Attentiveness: Thanksgiving - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Thanksgiving

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist

Thanksgiving, I mean thankfulness that is genuine, overflows into love for others.

There is thankfulness that is incomplete, that stops short of joy expressed to others.  This is a kind of thankfulness that says, “Wow, I am glad I got that job. Now I can start saving for a new car.” Being happy and thankful in general may be weak and malnourished. True thankfulness can not be contained.

We have a daughter who received a Cinderella coloring book when she was in kindergarten. She was so happy about this because it was her favorite story and it was the first book she could actually read. She took her coloring book to school and, filled with thankfulness, tore out a page for each person in the class and gave it to her classmates. I am sure not all were as elated as she was, but she could not contain herself! She wanted everyone to have the same joy as she had.

When asked by the Pharisees which was the greatest commandment, he gave a very simple, but profound answer.

“You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Two loves: for God and for his image bearers. Both loves are responses to what God has already done. These are not commands so that we might receive something from God. These loves are responses to what God has already done. And these two loves are inseparable. They are interwoven, for we can not love God without loving our neighbor. Saying we love God, but not at the same time loving our neighbor extravagantly, prodigally, is hypocrisy and even children can identify it.

Thanksgiving is upon us. Constrained from traditional cultural expressions of our national holiday, it may be a good time to reflect on thankfulness. Thankfulness is the foundation or beginning of the Christian life. “This, my child is how you should begin your life according to God. You should continually and unceasingly call to mind all the blessings which God in His love has bestowed upon you in the past, and still bestows for the salvation of your soul.”[1]

It is grace from first to last and our response is thanksgiving from beginning to eternal end of praise. In this life, and this week, I suggest we connect the great command of Jesus to love God and neighbor (out of thankfulness) in genuine, concrete and prodigal ways. Christian thanks must overflow into giving.

Especially in this season of pandemic we can think about expressing our thankfulness to God in giving to others, starting with our family, but not stopping there. There are many at this time who are lonely, despondent, without work, and sick. Our thanks can and should move us out to love. The natural expression of thankfulness is always sacrifice. Sacrifices for the Israelites were a concrete expression of thanks, but so was care for the poor and the refugee in your land. Hosea writes, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (6:6). And Isaiah says, “…seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (1:17).

“Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices.” Maybe this thanksgiving we can thank God with our hands, in service to the lonely, lost, unloved, and to the “least of these,” as Jesus so memorably expressed it. It may mean writing some notes to people, writing a few checks, or making some phone calls to elderly folks and those you know are lonely.

Jesus is very clear about this: For in as much as we do it to these people, we are expressing thanks to Jesus, this thanksgiving. (Matthew 25:40)

[1] Mark the Ascetic in “Letter to Nicolas the Solitary” quoted from The Philokalia translated and edited by G.E.H, Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware (New York: Faber and Faber, 1979)

Scott W. Sunquist, the new President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Monday morning on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses and good ideas.