One of the cooler things that I’ve been able to do as a priest is blessing the peanut harvest in Lillian, Alabama. For several years, each fall, Craig Cassebaum of Cassebaum Farms and I would drive out into the middle of one of his peanut fields to pray. Usually, we’d be able to time the prayers during the week or so between when the peanuts were dug out of the ground and flipped over to dry, and when they were ultimately harvested. The smell of mold, dust, and peanuts roasting ever-so-slightly in the hot, late-September sun would sit heavy in the air that was still thick with humidity. The experience, and the two shopping bags full of green peanuts, was well worth the week of itchy eyes and a runny nose.
The prayer service that Craig and I used came from the Church of England, and it had four parts. We would begin by confessing the ways in which we often forget to tend to the needs of the poor and the care of God’s creation. Next, we would thank God for all the colors and forms of creation, for our daily bread, and for the science, weather, labor, and infrastructure that brought it to our tables. Third, we asked God for the wisdom to conserve, for protection upon all who labor, for wise governmental leaders, for the sick, and the suffering. Finally, then, it was my duty and privilege to pronounce God’s blessing upon not only the peanut harvest, but also upon Craig and all those who would benefit from his labor.
I think about that little prayer service every Thanksgiving. As I ponder the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers and how only one turned back to offer thanks, I think of Craig’s faithfulness. I wonder how many other farmers invite their pastors to stand out in a field and pray. I think about all the things I have taken for granted; from the peanuts in the jar in my pantry, to the ability to gather in corporate worship on days like today. It is easy to focus on 2020 as a year of lost things, but on this Thanksgiving Day that is so very different than any we have known before, what if we really took the time to be thankful for all that we do have? What if instead of lamenting all the things we can’t do, we took stock of and gave thanks for all the ways we are still connected, one to another, in even the simplest of things?
Take the lowly peanut, source of such shame in these days of increased food allergy awareness. Before you pour some out in a dish for a Thanksgiving Day football snack, stop and give thanks for the employees at the seed vendor who sort, pack, and ship seed peanuts to famers. Give thanks for the UPS driver who delivers them, for the farmer, laborers, and equipment operators who plant and harvest them. Give thanks for the John Deere combine and all whose labor make it possible to mechanically separate the legume from its plant. Give thanks for the truck drivers who deliver the green peanuts to the processing facilities, for the roasters who make them edible, and the salt that makes them delicious. Give thanks for all the people who work to make the jars, at the company that prints the labels, and the company that produces the shipping boxes. Give thanks for the mechanics that keep the trucks running, the grocery buyer who orders, the stocker who shelves them, the Kroger Clicklist Shopper who safely shopped on your behalf, and the delivery person who put them in your trunk. Give thanks for electricity, for fuel, for computer programmers, for banking systems, and, yes, even for government regulators who keep us all safe. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to give thanks for George Washington Carver who convinced southern farmers to rotate their cotton fields with peanuts to enrich the soil in the first place. In one little peanut, there are thousands of minds at work across generations, millions of hands at work even today, and that’s before we start listing the things that God alone can provide like nutrient rich soil, rain, sun, and temperate weather. In a year of so much loss, there is still so very much to be thankful for.
On this day that is set aside to give thanks to God for all the blessings of this life, in this year that has been so challenging, be like the Samaritan leper and remember to give thanks. I pray that today, each you might find time to take stock of some the little things we take for granted every day. God is the giver of all good gifts, and this day, like every other, is a day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice, give thanks, and be glad. Amen.