What have we done to the Turkeys?

I'll never forget the first time we had something other than turkey for Thanksgiving. It just didn't seem right to be feasting on homemade Tamales, refried beans and rice. Even though I absolutely love Mexican food and haven't had a tamale that has tasted anywhere near as good as those I helped make those 15 years ago.

There's something about the Norman Rockwell moment and the grocery store's sumptuous four- color advertisements that fix in our minds the image of a family praying at the table while a golden perfectly roasted turkey sits before the father. The aroma circling and wafting into the air, waiting just waiting to be carved. Thanksgiving simply evokes the image of a table groaning with the burden of recipes lovingly prepared, and often distant relatives waiting to feast.

Most of us learned early on in school about the difficult winter the early Puritan settlers aboard the Mayflower experienced after landing far off their chartered course. Only half their number survived the harsh weather and scarce food supplies. We know how the native American Tisquantum (Squanto) taught them how to reap bounteous crops of corn the following year. And the joyous harvest festival that was celebrated at the end of the summer.

Edward Winslow, one of the pilgrims writes, "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms. Many of the Indians, coming amongst us, and among the rest - their greatest, King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

Those early settlers could not have had a more appropriate model for the culmination of the growing season than the injunction to the Israelites. The text from Deuteronomy that we read begins, "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name." "Then you, together with the Levites, the aliens that reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

And, tomorrow we will continue the feasting and celebration modeled by those early settlers. For the United States remains a land of abundance and many of its people are able to eat. But, tonight we have come to honor the one that placed into our hands the ability to draw forth from the earth its many resources.

The Psalmist stands in awe of the wondrous God who would give us dominion of all the glories of creation. He asks, who are we that we should have been gifted with so much??!! The question is one that we should ask ourselves frequently. For indeed when we look out at the awesome universe that extends into the vast night sky, what value do we have in God's eyes and what have we done with our dominion?

I began speaking tonight by reminiscing on the humble turkey that takes his place on my plate every holiday season. Modern technology has bred these birds to have more and more white meat every year. These domesticated creatures waddle around so big and fat on turkey farms, that it is hard to imagine them ever being noble, rugged and strong flying birds capable of soaring for miles in graceful flight. In those early years the turkey would have been a worthy prize for the four Pilgrims who set out that day to hunt.

The poor turkey is hardly all that has changed over the years. From a few freezing cold log cabins in the woods, the United States has developed into sprawling metroplexes, megafarms, and vast manufacturing complexes in an attempt to supply the ever growing demands of its ever expanding population. And, still there are people who go hungry on our own streets not to mention an unbelievable percentage of the rest of the world.

It should give us pause tonight, tomorrow, and especially on Friday's consumer extravaganza holiday to ask ourselves exactly what it is we are thanking God for? That we are the lucky ones who have plenty while the others don't? That we happen to live in a time of amazing opulence while the planet's natural resources are being polluted and depleted? How many of us have any idea of the grandeur and pristine beauty that the early settlers were able to enjoy when they stepped out their doors on the first sunny spring day that year? Historical records tell us that when the Pilgrims held their traditional Thanksgiving Days, they were days of fasting and prayer in response to the amazing gift they had been given. By fasting they reminded themselves of the days of their hunger so they would not lose their appreciation for all the wonders that God had given them.

Now I'm not recommending the strict stern lifestyle of the Puritan theocracy. But I am asking us to think seriously about the relationship of our bounty to the poverty of many in this world. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians was encouraging that community to give generously to those in need. He reminded them that God had given them abundantly so that they could share it. And, for their generosity, they would be enriched in many ways. Now - - we've got to be careful. Please understand that this passage is known to be misunderstood by those who want to get rich quick. Paul is not talking about giving with the motive of a profit for self in mind, but through our sharing we are returning our thanksgivings to God for all the wonderful gifts we have received. Paul says it is God (not you) who has brought you the seeds to sow and it is God that will increase your benevolence through your produce.

Even Jesus reminded the crowds that followed him all the way to the other side of the sea to Caperneum. These people had just had a feast for thousands that satisfied their longing with leftovers besides. Now they were running after him again. Can you picture them…thinking, wow, free food and it just keeps on coming. We've got a good thing going here. And he told them, "my ministry is not about filling your growling stomachs." Folks, you talk about your ancestors eating manna in the wilderness, well it wasn't Moses that fed them and it certainly wasn't their hard work that brought the manna…it was God's gracious gift to them because God gives life. And, now, Jesus says, God has sent me to bring you life.

Think about what Jesus' ministry was all about. It was all about renewal, forgiveness, and redemption for those who were outcasts, downtrodden, abused, misunderstood, misdirected, unloved and unwanted. He helped everyone who touched him, everyone he met, everyone he looked at to begin anew. He held up mercy and grace as the mirror image of the law…not condemnation.

And so for all of us sitting here tonight who feel in our hearts that we are hardly the perfect example of a Christian life, think again. We are exactly the example of a Christian life….we are sinners that have been redeemed by Christ. Everyday we have the chance to live anew because God wants us to have life. We can fall down, but we know we can struggle and get up again and again because of his love.

So at the dinner table tomorrow. Look around at your family and friends. You know all the stories of their lives and they know yours intimately. You can all laugh at your mistakes and cry at your sorrows, but you can all be uplifted by the greatest bounty of them all…..God's precious faithfulness that pours forth abundantly upon you to bless you and sanctify you so that you might be a blessing.

I know it is a tradition in many households to go around the table and talk about all the things we are thankful for. Perhaps tomorrow you can add a PS to your thankfulness and be specific about how you will use that gift to bless others.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan