The Thanksgiving holiday and season is a great opportunity for the church. Many people, whether they have faith or not, are prompted to be grateful for those things we might take for granted, like daily food, a place to live, the freedoms of our country, and so on. In Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13, Solomon reminds us that these everyday things of everyday life are gifts from God: “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.”
Since we have this seasonal reminder of general gratitude in our culture, it’s easy for the church to use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to connect people to God who provides those things for which we are grateful. This makes good sense, because we know ourselves how easy it is to take for granted God’s blessings and gifts, especially when we receive them every day.
However, there’s another blessing that’s specific to the church, one that we far too often take for granted: living in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ as the church. Certainly, we know that we ought to meet together; Hebrews 10:25 tells us, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We also know that our meeting together conforms to the example of the early church, which we find recorded in Acts 2:42-47.
In a recent sermon, I mentioned the German minister and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote a book about the blessings of Christian community called Life Together. Bonhoeffer wrote the book while he was leading an illegal, underground seminary that trained ministers against the orders of the pro-Nazi bishop. Despite those oppressive circumstances, Bonhoeffer and his students, and the church they served, were strengthened by their living and working together in close community. Through their daily routines of prayer, meditation, study, and service, they established a community and lifestyle that enabled them to preach, teach, and lead the church faithfully and to endure in their faith even to the point of being arrested, imprisoned, and executed, at least in Bonhoeffer’s case.
Bonhoeffer began the book quoting Psalm 133:1, which says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” Rather than emphasizing the theological reasons for establishing and maintaining Christian community, he focused on the blessing of it. Bonhoeffer and his students recognized the blessing because they were keenly aware how easily community can be disrupted. However, despite that fact, they also recognized that the community of the church was not merely an outgrowth of faith but foundational to the new life received by God’s grace. Unfortunately, Bonhoeffer also recognized that this gift is easily taken for granted and “easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day.”
Because this life of community is a gift of God’s grace, we must not take it for granted, and we must make every effort to honor it, protect it, and practice it. Certainly, then, we must also thank God for it, as Bonhoeffer wrote:
Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.
I am truly thankful for God’s grace that has saved me from my sins and given me new life in Christ, and I am also truly thankful for the life of community I have experienced within this body of believers. I pray that I would not only thank God for that daily but that I would also thank you for it more regularly and openly than I do. I also pray that as we celebrate this coming Thanksgiving holiday that each of us would also praise and thank God for his grace that enables us to share and live this new life together in community.