Word from the Center: Friday, November 23, 2018
Welcome to “Word from The Center” FRIDAY, a Two-Kingdom, practical reflection on the issues of the day from the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s topic/issue….
Thanksgiving – For Freedom’s Sake!
Have you ever asked why America celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday? When I was the Director of the Cross-Cultural Ministry Center at Concordia University, Irvine, we had students studying for ministry from all over the world. They often asked, “Why does America ‘celebrate’ Thanksgiving? What is Thanksgiving all about?”
It seems that “Thanksgiving” is fairly unique to the United States. But that shouldn’t surprise us. From our beginnings as a nation, we have taken time to reflect on the fact that God is part of the American Experiment. In fact, it can be persuasively argued that individual liberty is a political reality because of the of notion that there are issues that are bigger than the state. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the individual dignity of every person are things that transcend politics and economics. They flow from the reality that we have inherent dignity as people created in the image of God. We are people who have inalienable rights because of it. And, because God is the source of those rights and liberties, we are called to live faithfully toward Him and toward our neighbor in all of our pursuits.
That spirit is woven into the fabric of the Republic. At the founding of the country, George Washington declared that the nation should celebrate a day of thanksgiving, “to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue.” Virtually every leader before and since has acknowledged the importance of such a day. Ben Franklin called for a day of Thanksgiving. Thomas Jefferson called for a day of Thanksgiving. And, amidst the bloodiest moment in our history, the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln called the nation to its higher principles, proclaiming the first “Annual” National Day of Thanksgiving, in Washington, D.C., October 3, 1863, saying:
“In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity…
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States…….to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
And I recommend… they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged,
and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
As Christians, we know that we have more to be thankful for than merely God’s providence. Our thankful hearts are overflowing because of God’s ultimate, saving work in the world in Christ Jesus (which is why we go to church on Thanksgiving too!). But, even if people don’t believe in the fullness of the eternal freedoms that come from God, one can still be thankful for His providence. It calls all citizens to be thankful to our Creator who has given us liberty and life to be used faithfully and freely toward Him and toward others. Let that be part of your worship and prayers on Thursday, as well as when you carve the turkey and root for your favorite team!