November 19: A Humble Thanksgiving

Scripture Reading: Luke 18:9-14

     This is the 402nd Anniversary of the First Thanksgiving.

     It’s a time to be proud, isn’t it?

     My name is Mike Tupper. I am proud to be a Tupper, especially at Thanksgiving. My ancestor, Thomas Tupper, was not one of the original Pilgrims at Plymouth. But he came over from England that same year, in 1621. A few years later he settled in Plymouth Colony and helped found the town of Sandwich, Massachusetts. Thomas became a charter member of the Sandwich church, one of the first Congregational churches in the United States. Thomas became the interim Lay Pastor of that church when he was 71 and served as one of the Co-pastors for the next 13 years. This church is still in existence and is now part of our UCC denomination.

     I visited that church with my family four years ago.

     The building is a white, New England style church in the center of town. It looks similar to our church from the outside. As we came into the church we were greeted by some friendly locals. I introduced myself and my family.

I said, “My name is Mike Tupper. I’m related to Thomas Tupper. You may be familiar with him as he helped found this town and this church.”

The gentleman said, “Yes, we know the Tupper name. There’s a street named after him. And a large rock memorial where his house once stood near here. Great to have you with us, Mr. Tupper.”

I felt proud to be a Tupper at that moment. But there was more to come.

Halfway through the worship service, the pastor asked if anyone had any joys or concerns. Someone in the back of the church stood up, “We are blessed today to have the Tupper family with us. That Tupper name is important to the history of this church and to our community. Thanks for worshipping with us today.” I smiled. Then the whole congregation applauded. I felt proud to be a Tupper.

     It’s a time to be proud, isn’t it?

     On this thanksgiving, it’s time to be proud to be related to those Plymouth Pilgrims. Proud to be part of a Congregational UCC church.  Proud to be an American.

     A man walked into the place of worship with a similar sense of pride. He was proud to be a part of a group that was serious about their relationship to God. He was proud of the life he had lived for God. He could look back and be proud of himself. He had been faithful in so many ways.

     He looked up to God, “Thank you God. I am so blessed.”

     Then he looked across to the other side of the sanctuary. He saw a woman he recognized for being in the news. This other person and her husband were recently convicted of tax evasion and had been jailed for a short time. He looked at her and said, “Thank you God that I’m not like her.”

     Jesus is telling this story in our Scripture reading today. Jesus concludes it by saying these shocking words, “When the two people went home that day, it was the woman involved in tax evasion and not the good man,…. who was pleasing to God.”

     Wait a minute…..

     Are you kidding?

     What’s that all about?

     This good man who is so proud of the life he’s lived. How can he not be pleasing to God?

What do you think about that?

I began to get a different perspective as I read more about my ancestor Thomas Tupper and the Plymouth pilgrims. I read a book entitled, “This Land is Their Land” It was subtitled: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving.

 I didn’t know that Thanksgiving could be troubled. What’s that all about? I learned that many people in New England refer to Thanksgiving as the Day of Mourning. What?

Why would this wonderful holiday be called a Day of Mourning?

The more I learned, the more my eyes were opened to the truth of what happened back then. I learned about how the interactions between the native, indigenous Indians and the white settlers from Europe brought disease and death. It was like a pandemic with no vaccines and no masking and no way to stop it. But it only killed the indigenous people, not the white European settlers. Thousands died. Whole tribes were decimated. The European diseases killed more than 50% of the Wampanoag Indian tribe that lived in Plymouth colony. When Squanto returned to the area after being gone a few years, everyone he knew had been killed by the pandemic.

I also learned how the settlers kept pushing the indigenous people out of their lands. Pushing them farther and farther from their homes. Eventually, the indigenous people tried to resist and stop them. But the indigenous were defeated in battle time and time again.

Thanksgiving was a brief respite in that struggle. A time when the two sides cooperated and celebrated together. But it was the generosity and helpfulness of the indigenous people who made that day possible for the Pilgrims. The indigenous Indians like Squanto had taught the Pilgrims how to plant and grow crops in this new world.

Thanksgiving was not a time when the Pilgrims could be proud of who they were. It was really a time when they could humbly thank the indigenous people for the help they received.

The first Thanksgiving was a time of humility, not pride for those Pilgrims. The first Thanksgiving was a time of mourning, not celebrating for those indigenous Indians.

In the fall of 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the first national Thanksgiving holiday. It was not a time of pride and celebration. They were in the middle of a Civil War that was killing thousands every day. It was a time when unspeakable atrocities were commonplace. It was a time instead of great humility and lament. This is what Lincoln said, “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

In other words, the Thanksgiving holiday was originally created by Lincoln as a day, not for pride, but for humility and mourning.

I continued my study of Thomas Tupper and the Plymouth Colony. I learned that my ancestor Thomas did reach out to the indigenous people. He and his friend, worked together to lead a church for them and with them. They were the pastors for many years in that Indian mission church, until Thomas’ son took over. It was said that when war broke out years later, the indigenous people of that area did not rise up against the white settlers because of the ministry done by Thomas Tupper and his friend Richard Bourke.

Thanksgiving is a time for humility. It’s a time to recognize the harm we’ve caused other peoples. It’s a time to recognize the harm our ancestors have caused the indigenous people. It’s a time to stand with those have been harmed over the years.

One of the very small ways we do that here at this church is our land acknowledgement I say at the beginning of worship. I say, “First Congregational United Church of Christ of Coloma recognizes that it exists on the traditional land of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi past and present, and honors with gratitude the land itself and the people who have stewarded it throughout the generations.”

This is a time to re-commit ourselves to help those who have been harmed. It’s a time to follow the example of Thomas Tupper and get involved in efforts to lift up those who have been put down.  

Our Scripture started out with these words:

“Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else.” The Scripture ended with these words of Jesus, “But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.”

Life can humble us in so many ways. And that’s actually a good thing. For it’s down here in a place of humility that we can best help the suffering, broken people of this world. That’s where Jesus is.


  1. Nancy Feniger

    A wonderful sermon for this blessed time of year. Let us always remember to be humble and help those in need. Thank you Pastor Mike.

    1. colomaucc_dfpnxc (Post author)



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