Where Have You Gone Norman Rockwell?


Norman Rockwell's painting of 3 generations at Thanksgiving table has got to be the most satirized, caricatured, lampooned, and ridiculed picture. The point of attack is not just the traditional family, but the very idea of Thanksgiving. Where have you gone Norman Rockwell? The Holy Spirit saw him going 2000 years ago.

The Spirit "clearly says", according to Paul: no truth, no thanksgiving. The days will come, promises Paul, when men will apostatize from the faith. The verb "abandon's" kindred noun is the Greek word where apostatize' comes from. Apostasy starts not with belief dying out in an individual's heart, but with departing from the Faith that Jude 3 says was "once and for all delivered to the saints."

It's not that some will "desert the Christian faith." No, they grab hold of deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. When a person apostatizes from the Faith it's not they fall away into believing nothing. No, they end up believing everything. Reincarnation is just as feasible as resurrection. Aliens populated earth. The Book of Mormon sure can be another Testament of Christ.

Well, those don't seem like very demonic doctrines. Neither do the 2 examples the Sprit gives: forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from food. Hello. Ring any bells? Surely you know that if you care about your body you better be eating only organic; you better not be eating any processed food; you had better be eating only locally sourced food. And don't touch fat, don't taste sugar; make sure your plastic is BPA free and your chickens are cage free.

What am I saying? You are sinning if you watch what you eat, only eat organic, or watch your diet? No. I'm saying if that's your religion, you've fallen from grace and you're lost. I'm saying if you think you are more righteous before God based on what you do or don't eat you have turned away from the Faith. A demon-doctrine is one that says contrary to Romans 14:17: the kingdom of God is a matter of food and drink. And this teaching is very old. Herodotus 400 years before Christ, writes of the Egyptians' belief "that all diseases come from the food a man eats" and so have religious ceremonies of purging every month (ii, 77, 113).

Still having a hard time seeing something sinister behind this attraction, this insistence, this addiction to what we eat and don't eat? I mean the granola, organic, whole grain, Whole Foods person doesn't seem like a hypocritical liar with a seared conscience? No, he seems more like a flower child from the 60's. But that subset of people who crusade in a religious sense that their food choices are morally superior is pretty much coextensive with the set of people who believe everyone should be able to marry anyone. And these do indeed forbid marriage as God knows it unless you accept it as He does not.

I know this is tough, but you have to see your way through to the truth that these movements, these causes, these truths that are pronounced in media and promoted on social media aren't merely them saying potato while we're saying potahto. There is cosmic battle going on between God and Satan, and it's waged in the lives of men in society, within social structures, and over what is accepted as conventional wisdom. This comes to the surface virtually every Thanksgiving and holiday season because here the worlds of Christian and non-Christian collide. Hence the virulent attack on Norman Rockwell's depiction of family and Thanksgiving.

Some people do put religious value, base their standing before God on fitness, health, diet, exercise. And the Spirit clearly warns that people will fall away from the faith based on food or marriage. Paul uses another word from the realm of religion when he says, "nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." That word "rejected" is in ecclesiastical writings translated excommunicated" (Vincent, iv, 246).

It is of the devil to excommunicate things God meant to be received with thanksgiving, and note there is no exception. If you want to flush out into the open, the fact there are people who believe righteousness before God is a matter of what they eat and drink, just bring up alcohol and particularly tobacco. Virginia's first Thanksgiving festival was held "to celebrate the safe harvest of the 1617 tobacco crop" (La Diva Nicotina, 72). Years ago, I wrote a blog that if you're going to have a Thanksgiving altar laden with the gifts of God, there is no reason alcohol and tobacco shouldn't be there. But really that's a bridge too far; you can be thankful for virtually everything else God created but not those or at least not tobacco.

Ah, but do I know how many people abuse alcohol? I do. They are about the same number as abuse salt, fat, or sugar. Do I know the dangers of smoking? I do. Do you know the dangers of giving into the apostasy that your standing before God is based on what you consume or not, that the more you enjoy something the less Christian you must be?

C. S. Lewis deals with the latter in his Screwtape Letters. The experienced demon agrees that many a soul has been won by excessive bodily pleasures. "All the same, it His [God's] invention, not ours." "Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal satisfying form, we are, in a sense on the Enemy's ground" (44). Excommunicate the good gifts of God or corrupt them as marriage and sexuality have been in our unbelieving society, and you will fall away from or reject thanksgiving. See, no truth; no Thanksgiving.

