A national day of Thanksgiving wasn’t part of Martin Luther’s life. Thanksgiving Day is an American phenomenon. Although Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday in November since the first presidential proclamation in 1863, it wasn’t official until congressional legislation in 1941 made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.
Martin Luther recognized God’s blessings to every living thing when he wrote about the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed in the Large Catechism. There he wrote, “Hence, since everything we possess, and everything in heaven and on earth besides, is daily given and sustained by God, it inevitably follows that we are in duty bound to love, praise, and thank Him without ceasing, and, in short, to devote all these things to his service.” (The Book of Concord, Fortress Press, 1959, page 412)
In a world that thinks it can give God something, either by the way a person lives and by what a person does, Luther would remind us that God doesn’t need anything from us. Luther goes on to say that God wants us to be grateful and to honor him as God. “We cannot give God anything; for everything is already His, and all we have comes from Him. We can only give Him praise, thanks, and honor.” (What Luther Says, Concordia Publishing House, 1959, page 1353). And in a prayer at the end of his treatise on keeping children in school, Luther prayed, “God grant that we follow His Word to praise and thank our dear Lord for His precious blood, which He so freely offered for us. And may God keep us from the terrible vice of ingratitude and the forgetfulness of His blessings. Amen.” (What Luther Says, Concordia Publishing House, 1959, page 1354).
When you read this blog, Hurricane Harvey might already seem like something that people have moved on from and are now into other things. However, relief work continues in many communities in the Coastal Bend, Golden Triangle, and Houston areas. I thank God that many are back in their homes and back to work, but others are still struggling to get things back to normal.
“The mission of the Texas District is to strengthen congregations to reach the lost, disciple the saved, and to care for people, locally and globally.” I am so proud and thankful for the many congregations in the district that immediately went to work to support each other and to care for people when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. None of them waited for the district to tell them what to do or when. This action by congregations is what makes the Texas District so strong and engaged.
My songs of thanksgiving continue even today for the response of many and the generosity of hundreds. Because of this wonderful generosity, the district has been able to financially assist many church workers, congregations, and members who needed this gift of love.
I am also thankful for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and their disaster relief arm. They have given the Texas District, congregations and ministries financial support, and along with the district will be with us for the long-haul in addressing the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
On Nov. 23, our country will pause to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. We have much to be thankful for each Thanksgiving and each day. Our highest thanksgiving comes from the gift of Jesus our Savior. God has given us everything in Christ; therefore we thank and praise Him, serve and obey Him.
Each day will not go as we would like it to go, and there will be other storms and disasters. Many of those challenges can get us to wonder and question God. At those moments let us go the Psalms and other passages in God’s Holy Word for comfort and assurance. One that I recall is from Habakkuk 3:17-18: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
By Rev. Ken Hennings
President, Texas District