The Best Thanksgiving Parade
November 23, 1986 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | II Corinthians 2:14-17
One of the highlights of Thanksgiving Day each year is watching the parades on TV. There is the Philadelphia parade which specializes in things musical; the Detroit parade which specializes in magnificent floats; the Toronto parade which presents Santa Claus together with costumed marchers; and of course, the Macy’s parade from New York with its blockbuster balloons. I suppose that there are more parades on Thanksgiving than any other single day in this country.
Now that fact calls to mind what may be the best Thanksgiving parade of all. You can begin to see what I mean if you look at a single sentence in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes: “I thank God that my life is part of the pageant of Christ’s triumph.” Understand, please, that that word “triumph” would have had a very special meaning to those Christians at Corinth. You see, in the days of the Roman Empire, a triumph was a great parade and celebration. When a Roman general had been victorious in a foreign war, he was granted a triumph; that is, a parade in his honor.
And what Paul is saying to the Corinthians is this: that Jesus Christ is having a triumph, a parade like that. It is moving steadily through history and it will end in one great day of acclamation when every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and Saviour of the world. Then Paul, after speaking of Christ’s great parade of triumph, says: “I thank God that I am part of Christ’s parade.” That, I would suggest to you is the best Thanksgiving parade of all! So let’s take a look at what Paul meant when he wrote those words…
First, Paul meant that we can thank God whatever our circumstances happen to be.
As you look at Paul’s life you might be tempted to think that there was not very much for which he could be thankful. He was apparently without a family—either they had disowned him or they had died. He had no permanent home—he was a wanderer upon the face of the earth. He was afflicted with bad health—that “thorn in the flesh” to which he made such frequent reference. He was shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, stoned, abused, debased and ridiculed. We have a saying which goes like this: “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.” Well, by our standards, Paul would not have been counting very long.
But Paul rejected that kind of thinking. He knew that it is very difficult to count our blessings since we never know what they really are. What comes to us as an apparent difficulty sometimes turns out to be a blessing in disguise. And what we regard as a blessing when it comes may turn out to be more of a problem than a privilege. So Paul never based his Thanksgiving on the things that were happening to him in any given moment or circumstance. Instead Paul says: “I thank God that no matter what happens to me in life, I am part of my Master’s parade. I am a part of the cosmic, eternal victory of Jesus Christ.” Paul wants us to understand that what happens to us at any particular point in life, fades into relative insignificance when we consider that Jesus Christ, our General, our Commander-in-Chief, is marching through the corridors of time and history as Victor, as Conqueror—and He has called us to be a part of that triumphant parade.
Now that message from the Great Apostle wings its way across the centuries and finds a home in my heart today. For as I look at the world in which we live, I see a world that is hungry, diseased, and crying. As I look at this nation I so dearly love, I see a nation gripped by economic uncertainty, troubled by international tension, and crippled by moral weakness. As I look at the lives of many individuals, I see people enduring hardships, struggling against temptation, and fighting for the gift of life itself.
But the fact of the matter is that each one of us here who knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour can say with Paul: “In spite of any circumstances within the world or nation or even our own lives, if we are part of Christ, then we are part of His triumph, His parade.” And that means that in the end victory is ours! And for that we can give thanks.
Secondly, Paul meant that we can thank God for the sufferings and hardships which strengthen the fibers of our souls.
Life is like a Rembrandt painting—there has to be darkness and shadows so that the light will show forth. It is like a Beethoven symphony—there must be the discordant notes so that the harmony is as radiant as it can possibly be.
As I look at the great names of Scripture, I find that truth repeated again and again. In the time of hardship and suffering and difficulty, strength and courage and purpose come. Consider them for yourselves: Abraham going out he knew not where; Elijah in contest for his life on Mt. Carmel; Jeremiah standing for truth in the courtyards of the temple; Daniel in the den of lions; David face-to-face with Goliath; Peter on trial before the Sanhedrin; Paul speaking before Felix and Festus and eventually the Emperor himself; Stephen preaching as the stones pelted his body. Isn’t it true that those who belong to God find a special strength in the midst of difficulty?
I have been interested in learning more about Squanto, the Indian who helped the Pilgrims. In 1605, he was captured by English explorers in the new world and taken to England as a curiosity. There he was taught to speak English. Later he was sold into slavery in Spain. Finally a monk purchased his freedom, converted him to Christianity, and helped him return to what would one day be called America. He returned to his native village only to discover that it had been wiped out by the plague. That was in 1619. It was a year and a half later that the Pilgrims landed on these shores. They were astonished to find this Indian who spoke perfect English, who taught them how to hunt and trap, who showed them how to sow seed and harvest it, and who negotiated for them peace treaties with the Indians. Now why did Squanto do these things? I’ll tell you why. He knew what it was to be a slave, so he helped those who were seeking to be free. He knew what it was to be hungry, so he showed them how to get food. He knew what it was to be afraid, so he sought protection and security for those who were fearful. He knew what it was to be lonely in a strange land, so he gave himself as a friend to that little band of Pilgrims so alone on New England’s rocky shores. His tenderness and his strength had come out of the crucible of his own experience. Suffering and hardship had strengthened the fibers of his soul.
