John 6: 25-35
Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
I want to admit, first thing, that this year, well this year Thanksgiving is harder than most
for a variety of reasons. And yet, I believe that God is good. It’s just that I have to work w a little harder right now to pay attention to all God’s gifts, all those things I want to be thankful for. How is it for you? Take a moment, why don’t you, to think of two or three things you’re thankful for. Right now I am thankful to be here with you all at this Thanksgiving service. We currently have the freedom to worship as we feel called. At least if we’re Christian we do. I’m not sure how my Muslim and Jewish acquaintances
are feeling this year what with the increase in hate crimes of late. I’m thankful for a warm and safe place to live, a supportive community, and a family that I love and in which I am loved. I’d like to think everyone can feel secure in that way. But I know there are people who have lost that sense of security and others who never had it at all. In the face of several deaths this year I am thankful for the simple gift of life. Not everyone is so blessed. I bet we could name any number of people who are coming to the end of life, perhaps not sustained with the faith that there is more than we know here and that God has promised goodness to us beyond this life. As I thought about all those things I found myself on a search for some history behind our celebration of Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Most of us learned, once upon a time, that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the pilgrims who settled at Plymouth colony, in Massachusetts. And, to a point that is true. There have been other times and other celebrations of Thanksgiving, of course, throughout history. Celebrations that go way back into Biblical times. Those pilgrims didn’t just make it up. Here’s what happened. After significant persecution in England and after several tries at moving their community in Great Britain those people we call ‘Pilgrims” set out for the new world in September 1620. They hoped to sail to the mouth of the Hudson river. 66 days later they came ashore on the outer tip of Cape Cod. Not exactly what they hoped for but, think about it, by then it was November and beginning to be winter. They sailed across Massachusetts Bay and landed at what is now Plymouth, MA. For the most part they had to spend that long winter on board ship sustained by what supplies they had and what game they could hunt. They had no time to build houses, or to put in crops. To say it was a difficult winter is to understate the case. It was a brutal winter. Fully half the people who arrived in November were dead by spring. Some developed scurvy, other’s infectious diseases, all were malnourished, some died from exposure to the harsh conditions. I bet spring looked pretty good to the survivors. In March of 1621 they began to move onto the land and had a surprise visitor. A man from the Abenaki tribe came to greet them. And he spoke English. As it turned out he soon brought a friend, Squanto, from the Pawtuxet tribe. Squanto had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and taken to London as a slave. Eventually he escaped slavery, joined an exploratory expedition and was able to return home. Squanto was able to help the pilgrims learn to cultivate corn and extract sap from maple trees. He helped them learn the best fishing places on the river, where to hunt, and to avoid poisonous plants.
Squanto also helped those pilgrims, far from home and not well equipped to survive in a strange land, to forge an alliance with the local Wapanoag tribe. With the help of Squanto the pilgrims first corn harvest was successful. They had been able to build houses that summer season. They had learned where best to hunt and fish. In the fall, about a year after they had arrived, the governor of the community, Mr. Bradford, organized a feast and invited the colonist’s new allies. It was a celebration and a time of Thanksgiving to God for the blessings of that first year, for survival, for new homes, a good harvest, and the friendships that has developed with indigenous peoples. That alliance survived for 50 year. It remains a rare example of harmony between European colonists and the indigenous people of what would become the U.S. Future generations of European immigrants to this continent have, in fact, been responsible for widespread acts of genocide and to this day we remain unfaithful to the treaties we have established with the native people of this land, taking land as we need or want it and failing to preserve that land for future generations. So here we are tonight. In a world that seem more and more to be fractured and divided almost day to day. And yet we come in hope to worship together, and work together, in order to bring God’s kingdom into fuller reality. Now clearly the Thanksgiving holiday has both secular and religious meaning. Let’s think about the religious significance of this holiday. Certainly those first settlers back in 1621 knew that ultimately all they had came from God. All their safety lay in God. It’s safe to say, I think, that at its root our thanksgiving is grounded in God’s grace. But there is more. Our thanksgiving is meant to be much more than just words. I would even go so far as to say that our thanksgiving is what gives direction to our lives. My point is that we best express our thanksgiving, our gratitude to God, in what we do moment to moment with each day we have been given. At our best, our thanksgiving shapes our lives. Maybe you can knit and so volunteer to make prayer shawls for others. Maybe you have a snow blower and do a friend’s walk as well as your own. Maybe you contribute to the food pantry or a shelter, maybe you read to a lonely child or take cookies to the nursing home.
I know that so many of you give thanks to God with activities like these and many more besides. Here’s the thing, it is easy to focus on all that is not quite right. It’s even easier to get caught up in the things that are really seriously wrong because that’s always part of life too. Listen to our Gospel lesson, it always surprises me as a Thanksgiving lesson. Jesus calls the crowd to account because they are looking to him because he gave them food. He says focus not on just what you need now but on those things that endure forever. The people, of course, want signs. Don’t we all. It’s easier when we know what to expect after all. And we all want our lives to be just a little easier.The people around Jesus remind him of the way Moses gave them manna but Jesus reminds them that it was God who gave the manna. He says: “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world”. Life, don’t we all want that sense of full life, of health and safety and security? Then Jesus says: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
We already have everything we need. We can commit ourselves to following Jesus, living and loving as he did. Accepting others as just as worthy of God’s care and love as we are. The eyes of our hearts, the thoughts of our minds are already opened so we see that we already possess the kingdom. We already stand in right relationship to our creator God. The one who loves all creation. The one who gives us all things. Thanks be to God.
How can we not give thanks? Did you hear what Jesus said in that short lesson that began our service? “Jesus said, ‘you are the light of the world…and you must shed light among your fellow people, so that they may see the deed that you do, and give glory to your Father in heaven.” How can we not, with God’s help, share the love we know through Jesus Christ with others? Remember how I started. This year, it just seems so much more obvious that there are people who really don’t experience that love, people who really need to know God’s love through our care for them. Give thanks with your lives, be a lamp set on a hill shedding the light of God’s love for all people, all creation. Share that love widely. Pass it on. Someone’s life may depend on it. Amen