This is a repeat of my Thanksgiving message last year. We watch reruns of holiday specials on television every year so why not repeat ” Thanksgiving for Christian Liberty ”
Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”
This Thanksgiving message is not about a big meal, family, football, or anything else associated with it in the traditional sense. It’s about freedom. Normally when we think of freedom we think of the 4th of July, not Thanksgiving. It wasn’t just the colonists in 1776 who wanted freedom from English tyranny. This Thanksgiving message is about why the Pilgrims came to the New World 156 years earlier.
To fully understand what I’m getting at, we need to go back in time 483 years. In 1534 Henry the 8th wanted to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon so he could marry his new love, Anne Boleyn, in hopes she could give him a son. The Catholic church didn’t approve and the pope wouldn’t grant it. So what was a love (lust) struck monarch to do? Start his very own church with the English crown as it’s head! This is how the state run Church of England was born.
This Church of England ( also known as The Anglican Church ) held on to much of the Catholic Church’s traditions, teachings, established rituals, and church hierarchies. This led to two protestant groups who believed these churches were in error: The Separatists and The Puritans. The Puritans wanted to reform the state run church from within. The Separatists ( many years later called Pilgrims ) as the name implies wanted to separate from it and worship freely. This was very dangerous because it was illegal to be in a church that wasn’t the Church of England. Even King James 1st, the one so revered by King James only bible proponents, had the Separatists arrested and thrown in jail for not participating in church rituals.
So in 1609 the Separatists sailed for Holland where they could worship freely. Although they had religious freedom, life in Holland was not easy. The Separatists had to leave their homeland and friends to live in a foreign country without a clear idea of how they would support themselves. The congregation stayed briefly in Amsterdam and then moved to the city of Leiden. There they remained for the next 11 or 12 years. Most found work in the cloth trades, while others were carpenters, tailors and printers. Their lives required hard work. Even young children had to work. Some older children were tempted by the Dutch culture and left their families to become soldiers and sailors. Their parents feared that they would lose their identity as English people. To make matters worse, the congregation worried that another war might break out between the Dutch and Spanish. They decided to move again.
After careful thought, the Separatists decided to leave Holland to establish a farming village in the northern part of the Virginia Colony. At that time, Virginia extended from Jamestown in the south to the mouth of the Hudson River in the north, so the Separatists planned to settle near present-day New York City. There they hoped to live under the English government, but they would worship in their own, separate church. Because their own money wasn’t enough to establish their village, they entered into an agreement with financial investors. The company of investors would provide passage for the Separatists and supply them with tools, clothing and other supplies. The Separatists in turn would work for the company, sending natural resources such as fish, timber and furs back to England. All assets, including the land and the Separatists’ houses, would belong to the company until the end of seven years when all of it would be divided among each of the investors and colonists. The Separatists and investors had many disagreements, but eventually the Separatists were able to leave Europe for America.
The entire congregation could not come to America together. Those who could settle their affairs in Leiden went first while the greater number, including their pastor John Robinson, remained behind. The Separatists purchased a small ship, Speedwell, to transport them across the sea and to use for fishing and trading in America. At Southampton, a port in England, they were joined by a group of English colonists who had been gathered by the investors. Speedwell and Mayflower – a ship rented by the investors – departed for America together. After twice turning back to England because Speedwell leaked, they were forced to leave the ship. As a result, many families were divided when some passengers had to be turned back for lack of space. A month after first leaving England, on September 6, 1620, Mayflower set out alone with 102 passengers.
Mayflower arrived in New England on November 11, 1620 after a voyage of 66 days. Although the Separatists had originally intended to settle near the Hudson River in New York, dangerous shoals and poor winds forced the ship to seek shelter at Cape Cod. Because it was so late in the year and travel around Cape Cod was proving difficult, the passengers decided not to sail further and to remain in New England. It was here, in Cape Cod Bay, that most of the adult men on the ship signed the document that we know as the Mayflower Compact. It laid the foundation for the community’s government.
The Separatists… Pilgrims as we call them, suffered much to practice Christian liberty. Persecution, disease, severe weather, and starvation. Yet they were willing to risk everything to worship God in Spirit and Truth. This Thanksgiving let us not focus on the worldly trivial things associated with the holiday but rather appreciate the foundation these Separatists, these Pilgrims searching for a life to freely worship God, laid coming to the New World. The foundation of freedom.
“ So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”
May all of you have a blessed Thanksgiving!