And what of those Pilgrims themselves? Why do we remember them with such love in this nation? I’ll tell you why. It’s because when they landed here in the cold of the year, in those next months, death visited every home in the colony except one. Fifty percent of those who arrived here were buried before the first year was out. And at that first Thanksgiving feast, there were only five women strong enough to prepare the meal—only five. And still they gave thanks. Yes, we remember them because they endured terrible suffering and hardship, and because even in the midst of it all, they were still ready to thank God. They still saw themselves as part of Christ’s triumph, Christ’s parade. My friends, in time of difficulty in our world or in our own lives, we can do no less.
Then thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Paul meant that we can thank God for the cross of Jesus Christ.
One day I fell asleep and dreamed a dream…
I saw a preacher step into his pulpit and look out across a congregation of a hundred people. However, those hundred people represented all the billions who inhabit this earth. The preacher said: “Let us give thanks for the wholeness and completeness we know”—a blind man got up and left and two people on crutches followed him, but the preacher did not seem to notice. “Let us thank God that we are healthy and well-fed,” the preacher said—and some who were afflicted with cholera and malnutrition slipped out the door, but the preacher did not seem to see. “Let us offer thanks for the wealth and abundance which is ours”—and some with skin pallored and eyes glazed by grinding poverty stumbled toward the door, but the preacher did not see them leave. “And let us thank God for our homes and the love that is there”—and an old man who ate dinner in a dingy corner restaurant every night when no one ever spoke to him, and two children who had been removed from abusive homes quietly slipped away, but the preacher wasn’t looking. “Let us thank God for the beauty of our lives”—and Martha who was plain and Bill who was scarred slipped off into the shadows, but the preacher didn’t notice. “Let us thank God for peace and justice on the earth”—and those marked by the accident of birth left together with the victims of unnamed and unnoticed wars.
Then suddenly the preacher stopped and looked and said: “Where is my congregation?” And a still small voice was heard to say: “They have gone because you told them what I have not said. Where did I promise that everyone would be whole and healthy and enjoy all earthly benefits? Where in my Word does it say that all will have homes and friends and be beautiful? Where is the promise that peace and justice will prevail on every hand? Think of my Son, Jesus. Did He know these things?” The preacher replied: “Well, Lord, if You don’t give those things, then what do You give?” And the still small voice replied: “I give myself on the cross.” With that the preacher left his pulpit and hurried outside and called to those who had left: “I have been wrong. Some of the things of which I have spoken we will have and some we will not have. And since God is no respecter of persons, it is not determined who will have them and who will not. But God has given us infinitely more. He has given us Himself in Jesus Christ.” The people listened. The blind man began to weep tears of joy. The man without a friend reached out and took the blind man’s hand. They walked back into the church together and all the others followed. The preacher returned to his pulpit. He looked out at the congregation and said: “God is with us on the cross. For that, let us give thanks.” The resounding cry of a hundred voices was heard: “Amen and amen.” It was said by those who heard it that the sound carried all the way to heaven…
That’s what Paul is saying to us. He is saying: “Thank God, if you like, for glories and blessings beautiful. But you will not always have glories and blessings beautiful. Thank God, if you will, for battles worth fighting—but remember that sometimes you will lose—half the Pilgrims died. Thank Him, if you wish, for the sufferings which toughen your spirit—but understand that sometimes those difficulties will break your heart. Then in the moment when you think that there is nothing left for which to give thanks, you will remember a love-laden cross; a cross which stands at the very center of life; a cross which was, in fact, the very beginning of the parade. So thank God with me that we can be a party of that triumph, a part of that final victory which Christ has won for us on the cross.
At this Thanksgiving season, I hope that each of us will take some time to think about our part in the best Thanksgiving parade of all—the triumphant parade of our Lord Jesus Christ. As for me, I could not play a trumpet in the parade, for what I herald is often weak and indistinct. I could not ride on a victory float, because no victories I have ever won are that significant. I could not be a policeman in the parade, because I have broken God’s law more times than I care to remember. Not only could I not ride in Christ’s chariot, I could not even get close to it. But it seems to me that in most parades there are clowns—foolish people, fumbling and stumbling people who fall down and get back up again only to fall down and get back up again; people who laugh when other people are happy and cry when others are sad; people who for all their foolish antics and mistakes have the word L-O-V-E written across their faces and beating within their hearts. So I will try to be a clown in Christ’s parade. And if it pleases no one else, it’s all right, for I think it will please my Lord. And after all, it’s His parade.
Ed Wynn was called “The King of Clowns.” For his epitaph, he wrote these words—they now appear on the stone marking his grave: “Dear God, Thanks. Signed, Ed Wynn.” That seems good to me to be able to say, “Dear God, Thanks for the parade, for Christ’s triumphant victory parade.” Signed: A clown.