Giving Thanks

Due to the nature of parish ministry and the hamster wheel of Sunday services, the sermon prep for Thanksgiving Day, a Major Feast that is supposed to be “regularly observed” in the Episcopal Church, but for which I will not get fussy because I know we don’t “regularly observe” all the Major Feasts here, often gets short shrift.  So, here I am, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, sitting my study in a closed Parish Office, giving on the first real thought to what I might say tomorrow at 10 am.  As I read through the lessons appointed for Thanksgiving, a theme comes quickly to the fore.  It seems that the lectionary folk would have us notice that there is a dichotomy between worry and thankfulness.

igotyourbackbro_65ee31_3690579

The prophet Joel writes to the people of Israel after an invasion of locusts.  Now, whether this book is really about bugs or about a nation invading their Palestinian homeland, I’ll let the reader decide, but either way, what comes in the wake of either invasion is, most commonly, fear.  The destruction of crops or buildings and the real threat to livelihood and life lead the people of Israel to the point of anxiety and worry.  And what does the prophet Joel say to them?  Well, he says what every person who speaks on behalf of God says to an anxious people, “Do not fear.”

The same holds true of Jesus.  As he looks out upon a crowd of people who are victims of the rat race, he sees the worry in their faces.  First century Jews, most of whom were from families relying on subsistence tradesmen for survival, were always on the verge of economic disaster.  There was a real and present fear of hunger around every corner.  But Jesus, somehow without platitude, but rather real conviction, can look out on faces wrinkled with distress and say, “Don’t worry, God’s got this.”

For 21st century American Christians, living in a Pinterest world, on the day we turn our focus to the perfect Instagram worthy Thanksgiving table, it would behoove us to listen to Joel and to Jesus.  Worry is the antithesis of thanksgiving.  If our lives our lived only wondering where the next things is going to come from, we are never able to live with a spirit of thanksgiving in the moment.  So, I urge you, dear reader, to not worry.  Don’t fret about the right homily, the perfect centerpiece, or the ideal moisture content in your turducken.  Instead, be grateful for the moment, for the relationships, for the food, and for our God who is ever present and the giver of every good gift.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Advertisements

Why We Pause to Give Thanks

My Thanksgiving Sermon can be heard on the Christ Church website, or read right here.


I am very much a creature of habit, which makes services like this one hard on me.  Christmas Eve is by far the hardest.  It is the church’s equivalent of a Super Bowl, but it can fall on any day of the week, and instead of services at 8 and 10am, they come at 5 and 11pm.  It’s hard on a Type-A personality, but I digress.  I’m very much used to having a week to prepare a sermon.  I have a routine that works for me, and I don’t do well with change, even when it is my own doing.  There were a few moments this week when I asked myself, “Self, why are you doing this? What’s the point of putting all the effort into a Thanksgiving Day service when it isn’t a part of the collective history of Christ Church?”  Maybe you ask yourself similar questions this morning.  “Do I really have time, with everything that I need to cook today to go to church?  Why didn’t Steve schedule this for last night?  Why are we here?”

23800308_10155086227678807_3897471969434458044_o

Why are we here?  It is a valid question.  It is a question that we should probably ask ourselves every time we come to church.  Are we here to get our ticket punched?  Are we here to feel better about ourselves?  Are we here to see and be seen?  Are we here to hear great music? A good sermon? To be nourished by the body and blood of Jesus?  Why are we here?  Our Gospel lesson this morning asks this question in reverse.  Why didn’t the other nine lepers return to give thanks?  What caused the single leper to return?  Why was he there?  Why did he turn back?

On Thanksgiving Day, I’m particularly drawn to two reasons we might show up to give thanks; two reasons that the tenth leper turned back and gave thanks.  The first is precisely because it is inconvenient.  Today is one of the busiest days of the year.  Turkeys take a long time to cook.  Oven space is maxed out with stuffing, dressing, or filling (depending on what part of the country you are from), green bean casseroles, baked yams, and pies of all varieties.  Family and friends are traveling from parts unknown, and the lucky among us have scheduled two or three dinners today.  The Macy’s Parade is going on as we speak, and children everywhere are eagerly awaiting Santa’s arrival on 34th Street.  Why, in the midst of all of that would we come to church?  Because it is in the midst of life, no matter how hectic it may be, that we are invited to stop and give thanks.  If we didn’t pause for a few moments to give thanks to God, what would be the point of having a day called Thanksgiving?  It is because of the busyness of today that we are intentional about slowing down and giving thanks.

