Thanksgiving is Prayer

“But there is a more serious difficulty here, namely to describe the different types of prayers.   The apostle (St. Paul) notes four types.  ‘My advice is that first of all supplication should be offered up for everyone, prayers, pleas and thanksgiving’ (1 Tim 2:1).  … So we must first inquire what is meant … by thanksgiving.     ….  Thanksgivings: Unspeakably moved by the memory of God’s past kindnesses, by the vision of what he now grants or by all that He holds out as a future reward to those who love Him, the mind gives thanks.  In this perspective richer prayers are often uttered.  Looking with the purest gaze at the rewards promised to the saints, our spirit is moved by measureless joy to pour out wordless thanksgiving to God.”    (St. John Cassian, CONFERENCES, pp 107-109)

Strangers & Neighbors: Christian Thoughts on Thanksgiving (1989)

A sermon from November 12, 1989

Text:   Luke 10:25-37  (The Good Samaritan)

Puritans arrive at Plymouth Rock

Each November as we celebrate Thanksgiving we are also asked to especially remember the many people throughout our country and world who are suffering from poverty or from some natural disaster. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is an appropriate theme for promoting charitable giving.

I want to remind you this morning of the biblical notion of neighbor and of stranger.

In the bible, the words stranger and neighbor occur almost 260 times! These two terms are both important in understanding God’s expectations of you and I. God has commanded us to be kind, generous, forgiving, loving of our neighbors. God also commanded us to be patient, kind and fair to strangers.

God taught us in the Old Testament that the stranger is to be treated as good as we treat the orphans and widows. We are to protect strangers and provide for them. We are forbidden to ever mistreat any stranger. For God Himself loves the stranger, both protecting the stranger from harm and providing him with food and clothing (Deut 10:17-18). And God reminds us that “You shall not mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21). It is precisely because we are and have been strangers on this earth that we can sympathize with every stranger we meet. We learn from the scriptures that the feeling of being a stranger is in fact a spiritual state which we sing about at each funeral service.

(Psalms 119:19) ” I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me. ” We all need to remember the fact that our spiritual sojourn on earth from the time of the Old Testament has been one of exile. We have been in search of our true home and have often found this world to be hostile, even though this is God’s creation and we are God’s chosen people. We Christians are not to forget that are only true motherland is the Kingdom of God.

Pocohantas saves John Smith

So, for us being a stranger is a spiritual state. It is our true status on earth. And it is because we ourselves know what it is like to be a stranger among other people, that God has commanded us to love and care for other strangers that we meet. In fact in Leviticus 25:35, God commands us to help any of our brothers and sisters who become poor just like we help and love the stranger. The way in which we care for the stranger is to be for us the model in dealing with our neighbor!

So, we are to love the stranger in the same way that God loves the stranger. This was a teaching of God set down hundreds of years before Jesus Christ walked on earth. It is this love of the stranger as I have already said which becomes the guide for us in loving our neighbor. For if we are to love those who are aliens and strangers to us then certainly God expects us to love the neighbor whom we know. We are commanded from the beginnings of God’s law to love our neighbor, as we love ourselves – with the same intensity and strength that we love ourselves.

God strictly forbids us to do any harm or evil to our neighbor (Psalms 15:3, Proverbs 14:21).) God even forbids us to withhold any good from our neighbor when it is in our power to give the neighbor what he or she may need (Proverbs 3:28 ).

It is in this context of stranger and friend, that we hear our Lord Jesus Christ tell us the story of the Good Samaritan. For Christ again teaches us that to love the neighbor as the self does not mean that we can ignore the stranger. For clearly, the love we are given by God through the Holy Spirit, is a love for each and every person in God’s creation, friend or stranger, brother or enemy, Greek or Jew, male or female.

We should also remember Jesus’ own teaching about the Great Day of Judgement in Matthew 25:35 where the Lord says: “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in…”

The Son of God identifies Himself totally with the stranger. And we know that to love and care for any stranger is to love and care for our Master Jesus Christ.

It is then not hard for us to understand Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. ” To love stranger or neighbor is simply to obey God’s commandments to us.

If we can remember that in the Old Testament, the Israelites were constantly reminded to love the stranger because they had been strangers in Egypt and in the promised land. Now, the strangers are not the people of God, but those who have not yet joined God’s people. As St. Paul told the Ephesians

2:12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Ephesians 2:19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

In Christ Jesus, we lose the status of being strangers to one another. In Christ Jesus you and I become brothers and sisters and fellow citizens of God’s kingdom. So our love for each other increases, because we are no longer loving strangers, but we are now loving our family. And it is this growing love which we are commanded by Christ to share with every neighbor that we meet, so that any neighbor can also become part of our family, and can know that overwhelming love which God has shown for us.

Exodus 22:21 “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:18 ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 25:35 ‘And if one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.

Deuteronomy 10:17 “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.

Deuteronomy 10:18 “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.

Psalms 15:3 He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;

Psalms 119:19 I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me.

Proverbs 3:28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,” when you have it with you.

Proverbs 14:21 He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.

Romans 13:10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Ephesians 2:12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Ephesians 2:19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,