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ROMANS 1:18-21 - Creational Thanksgiving

Occasional Sermons 2022  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  32:53
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Thanksgiving can only make sense if the world we live in was created by God

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How many people here remember Thanksgiving decorations? I remember one in particular we had growing up, a venerable old cardboard turkey with a body and tail made out of that folded tissue paper—you opened it up in a 360 degree circle to form the body and fan so you could set him on the dining room table. And Thanksgiving was a big deal in school as well—I remember we were given a pile of construction paper, scissors, glue and crayons, and had the choice of whether we wanted to make Pilgrim hats or Indian headbands so that we could play out the first Thanksgiving dinner in class.
But that was a long time ago, wasn’t it? As we’ve remarked in the past, this is a holiday that nobody seems to know what to do with anymore—as soon as the Halloween decorations disappear from the Walmart shelves, it’s all Santa and snowflakes. The old tissue paper turkeys are hard to find anymore—and good luck finding an elementary school teacher with the intestinal fortitude to let kids dress up as Pilgrims and Indians! Such a culturally appropriating and bigoted display of white privilege and systemic racism would be deeply shameful to a lot of government school educators today. (Unless maybe they have Governor Bradford portrayed as a drag queen—that would probably make it okay for school children!)
Beloved, it is no coincidence that a day devoted to thanksgiving has fallen out of favor in our day and age. We are a people who are in full-bore rebellion against God (to the point of denying that He even exists). And a people who deny the existence of a Creator are a people who have no one to thank! In other words,
Thanksgiving can only EXIST in a world CREATED by GOD
If you search the Scriptures, you will see several places where the proper response to God’s creative activity is thanksgiving, The psalmists regularly made the connection between thanksgiving and God’s creative activity. The psalm we read earlier in worship directly connects God as Creator with our duty to thank Him:
Psalm 100:3–4 (ESV)
3 Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
The same truth is echoed in Psalm 95--
The psalmist calls God’s people to come with thanksgiving, with thankfulness:
Psalm 95:1–2 (ESV)
1 Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
And what is the reason we are to thank Him?
Psalm 95:3–5 (ESV)
3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
The proper response to God as Creator is thankfulness to Him; gratitude for what He has done. This is why we say that Thanksgiving is only possible if God is the Creator; Thanksgiving can only exist in a world created by God.
This is why the Apostle Paul makes that same connection in our text this morning:
Romans 1:20–21 (ESV)
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Mankind should have responded to the knowledge of God’s creative activity with thanksgiving, but since they refused, they have become foolish, dark and futile. The world we live in is rejecting the truth that God is the Creator; and without God as creator, thanksgiving (whether the act or the holiday) makes no sense.
But because God is the Creator,

I. Thanksgiving is made POSSIBLE (Gen. 1:1)

Because Genesis 1:1 is true:
Genesis 1:1 (ESV)
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
then it is possible to be thankful. It stands to reason, but it is still worth establishing—Because God is the Creator, Thanksgiving is made possible because
If there is no Creator, if all of reality is nothing more than time and chance acting on matter, then thanksgiving is pointless because there is no one to thank—in fact, even your thoughts of “thankfulness” or “gratitude” are nothing more than the effects of the neurons and chemicals in your brain bubbling and fizzing in a particular way—they are no more meaningful or significant than any other chemical reaction. Drop a few Mentos into a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke and watch it fizz—it may be making a mess all over the table, but you can’t say it’s being thankful, can you?
Thanksgiving is only possible if we live in a world created by God. If you deny the existence of God, you deny the only possible foundation on which the idea of thankfulness can exist.
The fact that God is the Creator means that thanksgiving is possible—and secondly, the fact that God is the Creator means that

II. Thanksgiving is not “PRIVILEGED” (2 Cor. 9:6)

This is probably one of the biggest reasons that Thanksgiving is so out of favor in our current cultural moment—it offends just about every sensibility of the Critical Race Theory/ Social Justice narrative that wants to fundamentally re-define our nation’s history. As one university professor puts it:
"One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting." (Professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin, cited from Wikipedia, The Independent. November 27, 2019. January 13, 2020.)
“How dare you sit there with your white privilege, enjoying your turkey dinner with all the trimmings, celebrating the brutal repression of the Native American people by the white colonialist religious bigots who came and took their land from them!! You sit there at your Thanksgiving dinner, benefiting from the systemic and institutionalized racism that they brought here, while People of Color are impoverished by all your excess!”
As we have observed before, all of the Critical Race Theory, Social Justice philosophy is built on a carping envy that presumes that if you have wealth, it necessarily means that someone else has less. If you have a full table on Thanksgiving and a loving family to sit around it, that must mean that somehow, somewhere, you prevented someone else from having that full table.
And, once again, the answer is found in the fact that God is the Creator. What I mean is this: When God created the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them (as the Scriptures never tire of telling us), when He was done, He was not diminished by it. In other words, God is the infinite source of all things. Everything that has been made was made by Him, and when He was done creating He was just as infinitely full and complete as when He began.
In other words,
The world is not a ZERO-SUM GAME (2 Corinthians 9:6)
God has not designed this world as if it were a big pie that you slice up, with only so much to go around. Since God—the source of all things—is infinite, that means that he has created a world where blessings and graces multiply. The “pie”, as it were, grows! And that means that greed and grasping stinginess winds up with less, and open handedness and generous faithfulness winds up with more!
2 Corinthians 9:6 (ESV)
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
As one author puts it:
So someone else is rich, and you are not? He is not wronging you. Someone else is a man, and you are a woman? He is not wronging you. Someone else comes from a class that has had historic privileges? He is not wronging you. You can multiply examples, and it will always come out the same. Thanksgiving for what you actually have is the key that will release you from the dungeons of carping ingratitude (Doug Wilson, “Making America an Ingrate Again”,, retrieved 11/10/2022)
Thanksgiving is not an exercise in “white privilege”, because the world is not a zero-sum game that necessarily excludes some people—it was created by an infinite and inexhaustibly open-handed and generous Creator!
Because God is the Creator, Thanksgiving is possible. Because God is the Creator, Thanksgiving is not “privileged”. And because God is the Creator,

