The Rev. Dr. Philip Hefner is a member at Augustana, faculty emeritus at LSTC, and with his wife, Neva, a resident at Montgomery Place retirement community. The Gift of Thanksgiving is a sermon he prepared and preached at Montgomery Place.
Nov. 26, 2019
My reflections this evening will be very personal. My wish is that they will deepen the bond of thanksgiving among us all.
The attitude or emotion of Thanksgiving is a gift. To be able to give thanks is itself a blessing. To give thanks means we have received something.
We might count our blessings, and give thanks. But then again we might actually feel more needy than prosperous. I am a very needy person—I say thanks many times a day, because I receive care from many people each day: wife, Neva, caregivers, nurses, doctors, lab technicians, family, friends, staff and fellow residents of Montgomery Place. I can’t get out of bed or leave my apartment until I have received other people’s caring. I could not be here this evening except for the care I have received today from others. The presence of these people and their care enables me to say thanks—and I have said “thanks” many times today. Being able to say thanks is their gift to me. Thanks is not so much a formality or obligation as it is an enablement bestowed upon me by those who care for me.
They may care for me out of love or out of obligation. They may even wish they could be doing something else. I might sometimes wish they cared for me in different ways. But their care is a gift. How miserable if there were no one to say thanks to!
Everyone of us here is needy in some way and requires care. Some of you are needier than I, some much less. No one of us came here because we thought it was so much fun, we came because we knew we needed some kind of care.
Saying thanks is the privilege to acknowledge that we are cared for in ways we could not do for ourselves. Here and also among the strong, those in the prime of life, we live in a caring network that precedes us.
Psychologist David DeSteno wrote a piece in last Sunday’s New York Times about the benefits of gratitude. Gratitude counters materialism, it motivates us to do more and to be more generous, for example. In other words we will actually benefit in important ways if we feel grateful. He even quantifies the chance of benefit—being grateful means there is a 50-50 chance you’ll cheat less often: and 12 percent chance you’ll give more to charitable causes.
DeSteno offers a transactional view of Thanksgiving, in which we give something and we receive something. I’m talking about giving thanks because we have already received something; even if our lives are miserable—we’ve received care. In technical theological terms, the gift of thanksgiving is prevenient. It comes to us before we even think of it. This prevenience was inculcated in me when, as a boy, I recited every week in Sunday School the words of 1 John 4:19, “We love God because God first loved us.” We are able to love because we have first been cared for.
How good it is that we can give thanks!