Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thanksgiving Sunday

So what are you Thankful for?

That's the Question of the Day, isn't it? The question on everyone's lips.

I don't know about you but I always have trouble answering that question. It's not that I'm some sort of ungrateful lout, or that I think I deserve everything I have, or that in a quid pro quo world I think thankfulness is unnecessary.

It's just that there seems to be a “right” answer and a “wrong” answer to that question, a moral expectation every Thanksgiving. There are certain big ticket items that I'm obliged to be thankful for, and I'm supposed to walk right past the bargain bin, pretending its not there.

For example, I'm supposed to be thankful for family, good health, for this congregation and my relationship with God, and for living in a peaceful, democratic country. (Which I am!)

But I'm NOT supposed to be thankful for my fancy new iPod, for the price of gas coming back to earth, or for the Blue Jays missing the playoffs. To admit gratitude for such things would be...impolite. Even if the second list is just as honest as the first.

Expectations of proper gratitude as the leaves turn orange. At least that's what it feels like to me. And today's bible readings are no help.
Today's second reading drops us in the middle of an argument. Paul was trying to convince those stingy Corinthian Christians to pass the plate to help a struggling church in Jerusalem.

“My point is this, Paul says, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

In other words, “Hey folks, find a crowbar and pry open your wallets when the plate comes your way. And don't feel bad about it either.”

It's easy to be moralistic about this passage, as if Paul was waving a finger in their faces.

And where would Thanksgiving Sunday be without the story of the Ten Lepers? Or maybe we should call it the “Nine Ingrates.”

We just heard it. Jesus heals ten lepers and only one of them comes back to thank him, disobeying Jesus' command to show himself to the priests. Moral of the story: Don't be like the nine who didn't thank Jesus. Be thankful. Jesus likes it when you are.

I don't know about you but I've had to endure too many Thanksgiving sermons on these passages, telling me that I should be more Thankful (capital T) for everything I have. Admonishing me to have an “attitude of gratitude.”

But these sermons always made me feel worse than when I came in because thankfulness isn't a feeling that I can easily control. Maybe its different for you. Maybe you see thankfulness as a choice. A state you can summon when you're feeling selfish. A self-correcting moral GPS unit that guides you through the back roads of proper attitudes.

Maybe I just don't have the discipline. Maybe I'm a selfish jerk who can't see past his own appetites. Maybe I need a refresher on what real thankfulness looks like.

The phone rang a couple weeks before Christmas. It was a young woman on AISH living with two small children. Her fridge was empty and she asked if the church could help her with some food.

“Yeah, we can do that,” I told her.

So I brought a couple of bags of groceries over to her house and she invited me in for a chat. (When I help a family I usually try to visit with them as well. I don't think drive-by charity is what Jesus wants from his followers.)

I sat in her living room and noticed the homemade Christmas decorations scattered around her apartment, including a small Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree in the corner, but no gifts underneath.

“I can't afford groceries let alone Christmas toys for the kids,” she explained.

I think it was our ELW [women's group] that took over her cause and brought over a bag or two of toys for her children. A few days later there was a knock at the church's front door. It was the young woman. She was holding a gift bag.

“I made these for you,” she said.

I opened the bag and there was small plastic container of homemade cookies with a happy face on the lid.

“Wow! Thanks!” I said. “They look yummy! I'll get the container back to you when I'm done.”

“No, no!” she said. “I want you to keep the container. It's my gift to you. Your church has been so kind to me and my kids that I just wanted to thank you. The happy face is how your church made me feel when you brought over groceries and toys.”

She handed me a card that said, “Thanks for everything. God bless you.” She and the kids signed their names.

It was the “God bless you” part that struck me. I often hear that from folks because they think they need to use religious language around me.

But I think, this time, with her, she was remembering the story that compelled our church to help her. And she was thankful for that story.

She didn't really have to thank us. I wasn't really expecting it. She just wanted to. It was a response to her experience of God through God's people that gratitude simply swelled within her.

I think of her every time I use that container. And I remember her story, and how her story and God's story connected for just a brief moment. She was caught in the story of this congregation telling God's story with our lives.

So, to see thankfulness as a feeling is to only smudge the surface. Thankfulness is about remembering. It's about remembering the story that gave us life, and re-telling that story with our lives. The story that draws us together as God's people. The story that forms our relationships with each other and the world.

So, for me, the Question of the Day isn't “What are you thankful for?” but rather “Do you remember God's story and your place in it?”

This morning's first reading provides the key to today's other readings, “This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe,” God says, “so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.

“Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness...remember the food God provided and the clothes God put on your back...Remember where God is leading a land with flowing streams and underground waters...of wheat and barley, of fig trees and pomegranates...Do not say to yourself, 'My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth' But remember the Lord your God who gave you that power...remember it was the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“Remember what the Lord your God has done for you. Remember God's story. Remember God's story is your story.”

So, thankfulness is not just a feeling. Thankfulness is remembering our story - the story of what God has done for us - and telling it with our lives again and again

And today, Jayden finds his place in God's story. Through the sacrament of Holy Baptism God recruits another player in the drama, another person through whom God will tell God's story of Creation and new Creation, a story that began at when the Spirit brooded over the waters and will end in Eternity.

It's a story of birth and new birth, failure and forgiveness, slavery and freedom, exile and return, death and resurrection.

And I'm guessing, that since you're here, you've found yourself in God's story, a story that's not of your own making, but it is of your own telling. A story that grabbed you at baptism and said “I will never let you go. You are mine forever. Remember that story, and tell it with your life.”

I know that's true for me. And for that, I'm thankful. Amen.


Blogger newsong said...

Here via

Thanks for this post. I read it somewhat after Thanksgiving, but I really appreciated it. =)

12:33 AM  

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