Thanksgiving In Word And Deed

[]With it being Thanksgiving week, it is good for us to remember all the things that we have been blessed with in this life. When I think back to Thanksgivings of my childhood, there were usually twenty or so of us gathered around the table at either my grandmother's or my great aunt's home. It was a formal affair and they had to train us children on how to help set the table…where each fork, napkin and spoon went, which glass was for which thing. As kids, we really didn't care much about that, but when they asked us to help and said it was important that we learn, we learned. But it wasn't the learning about how to properly set a table for Thanksgiving where the real meaning was. It was the conversations around the table and the look of peace and joy on everyone's face that they could all be together, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, parents and children. It was a great and marvelous time of celebration. For the younger ones, we just liked that we could play with our cousins, and we enjoyed that about Thanksgiving. And, of course, all the pies and desserts after the meal.

Great Aunt Myra began a tradition that everyone at the table had to say what it was they were thankful to God for that particular year. As small children, it was easy to come up with an answer. As teenagers, we were left speechless at times trying to figure out just what that meant or deciding upon one thing. And the sharing around the table changed from year to year, from person to person, as each went through their experiences in life. When one died and a space would be empty and the chairs moved together, it was sometimes a bit somber as we remembered and missed that loved one. But we were thankful for their life and often reflected more about them on Thanksgiving than any other holiday because we had that moment of sharing. But we found that after a year or two of that tradition, we got quite comfortable with it and found it very meaningful. Think for a moment about what might be said around your Thanksgiving table this year. What might people say they are most thankful to God for this year? It's a profound thing. Sometimes it takes a little while to reflect on it; other times we can just blurt it out the instant the question is asked. But how different would your feasting and celebrating be this year, how much more would it actually turn our attention toward being grateful to God and recognizing that God had a part in these blessings that have come into our life. Think on that for a moment.

Then let us shift gears to our New Testament lesson about the early church from the Acts of the Apostles. Think about how their thoughts about God and how their faith may be different from ours today and how this community of believers…and you don't hear about this very much outside of Acts…but people in the early church combining much of their wealth and possessions in order to help those who were in need and, in the process, discovering that none of them found themselves in need, but all were able to share their portions and then share with those who came to them in need.

Imagine how different that community must have been, especially in our sensibilities in the 21st century where we would look at that and say, "That's just some kind of crazy utopia, that would never work here." How would we all be able to share our possessions in common? Well, that might be a pipedream. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive toward that, but it was a very different community. And yet it wasn't too long before this time that Jesus was meeting with the people who followed him from place to place asking for healing, asking for a blessing. Those people were struggling too. And Jesus' response to them was not, "Well, there's some denarii at the house down the street and we told them to share with everybody." Jesus instead turned their thoughts toward faith, turned their thoughts toward how God is our provider, and God will work a way to make that happen. God knows that we need a home, food, clothing, and money to pay our bills. Those words ring just as true in modern times because not much has changed when it comes to human need. But perhaps our faith may be a little bit different. Perhaps when we compare ourselves, we don't stand up too well when we see how much that early church, following the apostles, was wiling to give and to do. It really convicts us, and it certainly convicts me in the depths of my heart because I know I cannot do what they did in that early Christian church. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't heed Jesus' words, especially in a time and place where fear is all around us. "Will I have a job?" "Will my retirement investments rebound in time?" "Can I help this other family without it harming me? "Will I have what I need when I get to the point in time where I have to rely on these things or will I have to rely on someone else?" Those are scary thoughts and they cross all of our minds. And we cannot hide from that elephant in the room.

We cannot suppose that, if something happens to us, God is going to send us a little check to get us through the month. We know that God does not work in those ways. We know that through prayer our faith is renewed. We know that through our service to God, we find inspiration and newness of life. We know that God does not have an ATM that can respond to us in the moment we are in crisis. However, the good news is that God's Spirit is abounding and abiding in all of us. It is abounding and abiding and overflowing in those who follow Christ and who look to God for answers, those who in the Spirit know, "God wants me to help this person," or "God wants me to help with that cause." That Spirit within us moves us, and that is how God responds to those who are in need. The small things that seem like they don't make much of a difference often do make a big difference for the person you're helping.

As we give thanks for what we have and as we look at the early church, what could it mean for us to celebrate this Thanksgiving, not only in word, but in deed, sharing around our Thanksgiving tables not only, "What am I grateful to God for this year?" but, "How might I help someone else be grateful to God this year?" It's a challenge I toss out to you if you dare to bring it up at the Thanksgiving table. What might we do as individuals and what might we do as a church to reach out to the growing population of those who are in need even as we are worried about our own resources or lack thereof? What does it mean for us to spend more time in prayer about this, not just that it may make us open our wallets more, but might we become more aware, more concentrated in our prayer life, more concentrated in just friendliness and openness with others, which can also be healing? We discovered that at the homeless shelter yesterday. What do those things mean for us? And what does it mean for us to know that God is calling us to do these things and that through the development of our spirit we'll know more about how and when we respond. Those are deep questions.

We are about to enter into the season of Advent, a time for preparing for the coming of the Messiah. It is very much related to Lent. These two holy seasons call us to seriously reflect on who we follow, who it is that we say we are, and how that is reflected in our lives. And as we move through this Thanksgiving week, let us spend time giving thanks for all the many blessings we have received and all the people who we love and who love us. Let us give thanks for all of that, and let us prepare ourselves to be ready to dig deep about matters of the Spirit and matters of faith.

At this time I want you to know how much I missed all of you during the three months of my sabbatical and how thankful and blessed I feel to be a part of this community. Sitting down with Pastor Marilyn and hearing her remarks about how well she was received only reminded me that much more of how much of a blessing this community truly is. And I heard that also from church members as they left this week to move back to Massachusetts, how blessed they felt by this particular community.

So this thanksgiving, I give thanks for all of you. And I'm glad to be back and be part of this community again, and I will add that to my thanksgivings to God around the table this year. Think of the things that you'd like to give thanks for. Share them with somebody. Dare to share those deep-meaning things this Thanksgiving. It's time for those things to be talked about fluidly with those we love. And then let us begin to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child.

November 22, 2009

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