Thursday, November 25, 2021

A Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve 2021

A Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve 2021 at All Saints Church, Pasadena … with thanks to Diana Bass, Michael Curry, Sharon Brous and Joy Harjo.

The familiar trappings of Thanksgiving are all around us. Here at All Saints this evening we gather in this familiar sacred space, sing the familiar hymns, and pray the familiar prayers. In the days leading up to this evening, we have been culturally bombarded by the familiar signs of the season -- including the ubiquitous "pumpkin spicing" of almost everything. And -- here in Pasadena -- the most familiar sign of them all: the rising of the Rose Parade bleachers along Orange Grove Boulevard.

And for all the comfort of the familiarity there can be no escaping the reality that this year is not “Thanksgiving as usual.”

We cannot ignore that we also gather in the shadow of a pandemic that may be loosening its grip but still holds us and those we love in a kind of ongoing limbo of vulnerability – and that too many beloved members of our families and communities are now absent from us.

We cannot hide from the fact that our nation is increasingly polarized, our democracy is inarguably under threat, that liberty and justice for all remains a pledge we make rather than a reality we live.

And we cannot deny that over it all looms the existential challenge of the climate crisis that threatens this fragile Earth, our island home.

Nevertheless, we persist. Nevertheless, we choose to give thanks. And one of the things I give thanks for are these words from Diana Butler Bass:

God, there are days we do not feel grateful. When we are anxious or angry. When we feel alone. When we do not understand what is happening in the world, or with our neighbors. God, we struggle to feel grateful.

But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude. We choose to accept life as a gift from you, from the unfolding work of all creation. We choose to be grateful for the earth from which our food comes; for the water that gives life; and for the air we all breathe.

We make the choice to see our ancestors, those who came before us, and their stories, as a continuing gift of wisdom for us today. We choose to see our families and friends with new eyes, appreciating them for who they are, and be thankful for our homes whether humble or grand. We choose to see the whole planet as our shared commons, the public stage of the future of our race and creation

So I'm not a morning television person.
I'm a let's have it quiet around here until I've had a second cup of coffee person.

But today I got a heads up from my east coast friends on Facebook that two of my favorite people on the planet – Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Rabbi Sharon Brous – were going to be on the Today Show … so I turned it on. (And if you missed it, check out All Saints Facebook Group … I posted a link to the segment clip.)

What stood out to me in the 6 minutes of wisdom from these two great spiritual leaders was how grounded they both were in their respective faith traditions -- and how in alignment they both were in their message of putting that faith in to action.

Rabbi Brous called listeners to recognize the vulnerability of this moment of shared recognition of the fragility and preciousness of life and to hold that vulnerability as a call to live differently in the world. “Our work” she said, “is to mitigate against the darkness by bringing light.”

And Bishop Curry noted that Thanksgiving is made up of two words: that thanks is an attitude and giving is an action. And the call he made was to do both in such a way that “we deal with the problems of our past in order to solve the problems of our present in order to create a better future for every member of the human family.”

So on this Thanksgiving Eve we not only give thanks: we choose to put into action the powerful words of Poet Laureate Joy Harjo* in this evening’s reading:

“All acts of kindness are lights in the war for justice.”

The war for justice is a battle over those would polarize us by fear and division -- and the weapons we are called to use are weapons of mass reconciliation: truth and justice; peace and love.

All acts of kindness are lights in the war for justice … and as that war continues to rage around us, we pause along the way to mark the incremental victories in order to keep us moving forward in the journey … this evening remembering especially:

• Justice for the family of Ahmaud Arbery … even as we work to dismantle the systemic white supremacy that led to his tragic death; and
• Gratitude for the exoneration of Kevin Strickland … even as we challenge the justice system that held him for 43 years for crime he didn’t commit.

In the face of the daunting challenges
of pandemics and polarization,
injustice and inequality
we choose to remember that
we belong to the God who created us in God’s image
because God wanted relatives –
that the God who spun the sun and moon and stars
and is mother, father, brother, sister and sibling to us all
gives us what we need to keep us from giving up
in this land of nightmares which is also the land of miracles –
calls us to gather up the strands broken from the web of life
and make them into something holy.
Something whole. Something beautiful.

When I first read those words of Joy Harjo I was immediately reminded of what we do when we gather at this table to receive the bread made holy … of the words of the old hymn:

As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
was in this broken bread made one,
so from all lands thy people gathered
into thy kindom by thy love

And so as we prepare to gather at the table which is the center of our life in Christ, may we also prepare for action we go out from that table into the world as beacons of God’s love, justice, and compassion

On this Thanksgiving Eve may we be given grace live out both the attitude and the action of Thanks Giving -- to be the change we want to see in the world as we continue to choose both gratitude and love; as we act as lights in the war for justice.

Let us close with this prayer from Diana Butler Bass:

God, this Thanksgiving, we do not give thanks. We choose it. And we will make thanks, with strong hands and courageous hearts. When we see your sacred generosity, we become aware that we live in an infinite circle of gratitude.

We will not let anything opposed to love take over this table. Instead, we choose to see grace, free and unmerited love, the giftedness of life everywhere, as the tender web of all creation. In this choosing, and in the making, we will pass gratitude onto the world.

Thus, with you, and with all those gathered here, we pledge to make thanks. And we ask you to strengthen us in this resolve. Here, now, and into the future. Around this table. Around the table of our nation. Around the table of the earth. Amen.


*Reconciliation - A Prayer by Joy Harjo

Thanksgiving Prayer 2016 - Diana Butler Bass