Thankfulness and Thanksgiving – these two words seem interchangeable at a quick glance. But in a closer look, thankfulness strikes one as more of a feeling we have, and thanksgiving suggests action – I am “full of thanks” or I am “giving thanks.” Of course, when giving thanks sincerely, a person is indeed full of thanks but could just as easily keep that feeling to oneself.
The difference between a posture of just being full of gratitude and that of giving or putting forth thanks is the same sort of difference we seek in Christian community. If a Christian is someone who simply likes Jesus and gets warm feelings hearing what He said, then we might say we could be a good Christian and never be part of a Christian community. But following Jesus seems to be more than simply thinking that He was a really good guy, and then being nice to people.
“What is the greatest commandment?” a lawyer asks Jesus.
“‘To love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” Jesus replies.
What we find in Scripture is that the ways that we are called to love our neighbor – to seek the lost and lonely, to heal the sick, to visit prisoners, to feed the hungry. These are things that we are able to do by ourselves but do better as a community.
And when it comes to the really big issues (like cleaning up the environment, facing racism, solving world hunger, or stopping predatory lending or domestic abuse), we realize we just can’t go it alone– as good as our individual efforts may be. We can do more, not just by adding together our individual efforts; we actually become more effective, more creative, more loving than just those efforts just added up. Yes, we can and should seek to follow Christ in our own ways each day, but we are just better together. This is because, in Christian community, we seek not just to gather together to focus on ourselves or others within our community. Instead, we come together to be reminded that we are not alone in our struggles or the world’s.
When we come together, we are reminded of the amazing things that we can accomplish, because we are loved and forgiven and one body. We can do so much more together than alone. As we grow in faith and love, we realize that we have more than enough, and that we cannot keep it to ourselves. We are compelled to go out and share what we have with others.
This month, as we think about all the things we are grateful for, let us not simply be thankful for what we have been given. Let us instead give thanks away in every word and action, sharing the abundance of love, mercy, and community that cannot be contained.