John J. Blanchard
November 21, 2015 (listen to audio)
Good morning, brethren. The title of this sermon is We Have Forgotten How to be Thankful. I am talking about this today because just ahead of us is the American Thanksgiving. It is this coming Thursday. It is a time when we remember the Mayflower incident, when people fleeing religious persecution came to our shores in 1620. It’s a fascinating story.
These people were so zealous and so sincere in their love of God and deeply religious that they wanted to be able to live their religion the way they felt God was directing them. They fled from one country to another. They considered themselves the righteous. They considered themselves the saints, actually. They worked hard to be a saint. That was their goal in life. Their goal was to be saintly.
A congregation of about 300 of these people became the Pilgrims who left the Old World and came to the New World. They had a tremendous bond together, and it brought them through some serious times when they came to the New World. They landed here after fleeing England. They went to Holland, and then from Holland they came to the shores of what would someday be America.
They landed here at the start of a severe New England winter, and back then the winters were very harsh. What brought them through that harsh winter was their love for each other, their concern, and their loyalty to one another. They had the character to endure hardship together, for many of them perished in that first winter.
There was a contingent of about 50 Pilgrims on that first ship—the Mayflower. It had a 102 people on board. Some of them were crew members. Some of them were investors representing people with money from England and Holland. Fifty or so were, what we would call, the Pilgrims. They contained people from families that we would recognize the names of, such as, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Myles Standish, the Mullins, the Eatons, the Billingtons, and the Moors. These families and these people comprised the 50 Pilgrims. Believe it or not, today 35 million Americans can trace their DNA in some way to the Pilgrims! It is a family grown large!
They came to the New World preparing to go through the Apocalypse! When I studied this subject a number of years ago I thought that was fascinating. Here it was 400 years ago, and they were concerned about the Apocalypse. They wanted to find a place where they could be pious but also be physically safe through the Apocalypse while awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. It is much like today, you could say. People are waiting for the Apocalypse to start.
They left Holland in November of 1620 and arrived here in time for a terrible New England winter, as I said. Many of them perished. But because of grit and determination and their faith, they endured. They helped each other endure the harsh conditions, but they also had help from compassionate natives.
There was an Indian tribe called the Pokanokets and their Chief Massasoit. I have also read that they are called the Wampanoags, so I don’t know if they had two names or if there were two tribes together. Wampanoags is a little easier for me to pronounce, so maybe I should stick with Wampanoag.
Chief Massasoit was a very loyal individual who came up with a peace treaty for the English, in which the English said we will defend you and your rights from the warring tribes if you help us get through this time and show us how to survive here. Massasoit agreed, and he kept his agreement until the day he died. The Indians literally saved these people’s lives by showing them how to gather food in this new land that they were not familiar with. They also protected them with knowledge of the enemy tribes. It was a working relationship, but the Pilgrims are the ones who would not have survived without the Indians. The Indians were doing fine.
The Pilgrims responded in kind by helping them with new implements, because the Wampanoags were farmers, too. They knew how to plant corn. They were loyal to the Wampanoags, teaching them how to do the things that they knew how to do and how to use more modern implements and medicines. Various plagues would come among the Indians, and, of course, some of them were inadvertently brought by the Pilgrims when they brought disease from Europe.
The Pilgrims were just a small group of people on a very dark and savage continent. It was a true wilderness. They survived against all odds, and as I said, 35 million Americans now have Pilgrim genes in them. It was like a mustard seed grown huge! This generation of the Pilgrims was so thankful that they had the first Thanksgiving the following year. The Indians brought native foods such as venison and corn, and the Pilgrims provided food that they had raised. They had a three-day feast! Eventually it came to be known as Thanksgiving Day. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who established it as a national holiday in the 1860s.
INGRATITUDE IN THE NEXT GENERATION
The next generation of the Pilgrims was far different. They forgot what the Indians had done for them, which means they forgot what God had helped arrange for them. They became very cruel toward the Indians, wanting what the Indians had and taking their land from them. They mistreated them and really were abusive to them. They played one tribe against the other in various wars. We could go on and on about what would be Massasoit’s grandson, who was known as King Phillip (even though he was an Indian chief), and King Phillip’s war which nearly wiped out the Pilgrims and their descendants. This is one generation after the first group of Pilgrims landed here!
Humans have this strange capacity to forget how to be grateful and thankful. It’s amazing how quickly it happens. The Pilgrims themselves remembered it until the day they died. However, as they got older, they allowed their children and grandchildren to abuse the Indians. They themselves stopped standing up for the Indians. Of course, they were getting old. There were people like Myles Standish.
THANKFULNESS IN THE GREATEST GENERATION
It seems to be a cyclical thing in human nature to go through some sort of calamity and to receive tremendous help. I think all of us have been in that situation, maybe not as dire as the Pilgrims. But we have all been through a situation where we needed help, and we were very grateful to get it. Of course, that gratitude extended to God, because all good things come eventually from God. Then things turn around. We could look at examples like the Great Depression. I know my mother said the churches were full during the depression. People all of a sudden became religious. That followed what was known as the Roaring Twenties when people became quite profligate. I think by modern standards today it was probably nothing, but for them they had gotten pretty wanton. The Great Depression ensued, and people became much more pious.
After the depression, those that lived through it became known as what is termed now as the greatest generation. Those young people who lived through it, they remembered how harsh the depression was. They, like the Pilgrims, stood together during the depression. They helped each other as families and neighborhoods and church congregations to get through the dire time. They were very well prepared to stand together when World War II started. They were conditioned to take care of one another. They remembered to be grateful to God for deliverance through the depression and through deliverance from World War II. They were very grateful. That generation—the greatest generation—was thankful.
