- Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
Resisting Pride on Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving Day)
7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10 You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
11 Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
"Resisting Pride on Thanksgiving"
by Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
Delivered at the United Thanksgiving Service with Butler Presbyterian, Holy Spirit Lutheran, and First Congregational Churches of Savannah, GA
The Book of Deuteronomy is an aging Moses re-telling the Law to this younger generation. In our lesson this morning, Moses gives them a solemn warning, which we too would be wise to heed.
12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
This may be the prevailing sin of our culture. Pride is that lie we tell ourselves about self-sufficiency and independence. We trick ourselves into believing that we are good enough or work hard enough to earn the good things that come our way without anyone else’s help. “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” We forget the good gifts that God has given us and stark ways in which we have hurt our own advancement through sin.
And it’s not just an individual problem, but a civic one. The United States of America often tells itself that it is the greatest nation in the history of the world. And there are some strong arguments to be made for that point. But this sense of American exceptionalism, the sense of pride we carry for our culture and way of life can easily slip into arrogance.
So I propose two methods this morning to combat this sin of pride that so afflicts us: (1) confession of sin, and (2) thankfulness.
1. Confession of Sin
Americans can look down on other people who don’t look like us or talk like us. Americans can forget their many national sins (past and present), including slavery, genocide, lynching, war-mongering, exploitation of the poor, racism, sexism, and greed. And whether for lack of historical context or something else, many American Christians are easily sucked into this sinful narrative of national superiority and even national perfection.
In many ways, the Israelites struggled with the same sin. They sometimes believed that because God was on their side that they were invincible, or infallible. But they were often humbled to learn the truth about their own fallenness. This happened many times in the wilderness to the very Israelites Moses was speaking to. They continued to complain against or distrust God, and they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years as a result.
The Apostle John writes in his First Epistle: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). The Bible and Church tradition teach that our efforts aren’t enough to save us or to justify us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We need God’s grace to stand any chance of doing good. On our own, we are just too weak.
So it is imperative that we, the Church, stand as a witness to humility. In a prideful, arrogant nation, Christians should be the first to admit our hypocrisy, and to proclaim that we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. The practice of public, corporate confession of sin in worship should help us become a people that are quick to admit our own faults, not the kind that double down and blame others for everything. That honesty, while difficult, can be infectious. The light of Christ can purify us, and perfect love will cast out fear.
Once we acknowledge and confess our sins, we know that we are not perfect. God teaches us to be thankful because we are not good apart from God and our neighbors. James writes, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (1:17). We cannot justify ourselves or heal ourselves. We are not independent. We are fundamentally dependent on God and on each other. We receive forgiveness of our sins and salvation through the power of God, given in Jesus Christ our Lord. And we are encouraged on the journey by the fellowship of the Church.
Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8). Even though we do not deserve it, and did not earn it, God made a way for us. By grace, the blood of Jesus covers us. In baptism, we are washed in water and the Holy Spirit. Going down into the waters, we die with Christ, and coming up into the air, we are raised to new life with him. In this perfect, limitless love, we have received the greatest gift of all.
And for that, our duty is simply to give thanks. There is no room for pride because our salvation and our very life are gifts. They are grace. We didn’t do anything to earn being born from our parents, and we didn’t do anything to earn our new birth in Christ. Everything is a gift. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; and give thanks in all things (1 Thess 5:16-18).
So this Thanksgiving Day, I challenge you to fight the pride that sneaks up on all of us. None of us is immune to it. Remember to confess your sins to God. Ask God to search you out and know you and to forgive you of all our offenses. And then give thanks, not only for salvation, but for all the wonderful (and challenging) people God has put into your life. Because God loves them as God loves you. Amen.