Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

We say amen to Paul’s words whenever we prepare to receive the church’s Thanksgiving feast, known as Eucharist, a version of the Greek word for thanksgiving. The presider sings or says, “It is indeed right … that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, O Lord” These words seem reasonable enough around a holiday table where delicious food, laughter, time and love are in unusual abundance. But that is only one of multiple scenes happening around God’s beloved world today, many of which are starved for joy:

Refugees huddle in danger and uncertainty. Soldiers share a few MREs (rations) and cigarettes in the back of an armored truck. Forgotten widows dine alone. Prisoners slink into Spartan cells. Native Americans feel the sharp edge of the all too familiar Thanksgiving story. A family stands around a gravestone in the snow. A sales clerk calls her kid from work because they need this job she hates. A pro linebacker does the same. The industrial turkey at the hospital is especially dry. The memories are especially painful. The holiday magnifies the hurt.

“Give thanks in all circumstances,” Paul insists elsewhere going to great pains to produce his own resume of rotten ones. He claims it “is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” God in Christ knows something about unspeakable suffering too, so this urge to thanksgiving is probably about more than Pollyanna cheer or holiday protocol.

For those in the throes of struggle, giving thanks is an act of resistance. It is a fresh breath of hope. It is a sliver of light. It gives a reason and maybe a direction to move forward. Giving thanks keeps the enemies locked out of your heart. It does not depend on winning the gamble of getting something better; it claims and cherishes what you already have, no matter how meager or tenuous it might appear.

For those in abundance, giving thanks is at least equally important. Giving thanks loosens your anxious grip. It is the antidote to the soul poisons of ownership, among them pride, entitlement, fear of scarcity and deprivation and other people, worry, lost perspective. No matter how hard you’ve worked, you didn’t earn birth. Life is a gift, full of gifts, from God. Giving thanks enhances humility and appreciation, which keep the soul healthy, which is “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Because God loves you. Always has. Always will. In all circumstances.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!

Brian Hiortdahl
Brian Hiortdahl is pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church, Sacramento, Calif., and an avid baseball fan.

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