Thanksgiving Day

Well, thank you for being with us this morning, especially if you are visiting! I am visiting, actually: I am supplying for Rev Strand as he went out of town for the holiday, so thank you for having me. It’s hard to make time on Thanksgiving Day to go to church, isn’t it? We have just heard in our reading not to worry about food and drink and clothing, and yet, sometimes this is exactly, out of our best intentions, where we can get trapped on this day: we worry making sure that we are ready for our guests and family, that we look good, that there will be enough on the table for everybody, that we have made everything right…The Gospel reminds us not to worry because we are not really in charge of all those things, because every good gift comes from God and we know that’s the very spirit of Thanksgiving: to turn to God to thank God for everything God has given us. And yet, ironically, this part of the holiday can get neglected as we try so much to do our best to make things happen. But this is what worry does: worry can spoil everything and makes us oblivious of what matters most.

Now I don’t think the problem is that God is going to be upset if we miss church or if we forget to say thanks. Jesus shows us God working in the silent process of nature. God gives abundantly and generously, no question asked, no condition given. God is present in everything that has life: if we turn around, if we consider the birds of the air or the lilies of the field, we’ll see God at work everywhere. But the thing is, if we start to worry too much, we take the risk of not being able to see that and to enjoy it. I think that’s why Jesus today asks us not to worry, because what worry can do is to rob us of our joy. It is not only about what can happen when we start overthinking a holiday. Worry can rob us of our joy in many other circumstances: When we start a new relationship, when we get promoted, when we expect a child. First of all, we experience with awe this abundance of new life given to us, but then suddenly we start to worry and the joy is gone. We wonder: Will it be enough? Will I be enough? Do I deserve it? Can I control it? It is hard to give, but it is also hard to receive. And sometimes it’s true, it can be tricky with some people, there can be strings attached. But not so in our relationship with God. Jesus wants us to learn to receive from God with undisturbed hearts. Each time in our lives we experience love, reconciliation, hope, each time we see beauty, each time our plates are full, we experience something of God’s will for us and God’s goodness towards us, and we can turn to God without second thoughts to say thanks and let go of the worry.

Now does it mean that our lives should be lived without a single preoccupation? I don’t think so. The Greek translation of Jesus’ injunction “Not to worry” is actually: “Do not care with anxiety” or “Be not anxiously careful”. So we should not worry, but we still have to care. All of us, we still have something to do. To become beautiful the lilies still have to grow and to be fed the birds still have to look for the seeds. If you have squirrels in your backyard you know how it goes. They don’t seem particularly anxious about their lives, but they are always on the look. Nature is always up to something, even the smallest creatures have to work in a way or another to find their food and to be safe: Spiders make webs and birds build nests. Our God is the God of life and of generosity, but not everything falls from the sky. God is present in the process of nature, in the process of life, freely given and abundant. It’s here, but we are also part of the process when we work, and look for all things necessary to our lives. And so we have to care, but we do not need to be anxious. The promise is that we should not have to fight for those things, we don’t have to become obsessed with providing for our own needs.

So why are we anxious then? Well, it seems pretty obvious. We are anxious because everywhere we see people in need. It’s not only in remote places. It is all around us. And it’s not only because we see that some people cannot buy the fancy things we enjoy, we also see people who don’t have anything to eat or who cannot put clothes on their backs. There are actually plenty of people who lack those things Jesus has promised to us. So maybe we can blame those people for not having enough – if they lack something when Jesus promised us that there is plenty for all, well maybe they aren’t in God’s favor, maybe they have done something wrong. Yet if we think deeper about it the thing is: Jesus does not say first that God will provide in the future if we are good people. Jesus says first that God is already providing, we just have to turn around to look for God and we will see God at work– look at the lilies, look at the birds. There is plenty everywhere for everybody. This is at least how things were intended to be, this is how things are meant to be in nature. Now of course, and this is what we experience, things can be very different in our societies, in the world we build as human beings and in the way we have transformed nature around us – Nature, in those times of climate change, is not always very trustworthy. So what’s going on in the world as we know it?

In all this chapter 6 from Matthew, Jesus denounces the power money has over our lives and how we are concerned with stocking up, accumulating, having more than what we truly need. Jesus does not accuse so much people to worship money, but Jesus notices that we are overly concerned with money, and I think it is helpful to realize that because, indeed, most of us aren’t exceedingly greedy but we are worried, and so we cling to money and we cling to stuff – not so much because we love them, but because we are afraid to lack of something. We are afraid because we don’t see the world from a place of abundance but from a place of scarcity, and for this very reason, we stock up and pile up, but the irony is that as we do that we create the scarcity around us, this scarcity we are so worried about. And so it’s like a vicious circle, you see. The more worried we are, the more we need to make savings, to buy the big house, to fill our closets with food and clothes, and in the process not only do we convince ourselves we never have enough to be safe, but we also fail to share natural resources with others and we push needy people away. This is the saddest thing of all, that we create misery being afraid of misery. Anxiety can be very powerful and powerful for the worst. When Jesus asks us not to worry, it is not only so we ourselves can rejoice, but I think it is also so that all can rejoice and enjoy what God is providing for them, without us getting in their way.

So maybe this is what Thanksgiving is all: it’s not only about us giving our thanks and praise but it’s about creating conditions where all people and creatures can give their thanks and praise. By striving for the kingdom of God and its righteousness (or its justice, as some translations go) maybe we can find again what we have lost in our societies and reach this place of abundance originally found in nature. Today more than ever, we need to learn how to share and to get a better sense of what we truly need day by day. It’s not that we need more stuff, it’s that we need to worry less for our lives. If we stop worrying, Jesus promises us there will be plenty because we’ll be more free and generous. Now, it’s hard to convince ourselves to worry less. Each time somebody asks me if I am not worried about something, I start thinking that maybe I should worry about it! Yet perhaps all we need to do is to increase our ability for joy, a joy that tells us that we have enough, that we are enough. That’s the reason we are here at church: To make room for joy so we can also wish to pass on the joy around us and live together the life God has intended for all of us since the beginning. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *