Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
November 19, 2017
Text: I Thessalonians, 5:6 O.T.: Judges 2:6-14a, N.T.: I Thessalonians 5:1-11
A young woman came by the church Wednesday needing assistance. She was from McKeesport and was on her way to the University of Pittsburgh where she was a student.
We were talking about how cold it was outside, and how our congregations were trying to save money keeping the thermostats down. She admitted to being a member of a small Episcopal Church and I told her about us. She said she was concerned about what was happening to churches across the land.
Then she started talking about Thanksgiving. She mentioned her church was doing a study of writings by George Washington and John Adams. She said, “We sure don’t care anymore about what they wrote and the faith they had that founded America. It would be nice if we had leaders in Washington today who thought like they thought.”
With that we said good-bye and she went on her way.
It would be nice if we had leaders in Washington today who thought like the Christians did who founded America.
This week we will gather with our families in our homes, or make calls to family members far away, as part of our Thanksgiving Day remembrance. We will become full with turkey and stuffing, watch the NFL, and go to bed stuffed.
Some of us will remember to pray around our Thanksgiving Day tables.
Our children will have been prepared for Thanksgiving by reading about the Plymouth Bay Colony having a meal with the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate the Pilgrims’ survival in the New World. Now we’re being told on the Huffington Post that story of Thanksgiving is part of a national myth without any basis in history.
Richard Greener wrote seven years ago on a blog the real story of Thanksgiving is Governor Winthrop celebrating the safe return of Plymouth volunteers who had just attacked a tribe of 700 Pequots, killing them all – men, women, and children – in the area we now call Mystic, Connecticut. He claims the story we know about Thanksgiving was created by nationalists in 1890.
The actual Pilgrim story of being persecuted in Merry Old England, and refugees in the Netherlands is curiously absent in Greener’s new casting of America’s founding. The HuffPost says Greener is a Bard College graduate and former owner and manager of radio stations from coast to coast who has a post-graduate education in law.
Mr. Greener is content with casting the Pilgrims in a poor light. Casting the Pilgrims and the Puritans in a poor light is part of elite efforts to discredit Christian faith’s role in America’s founding. As far as many ideologues of America’s academic elite are concerned, the nation needs to distance itself as far as it can from Christianity. The farther we can get from Christian theology providing the basis for America’s founding, the better the nation will be. For them, Christian faith persecutes, it doesn’t bless.
We’re not here this morning to question Mr. Greener’s accuracy in the historical data. It may have happened in 1637 just has he wrote in his blog. But the first Thanksgiving was not in 1637, but 1621. There are two primary sources – Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation, and William Bradford’s Plimouth Plantation.
What we are seeing in Mr. Greene’s claim is the way history can be written to represent an ideological bias. When no one is alive to tell what actually happened, we can use certain facts to write what we want history to say. The next generation is none the wiser.
This was the challenge the Israelites faced in the Book of Judges. The first generation of Moses that had left Egypt for the Promised Land died in the Wilderness. All God commanded to that generation was taught to the next generation who then began to conquer the Promised Land under Joshua.
One of those commandments was the Israelites were not to worship the God’s of the Canaanites who inhabited the Promised Land.
Then, Joshua’s generation died and a third generation was entrusted with fulfilling the terms of God’s covenant with Moses. Each tribe was given certain lands to conquer and occupy. However, no tribe was able to successfully destroy all the Canaanites living on the land God had given them.
The Israelites were continually challenged by the practices of an alternative religion to their religion by people who didn’t share their belief about God. The Israelites were continually tempted to worship the other gods that were being worshipped by the Canaanites on the lands they settled. According to the Book of Judges, it was God’s will this happened, in order to test their faith.
In Judges 2:6, the third generation of Israelites forgot what the Lord God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt, parting the sea, providing them with food in the Wilderness, and giving them His covenant law in the Wilderness. They succumbed to the evil of worshipping other Gods and God became angry with them.
We are the tenth generation since the Pilgrims. Nine previous generations have come and gone. The past few generations have been recasting America’s history in a light that strips the memory of Christian piety from the founding of our nation so they can create a new national identity without remembering God’s blessings to Christians that inspired our national founders. Too much of the Church is asleep while this is happening.
The Pilgrims are not cast as Millennialists who deeply believed Jesus Christ was coming again in their lifetimes. They looked at the corruption in Merry Old England, the failure of the government to represent the vision of the communion of Jesus Christ and believed it would prevent them from being judged as righteous by Jesus.
