Monday, November 23, 2015

The Thanksgiving Table

Matthew 6:23-34
It was around Thanksgiving many years ago when I met a woman who lived in one of the Bridgeport shelters.  Alice was her name and Alice had come with the social worker to the church where I was working to pick up coats that we had collected for distribution much like we did on Palm Sunday this year.  After loading up the van Alice and I sat down for a cup of coffee and she began to tell me how much she appreciated the coats.

Her gratitude was overwhelming.  She kept saying over and over again, ‘you don’t know how thankful I am for this gift, you don’t know, you just don’t know how thankful I am for these coats. You just don’t know, really.  You know it’s supposed to get real cold this winter and you just don’t know how thankful I am.’

Later in the day I was thinking about our conversation.  She was spot on!  I didn’t know.  I didn’t have a clue as to what it is like to not have a winter coat, or a roof over my head ever in my life.  I don’t know what it is like to be homeless. I don’t know what it is like to be down to my last buck and having to rely on the shelter and the outpouring of others for my daily bread.  I don’t, at least in this moment, have to worry where my next meal is coming from.  And I am thankful for that.

My life was blessed that day by Alice’s presence and by her profound gratitude and thanks. She opened my eyes to God’s extraordinary benevolence in my life.  God zoomed in that day in an unexpected way through Alice to help me understand the blessings I enjoy in a much different way.  Truth be told, I was a single mother and, at any point in time, could have found myself in Alice’s shoes.  Sometimes life was rather tenuous back then.  I worked for the YWCA in social services and was making only a pittance.  My children were eligible for free lunches at school and I took advantage of them. You see none of us are exempt from worry.  We just worry about different things at different times.  And yet Alice modeled for me a way in which I should be thanking God for my life and the things I enjoy no matter how great or how small.

Our text this morning finds Jesus in the upper Galilee, sitting on the grassy hillside with his disciples and hundreds of others.  Now these were not rich people.  They were fishers and farmers, those who struggled hard to put pita on the table.  They didn't have 401K's, or even checking accounts.  They too, had a lot to worry about; much that would keep them up at night. 

Let us now hear the Gospel reading from Matthew, the 6th chapter.

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Embedded within this well known sermon on the mount, Jesus begins to talk to this gathered group of peopl.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, (Matt 5:3) “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” (Matt 5:4). He continues his discourse interpreting and reinterpreting Judaic law.  He makes it plain and simple for these hard working folk.  “You are the salt of the earth”, (Matt 5:13); “You are the light of the world.” (Matt 5:14), “Give to everyone who begs from you”, (Matt 5:42), “Love your enemies”, (Matt 5:44), “Pray like this…Our Father in Heaven”, (Matt 6:9), “No one can serve two masters”, (Matt 6:24) and then after all of that, and to the point, Jesus says, “THEREFORE”.

Therefore do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body and what you put on it.  Heaven knows!  The big One up there in heaven knows exactly what you need and I’d add also what you want but that’s a whole other sermon.  If heaven can make sure that the little sparrows are fed without human intervention, and if heaven can expend all that energy to grow those stunningly gorgeous lilies and sunflowers that will wither and die tomorrow then don’t you think that your God in heaven knows what you need to live your life? 

Of course.  Of course heaven knows.

But Jesus does not turn a blind eye to his followers concerns and worries.  He accepts them, in fact he embraces them, that’s what his life and his work and his ministry are also about. His human nature is in full gear; he knows all too well about the human capacity for excessive worry.  He knows exactly what we are about, he’s on to us, at times he is even one of us!  I’m sure he too had worries of his own.
Norman Rockwell
Thursday – Thanksgiving Day – it’s a day for gratitude and goodies.  We will gather together to ask the Lord’s blessings around the Thanksgiving table. It will be warm, it will be satisfying, and we might feel as if we are the most blessed people on this planet without a care in this world.
Yet we know that’s not entirely the truth.  The Thanksgiving table is not only a place with fancy-schmancy decorations and flowers, succulent turkey, stuffing, pie and an enumeration all of the good things about your life.  The Thanksgiving table is also the place we will bring our worries and concerns – you know how they follow us everywhere like catalogs that arrive in the mail every fifteen minutes.  Hopefully it is a place where you can come and be accepted with our joys of life and our woes.
The Thanksgiving table is a place where you can recognize those worries, perhaps even give voice to them and then express your gratitude to God.  You have been brought to this point and God will see you to the next.  
The Thanksgiving table is a place where you can just look up to heaven and scream out thanks in total surrender! It was Meister Eckhart who said, “If the only prayer that you ever say in your entire life was thank you, it will be enough.”  I find that as I get older truly thank you is the prayer most uttered from my heart.

Cast all your burdens on the Lord and then say thanks!  Thank you God.  Thanks God for picking me up from that ally, what was I thinking?  Thank you God for having my back over and over and over again.  Thank you God that my child didn’t get any sicker, thank you God that when that tree fell on my house I wasn’t hurt and I still have my house to live in. Thank you God.

In Anne Lamott’s book, “Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers”, she says, ‘My general-purpose go-to mystic Rumi said, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”’[i]

She’s right.  She takes us to the next level of gratitude.  We can express our gratitude to God for all those pick me ups, all of those close calls, all of those reprieves from a potentially bad situation, we can express our gratitude in so many more ways than solely around the proverbial Thanksgiving table once a year relying on just those two words, thank you.  There really is more than one way to kiss the ground and there is more than one way to say thanks. 

We breathe in gratitude and when we breathe out our gratitude there is no other alternative than to put that gratitude into action.  Thank you God, now what can I do to help you out?  What can I do to help other people?  Heaven knows, the world does not lack for opportunities for us to give God gratitude and thanks way beyond Thanksgiving Day.  How about a Sunday of Service – we meet for an opening prayer, work in the community, convene again for worship and then have lunch or supper together?  The opportunities are endless. 

The real gift of Thanksgiving is that it opens our eyes to the blessings we have and more importantly the blessing that we can be to others.

So on Thursday after you have given thanks to God for hearth and home, family and friends, might you also give thanks to God for knowing deeply and intimately your every worry and fear, your every anxiety and pain and for the reassurance that heaven knows all about them.  

Let us then resolve to exhale our profound gratitude in this world through our actions.


As I was searching for images I found some riff's on Norman Rockwell's famous painting.  Please enjoy them and have a wonderful day.

[i] Anne Lamott, ‘Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers’. Penguin Books, 2012.

1 comment:

Dina said...

Wow and thanks for your good sermon.
Speaking of coats, just yesterday I traveled 9 hours in order to bring jackets and warm clothes to a friend and her husband (at St. John in the Wilderness) who lost their home and everything in it to a forest fire a few months ago. It felt good to give away stuff I can live without, and I was thankful to see the friends alive and not in despair and still trusting in God.

We don't do Thanksgiving here, but you have a blessed one, Suzanne!