratitude to the One who has given us everything is to be rightly aligned with the world as it truly is.
Of all the places in the world where thanks-living should be the norm, it should be in the church of our Lord Jesus. Thanks-living is living to give, rather than to receive. To bless rather than be blessed. To accept being wronged rather than insist on being right. To extend grace rather than demand apology. To speak gently rather than with acrimony. To be merciful rather than judgmental. To be generous rather than demanding.
May we, this Thanksgiving Day and beyond, be marked not just by thanksgiving, but by thanks-living!
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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