The hecticness of life isn’t the story of the tenth leper, however.  The other nine were following Jesus’ directions.  He had told them to go and show themselves to the priests in order to be declared clean.  The context tells us that must have been Jews.  They knew that with clean skin and the right sacrifice, they could rejoin the community, and so they took off running in order to be restored to right relationship as quickly as possible.  But this tenth leper, he wasn’t Jewish.  No matter how many times he showed himself to the priests and no matter how many sparrows were offered as a sacrifice, this man would never be allowed into the community.  He was an outsider as a leper, and he would remain an outsider even after he was healed.  This man returned to give thanks to Jesus because he had nowhere else to go.

This morning, as we gather to make Eucharist, the Greek word meaning “to give thanks,” we are here for many different reasons.  Some of you are here because it is important for you to take time in the midst of the details to pause and give thanks.  Some of you are here because you are here every time the doors are open.  Some of you might be here because you have nowhere else to turn.  No matter what the reason is for being here, it is good that we are here to spend a few moments giving thanks to God for the many gifts God has entrusted to our care.  I give thanks to God for your presence here this morning, even if you’ve been asking yourself, “why are we here?”  Amen.

Happy Thanksgetting!?!

You can listen to my Thanksgiving Day sermon on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it below.


Happy Thanksgetting everyone! No, not Thanksgiving, Thanksgetting.  Haven’t you heard, the good people at Verizon have decided that giving thanks is way too antiquated an idea, so this year, they’re calling it Thanksgetting, as in, let’s all be thankful for the stuff we can get now that Black Friday starts on Thanksgiving Thursday.  Now, I’m not one who usually gets my feathers ruffled by what the great minds at high power ad agencies come up with in order to get me to buy things. I don’t get bothered by people lining up for a great deal… I think they’re weird,  but I don’t begrudge them. I don’t even get angry that the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade is nothing but a three-hour advertisement for Macy’s and NBC, but for some reason, this Thanksgetting ad campaign really got stuck in my craw, so I googled it to see what others were saying about it, and found that this actually wasn’t the first instance of the word Thanksgetting.

As far as I can tell, the first time Thanksgetting was used in the media was November 13, 2010 on a children’s show called Planet Sheen.[1]  Planet Sheen was a spin-off of the popular animated movie Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, that you’ve probably never heard of. It centered around Jimmy’s less-than-genius friend, Sheen Estevez, who snuck aboard Jimmy’s rocket ship and ignoring the “Sheen, do not press this button” note, found himself four million and one light years away on the planet Zeenu.[2]  While working to get the rocket ship repaired, Sheen begins to teach the Zeenunians about what life is like on Earth.

In the 7th episode, entitled “Thanksgetting,”[3] the Zeenunians celebrate their annual holiday, Zakmanus, which lasts for an entire minute.  Sheen is less than impressed with the puny holiday, and teaches them about the three month long holiday season back on earth.  The Zeenunians decide to try it out, and Sheen takes advantage, calling the season Thanksgetting and making it all about them giving him presents, presents, and more presents.  Sheen gets everything he could ever want and more, but as you might guess, there is no real joy in Thanksgetting.  Sheen learns that joy comes in giving.  Of course, we all know this already, which is why we are here taking the opportunity to pause and be reminded that true joy can be found not in getting, but in giving, especially in giving thanks.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the side of a mountain, but he could just as easily be talking to the millions of people who are making plans to hit all the great sales that start as early as 6pm this evening.  “Do not worry…”  Don’t worry about that 55 inch Ultra HD TV.  Don’t worry about the interactive R2-D2 robot.  Don’t worry about that ugly Christmas sweater.  Strive instead for the Kingdom of God.  I honestly believe that the starting place in striving for the Kingdom of God is in the action of giving thanks.  That’s why the Church continues to call the weekly celebration of Jesus’ last supper by an ancient Greek word, the Eucharist; which literally means, thanksgiving.  Our central act of worship, the thing that Christians have been doing since the very beginning, isn’t about  getting bread and wine but giving thanks to God for all the gifts that he has given us: bread, wine, community, and above all, his Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.

And so today, we pause.  As Santa is preparing for his annual ride down New York’s famed Fifth Avenue, as turkeys are roasting in the oven, as family and friends begin to gather, as football games get ready to start, and as the stores make their final preparations for an onslaught of shoppers, we stop, if only for a few moments, to strive for the Kingdom, to do the right, and good and joyful thing, to give God thanks for everything he has done for us.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Planet_Sheen_episodes

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_Sheen

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-zUxNvjC3I