Saturday, November 27, 2004


A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, in St. Joseph, MI
on Wednesday evening, November 24. (Thanksgiving propers)

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate that peculiarly American holiday of Thanksgiving. Its exact origins are contested and shrouded in the mists of time surrounding our Pilgrim forebears, but it has come to mean a great deal for us today.

Perhaps some will give thanks for a good year. We’ve succeeded in business or relationships or what have you; we have a good year to be thankful for.

Some others will give thanks for a year that is drawing to a close. We’ve experienced the loss of a loved one or loss of a job or loss of a dream or have otherwise been frustrated. But we look with a measure of hope to another year that might be better.

A few might even sleepily walk through another celebration without much thought for thanks.

But wherever you find yourself here, you can be certain that one Thanksgiving tradition will be observed: there will be an awful lot of food.

And why not? After all, this is a celebration, a feast.

Sociologists, anthropologists and other people who seem to know tell us that this tradition of feasting started back when food was much more scarce. At that time a huge feast would have really meant something, and would have been a good way to cap off a long season of hard work harvesting crops, slaughtering animals, and otherwise making ready for winter. That big meal served as a symbol of the bounty and blessings of the people’s hard work and God’s provision for them.

That symbol can’t help but be a bit ambiguous these days, however. Most of us, most of the time, have far more than adequate food to nourish ourselves throughout the year. All of us work hard, to be sure, but for the most part there is very little sense of living close to the bone. Most of us know where our next meal is coming from, and if we’re not entirely sure, McDonald’s or Chili’s are generally willing to help. And so to have such a huge feast for Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot.

It’s not accidental that the prayer for communion is called the “Great Thanksgiving”. This is a different sort of Thanksgiving dinner, one which sustains the church of God on our mission in the world. As we gather at this family feast we thank God for our life in Christ, and then we’re sent out into the world to bring healing and witness. But what really strikes me is the portion size: a bit of bread, a sip of wine – these are enough. We receive just enough of the body and blood to nourish us on our way. No leftovers here, no cold turkey sandwiches the next day.

And I wonder if the smallness of the meal might not be the more powerful sign for us as Christians here in our culture today, to say “a little bit is enough, and I will trust that there will be more next time.” I don’t need to accumulate food or possessions or wealth or respect or whatever it is to secure my life. This theme is picked up explicitly in today’s gospel reading. Jesus says do not worry about these things, but seek first God’s kingdom.

To know that all we have – even our very lives – to know that these are a gift from God: perhaps this might help us to live with open hands. To have open hands, not grasping and holding on for dear life to what we have, frees us to not worry, to seek God’s Kingdom, and to be truly thankful.

To have open hands, we can offer the whole of our lives to God – whether tomorrow we mark a good year or a rotten year or if we don’t even know – and that life can be powerfully transformed for God’s Kingdom.

To have open hands, we can be thankful not for what we own but for what we give away.

To have open hands, we can be thankful not for our power over others, but for our power to love and serve the powerless.

To have open hands, we can be thankful not that we are independent of others, but that we are dependent on God and on others, and we can let others depend on us.

To have open hands, we can be thankful not that we have it all together and have earned God’s favor, but we can be open and honest about ourselves trusting that in Jesus Christ God loves us and forgives us and accepts us.

Friends, for this kind of Thanksgiving, even though it is a celebration, we don’t need a big feast. God’s provision for us in the body of Christ, received in our open hands in a bit of bread and a sip of wine – that’s enough: because that’s everything. Amen.

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Monday, October 31, 2005 4:07:00 PM  

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