Thanksgiving Day, 2016
We are where we land. We become who we are wherever we are, by our nature and its DNA, our construct, our perceptions and our environment. We become loving, patient and kind or we become hate-filled, resentful and cruel. We find every successful breath of our lives something to be thankful for….or we think we owe no one any thanks for who we are or where we land….or we swing back and forth a little, touching the edges of each.
We’re a mixed bag and fortunately most of us land on the kinder, gentler side of the equation. However, over the last two weeks I’ve been hearing more and more opportunities for people to live into what psychologists might call, their shadow side…..showing parts of themselves long hidden. And not just because of the political climate, but because of a lot of challenges in daily living and modern expectation….money, purpose, or little time for rest. They are having a difficult time finding a way to give thanks, losing sight of the original reason for a need for gratitude. On the other side, in an attempt to at least ease tensions within conversations, families are reportedly putting signs up at the front door stating that no subjects that cause division or unkind words are welcome….only conversational subjects that will bring us together. Family memories, funny stories, non-competitive games, funny movies.
No matter what life dishes up, no matter our politics, our financial circumstances, the state of our health, God wants us to remember all the goodness that makes up part of our living experience and to give thanks to God for that. There is so much goodness in the world, that all we have to do is look around us with eyes to see it and ears to hear it…music not rhetoric, the landscape not television news.
Yesterday, I arrived at the church to find our usual overnight residents still sleeping, except for two. At first glance, one might say, we have to stop these people from sleeping here….have to move them along. But as I glanced over, I saw a young man and woman staring into each other’s eyes with great love and I couldn’t help smiling at the beauty in that moment. They caught my eye and my smile, and the woman laughed shyly, as her boyfriend smiled at both of us. They have nothing but a sleeping bag, a few bits of clothing and some odds and ends. They work at odd jobs, but could never make enough money to land an apartment these days. They are beginning to trust me and yet spin me no tale of woe. They are simply thankful for a temporary place to rely on for sleeping out of the wind and rain, and for the odd cup of coffee. They have told me that they’ve stopped people from coming onto our campus who are drunk or making noise…sending them on their way. And we give thanks for their watchfulness.
I invite them to church, and maybe one day they may venture in to learn more about who they can trust all the time. They will learn that no matter who we are or where we land, God will deliver us out of our troubles, out of bondage to worldly worries and will lead us always to a place of peace and a reason to smile in hope.
“Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” Deuteronomy tells us.
Somehow, the young people I encountered in our doorway, already know what God wants us to know. That we are grateful for moments of beauty, moments of loving contact and thankful for our relationships, which at the end of day are worth more to God than any earthly politics could be.
In every circumstance…even the tough ones like that of these young people. Paul directs us to “let your gentle spirit be known to all….” In the midst of conflict or adversity….be gentle. The word “gentle” translated form the Greek can be understood as meaning “yielded rights.” So in a way Paul is teaching us to be “yielding” people. Not people who cling ferociously to what we think is ours by right…or our rightness. You can also think of Paul’s use of “gentleness” as holding a desire to forgive….being gentle of spirit, being yielding…… being forgiving.
So let us rejoice, with Paul and he writes from his prison in Rome. Let our gentle kindness show, let us not worry about where we will land but work toward creating beauty in all we encounter.
Paul leads us to ways we can experience Christ’s peace with some special directives. We are always to rejoice in the Lord…giving thanks to God….not just sometimes….as on Thanksgiving Day …but always. If we continually focused on rejoicing in God’s presence in our lives, how much of life’s issues would become less consuming. If we are intentional about rejoicing in the Lord, such joyfulness will become simply a natural state for us…..like breathing.
We hear this in the words of St. Paul, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Jesus is emphasizing these very same possibilities of peace and hope when he said “I am the bread of life” and we ask “What is this bread.” Whatever it is, it seems it must be something for which we can give thanks and Jesus wants us to be sure we understand just what the substance of this bread is. The tradition of Thanksgiving has many of us enjoying a wonderful feast of turkey and cranberry sauce, pumpkin pies and yes….delicious Brussels sprouts…..and that is certainly something to enjoy and be thankful for. And….for many of us, the traditions of the day create some nostalgia about past Thanksgivings and the way things used to be……when our family looked different than it does today, or when a loved one now gone was present, or when we lived in another house in which we grew up. And we give thanks for these memories even as we often long for those times to return or we try to replicate them in some way.
But Jesus wants us to think about a different kind of bread….not the bread of the past, but the bread of the future that continually is provided for us at every moment…..just as rich, just as filling, just as memorable which….when taken in…..brings with it amazing and radical joy. It is the bread of life which has fed creation from the beginning of time and continues to feed all that is good and worth giving thanks for in the world.
It feeds our souls and nourishes our faith and fills us with such joy in believing that we hardly have time to linger in the past and can only look to the future with anticipation, trust and joyous curiosity about where God plans to lead us and what we will discover there. The bread that Jesus wants us to taste leads us away from bread that might have grown stale, to bread that is always fresh….making each present moment in time….precious….new….indestructible …..even beyond death….the kind of feast that fills us up completely and we are always left satisfied.
It’s the kind of bread we receive when we come together in peace listening to Paul as he tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord” Peace is elusive and hard to achieve and we may find ourselves dealing with conflict in several areas of our lives…..at home, in the workplace and on the world stage, and yet the bread of hope is always available for us. For the faithful, peace is not defined as a state in the absence of conflict but rather in the presence of Christ.
We are reminded this Thanksgiving to give thanks for the opportunity to do whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable to God. We give thanks for the opportunity to find excellence in ourselves and to expand on the world God has created. We are to remember these as we continue to face all life’s challenges, and to hold fast to the knowing that through it all, the God of Peace will be with us.
So Happy Thanksgiving, Hilary, may you find beauty in your newfound rest, And Happy Thanksgiving, Donald, my you find beauty amid the challenges you are sure to encounter.
And Happy Thanksgiving to us, the wheel turners, the ones who work on the front lines of everyday living. Let us give thanks to the one who brings us life and contentment who ever we are and wherever we land.
Thanks be to God.
Written to the Glory of God
- J. R. Culver+
November 24, 2016