III. Thanksgiving is your DUTY (v. 21a; cp. Deut. 28:47-48)

Paul makes it clear in verse 21 that God’s creatures have a duty to thank Him for all His creative acts:
Romans 1:21 (ESV)
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
We see the same thing in the Old Testament, where Moses warns the people that they are duty-bound to worship God in gratitude for all of the abundance He has given them, and that they would be held accountable for neglecting that duty:
Deuteronomy 28:47–48 (ESV)
47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.
If Genesis 1:1 is true, and God really is the Creator of all things, then
There is NOTHING that is not a GIFT (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Paul tells the church in Corinth not to boast over their spiritual achievements over and against one another:
1 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)
7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
And so if we argue from the greater to the lesser, we understand that if God is the author of all spiritual gifts, and He is the creator of heaven and earth and everything that fills them, then surely that means that he is the author of all material gifts as well!
Now, we are accustomed to the notion that we have a duty to thank God for our spiritual blessings—our salvation in Christ, our freedom from the power of sin and growth in holiness, the healing of broken relationships and the strong bonds of Christian fellowship in our church and in our lives. And it is, as Abe Lincoln would have said, “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”
But unfortunately there is more than a little bit of a Gnostic streak running through our Christianity—a tendency to think that all of the important areas of thankfulness are immaterial and “spiritual”. If you take the time around your Thanksgiving table this week to go around and name something you’re thankful for, most likely everyone will have some wonderful abstract reason to be thankful—salvation, love of family, friends, and so on. We feel like thanking God for the more “mundane” things is somehow less admirable—someone who says they are thankful for their wonderful Christian family will get thoughtful, appreciative nods, while someone who says they are thankful for the sweet potato-marshmallow casserole will get a chuckle: “What a joker!”
Certainly, Thanksgiving is for thanking God for the immense spiritual blessings we have in Christ—but if God created those sweet potatoes and marshmallows, we ought to be thanking Him for them just as much! As one author put it:
God knew that we were going to need to pick up dimes, and so He gave us fingernails. He knew that twilights displayed in blue, apricot, and battle gray would be entirely astonishing and beyond us, and so He gave us eyes that can see in color. He could have made all food quite nourishing, but which tasted like wadded up newspaper soaked in machine oil. Instead He gave us the tastes of watermelon, pecans, oatmeal stout, buttered corn, apples, fresh bread, grilled sirloin, and twenty-five-year-old scotch. And He of course knew that we were going to need to thank Him, and so He gave us hearts and minds. (Hitchens, Christopher; Douglas Wilson. Is Christianity Good for the World? (p. 17). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.)
Because God is the Creator, Thanksgiving is your duty—for the mundane as well as the spiritual. The word “mundane”, after all, comes from the Latin word mundus, “world”. God is the Creator of the mundane! So it is your duty, Christian, to thank Him for all of it--from the fact that you have fingernails to help you pick up dimes to the fact of your salvation from God’s wrath by the blood of His Son! All of it!
Thanksgiving can only exist in a world created by God—the fact that God is the Creator makes thanksgiving possible, it means that thanksgiving is not “privileged”, it means that thanksgiving is your duty, and it means that