Where have you gone Norman Rockwell? Rejected because pictures of normal families and normal Thanksgiving taunt, haunt, and condemn those who believe their non-traditional family is not just moral but superior to your traditional one and so is there food and drink. No truth; no Thanksgiving. But know truth and know Thanksgiving.

The Holy Spirit doesn't just clearly say the first part. He's still talking at the end of the text. The truth to know is that everything God created is good. The Temperance Movement of the late 19th and early 20th century put the demon in the rum. Then made rum in itself bad. You can see that it was a religious movement in that it led to the Sacrament Christ instituted being changed from using wine to grape juice. No small thing to alter a divine Sacrament.

The Spirit is clear. "Every creation of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected or excommunicated" if it can be received with thanksgiving. That's the answer to all of you who thought, "What about marijuana? What about psychedelic mushrooms? What about Colorado River toads?" Something that is illegal like toads and shrooms -can't be received with thanksgiving. But don't go the other way: everything man declares legal can be. That would not only be pot in Colorado but abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and gay marriage everywhere else. But could you receive pot in Colorado with thanks? That might be trusting government too much. A government that assures you certain forms of murder, depravity, and deformity are all right may be all wrong when it assures you something is safe.

You receive with thanksgiving that which can be sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. Everything in this world needs forgiving, needs sanctifying, and that only happens through the Word of God and prayer. We all need pardon before we can be thankful. This fact is blurred at Thanksgiving. What do you think the farce of the President of the United States pardoning a turkey at Thanksgiving does? It makes a joke out of a pardon. Lighten up you say; I will not. Lincoln is said to have pardoned a turkey and various presidents did from the 1940s' on, but it has only been from 1989 on that it became an annual, public ceremony (whitehousehistory.org).

Turkey's don't need pardons at Thanksgiving, people do. And a word from a president won't do it. It takes a Word from God. And He has given that pardoning Word to men. The Man Jesus Christ won the right for fallen men to speak it. Though Jesus never ate too much, drank too much, never based His standing before God on food, though He was perfect deserving to live with God forever as a Man, He was sent to the cross instead. On the night of the most special Old Testament Church meal, the Passover, He was arrested, brutalized, tortured, and then nailed to a cross being turned away from by God, ridiculed by men, and laughed at by demons. But as Isaiah says, By His punishment we have pardon. Because He carried our sins away from us, we can send the sins of others away in Jesus' name.

Ever try to dine with guilt? You have to swallow twice. Once the food, the second time the guilt. You don't have to do that this Thanksgiving. Though your sins be as scarlet, I tell you that for Jesus' sake they are white as snow. Though your sins be more than the hairs on your head and like a wave of sludge washed over you, God counts Jesus' holiness as yours and washes you clean in Baptism.

But it's not only the Word of God that sanctifies your meal, but "prayer." This is not the ordinary word for praying but to approach God in free and familiar prayer (Vincent, 216). Only those washed in the blood of the Lamb can do that. Only those forgiven of what their consciences are afraid of can talk to God as a child talks to his dear father. Prayer asks that God for Jesus' sake would make this food a blessing. Without God's blessing, any food may just as well prove to be the means of your sickness and death as of your health and life (Narratives on the Catechism, 77).

Thanksgiving to God in Jesus' name delivers us from the abyss of abstraction (Lewis, Miracles, 144) which is to be thankful to you know not whom and for you know not what. "I'm just thankful; that's all," so many people say. And God-given thankfulness keeps something of the divine in the secular holiday of Thanksgiving. In all the holidays we mark with the world there is a secular and a divine aspect. Children don't distinguish the two, but one day they will. As long as the things of God come first, then the divine and holy, God's grace and mercy are tasted in everything from Christmas cookies, to chocolate bunnies, to Thanksgiving turkey. But if the things of man take first place, then Thanksgiving is about nothing more than food and family (Lewis, Psalms, 48-9).

That's where Norman Rockwell has gone for most Americans, and if Thanksgiving is no deeper than my stomach and about nothing more than relationships between people, can you blame other people for making fun of it? But for those who know the truth, the blessings of the true God are smelled, touched, and tasted in Thanksgiving. And therefore celebrated. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Thanksgiving Eve (20171122); I Timothy 4: 1-5