Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror

Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror

The leftover turkey is transformed to hash stage and the last of the dessert is gone. But before we leave Thanksgiving completely, I share with you a Thanksgiving sermon… about not leaving Thanksgiving completely.

The Responsibility of Gratitude
Deuteronomy 15:7-15
I Corinthians 11:17-34

Have you ever been a part of the start of something new?
A new company.
A new organization.
A new club.
Even a new division.

If you have, you know that there a thousand decisions to be made.
Earlier in my ministry
I served on the boards of several groups
that were just getting started
or were still very young.

Oh my, there are so many decisions to be made.
Bylaws.
Officers.
Voting procedures.
And let’s not forget…..
budgets.

Like building a house
you have to figure out everything from scratch.

Why are we doing it this way and not that?
Do we need to improve upon the old models
or create something new?

Moses was the leader of a group
in such a situation.

With the immediate danger of Egypt and the Pharaoh behind them,
they had to figure out how they were going to live
as free people.

That’s a lot of what the book of Deuteronomy is about,
about how a rag tag bunch of escaped slaves become a people.

Part of these bylaws was a provision for the sabbath year..
Every seven years the land was to lie fallow, a sabbath for the earth.
Debts were to be cancelled. Slaves were to be set free.

Now we could spend our time in this text
thinking about best practices for our earth
or the conversation between economics and theology.
Instead I want to keep moving forward
to the last verses of this text.
The reason why they were to do these things.
“For you were once slaves in Egypt.”

You free your slaves and treat them
with justice and kindness
because you were once on the other side.
You knew what it was like
to have harsh taskmasters
demanding more bricks
with less straw.
You knew what it was like to cry out to God,
to cry from your bones
for something, anything.
For freedom.

We were once slaves
and with a strong hand and mighty arm
God brought us out from Egypt.

This is why you do what you do.
Not because it’s a good idea for interpersonal relations.
Not because it will make you a swell person.
But because you’ve been there.

You know that ring of authenticity, don’t you –
That realness that comes
when someone’s been there.

When I did my clinical pastoral education residency,
they told a story to us
about another student in another time.

It was back in the days when
they still delivered babies at Baptist hospital.

This chaplain was called to check in on a woman who’d had a particularly difficult delivery,
hours upon hours
of agonizing labor.
The chaplain came in the room,
introduced himself,
sat down by the bed,
took the patient’s hand
and in his most gentle, pastoral voice said,
“Mrs. Smith, I know just how you feel.”

This being a chapel of worship
I will not repeat verbatim
what she said,
but it was to the effect that he really didn’t know
and would never know.

“You do this for your slaves,” the book of Deuteronomy says,
“because you were once slaves in Egypt.”

Granted,
this is not the most popular text
for a Thanksgiving service.
In fact,
I may be the first preacher in the history of Thanksgiving
to use it as such.

But as I thought about this sermon I kept coming back to that phrase…
“for you were once slaves in Egypt.”

We like our Thanksgiving celebrations
a bit contained.
Many of us will celebrate tomorrow.
Some will go for the reduced scheduling conflict
of getting together this weekend.
But come Monday
we’ll have the sense of having Thanksgiving
behind us.

On the other hand,
the biblical witness is clear
that Thanksgiving isn’t a day we celebrate
but a determining factor in how we live.

We were once slaves,
and the Lord brought us out with a strong and mighty arm,
and because of that,
we live differently.

We cannot offer one hand in thanksgiving to God
and close the other hand to God’s other children.

I’m not talking here just of a Thanksgiving food drive,
as important a they are.
In my own church last Sunday
we filled the altar with bags of groceries that will help
sustain the needy in our community.

No, I’m talking about what we do
the next week and the next and the next.
How we treat those who are despised and rejected.
How we take the time to see
those who are invisible.
How we seek kind hearts
in an age where the prevailing wind is a mean wind.

You see, we were once slaves in Egypt.

Now perhaps you have had a golden life.
You’ve never despised yet felt beholden to an addiction
or felt lost in your grief
or wondered how you were going
to pay the power bill this month
or waited out an endless dark night of the soul.

Still,you join in the song…
We were once slaves in Egypt.

For there is not a one of us present
and not a one of us on the planet
who has done enough
and done it well enough
to earn the boundless love of God.
It’s why we call it grace.

Because we were slaves…
because we were flawed,
stumbling,
soaring,
struggling,
seeking,
sinning,
sometimes compassionate
and sometimes clueless
children of God,
and God reached out
and welcomed us home,
that is why we are thankful.

And that is why we must be different.

Paul said as much to the church in Corinth.

In some traditions the Lord’s Supper
is known as the eucharist,
after eucharisto – he gave thanks.

He took the bread, and after giving thanks…

Some people in Corinth
were treating the Supper
like an all you can eat buffet
and they were coming hungry.

They filled their plates
and their bellies.

As a result,
there was none left for those who came later.

By the time some folks got there
others were full
and some of them were drunk.
And there wasn’t always enough
for all of God’s children to share.

It should not be so in the body of Christ,
Paul said.

This isn’t a place
to get as much as you can get for yourself,
forgetting your brothers and sisters.

“Do you show contempt for the church of God
and humiliate those who have nothing?” (11:22)

Having given thanks, he took the bread and broke it.
Having given thanks,
we share the bread with all of God’s children –
the bread of sustenance for our stomachs,
the bread of hope for our spirits,
the bread of kindness for our neighbors,
the bread of welcome for those
whom we’d rather not call neighbor,
the cup of grace for the broken places in all of us,
the cup of gratitude for all we have been given
and all the roads we have traveled through,
the cup of comfort for grieving hearts
the cup of the waters of mercy and justice
that still long to flow
like a never ending stream..

Tomorrow night
after the leftovers have been divvied up
and the dishes have been washed
and sleepy children put to bed,
thanks giving will not be done.

For you were once slaves in Egypt.
For you, his body was broken.
We were all once slaves in Egypt.
For all of us his body was broken.
Thanks be to God.
With our very lives we declare,
Thanks be to God.

 

copyright Peggy Haymes
November 23, 2016