IV. Thanksgiving comes by GRACE (v. 21b; cp. Eccl. 5:19; cp. Eccl. 6:2)

The world around you, Christian, has no basis for thanksgiving when it rejects the existence of God as Creator. And not only so, but the Scriptures say that when those who reject God as Creator and refuse to give Him the thanks that He deserves also lose the ability to enjoy any of His gifts! This is what Solomon warns us about in Ecclesiastes:
Ecclesiastes 6:2 (ESV)
2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.
Ancient Greek mythology tells the story of the fate of Tantalus, whose punishment in the underworld was to stand in a pool of water under a beautiful fruit tree, with the branches always just out of reach and the water always receding just before he could get a drink. (We get our English word tantalize from his name…)
Solomon says that unless God gives you the ability to enjoy the good things He has given you, you will be just like poor Tantalus. You have all known people in that kind of plight; possessing great wealth and blessings from God but miserable in all their riches. It is a “sickening evil”, as one translation puts it.
Solomon goes on to say that in order to enjoy the good things that God the Creator has given us,
The FEAR of God is the KEY (Eccl. 5:19)
Ecclesiastes 5:19 (ESV)
19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.
Those who reject God and convince themselves He does not exist cannot, in the end, be truly thankful. You might object at this point that even if an atheist refuses to thank God for his Baconator, he can still say “thank you” to the guy at the drive through window who hands it to him.
And I can happily grant that point while at the same time that saying “thank you” is a far different thing from having a thankful heart, of living a grateful life. The same voices in our day that are vehemently denying the existence of God are also the ones who are screaming the loudest about the systemic injustices and institutional racism and evils of capitalism and every other form of grasping envy. There is no God, there is no one to thank. And if there is no one to thank, then there is nothing left to do but to make sure you have as much of whatever there is, because that’s all there is! And since the universe is nothing more than time and chance acting on matter, then it is up to you to make sure that you get what is yours (since blind chance seems to always drop good things on others and not you!)
But in spite of that worldview, a great number of those people will get together for a “Thanksgiving” day celebration on Thursday. (Except for that professor I quoted earlier; he’ll probably spend the day refusing to eat, glowering like Achilles in his tent…) They don’t believe there is a God, they are congenitally dissatisfied with their lives, they live every day consumed by envy and pride, but they will get together for a Thanksgiving meal and never once consider the glaring inconsistency between their beliefs and their practice.
But that hypocrisy and inconsistency of atheists and agnostics gathering to observe a meal intended to thank a God they don’t believe in pales in comparison with Christians who grumble and complain and envy as though they didn’t believe in the God they are honoring on Thursday!
Christian, if it really is true that God is the Creator of all things, and that everything that exists has come from Him and everything that you have is His blood-washed gift to you through Christ, then there is no place in your life for ingratitude. There is no place in your heart for envy of what someone else has that you want; there is no place for you to whine and complain and criticize the gifts He has given you, or denying that they are gifts, or wishing they were different, or pouting over them or embittering yourself against your neighbor because they have what you do not, as if this world were some zero-sum game of time and chance acting on matter instead of a world governed by a good and wise and generous Father who did not spare His own Son for you—so how will He not freely with Him give you all things? (Romans 8:32).
Don’t celebrate Thanksgiving like a pagan—lay aside all of that unbelief; the complaining, the envy, the ingratitude. Remember that your Savior was nailed to that Cross by men who hated and envied Him because He was the Son of God, and His death on that Cross was the means by which He put envy and pride and selfishness to death. It has no power over you anymore, Christian. So why would you ever voluntarily walk back into that envy and bitterness?
And if you are here in the grip of that envy today; if the only way you can look at this world is in terms of who has what you don’t, if any consideration of what good things you have in your life only leads you to hate and despair because of what you don’t have; if you cannot honestly come up with any good reason to be thankful for anything in your life, if the thought of thanking God for what you have makes you angry because you secretly believe He is the problem with your life, then please let me draw your eyes back to the death of Jesus that I just mentioned—He died at the hands of men whose hearts were filled with the same hatred and envy and pride that keeps you from submitting to God right now.
And the unbelievably Good News—the News so Good that it forms the centerpiece of every Christian’s Thanksgiving celebration—is that Jesus’ innocent death at the hands of envious men means that you can be forgiven of all of your bitterness, pride, envy, jealousy and hatred! Don’t you want to be free of all of that? Aren’t you tired of carrying around that weight of who has something you want and the resentment of how measly and shabby your lot in life is? Aren’t you ready to stop fighting with God over His call to repent and come to Him? Please—let me talk with you after the service about how you can know for sure that you have come in repentance and faith to the Creator and Giver of all good gifts through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Make this the Thanksgiving Day when you can truly enter in to thankfulness and gratitude for the greatest gift of all—your deliverance from the penalty and power of your sins and the gift of God of eternal life through your Savior, Jesus Christ!
Hebrews 13:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.


Read Psalm 100:3-4 and Psalm 95:1-5 again. How does the psalmist connect thanksgiving with God’s role as Creator? Why is Genesis 1:1 the basis for all thanksgiving?
How would you respond to someone who objects to celebrating Thanksgiving because it is “racist” or “oppressive” or a reflection of “systemic injustice”? Read 2 Corinthians 9:6 and 1 Corinthians 4:7. How does a worldview based on God’s Word differ from a worldview that says there is no God?
What is the difference between thanking God for spiritual gifts like salvation and thanking Him for “mundane” gifts like good food, beautiful sunsets and a warm bed? Is it more “spiritual” to focus on one or the other? Why or why not? Consider Deuteronomy 28:47-48 as part of your answer.
In what way is the fear of God (submitting to Him in faith through Christ) essential to true thankfulness? Read Ecclesiastes 5:18-6:2. What do these verses say about the ability to enjoy life? Where does it come from? Does your life reflect this kind of submission to God?
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