Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Community Thanksgiving Service, 2012

Lectionary: Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33

Good evening! Let us bow our heads and pray:

“Almighty and gracious God…Make us we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name.” Amen. (BCP, 246)

On October 13, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of a Civil War, made the following statements in a presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving Day:

“The year that is drawing toward its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful yields
and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible
to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God… No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God.”

How humbling it is for us to hear these words, knowing they were spoken in the devastating chaos of one of our country’s most difficult historical moments. There was no “us” and “them” in the Civil War. Everyone who died was one of us.

Whole cities were burned, industries were destroyed, and families were torn apart, ideologically and actually. During that time, many people had real cause to worry about the basics of human existence: food, shelter, clothing, medical care.

And yet, in the midst of the awful reality being confronted, a day was set aside to remember the greatness and graciousness of God. This is our Thanksgiving Day legacy.

In the face of whatever difficulty, chaos, or devastation we confront, it is important for us to set aside time, as we have done tonight, to remember the greatness and graciousness of God, and to remember God’s call to righteousness.

In our Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life but strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” This teaching of Jesus is directed to those who have enough, those who know prosperity.

Growing up around a lot of money I learned that no matter how much money you have, someone else has more. For some people, what they have never feels like it’s enough… even though it is.

“Don’t worry about your life…” Jesus says to them. Don’t become absorbed by your own desires. Desire instead the kingdom of God, go after it, ask for it, demand it… Be about the business of making the kingdom of God manifest on the earth.

To do that, brothers and sisters in Christ, we must live in righteousness, that is, in right relationship with God and with all whom God has Created, because, as we heard in the letter to Timothy, Jesus Christ came and offered himself as a ransom for ALL.

There is no one created by God who is outside the love and redemptive plan of God. It is up to us, however, to be the hands that reach out, the heralds that speak the Good News.

We live in a time when we hear a lot of discussion about who deserves help and who doesn’t. At Redeemer, we get calls every week from people who want to come to the Shepherd’s Table to eat or to get a bag of food and supplies from the Food Pantry. They want to know what documentation they should bring to prove they’re deserving of our help.

Bring nothing, we tell them. Just come and eat with friends.

We live in a society that also likes to fit people into boxes: this one is the right age, has the right disability, is on Medicaid. They go in the “we will serve them” box.

This one is disagreeable and ungrateful… It’s probably their own fault they’re poor and in need. They go in the “we won’t serve them” box. After all, we don’t want to enable such bad behavior.

I had a conversation like that just this week.

‘Oh – we know that person,’ several agencies told me. ‘They’re always angry and accusatory.
They made me feel uncomfortable. One person said “unsafe.”

As I listened, I thought: we fear strangers, not friends. In the end – the outcome was the same:
The disagreeable poor person didn’t “qualify” for any services.

So I asked these agency representatives: How many happy homeless people do you know? How happy would you be if you had to beg someone you knew was judging you to get what you need to live?

How many of these “disagreeable” people had to learn to be disagreeable in order to survive on the streets? …or in response to disrespectful treatment from people they needed to ask for help? Maybe, as in the case of long-term victims of domestic or sexual abuse they grew up hearing mostly abusive discourse and haven’t had much opportunity to practice polite conversation.

Jesus cared for the stranger, the sinner, and the outcast and calls us to do the same. There is always a story to hear, a wound that needs a salve. But people will only share stuff like that with a friend.

And the “don’t judge” thing Jesus was always mentioning? It’s pretty important. And it goes both ways.

When I left my abusive first husband, who was a doctor, he emptied our bank accounts leaving my infant daughter and me with no access to money. I was forced to apply for Food Stamps for a short time.

As I stood in line to receive them in the clothes I bought as a doctor’s wife, I heard comments from the others in line who were judging me for taking help I obviously didn’t need. I guess I didn’t look poor or hungry enough for them.

Everyone has a story, and their wounding or burden may not be obvious.

If we are to heed Christ’s teaching on how to be his follower we must learn to listen as friends not strangers and without judgment. We must learn to care for all those God leads into our lives
as sisters and brothers of the same parent – our heavenly parent. And we must work to become as generous with others as God is with us.

Some years ago I went on a mission trip to Romania. Part of my work there included serving homeless children - street children.

One of “my children” was an 8 year-old beggar named Çoni. Çoni was smart, savvy, and doomed by his poverty. One day, as we walked along the city streets of Cluj, this precocious little guy ran off and begged some money (which, by the way, he could do in 5 languages).

Then he went to a fruit stand and bought a banana. I sat on a nearby park bench and watched as he stood on tiptoe to pay the vendor.

When he returned to where I was sitting, he broke the banana in two and offered me half. I was overcome by the generosity that came so naturally to him.

To Çoni, I was a friend, and worthy of half the banana he just begged. Çoni certainly didn’t have enough to eat and he had no promise of food for the future. Yet he shared his banana with me all the same. The generosity of love shown by that 8 year-old street child transformed me and forever changed how I approach people of all kinds.

There will always be something that will tempt us to worry about ourselves, what we will eat, what we will wear... But the call of Christ on our lives compels us to turn our attention from ourselves to the kingdom of God.

It compels us to answer the command to love God and our neighbor – even the stranger who makes us uncomfortable. It compels us to trust God to guide us to listen in friendship to the stories of wounds and burdens borne by our sisters and brothers who are suffering and to provide for their needs as faithful stewards of the abundant bounty of God.

We do this all for the glory of God and for the welfare of all God’s people because “the Lord has done great things for us and we are glad indeed.” Thanks be to God! Amen.

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