Remembering at Thanksgiving
Let’s not forget. I think I’m becoming a bit obsessive about the call in Psalm 78 not to hide God’s wonderful works from the next generation. The trick here is that it’s so easy to forget! So, every Thanksgiving, when it comes to my turn in staff meeting to present a devotional, I tell the story again. I want to remember what God did.
Last Monday was my turn again and (again!) I focused on Psalm 107, the psalm William Bradford quotes in his famous summary of what the Pilgrims endured on their way over. Take a moment to read the 107th and you’ll be surprised at the parallel with what the Pilgrims experienced. The psalm is divided into different sets of folks who give thanks to the Lord. And the psalmist’s cry is the same in each set: Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
What goodness is that? What wonderful works to the children of men? Redemption, to be sure, is chief among them. But, there’s always more. The “little things” God does for us daily are worthy of thanksgiving along with the truly “big things” (like our redemption from sin)! And there’s even more. We see it in God’s hand of Providence in establishing our nation. Who can deny His wonderful works to the children of men when you think of the miracles He used in establishing our liberties? So great was His hand! Remember?
You’d think a terrible storm would be a disaster first to last. If you and I had been there, we would doubtless have thought so — and hopefully had as great a faith in God’s design as the Pilgrims ultimately did. The weather — do we remember? — blew the Pilgrims way off course.
And what was the consequence of that?
First, their authority to settle at their new “off-course location” was in question. Because of this, and because there were non-Pilgrim “strangers” among them, they decided it would be wise to write the Mayflower Compact — an incredible “first” in the annals of liberty and self-government.
Next, they settled at a spot in which a warlike tribe, the Patuxets, had been mysteriously wiped out. No one took their place, because the surrounding tribes considered the land cursed by their gods.
That spot was near Chief Massasoit’s friendly Wampanoag tribe with whom the Pilgrims established good relations for a generation.
Among the Wampanoags — at just that spot, at just that moment in time — were not one, but two, English-speaking Indians. Right there, of all places. In the vast wilderness. Samoset showed up the following spring and a week later brought along his friend, Squanto, who ultimately saved their lives.
What would you give to have seen the looks on their faces when Samoset strolled into their village and greeted the Pilgrims in English, only to return a week later with yet another English-speaking friend!
It turns out Squanto was one of those warlike Patuxets. I know what you’re thinking, and, yes, he was pretty much “the last of the Patuxets.” So, how did he survive the dread disease that wiped out his entire tribe? Well, it seems he simply wasn’t around when it happened. Where was he?
We have to go back a bit to tell that story. It begins back in 1605 when he was among a group of Indians taken off to England, taught English, and used for information-gathering purposes. He was returned in 1614 by John Smith. One of the ships in Smith’s group hung back, kidnapped Squanto and others and — change of plans! — took a more personally lucrative course to Spain where the idea was to sell Squanto and his Indian companions into slavery and make a tidy sum.
Instead, some right-wing fundamentalist Christians, who insisted on imposing their anti-slavery morality on everybody (as I like to call the Dominican monks involved in this case), frustrated the plan and ensured Squanto’s freedom. He made his way back to England and ultimately back to North America. When he landed shortly before the Pilgrims … there was no one left. He settled with the Wampanoags.
Squanto was pivotal to the Pilgrims’ survival. That part of the story is well remembered: he taught them fishing and farming techniques that preserved their lives and helped introduce the Pilgrims to the all-important beaver trade.
If you were to dream up a story, you could not do better than what God did in real life. The promise of liberty to worship God according to our own conscience was confirmed at Plymouth. Though you may have no drop of English blood — I don’t — together we participate in that promise, that covenant of liberty established by the Pilgrims and others of our original Founders. To that end, wherever you’re from, you can say with Bradford:
“What, then, could now sustain them but the spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our fathers were Englishmen who came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord and He heard their voice, and looked on their adversity. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good and His mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered forth into the desert-wilderness, out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord His lovingkindness, and His wonderful works before the sons of men.”
Have a Blessed Thanksgiving as you remember the goodness of God.
The History of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford. (Read it for yourself by clicking here and scrolling to pp. 78-80.)
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