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Preaching About Giving Thanks -- Giving God Thanks and Praise

By Fred B. Craddock
Thanksgiving Day provides the occasion for a happy union of Christ and culture. Even those of us who are most diligent to guard against all forms of cultural captivity of the gospel are willing to call a one-day truce to permit Christ and culture to sit together at the festive table.

To be sure, there are those in both pulpit and pew who have taken the unalterable position of setting Christ over against culture, those who refuse, even for a single hour, to leave their posts. For these, more than a principle or a conviction is at stake; rather, it is a matter of identity, for the gospel, they say, is defined in part by what it opposes. To be faithful to the gospel is to rise from the breakfast table every morning to spend the day in combat with Herod.

And to be honest, such a posture is not without its reasons. Reflect on what culture has done to Hallows Eve, Christmas, and Easter. Recall how frequently culture breaks into the room where the church keeps its vocabulary, running off with treasured words such as charismatic, grace, love, and even our beloved charity, only to leave them abandoned on the street, used, overused, and misused.

Who among us has not been repelled by Thanksgiving festivities in which Uncle Sam and not the Creator was praised, when sheer abundance was celebrated with no thought, no twinge of guilt, no resolve to act relative to the inexcusable gulf between Lazarus and those who fare sumptuously every day? Yes, even Thanksgiving, with all its warmth and joy, has a shadow side and can seduce the unwary.

Even so, most of the faithful come down from the wall, sheathe the sword, and join the larger society on this holiday, which is as much "theirs" as "ours." The realms of creation and redemption enjoy their overlap. The nation pauses to remember benefits forgotten.

Families get together as at no other time of year. Airports and highways are more crowded than at Christmas, everyone bent on going home. Churches discard the competitive spirit and join in ecumenical services of praise. The people of the street are invited to banquet tables, and the more reflective among both rich and poor tarry after the meal to get some distance from things, to lament relationships neglected, and to make quiet vows of adjusted priorities. Our hearts agree. "It is meet (fitting) and right to give God thanks and praise."

However, when an act such as giving thanks or a quality such as gratitude is so widely applauded and universally embraced, some of us grow nervous. It is not simply a case of being unable to celebrate the positive or enjoy the triumph of a good. Rather, our uneasiness is due to the sense that unanimous approval of a value tends to blur the distinctive features of that value, to permit it to soften into a vague sentiment, to slip slowly from the list of convictions to the pile of assumptions. The words and music of gratitude left unattended can become for both church and society only a tune hummed now and then, here and there, a tune everyone knows and yet no one knows.

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