Thankful Enough?

As we are all staying at home during COVID-19, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.

— (Rev) Andrew Jensen

Thankful Enough?


Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Philippians 4:4-9

Thanksgiving used to be simple: you’d surround yourself with as many loved ones as possible, there’d be decorations like pumpkins, gourds and colourful leaves, you’d play games and then feast together.

In a pandemic a lot of that is harder and the restrictions on our lives may test our ability to be thankful.

This situation can also push us to re-evaluate what really matters in life and remind us of some of those things we have taken for granted, like bountiful food and safe travel over long distances; things that our ancestors could only have dreamed of.

When my grandparents came to Canada from Denmark they were cut off from family except by mail. Letters had to travel by steamship at first and they only saw some loved ones decades later when air travel became affordable.

Countless generations of people knew food insecurity very personally. That’s why we have that lesson from Deuteronomy in which people are enjoined to thank God for a safe harvest. Our modern Thanksgiving holiday was about that too, as our opening hymn reminds us:

All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin

Having enough food for the winter is so basic: we need a reminder of how important that is in this world where we can go to the grocery store in January and buy a bag of salad from California.

Our lesson from Philippians sets a great tone: we are to be thankful all the time. Even when we ask God for what we need, we are to remember what we have already been given and how we are constantly blessed.

That’s a challenging calling and when we feel stressed, it’s even harder.

That’s the recurring value of this holiday: it is a reminder that even in hard times we are blessed. When we stop and remember what previous generations faced we start to realize how true that is.

Our thankfulness should not only be a general attitude nor only directed to God. Obviously, we remember to thank God at this time

but do we remember to thank each other? Do we thank the people who have helped us, contributed to our lives?

In reading our Deuteronomy lesson, I was suddenly struck by the realization that there’s a group we neglect to thank. That lesson talks about the land the Israelites were to inherit: the promised land.

There’s a lot of controversy about that these days, as the conflict in Israel and Palestine drags on. Who has the right to go in and take land from others, and has God really promised this? And does a 3500-year-old promise still apply in the 21st century?

It struck me that here, in North America, we have treated this land much the same way, as if this is our promised land, our inheritance.

We have thanked God for this place and its bounty for centuries, but what have we done to thank the peoples who were already here? The indigenous peoples?

What would truth and reconciliation look like if we approached our First Nations neighbours in a spirit of thanksgiving?

It seems to me that it would go a long way to overcoming those feelings that we often bring: fear and distrust; a suspicion that they’re looking for a handout; a sense that they and their cultures are inferior. Realizing that they deserve our thanks might make it harder for us to carry all those prejudices

As a child I remember hearing those traditional stories about the first Thanksgiving: settlers who had no idea how to survive an extreme winter in this climate being helped by the first nations peoples who lived nearby and who didn’t want to see these unprepared people starve to death. They brought food, introduced the settlers to this new creature we call a “turkey” and taught them how to survive.

Of course those stories were full of stereotypes: the noble savages helping the Europeans: how sad they’re no longer among us! But the truth behind it is that those first peoples were generous, helpful, tolerant, fantastic neighbours.

I don’t know if those stories are still told in some form, but I don’t recall hearing them lately. For all their stereotypes and other flaws, they carried the message that we owe thanks to the first peoples of this place.

This story could be updated to carry the message that this isn’t just something from the mists of history. We still reap the harvests of this land; we still eat the plants and animals that grow here; we still have a way to survive the cold winters. This sharing is a gift that has never stopped giving, has never stopped enriching our lives.

As we know, our relationship moved from sharing to taking, and lots of other abusive things. It’s hard to feel thankful when we’re trying to justify the unjust things we’ve done as a society. Thankfulness and self-justification don’t exist well together.

At Knox we have a Right Relations committee to guide us as we try to work out how to develop better relations with Indigenous peoples. We now have a turtle garden that I hope you’ll visit. It’s an attempt to acknowledge that we are on unceded Anishinaabe land, that goes beyond traditional statements.

Perhaps the turtle triggered this train of thought this week. It seems to me that as we do things like acknowledging the land and the first peoples, we would do well to go forward in a spirit of thanksgiving, ready to express our thanks to others and to express our understanding of the value of the land itself and all that it represents.

The land is a good place to start as we reach out to build a new relationship. It’s also a good place to be as we end the season of Creation Time: recalling the value of this land. Not the cost, not the money, not thinking about it as real estate; but as a place to live, a source of life, a gift from God to be protected and nurtured, as it protects and nurtures us.

The First Nations have never forgotten that relationship and as we face new climate challenges, the rest of us are forcibly reminded.

Let’s try to do better. Let’s start from a place of Thanksgiving as we build new relations with the First Nations and as we build a new relationship with the land itself.

If we start off feeling thankful, and can hold on to that feeling, we will surely do better than we have so far.

Thanks be to God.

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