Anti-gnostic Thanksgiving

I recently had some prayers answered quite wonderfully. And when I had prayed, I had ended with something along the lines of “… and if you will do these things, then I will give you thanks and praise.” But when God actually did those things, it felt a little abstract, even gnostic, to simply say (in the quietness of my head), “Thanks.”

Leviticus 7:11-15 (also see Leviticus 3)
And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the Lord. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. 4 And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the Lord. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning.

The peace offering (used specifically for thanksgiving) did not establish peace, it celebrated it. The other sacrifices found in the early chapters of Leviticus were enjoyed by God and usually the priests, but the peace offering was shared with the worshiper as well.

Additionally, even our spoken thanks have a public context in the Bible. For instance, Psalm 107 introduces four stories that result in thanksgiving and says:

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

In and among these (and many other) passages on thanksgiving, are the countless stories of feasts and parties in the Bible. As one example, the reason the older brother stands out so harshly in the story of the prodigal son is that if you’ve been reading your Bible carefully, once the father accepts the son back into the house, you pretty much knew there was going to be a party. The father was thankful, therefore a party. Par for the course in the Bible.

The aptly named American holiday Thanksgiving, then, seems exactly right, at least in its inception… but perhaps should be typical, not unique. It actually reminds me of the feast established in Esther (see Esther 9:22). And that’s where my thinking finally landed on my own particular thanksgiving. As a rough sketch, it seems appropriate to:

1) Set aside some resources for an offering of thanks
2) give a larger portion as an alms to our church or some other meaningful offering
3) use the rest to have a celebration with others.

Here’s a couple follow up thoughts that have come up as Tricia and I have discussed all of this.

First, it may feel awkward, very nonspiritual, to use part of an offering to celebrate. However, this is exactly how God wanted it done in the past. The peace offering gives us an example of this, and so does the tithe.

Deuteronomy 14:22-27
You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.

No wonder Israelites didn’t struggle with gnosticism. God sanctioned them to use a portion of their tithe to party! He wanted them to enjoy themselves and rejoice in his presence.

Also, flaunting wealth is bad, yet the Bible emphasizes including the poor in your fellowship. Wealth is a relative thing, and I don’t believe our culture gives us much help at this point. It sure seems like if you use resources well beyond what you normally use to have a feast for thanksgiving to God (think of the scope of many of our Thanksgiving holiday celebrations), it could give the impression of a wealth that isn’t even necessarily there. Yet a party to rejoice in the Lord should be inclusive of those with less. Jesus doesn’t leave any wiggle room on this point (Luke 14:13). So we in the church will just have to figure out how to do all this appropriately, whatever the resources with which we have been blessed.

Lastly, I think our thanksgiving is primarily about the past and should not be used to make a claim or boast about the future. Likewise, we should not withhold our thanks based on fears for the future. When the crops came in for the Pilgrims, they had a feast in celebration. I rather doubt any of them presumed there would be no future hardships. But we can’t be stingy with our thanks and praise for the Lord has already done just because his providence may take a different turn in the future. So our thanksgiving should be by faith, that is, without concern for the future, trusting that the Lord will provide. It should be an Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:12), for the Lord has brought us this far.

2 Comments

  1. Peter
    Oct 2, 2007

    I read that last sentence and thought “hey, we just had a sermon about that; how funny that Jay was thinking of it as well” before realizing that you might have heard the same sermon :)

  2. Mom/Ruth
    Oct 2, 2007

    This ties in well and reinforces some other things I’ve recently read and heard (including the sermon Peter refers to) concerning how our joyfulness in general pleases God, but adds the dimension of thanksgiving in specific instances. Thanks, Jay.