Monday, October 08, 2012

“Giving Thanks” October 7, 2012, Canadian Thanksgiving

1 Timothy 2:1-7
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for rulers and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Matthew 6:24-33
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for a servant will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God in Heaven feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will God not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed God in Heaven knows that you need all these things. But strive first for God’s realm and divine righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Will you pray with me? Gracious and giving God, pour out your spirit today—open our hearts to your words of truth and hope. Some of us are here with burdens of fear and frustration and anger and sorrow, ready to weep. Some of us are ready to dance with joy. And some of us aren’t sure which we are ready to do, or maybe both at once. May I be a window and not a door, that your light of grace can fill this place and brighten our hearts and minds, and give us hope. Grant us wisdom to hear and speak your message of love, in the name of your Child, Jesus the Christ, amen.

Happy Thanksgiving, church! I hope your holiday is as good as mine has been already—and the weekend isn’t even over yet!

I’m sure many of you are gathering or have gathered with family—biological or chosen—sometime this weekend for a feast of one kind or another. My father’s family was mostly deceased and the remaining members lived far away, so we usually had Thanksgiving with my mother’s family. She is the oldest of nine, eight of whom had children, from three to six each—you do the math—and so our gatherings were large and loud! Each year one of Mom’s siblings hosted, finding beds and sleeping bags and rooms at neighbours, or setting up the camper or tents in the yard. Part of the fun, at least for the kids, was the disruption in the house, the sense of things being so different that all the usual rules were suspended. The adults talked, the kids played. There was touch football on the lawn and the big game on the TV. And of course there was The Dinner—capital letters, please. Everyone brought or prepared a dish or two—the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, Waldorf salad, green bean casserole, 7-layer salad, stuffing (with and without giblets), mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, gravy, pumpkin and apple pies (my mom’s usual contribution), home-made rolls (my grandmother), and of course the turkey, almost too big for the oven. And then there were the sides—cranberry sauce—canned and not—and my mom’s special cranberry-orange relish, and pickles—sweet and dill—and black and green olives, and sometimes five-bean salad.

Do you think we had enough variety?

No one ever left that table hungry. There was enough and more than enough. Which is, really, the point of Thanksgiving, of our harvest celebrations, isn’t it? We are celebrating that we have enough to get us through the winter, we will be OK. We have sowed and cultivated and reaped—and we have food enough to live on through the winter. That’s surely reason to praise God! We have enough.

Enough. We have what we need. Enough for today.

There’s another translation of that last verse from our gospel reading. The New International Version, which we heard today, says, “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” The King James version says, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” which my mother used to quote at me when I was too worried about what might happen tomorrow.

If we tend to think more about tomorrow, if we are concerned with the future and what might be coming at us, instead of recognising the good that is all around us today…then maybe we need to stop, as this holiday intends for us to do, and give thanks for what we do have. Because as long as we have food to eat and clothes to wear, does it really matter whether the clothes are the latest fashion or if we have our favourite foods?

It is enough for us to be glad that we have what we do have—a safe place to live, friends who love us, food to eat, health—because while they may not be what we would like to have—bigger house, better car, more friends, better health—we have more than we think we do.

Look at this way, my friends. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow—a health diagnosis, an accident, a sudden change in the economy—can take what we think we have away. I know several of you have experienced that sudden change in your life, as I have—one day you were employed, or you had no health issues, or your relationship was strong—and then, suddenly, everything changed.  The marriage ended, the doctor had bad news, there was a pink slip in your pay packet. And everything changed.

Some of you are living that out, in fact. You know, very intimately and immediately, just how much and how quickly things can change—can go not only from enough to precarious, but from bad to worse and even the worst.

I am not saying “it can always be worse, so be glad it is only as bad as it is.” What I am saying is that we have more than we think we do, and it’s a waste of our energy to long for more than what we really need. It can be hard to see this when we are in the place of struggle—when our world is falling around us and we are scared and angry and doubting God’s presence with us or whether God even exists. But when so many people—including some of us here—do not have what we really need, why do we long for what we simply want?

My friends, there are needs and there are wants. We need water; we want sparkling water flavoured with lime. We need a safe place to live; we want a four-bedroom raised ranch with an in-ground pool, two-car garage, three-level deck and a media room in the basement. Truly, does sparkling water quench our thirst, hydrate our bodies any better than simple tap water? Does a big house really make us safer or happier? Of course not.  Let us, then, be thankful for what we do have—our material things.

Now, what we have, our material things—our belongings, our home, our car, our clothes, our furniture, our electronics--are needed for our physical bodies. These things shelter us, feed us, keep us warm and dry, amuse us. I would never deny the importance of these material needs. But what is more important, really, is our spiritual bodies and our spiritual possessions.

Spiritual possessions…not our Bibles and crosses and such, but the gifts of the spirit, those actions and thoughts that show the love of God within our hearts and souls. Do we have the spirit of love, of kindness, of mercy, of forgiveness, of mutual support and caring? These are the best possessions.

Caring for others, supporting and encouraging them, even when they hurt or anger us—that’s the love of God. Teaching someone, offering them lovingly another way to behave when we see them hurting others—even if it’s indirectly, by giving them an example of how to live by our own lives—that is also the love of God.

We don’t come by these gifts all on our own; we are not automatically loving and kind to others. We are able to be Christ-like, to care for others more than ourselves only through the grace of God, a gift from God.

This is what we should be thankful for—that grace of God, that surpasses all understanding, enabling us to show God’s love to others, offering them the example of caring and support. It’s nice to know we have extra money in the bank, to be able to do what we want, when we want; to be able to get what we want, over and above what we need. But even if and when we are struggling to have what we absolutely need, we still and always have those spiritual possessions. They will support us, lift us, be our foundation even in the worst of times when everything worth having seems lost and gone.

Look around you, church. See the neighbours all around you—they will be and are here for you, in love and fellowship, offering that support and encouragement you need—as you have supported and encouraged them.

This is reason for Thanksgiving! Not for the turkey and house and clothes and game system—but for our relationships, our mutual love and support, Christ’s love made visible here in this place, in this community. When your world is falling down—or when it is bright and shining and all you could ever hope for—remember the love and support and care of this community, of this group of people hoping for you, praying for you, loving you—showing God’s love in the world.

And that, my friends, is the realm of God—that is where and how God’s love and care are shown and shared, in the community of those who support and love one another. Not in the material goods we possess, but in our gifts and graces of encouragement, prayer, love and support, here in this church community and in the world.

Give thanks, indeed—but not only for what you have that keeps you secure in a worldly sense, because that can be taken away in a moment—but give thanks for what keeps you secure in your spirit—because that can never be taken away. Shaken, perhaps, but never completely gone.

Give thanks for the ones you love, for the ones who love you, for that is a sharing in God’s realm. And that is the best, the happiest Thanksgiving.

In all God’s many names, amen.

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