The Disruptive Nature of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving reveals more about us than we may realize. Most Americans think of the holiday we affectionately call Thanksgiving primarily in terms of the feast, a meal which takes on average seven hours to make and only sixteen minutes to eat. But as we see in the book of Acts, true thanksgiving is disruptive.

Have you ever shared something good that has happened with a group of people you don’t know very well? The moment you give glory to God, you might see them shift their eyes or maybe hear a change in the tone of their voice if they aren’t fellow believers. That’s because when we become specific in our gratitude we can create an uneasiness with those who don’t share our core beliefs. It can be a good recipe for creating awkward moments.

I once remember talking to a woman on the phone who is a part of a national support group for the genetic condition three of our four children have. When I described that we have seen God at work in our family directing and protecting our kids, I could tell she wasn’t tracking with me. The conversation remained polite but ended shortly thereafter.

Feasting is a Reminder of God’s Kindness

Last week I wrote a post on Acts 14 about Paul’s argument for God’s existence based on the seasons, the harvest, feasting, and gladness. Because God is the source of all these, Paul urged those listening to him to turn from the vain things they were living for to worship the living God (Acts 14:15). Things got pretty tense after that. This disruptive, conversation-stifling, awkwardness-creating, kind of appeal is at the heart of true thanksgiving.

That’s because this kind of thanksgiving exposes our idols and demands our affections. Paul’s audience would have to turn from their empty greek mythologies. What must we turn from if we are to take thanksgiving seriously? Often our real allegiances go deeper than we realize. For Paul’s audience, beneath their idolatry seemed to be a quest for power.

The people saw Paul and Barnabas perform a miracle. They wanted a piece of the action. But they didn’t want so much that it changed them. They didn’t want to disrupt their lifestyles, their worldview. They just wanted to share in the glory, to share in the power.

Chasing Power, Offering Power

I think you can see this when the priest of Zeus brought out an ox and garland to make a sacrifice (Acts 14:13). The garland was often used to make symbolic crowns. “Here, Paul and Barnabas,” the priest and the people seemed to say, “have a feast and a crown.” The crowd was seeking power and offering power.

It might have been easy enough to justify giving in just a little. Paul could have reasoned that a little compromise in the moment might have led to more influence down the road. This could be the equivalent to a modern minister watering down their convictions to get close to the oval office. We see this today, don’t we? I’m convinced that some churches today might have more honest marketing if they changed their church sign to read, “Will trade Bible for political favor.”

But Paul wasn’t having any part in it. He and Barnabas ripped their robes and pleaded with the people not to worship them. That’s very different than a few chapters earlier in Acts when King Herod allowed people to worship him as a deity and God struck him down (Acts 12:21-23).

The Apostle explained to the mob that they should be thankful to the maker of heaven and earth for providing seasons, food, and gladness. These things are his witnesses, pointing to his good hand from which all blessings flow. Paul’s message cut through their idolatry, their power plays, and demanded their affections for the one true and living God. Unlike Herod, Paul wouldn’t receive the people’s praise.

In Herod’s case, God struck him down. In Paul’s case, the people struck him down. They stoned Paul and took him out of the city leaving him for dead. But he miraculously recovered, he “rose up” and went on preaching the good news in other places (Acts 14:20). This follows the pattern of another Middle Eastern preacher.

The Bread of Life

Jesus often used food as a reminder of our dependence on the Father. “Give us our daily bread,” he taught us to pray. He even fed the multitudes, a physical demonstration of God’s power and provision. And a lot of people showed up for these free meals. Some things haven’t changed!

Some of them even seemed to make, if not a connection, at least a comparison, to the act of Jesus feeding the multitudes with the way God fed his people manna in the wilderness (John 6:30). Like Paul’s audience, Jesus’s crowd wanted to be near the action, where the miracles were, where the power was. But also like Paul’s audience, they didn’t want it to disrupt their lifestyle. That’s because, like Paul after him, Jesus exposed their idols and showed how God demands their affection (John 6:41).

Eventually they dragged Jesus outside the city and left him for dead too. But God raised him up. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the father. He has promised to one day return for us that we might join him for a feast (Revelation 19:6-19). And until he returns he has given us a formal way to remember him in our corporate worship, a meal that pictures his broken body and shed blood. It is meant to bring us gladness. It is given to lead us to worship.

A Future Feast

So as you prepare for Thanksgiving, remember the God who gave the seasons and the harvest, food and gladness. Let it be a reminder to turn from vain things, things that can never satisfy us in and of themselves. Let’s allow our feasts to remind us of where our affections truly belong.

Let’s eat and declare to our friends, family members, and neighbors the God from whom all good gifts flow, the God who invites them to believe on the one whom he sent into the world, like manna from heaven, the true-life-giving bread.

And let’s eat in anticipation of another feast we will one day share with all of our brothers and sisters who know full well the reason for our gratitude. At that meal there will be no idols. All of our affections will be properly ordered towards the Creator. And there will be no awkward silence when we give all the glory to God.