They saw government toleration of sin in the seasons of Advent and Christmas as a reason to flee Babylon. They considered Merry Old England Babylon, impure, defiled by the pollution of immorality, worshipping idols and kings. They were being hunted by the king’s men and imprisoned for their call to a better way of life.
Poverty was rampant in the cities. Children were dying in homelessness on the streets. Education was only for the rich. Land and entitlement was for a privileged few. Prisons were full of debtors who could not repay loans from lords who extorted and confiscated their property.
The hope of Jesus Christ’s Gospel rightly preached gave them hope for a better society, a holy society, a city set upon a hill. They weren’t content living in hopelessness in bondage to a so-called Christian society that cared nothing about their futures.
This was the Pilgrims’ inspiration to leave Scrooby, England for Holland.
They believed they could create a purer society in a New World that would be worthy of redemption when Jesus Christ returned in His Second Coming. They took literally I Thessalonians 5. If Anglican England was asleep in the faith, ignoring the warning of Christ’s return at Advent, the Pilgrims weren’t. They believed their eternal salvation was at stake.
The Pilgrims didn’t want to be caught in the judgment of Jesus Christ upon England when He came again. They were alert for signs of His coming and saw what they thought were warnings that His coming was imminent.
They believed God’s Law was to be strictly obeyed and England was failing. Just like the story in the Book of Judges, they were predicting God’s judgment was about to fall on England when Jesus returned. As long as they remained there, they would be implicated among the unfaithful.
This is not the story that’s taught in public schools. Why? Why would a nation that is sincere about honoring its founders ignore the inspiration for why they came to America? Why would a nation forget it’s religious roots?
I am the third generation of two immigrants from Italy on my father’s side, and the tenth generation of the Puritan settlers in Massachusetts Bay Colony on my mother’s side. I have taken the time to learn about my ancestor’s motivation for coming to America.
They were religious people on both sides of my family. The preservation of my family ancestry has been honored by previous generations. The honoring of those legacies is simply not in their desire to have land, property, and wealth in the land of opportunity of America.
They came as religious people who risked leaving their families out of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. They were motivated by Christian faith, both as Puritans and as Roman Catholics, to celebrate the hope Jesus gave them.
Their faithfulness as Christians is the motivation for my Thanksgiving table. This ought to be the motivation for every family whose inheritance comes from Christian theology and practice. Thanksgiving is a time to praise God for our baptisms and to anticipate the return of Jesus Christ to this world in judgment.
Thanksgiving is the time we need to bow in prayer in preparation for the Lord’s return. America appears content upon losing its memory of God’s blessings that founded this land. We shall not.
America appears to accept the re-casting of the religious piety, or the outright rejection of the virtues of Christian piety that inspired America’s founders. We shall not.
America appears dead-set upon chasing after a new national vision that disowns the sacrifices made in Christian faith that formed the first thirteen colonies. Were all colonists equally committed to the Gospel? No.
But the recipients of colonial charters were men of Christian faith – the Virginia Colony, William Bradford and the Colony of New Plymouth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, William Penn, Cecil Calvert, Roger Williams. Each charter explicitly conveyed power to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Each colony’s intention was to reflect a new order of society to obtain the salvation of Jesus Christ.
Women who came with these men to these shores were dedicated to living or dying in pursuit of Jesus Christ’s hope. They risked their children’s lives because they believed Christ was coming soon to redeem the world.
Yes, our national story has many examples of Puritans, Anglicans, Baptists, and Methodists failing in welcoming Roman Catholics, Jews, and Moslems during those colonial eras. We have more examples of native Americans not receiving due respect or life on ancestral lands they call home.
We as Christians must do better by our faith to represent Jesus Christ’s higher vision for us, His followers, than our history shows.
Now as the tenth generation from Plymouth Bay Colony, the Apostle Paul reminds us, Christ is coming. He is coming soon. We must not be asleep as others do. We must keep awake and be sober – prepared for His coming. We must lead our society to more closely represent the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, than America currently is.
There is more to representing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth than employment opportunity, legal equality, and wealth. There are virtues of service to all, humility in love, and most of all worshipping Jesus Christ as the source of our blessings, by which we must lead like the Pilgrims.
We are not going to leave these shores to colonize another land. We’re staying on these shores and calling this nation to remember whose we are, and why we are here. We have unfinished business – the business of giving proper Thanksgiving to God from whom our national blessings and all blessings flow!
This is our Pilgrim’s prayer around our Thanksgiving tables this Thursday.
This is the responsibility we accept as pilgrims awake in a world waiting for Crist’s return. Amen.