Thanksgiving Sunday Yr B, 12/10/2003
Joel 2:21-27;Ps126;I Tim 2:1-7;Mt 6:25-33
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, AB
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Little four-year-old Sammy had an appendectomy and was obligated to take his meals intravenously for a while. After the nurse had explained the situation to him and started to administer the glucose, Sammy asked her: “Aren’t you going to say grace?”
Little Sammy is a living parable to us all, reminding us of what it means to live our lives with thankful hearts. We Canadians have so much to give God thanks for. Some of us have never really wanted for any of the basic necessities of life. Unfortunately, the downside of not wanting for the basics of life and living in such a wealthy society often results in us taking everything too much for granted and failing to give thanks to God.
It was former head of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, who, several years ago now, said that our world today is like four apples and four people. Only one person possesses three of the apples and is also biting into the fourth apple. What about the other three people? In other words, ours is a world of imbalance—the rich continue to grow richer at the high price of the poor growing poorer. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund always set up the rules to favour the rich of the world at the expense of the world’s poor. In far too many of the poor and developing countries, the people are forced by the World Bank and IMF to grow cash crops to sell to us rich nations so that they can pay off their debts. However, that means the poor people remain poor because the land they use to grow the cash crops on prevents them from growing staple food crops to feed their own people. So, consequently, the overall cycle of poverty repeating itself only magnifies the problem of imbalance. How do we get off of this treadmill of perpetual injustice?
Does it do us here in Canada any good if we feel guilty about celebrating Thanksgiving with Turkey, pumpkin pie and all the other trimmings, while two-thirds of the world’s population go to bed hungry? Will our guilt about our life of plenty do anything to help out the abandoned children condemned to live on the streets of New Delhi? Or, for that matter, will our guilt do anything for the single parent mother with three children waiting in line at the food bank right here in Medicine Hat? I don’t think so.
Rather than filling ourselves with guilt as we enjoy our Thanksgiving dinners of plenty, hopefully the LORD would give us a thankful heart. That is where everything begins; that is the best place to start. For it is a thankful heart that will motivate us not to be content with feeling guilty. A thankful heart will motivate us to be Christ’s presence in our city, province, nation and world. A thankful heart will motivate us to try to better understand the root, systemic causes of injustices separating the rich from the poor. With that understanding, hopefully we will be able to take our time, energy, resources and creativity to work by doing our bit to change these root, systemic causes of injustice. Whether that is writing letters to our MLAs and MPs or CEOs of corporations; or whether it is prayer; whether it is financially contributing to benevolent organizations such as Canadian Lutheran World Relief and world missions to support people like Pastor Brian Rude in El Salvador; whether it is actually going out onto the streets and helping the poor and homeless in practical ways; whatever it is according to our gifts and abilities; we can all do our part. A thankful heart is one of the most powerful gifts the LORD has given us; it can change us, our city, province, nation and world—maybe not in large or impressive ways, that we can see immediately, but in small ways, one person at a time.
I think that is one of the central themes running through all of our scripture passages today. Let’s take a closer look. For example, in our first lesson from Joel, the prophet provides his people with an oracle of encouragement and hope. The prophet tells even the natural world not to fear because it along with God’s people will soon have their fortunes reversed. They can look forward to the day with thanksgiving when the LORD will bless the natural world of plants and animals, the land and God’s people with abundant fertility and prosperity. God will put an end to the grasshopper plague and there shall be plenty of food and drink for everyone. God shall be present among God’s people and he shall remove their shame. Such a blessing involves economic, social, political, and spiritual health and well-being.
In our psalm today, we are given a picture of God’s people returning to their Promised Land after a time of exile. God reverses their captivity and poverty—giving them a new-found freedom and prosperity, blessing them with a plentiful harvest. This psalm quite likely could have been part of the liturgy of thanksgiving; when the ancient Israelites celebrated their autumn harvest festival during the feast of the Booths (Sukkoth). To this very day, devout Jews still celebrate Sukkoth by making simple shelters outside, sleeping in them, and giving thanks to God for his provision and safely leading them through the wilderness into the Promised Land; as well as for giving them abundant crops during the fall harvest.
