It is Thanksgiving Day, and I am sitting at Starbucks reading and studying as I wait for my wife to get off of work for the day. This Sunday marks one of the greatest periods of time within the Christian calendar: the beginning of Advent. However, before we arrive at the readings and anticipation of the next four weeks, we pause to give thanks to God. Believe it or not (Protestants) there are separate readings that are given for this day specifically; and it is those readings that I am focused on today.
The first reading is from Deuteronomy 8:7-18. It is here that the author describes the land that YHWH's people will enter into. It is a good land that has potential for great prosperity (water, wheat and barley, fruits and other food, bread in great abundance, raw materials, etc.) This is the land that YHWH is giving to his people. On this day, Thanksgiving, it is easy to see that the American land is similar, at least in potential, to that of the "land flowing with milk and honey." I am trying to be careful as to not make too many parallels that are dangerous (Americans as YHWH's chosen people, settlers serving under the hand of God at the expense of the natives, etc.), but I believe that the American land itself is a geographic place blessed with potential. However, the description of the land constitutes only the first four verses of the reading for the day.
The next eight verses command those who are the benefactors of such great blessing to "Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today." Take joy in the land, eat to your full. Multiply the silver and the gold. Build houses and live in them! But DO NOT forget that it was YHWH who brought you out of Egypt and out of slavery. Do not be so childish and ignorant as to believe that YOU, by your own might, deeds, or mind have created this good life. "But remember the Lord your God…"
The act of remembering the deeds and promises of the Lord constitute the central acts of his people throughout the story of Scripture. It requires a constant 'looking back' and remembrance to interpret ones' contemporary situation. The reality is that the Israelites never did figure this out and constantly faced the temptation to believe in their own works and abilities.
On this Thanksgiving, we need to pause and give thanks to our God for the blessings that are in abundance in the land of America. We are blessed (or cursed) with wealth and power. We are, according to law, free to practice our faith and do good works. There are great strides being made towards reconciliation between races, ethnicities, and nationalities. We are learning to value more greatly values such as equality and freedom.
But we have also constantly make the grave mistake of neglecting the plea that Deuteronomy makes. We have aligned the prosperity and blessings in the country with the works that have been done at the expense of our own energy. The thought runs rampantly that, "we deserve it." The perception of the American Dream is a great example of this: I had nothing, I worked hard, and now I have. It is by my own will power and effort. The prophetic voice of the church is that all belongs to God, and if one has been given much, it is God who deserves the glory and honor.
But those who are blessed with much are also created and required to be good stewards. In fact, this is our basic identity and job description: to be good stewards of creation in obedience to God. May we, on this great day of Thanksgiving, remember the hand of God throughout history and give thanks to him for the blessings that we have received. May we reject the temptation to applaud our own works. May we, with great humility, take joy in this land and time. But may we also, out of loving obedience, be good stewards of the blessings.