Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Sermon

John 6:24-35
      Thanksgiving.  This is one of the most important days of the year for me…it is also a day that should actually be EVERY day.  I showed you a video a couple months back about a study that had been done on gratitude.  This study showed us that those who actually take the time to express gratitude…gratitude to loved ones, to family, to friends, to God, to ANYONE are actually much, much happier. There was also an article this week written in SFgate that shows that expressions of gratitude, taking the time to realize all that we have to be grateful for contributes significantly to physical well-being as well. And I'm struck by the deep truth, once again, that the things that God calls us to do are not because GOD needs us to be grateful, or because God needs to know that we recognize the blessings that fill our lives.  God calls us into gratitude for our own souls, for our own happiness, for our own wholeness, for our own well-being.
      And yet, gratitude can sometimes remain elusive to us.  In today’s scripture, Jesus says, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you”.  But, by trusting in other things besides God, wanting signs and proofs and reassurance other than our faith, by focusing on our needs and wants and security rather than on gratitude for the gifts of today, we are doing exactly that – working for food that spoils.  These other things won’t last.  They don’t last.
     People trusted in Moses, they trusted in their leaders for the food, the manna.  But at the same time, we know people can’t be trusted completely, so even while they trusted, they tried to “collect” and “preserve” and save the manna, not trusting that it would come the next day.  They forgot to trust in God. People turned to Jesus’ signs.  They sought him out because they were fed, but also because the signs they had seen of healing and the feeding they had experienced didn’t feel like enough.  They continued to ask for more proof, as we read today, constantly asking for reassurances that everything would be okay.  I wrote a blog article about happiness awhile back.  Sometimes people try to trust in happiness, but it too can’t be counted on.  This is a paragraph from what I wrote:  “ I find it very hard to "trust" happiness because it is fleeting.  It is a fickle friend.  And as such, it cannot be relied upon to stay for long, or to return when summoned, or to come when needed. Sometimes it is there constantly, every day making repeated calls, sending constant "texts" and stopping by to visit and stay.  And then, just as suddenly as it came, it can disappear and stay away for weeks at a time, not responding to calls for help, no matter how desperate and needy they are. When it comes it is incredible and wonderful and we find ourselves hoping that it will stay as constant, as helpful, as faithful, as hopeful, and as intense as it sometimes is, filling us with a sense of well-being and of being loved, causing us to laugh and play and feel young and alive.  But it never does.  It comes and goes of its own accord, when and where it will, and therefore truly can't be trusted.”
     Whatever it is that you are trusting that is not God, Jesus challenges.  No, we are not made whole, we are not made alive, we are not “okay” because of our leaders, or because of the signs that reassure us, or because we are fed today.  We don’t find wholeness in an hour’s happiness or a day or even a week or month.   We are okay, we are whole, we are on the “way” with God when we can trust, when we can live in that trust and faith, without the signs, without the proofs, without trusting in flawed and broken humans, emotions, objects or anything else that is not God.
And again, one of the easiest, most fulfilling and best ways to renew our faith, our trust and our commitment to God is by taking the time to remember our blessings and to offer gratitude, again and again.
    Still, in our society, this remains a challenge.  And this year, perhaps, more than others.
Matt Walsh at HuffingtonPost wrote the following (see whole article here) in response to black Friday actually expanding into Thanksgiving Day itself: “How appropriate, then, that a holiday created by our ancestors as an occasion to give thanks for what they had, now morphs into a frenzied consumerist ritual where we descend upon shopping malls to accumulate more things we don't need. Our great grandparents enjoyed a meal and praised the Lord for the food on the table and the friends and family gathered around it. We, having slightly altered the tradition, instead elect to bum-rush elderly women and trample over children to get our hands on cheap TVs.  For a while, Black Friday and Thanksgiving coexisted. We thanked God for His blessings on Thursday, and then jumped into the consumer mosh pit at Best Buy on Friday. But this Black Friday-Thanksgiving marriage was tenuous and rocky from the start. It was doomed to fail. Thanksgiving offers tradition, family and contentment; Black Friday offers smart phones at drastically reduced prices. In America, we all know who wins that battle. So Black Friday, like a black hole, violently expanded; it absorbed the light that surrounded it and sucked everything into its terrifying abyss, where all substance is torn to shreds and obliterated. Black Friday could not be contained to a mere 24 hours. It is Consumerism. It wants more. It always wants more. Nothing is sacred to it; nothing is valuable. So, now, Black Friday has eaten Thanksgiving alive. Thanksgiving let out a desperate cry as Black Friday devoured its soul, but we barely noticed. It's hard to hear anything when you're wrestling 4,000 other people for buy one get one free cargo shorts at Old Navy…..Will the Black Thanksgiving shopper carve a moment or two out of their busy bargain hunting schedule to break bread with their family and friends? Will they make it all the way through grace before dashing out the door, trading in tradition and merriment for cheap electronics and kitchen appliances? "Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts yada yada -- gotta go, Walmart opens in 10 minutes!..... But even if I stumbled into some demented parallel dimension where the prospect of shuffling like a dead-eyed zombie through Target on Thanksgiving suddenly seemed appealing to me, I'd still pass. If for no other reason, this reason is reason enough: I'm not going to force some single mom to ring up my worthless purchases instead of enjoying Thanksgiving with her children….Capitalism is great, but some things are greater. Family is greater. Yes, these folks choose to work at these stores. Yes, they likely knew when they signed up that they'd be sacrificing their Thanksgivings. Yes, at least they have jobs. Yes, sure, and so what? If that's enough in your mind to justify participating in the destruction of a great American tradition -- good for you. But you COULD wait until Friday, couldn't you? And if you did wait until Friday, and if everyone waited until Friday, no store would ever open on Thanksgiving again, right? So you COULD take steps to protect Thanksgiving from the decay of materialism and consumerism, and, while you're at it, give this wonderful holiday back to the customer service representatives who have been forced to abandon it and cater to the stampeding throngs, right? Right, but then again, those skirts at JC Penney ARE super cheap. Oh Lord, if you don't go on Thursday to buy stuff, there might be slightly less stuff available on Friday! Think of the stuff! We must get all the stuff! The stuff must be purchased! Family can take a backseat. Tradition can wait. These employees should just be grateful for the opportunity to stand behind a cash register for 14 hours while the rest of us eat our pies and drink our wine. Thanksgiving is just a holiday. But stuff, things, toys, gadgets -- these are what life is all about. Why give thanks for what you have when there's so much you don't have? That's the new meaning of Thanksgiving: count your blessings, and then buy some more blessings and count them again.”
     No.  No, and no.  God calls us this day to be thankful, not to be trying to get “more and more and more”.  God calls us this day not to look at what we don’t have, but to stop and give thanks for what we do have.  God calls us this day to trust that even if we aren’t out getting “more and more and more” that God is with us and that God is really all we need.  God calls us this day, as every day, to be grateful.  For it is in the vision that sees the gifts around us, it is in the vision that sees how God blesses us with every breath we take, it is in the vision of our hearts that sees the beauty of the snow and the warmth of human hugs and the strong presence of God and can do nothing else but cry out from our hearts, “THAnk you!  Thank you!  Thank you!”, it is in all of that that we find joy, hope, love, LIFE, GOD.
      Janet posted on facebook today a quote that said, “There is always, always, ALWAYS something to be thankful for!”  That should be our thanksgiving day focus.  On Thanksgiving, and on every day!  Amen.