In today’s second lesson, the writer urges Timothy and his community of faith to offer God prayers of thanksgiving “FOR EVERYONE—including kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.” This exhortation to give thanks even for political leaders; including, at that time, the Roman emperor must have been a challenge, since he was a tyrant who persecuted, tortured and had Christians put to death for practicing their Christianity. However, this instruction to pray for everyone, including one’s enemies, is consistent with the teaching and practice of Jesus himself. To be able to GIVE THANKS FOR EVERYONE is perhaps still a challenge to us today. Yet it does help us to see that God has created us all; loves us all, and therefore wants what is best for us all—including our enemies. Moreover, maybe our prayers of thanks even for political leaders whom we adamantly disagree with and have trouble respecting—maybe such prayers will somehow touch their hearts and lives and change them by the grace of God, so that all of society will benefit from the decisions they make. Maybe too, if we truly can give thanks for them we will have a greater appreciation for the extremely complex nature of the decisions they make on behalf of the public as a whole, and the consequences of those decisions for themselves and everyone else. Yes, we do need to be prophetic and constructively critique governments. If we can give thanks for our politicians, maybe we can offer our constructive critiques, in the spirit of Christ himself, with compassion so that governments will have a better understanding of our motives and hence be more inclined to accept and act on our critiques.
In our gospel today, Jesus also speaks of an all-encompassing thanksgiving. He speaks of God’s abundant provision and providence towards the natural world of birds and flowers. He then instructs his disciples and us that God will MUCH MORE PROVIDE FOR OUR NEEDS BECAUSE WE ARE GOD’S OWN CHILDREN. Worry about our food, drink, clothing and shelter will not give us a longer life. Yet, how much more time, energy and resources do we spend on these things than we do on seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness? Do not most of us place the cart in front of the horse? Do not most of us preoccupy ourselves with food, drink, clothing and shelter? Wrongfully thinking that once we can establish enough of these things, then our lives will fall into place and we can pursue God’s kingdom and righteousness. In our society today, only a minority of the population regularly attends worship and becomes involved in a faith community. What place do we give God in our lives? Is God’s kingdom and righteousness number one priority? Once again, if we have the gift of thankful hearts I believe that the answer will be YES, GOD, GOD’S KINGDOM AND RIGHTEOUSNESS ARE NUMBER ONE.
To focus on God’s kingdom and righteousness means that we will be able to offer the LORD our gratitude in our thoughts, words and actions. To live a life—not merely a weekend!—of thanksgiving means to see Christ’s presence, power, love and grace at work EVERYWHERE WITH EVERYONE, IN ALL TIMES AND PLACES. We are free to offer thanks in the little, ordinary things as well as in the big and extraordinary things. Where a heart of bitterness dwells on what is wrong with the world and is full of complaints; a heart of thankfulness dwells on what is right with the world and is full of appreciation.
As we gather around our thanksgiving tables today, each one of us might want to take turns offering a prayer to the LORD for a particular blessing given to us.
Let us pray: God our Loving Parent, we remember and think upon all in our lives that is good and lovely, pure, honest and just; and we give you thanks. For this earth you have made; for giving us dominion over it and inviting us to share in the work of your almighty hands as your stewards of it; and for your promise of a new earth, free of pain and death, we give you thanks. We thank you for the gift of life; for power and freedom to love, laugh, learn, work, play, dance and sing; for family life in which to grow; for life in others and fellowship with them; and for your promise of abundant and eternal life, we thank you. LORD, there is so much to thank you for, things and people that we forget and take too much for granted; yet we know that our lives would be empty without you. We thank you, especially then, that you came into our world and stayed to live among us; offering us your friendship and love. For everything and everyone, we give you thanks. We pray this in the name of our One and Holy God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.