Come, ye thankful people, come!
Homily for THANKSGIVING EVE: 2006
This is the week when counting blessings competes with counting holiday catalogues piling up in the mail box while the TV commercials are already telling us we need to start counting shopping days until … well, let’s not go there tonight! This is the day when our op-ed pages and email inboxes are full of reflections on "what Thanksgiving means to me" and our to-do lists are full of all the last minute things that need done in order to pull off the "perfect Thanksgiving" - no pressure, now! And this is the point in the service where we hear - as we hear every year in the lessons appointed for our Thanksgiving worship - Jesus telling us in Matthew’s Gospel, Therefore I tell you, do not worry …
Louise tells me I haven’t been preaching long enough to repeat stories from the pulpit, but I’m going to anyway - repeat something I said last year: I remember the many years I sat in the pew listening to one preacher or the other waxing eloquent about not being anxious about earthly things. Well, I looked like I was listening. What I was actually doing was thinking, "Easy for you to say! I’ll bet someone else is at home right now digging through the sideboard desperately looking for matching napkins, watching the clock praying the turkey will thaw out in time and wondering how on earth to arrange the place cards for dinner so Aunt Diane doesn’t end up sitting next to Uncle Billy and we have a repeat of last year’s disaster!"
I risk using that illustration again this year not only because I want to make sure anyone here tonight in that place knows they have company but because I’m once again "preaching to the preacher" - reminding myself that [A] as much as I want, need, desire and strive for everything to be "perfect" it never will be because [B] the outward and visible signs of our Thanksgiving feast - the place cards, napkins, turkeys and such - are not the ends in themselves but the means by which we celebrate the abundant blessings we receive not just on this holiday in November but 24/7 from the God of abundant love. And so I’m particularly thankful for this evening - this oasis in the holiday hoopla - this time and space and community gathered - as we intentionally give thanks for all we have to be so very thankful for. So …
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ‘ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
We are thankful people come once again to "raise the song of harvest home" in our worship tonight and our celebrations tomorrow, come once again to pray that we might be faithful stewards of the bounty we have received for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need. Note that this Collect for the Day appointed for this and every Thanksgiving prays for the provision of our necessities - not the fulfillment of our desires.
For the hard truth of this Thanksgiving prayer is that many of us all too readily confuse the two. To be faithful stewards of the bounty we have been given is not to amass more bounty - to pile up more "stuff" -- but to partner with God in sharing that bounty with the world in need. And once again I’m preaching to the preacher - the preacher who was profoundly convicted by this morning’s New York Times op-ed commentary offered by Rick Moranis who was counting not just his blessings but his "stuff." Here’s an excerpt --
I have nineteen remote controls, mostly in one drawer.
I have three computers, four printers and two non-working faxes.
I have three phone lines, three cell phones and two answering machines.
I have no messages.
I have forty-six cookbooks.
I have sixty-eight takeout menus from four restaurants.
I have one hundred and sixteen soy sauce packets.
I have three hundred and eighty-two dishes, bowls, cups, saucers, mugs and glasses.
I eat over the sink.
I read three dailies, four weeklies, five monthlies and no annual reports.
I have five hundred and six CD, cassette, vinyl and eight-track recordings.
I listen to the same radio station all day.
I have twenty-six sets of linen for four regular, three foldout and two inflatable beds.
I don’t like having houseguests.
I DO like having houseguests, but that’s not the point. The point is how busted I am about how blind I can be to the bounty that surrounds me and how much I need to be called - again and again - to be given the grace to be not just mindful but responsive to the needs of others.
Here’s what my colleague Jim Naughton has to say about grace: It is easier to believe in chance than in grace. Chance requires nothing from us. In fact, if life is a succession of random events, than any response to good fortune is superfluous. Grace is different. In receiving grace, we are challenged to become channels of grace. This is more than a matter of a few good deeds (although those help); it is an invitation to place one's self in God's hands, and devote one's self toward what we perceive as God's ends. Thanksgiving, then, is a call to action: a gentle poke to awaken our collective conscience - to remind us that to whom much is given … well, you know the rest.
Grace requires - as the reading from James reminds us this evening - that we be doers of the word, not just hearers - a lesson that at first glance is not very "Thankgiving-y." There are in scripture other verses that have much more to do say about thankfulness than these, speaking of the bounty of God, the abundance of the harvest - the things more traditionally associated with this great feast day. Rather these passages challenge us to think of Thanksgiving beyond the perfect turkey laden table on the cover of Gourmet Magazine - moving us instead to a heartfelt thanksgiving of action - challenging us to proclaim by word and deed our thanks to God in our behavior as well as in our beliefs.
Katharine Jefferts Schori - our new Presiding Bishop - spoke of what that thanksgiving of action looks like to her in the sermon she gave earlier this month at her Investiture in Washington DC. There's a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work - shalom. It doesn't just mean the sort of peace that comes when we're no longer at war. It's that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it's a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it's a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, it's a vision of a world where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God.
Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. It is that vision of the lion lying down with the lamb and the small child playing over the den of the adder, where the specter of death no longer holds sway. It is that vision to which Jesus points when he says, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
To say "shalom" is to know our own place and to invite and affirm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God. That homecoming of shalom is both destination and journey. We cannot embark on the journey without some vision of where we are going, even though we may not reach it this side of the grave. We are really charged with seeing everyplace and all places as home, and living in a way that makes that true for every other creature on the planet.
None of us can be fully at home, at rest, enjoying shalom, unless all the world is as well. Shalom is the fruit of living that dream.
There it is: the bottom-line, the money-quote, the foundational call to us as peace-makers, Christ-bearers, Thanks-givers in the world: None of us can be fully at home unless all the world is as well. None of us can truly raise the song of harvest home until all are safely gathered in. The child in Ramallah and the soldier in Tikrit. The foster child in Monrovia and the AIDS patient in Malawi. The homeless in Pasadena and the hopeless in Darfur. And of all the abundant gifts we celebrate this Thanksgiving, perhaps the greatest gift is the one we have been given to give away: the shalom of God that is both destination and journey.
So come, ye thankful people come - come to this altar where we will eat together the holy food of new and unending life - will receive strength for that journey.
And then go, ye thankful people go - out into the world to partner with God in the long-term strategic plan of realizing God’s dream of shalom here on earth as it is in heaven.
Go - remembering that we proclaim a Kingdom of God - a Reign of God -- that is both already and not yet.
Go - recognizing both the opportunity and the challenge of this work we have been given to do and claiming this prayer … translated from Arabic by our Director of Peace & Justice, Vivien Sansour … as the road map for our journey.
* God, please do not allow me to be inflicted by arrogance if I succeed nor with despair if I fail; instead remind me always that failure is the first step before success.
* Teach me that forgiveness is the highest level of strength and that the desire for revenge is the first sign of weakness.
* If I were to lose the blessing of good health grant me the blessing of strong faith and if the blessing of wealth is to leave me, grant me the blessing of hope.
* If I am unkind to people, give me the courage to apologize and if people are unkind to me, give me the ability to forgive.
* If I forget you, do not forget me. I am your child.
* Make me more faithful and empty my heart of envy, jealousy, and sadness.
* Fill my heart with love and love only. Amen