Thursday, November 16, 2006

Canterbury Evening Prayer Reflection 5 - Thanksgiving

Reflection on James 1:17-18,21-27

One week from today is Thanksgiving. Since we will not be meeting next week, we opted to have our liturgical commemoration of Thanksgiving a week early. The Scripture lesson we just read is one of the lessons appointed for Thanksgiving Day, and is part of a longer passage addressing God’s relationship to humankind. Our lesson picks up by addressing the right and wrong responses of humans to this relationship (Johnson, 188). Specifically, humans are meant to be a “first fruits of [God’s] creation,” representing all creation before God (Johnson, 189). The basic point of this passage is clear – that for faith to be real, it must be translated into action. To do otherwise would merely be self-deceptive. By “looking into the perfect law, the law of liberty,” by looking at the examples presented in the Torah, such as Abraham, Rahab, Job, and Elijah, one may learn how to turn one’s faith into deeds, and thereby be blessed (Johnson, 189).

For me, this is what Thanksgiving is really about – or rather, what it should be about – turning faith into deeds. It’s one thing to be thankful for what we have received – to express our gratitude to God for all that God has provided us. That’s the easy part. It’s easy to say the words. Of course, the words are important. We need to be able to express what we are feeling. But that’s only the beginning. The true test of thankfulness, according to the passage from James, is that we put that thankfulness into action

Think of it this way –you have a friend who gives you a gift. Let’s say your friend takes you out to lunch and pays for your meal. You naturally express your gratitude by saying “thank you.” But if you are like most people, your expression of gratitude does not stop with the words “thank you.” At some point in the future, you will likely take your friend out to lunch or dinner as another way of expressing your gratitude for your friend’s previous kindness, but also as an expression of your continued gratitude for the relationship you share.

Now faith is your relationship with God – you believe in God and have a relationship with God. It is a friendship of the ultimate kind. As part of that friendship, God buys you lunch – lots of lunches – and lots of dinners, and give you all kinds of other things, like a home, and all your possessions, and gives you all sorts of opportunities for a rich and fulfilling life. In fact, God give you life itself. And not just your physical life, but God even gives the gift of eternal life – of salvation through the gift of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Of course, out of gratitude for all these gifts, you say “thank you” to God. In the Prayers of the People, we offer thanksgiving to God for all the gifts we are given. On special days like Thanksgiving, we specifically remember to express our gratitude to God. But is that enough? Would it be enough just to say “thank you” to any other friend who has given you wonderful, even priceless, gifts?

With such a wonderful and generous friend as God, wouldn’t it be appropriate to buy God lunch on occasion, as a way of expressing our gratitude? Or to give God a gift as a sign of love and friendship? Well, obviously, because of the nature of God, we can’t buy God lunch. But we can do the next best thing – we can buy lunch for another of God’s beloved children – for one of God’s beloved children who, through circumstances we may not be able to fully understand, does not have the benefit of the abundance with which we have been blessed. By giving a gift to one of God’s children, we are giving a gift directly to God. But perhaps more importantly, by putting our faith into action, by expressing our gratitude to God through our kindness to God in the form of kindness to another, we are blessing the life of someone else, just as God has blessed our lives. And, in so doing, we are acting on God’s behalf so that, through us, others may know the wonder of God’s abundant love and mercy. What greater gift could we possibly give to God?


Johnson, Luke Timothy. “The Letter of James: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. XII of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.

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