- Deuteronomy 26:1-11
- Psalm 100
- Philippians 4:4-9
- John 6:25-35
You can find the readings here in CEB and NRSV.
Have you ever watched a television program around this time of year or during the American holiday time of Thanksgiving? Invariably, there is a TV family somewhere, sitting around the table, after some kind of family adventure, discussing what it is that they are most grateful for this year. It seems that the word “Thanksgiving” is almost synonymous with the sentence: “what are you grateful for?”
I’ve always thought that was weird.
I mean, why do we seek to highlight what we are grateful for on this day?
Maybe it’s weird because my family never did that around the set dinner table. I’ve been to a few thanksgiving tables when it has happened, and it almost always felt uncomfortable and seemed a bit forced, like when I was young and being held accountable for my manners. Like, when a parent says, rather impatiently and in that prompting tone: “You’re welcome….?” The ‘thank you’ that follows a prompt is lessened somehow; it seems to highlight a forced gratitude.
And yet, there is a purpose to having a day dedicated to thinking of what one is grateful for. Like the repetition of a parent’s prompting, I think it maybe serves to develop the habit of recognition. Given enough time and reminders, a child will begin to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ with some regularity and without prompting. This is more than simple manners. It is a pattern of remembrance and charge. In some ways it is also the ability to live thanksgiving in the every-day. It is about the ability to notice the world around us.
Our readings today are tailored to address the day of Thanksgiving. Like a child learning the habits of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ I think it is important that we take time every year to be reminded why thanksgiving and gratitude are a way of being that occurs all of the time, rather than a once in a while thing. Because humanity, throughout all of time and regardless of age, benefits from a little reminder once in a while.
Autumn, I have learned, is truly a season of thanksgiving around the world. The Hebrew people of the world have just celebrated Rosh Hashanah – the Feast of Trumpets, the new year, and a time to celebrate the beginning of humanity’s role in the world. They will soon begin Yom Kippur – a time of atonement and repentance, of fasting and prayer. This will lead them into Sukkot – the Festival of Booths and ingathering, the time of thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, the Hindu, Jain, and Sikh peoples of the world are preparing for Diwali – The festival of lights; when the people celebrate the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.
Oktoberfest in Germany traces its history of festivities to 1810 in Munich, and is much a celebration of harvest and thanksgiving as it is about been and sausage.
The Moon Festivals of China and Vietnam are a time to give thanks for harvest and to decorate with lanterns as the people celebrate the concepts of gathering, thanksgiving, and praying.
In my own cultural traditions, October is right in the middle of the harvest time of grapes for new wine. This is a time of celebration with friends and family: for harvest, for plenty, and for the good things in life. Like many others I know, holiday traditions in my family have held communally shared memories and stories revolving around feast preparations and the charge to gather together with the ones that you are most grateful for. A reminder of life and learning.
I know that this version of holiday feasts is not the same for each and every person. I have fondness for those special times with loved ones because I have much gratitude for how they have created and reinforced the foundation, the roots, of how I live and breathe thanksgiving in the every-day, not just on a special day.
Those memories serve to remind me of the value of thanksgiving. Those times with family have charged me to live that love into the world.
The Israelites in our reading from Deuteronomy were charged with the creation of a ceremony of thanks, not just for what they had in the present, but for all that God had done for them. To celebrate all the good things the Lord God has done for them and their family—each one of them, along with the Levites and the immigrants who are among them. Because God was with them generation after generation, loyal and loving through time. And this ceremony creates the foundation for how each person would live in thanksgiving throughout the every-day. A reminder of learning. A reminder of life.
But it is also a charge.
As Paul says in his letters to the people of Philippi: The Lord is near.
God is with us, generation upon generation – loyal and loving through all time.
The times of remembrance and thanksgiving are tied to our ability to notice God at work in the world.
Paul charges his readers to grab onto whatever is excellent and admirable, not just in looking back with shared memories of gratitude, but going forward to notice. To … focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. When we notice these things, I think we spy the Lord being near.
Which is cause to be glad, perhaps, but is most certainly cause to thank God for God’s presence and peace among us.
Because that presence means something in both the good times and bad. God’s presence reminds us that we are not alone. We are constantly held in the eternal promise of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. No matter where we find ourselves in life: at the feasting table with loved ones, entrenched in the mundane routine of the every-day, held captive in the lonely spaces of sadness or fear – we remain held. The reminders of learning and life and love.
And God’s presence abides.
And the richness of God’s blessing flows.
And we are charged with bringing whatever we have and whatever we need to God through prayer and thanksgiving.
With that in mind, I would like to share the things that I have noticed in you that I am most thankful for:
I am grateful for each of you.
Sharing your lives with me: your joys, your sorrows, your struggles, your fears, your passions, and even the boring and trivial matters.
I give thanks that you invite me to walk alongside your journeys where I glimpse God at work in your lives.
I am grateful for this community of faith.
That you share your highs and lows with each other.
That you embody a life of hospitality to all those around you.
That you live as the salt of the earth and lights shining in the darkest places.
I see God in the midst of your actions and words.
And it fills me with incredible joy.
I am grateful for the call you extended to me.
That we share celebration and challenge.
That we try. Regardless of success or failure.
That we look for God at work in the world around us.
And that we continue to strive to show up and help in whatever way we can.
My hope is that we be ever mindful of all that God has done and is doing with and for us in our every-day. May we find the way of thanksgiving in all the goings-on of our lives. And may the peace of God that remains beyond our very comprehension keeps us ever in God’s promise.
Let us pray,
Holy Trinity we give you thanks. As we open our hearts and minds to share with you all that we are most grateful for, fill us with your peace, your love and your presence…
We ask that you would be most present with those who need you this weekend. Put the right community around them that they would be sure of your love and eternal promise. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.
- Steve Goodier. “Much Obliged.” Life Support System.
- Broderick Greer. “Thanksgiving C (2013) – Giving thanks for a faithful God.” Sermons That Work.
- David Lose. “Preaching Thanksgiving.” Dear Working Preacher. Working Preacher.org
- David F. Sellery. “Thanksgiving Hues.” The Episcopal Church.
This week’s image is entitled “The Thankful Poor” by Henry Ossawa Tanner. You can find out more about the artwork here, and more about the artist here. The image is public domain and is altered for the purpose of display on this blog.