Being the son of a member of the greatest generation, I remember back how a big deal Thanksgiving was—to get together and to thank God for the bounty. It was important to get the whole extended family together underneath one roof and have a beautiful feast, and appreciate what God had done to make lives better for people after coming through the depression followed by World War II and then followed by the Korean War. These people were in a mood to be thankful!
THE MATERIALISTIC BABY BOOMERS
The generation I am from got to be less so—the baby boomers. They wanted things—materialism. But they still had that idealism that they picked up from the greatest generation, so there were anti-war protests and what have you where people really had a conscience and said war is bad. At the same time they were becoming more and more liberal, forgetting God’s good graces, and forgetting to be thankful and full of gratitude.
As the times progressed from the baby boomers to the millennials, and now generation X, people became less and less and less thankful. Now Thanksgiving is all about Black Friday and the day before Thanksgiving. Now I saw a sign as I drove into church services today saying it’s the five-day shopping spree starting from the day before Thanksgiving and going for five days. Everything used to close on Thanksgiving, so that families could be together. Now stores are open. You can shop on line. It’s all about getting more stuff, instead of being thankful for the stuff we already have and for being grateful to God for the blessings that we have. We have freedom. We have police and safety that we enjoy, and of course our bounty. We all have plenty to eat. Even the poor among us can go to pantries or get government aid, so people have enough to eat. It’s not like the Pilgrims. It’s not like the Great Depression where people really suffered.
SHOWING LOVE DURING DISASTERS
It is interesting how a generation can come and a generation can go, and we have to relearn the lessons. In 2008 we had a financial collapse. Millions of people in the United States lost their homes. We had 9/11 in which we had a terrorist attack. There were commentaries in the United States about how New Yorkers were becoming more friendly because of 9/11 with the collapse of the twin towers in that terrorist attack. The country was drawing together because of that financial collapse. A lot of people moved in with their parents again. Young people who had moved out and lost their homes moved back in with mom and dad or with the grandparents. Family was starting to appreciate one another. We got through it, and how quickly we forget! People are back getting stuff. Thanksgiving is going to be all about shopping, football, parties, and fantasy sports and a lot less about thanking God and being grateful for what we have.
Let’s turn to the gospel of John, chapter 13, verse 34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
We were starting to learn that love as a nation, and our communities were drawing together because of the financial collapse and the terrorist attacks. How quickly we forgot. We were starting to learn a lesson all over again. Like I say, it seems like every two or three generations we need to learn the lesson of gratitude. I think we are going to have to learn it again.
Let’s turn to Matthew chapter 5, verse 43: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
God wants us to learn this lesson, to love one another, to love the less fortunate among us, and to share our blessings with the less fortunate. We need to truly internalize gratitude. I don’t think we can properly share love and concern and our physical blessings with other people unless we are grateful for what we have. If we are always grasping for more, there is no time to share what we have. Often times people who are grasping for more think they don’t have enough yet!
It’s always interesting when I see a billionaire or a multibillionaire wanting to share their wealth. Do we really have to become billionaires to start to share our blessings? I don’t think so. I think God wants to see us share well before we are billionaires and well before we are millionaires, and perhaps when we look at a lot less and say, I have enough. There is someone near me such as a neighbor or friend or a relative who doesn’t have enough. Then we share, but we have to be grateful for what we have to do that. When millions and millions of people do that, we can come through some terrible times, like the Great Depression, like World War II, like the Pilgrims in 1620 and 1621. It takes that attitude of caring for the people around us and going through the troubled times together.
As we look around the world and we see all the craziness that we see today, I think God wants us to appreciate what we have. He is not causing the evil that we see. It’s Satan, but it is selfish people cooperating with him and not being grateful for what they have that’s allowing it to happen. For if we all cared for one another the way we should, we wouldn’t be having these problems. We need to learn it on an individual level, and that would spread through our local area, our local church congregations, our towns, our villages, our neighborhoods, and become a national phenomenon. It was starting to happen after the financial collapse of 2008 and the terrorist attacks of 2001. The nation was really turning.
I think you can see it now in France after their terrorist attacks. They are appreciating the freedoms that they have. Each of these Western nations has become too profligate, too materialistic, and too fun loving to care about the next person. A lot of what you are seeing is a backlash from people who have less, a lot less, and don’t feel loved. When people are in that state, they are more likely to fall for strange deceptions and hurt other people. Satan’s deceptions are very powerful.
You have poor people starting to hate rich people, small businesses hating big businesses, one race that is not as well off hating another race. If we would be thankful for what we have and help each other, those hatreds and animosities would diminish. Satan would lose his power and his grip over mankind.
SPEND THANKSGIVING DAY WITH FAMILY
Let’s start with this Thanksgiving, coming up in just a few days, rejecting things like Black Friday, materialistic shopping, trying to get more, watching football all day long instead of spending time with our families, and focusing on fantasy sports instead of our neighborhood or family get together. If each of us does this with our own little families and enough families start seeing how beautiful it is and we do more next year, we can reverse the ingratitude and the lack of thankfulness. We can become a nation that really appreciates God’s generosity and all that He has done for us. Hatreds and animosities would diminish. People would be less jealous because others are less selfish.
With this Thanksgiving coming up, let’s remember to be thankful and very grateful for, first of all, all that God has done and all that we have that we can share. Let’s look at what we have as something that we can share with other people.