While COVID-19 makes our in-person services challenging, 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.
If this pandemic were over, giving thanks would be easy. If we could gather without masks, if we could shake hands or hug each other, if we could sing our hymns at the top of our lungs and fill the sanctuary with as many people as the fire marshal would allow, then the excitement would flow, the joy would overwhelm us. Giving thanks would be automatic; we wouldn’t have to think about it.
If we were sure that all the people we know and love were safe and sound, healthy and protected; that they were employed and not worried about paying bills, not worried about basics like housing and food; if we knew that our children could go to school without disruption and that they were getting good grades to boot, making lots of friends and discovering a bright future; if we had all of that, it would be easy to be thankful. Our thanksgiving would be heart-felt, spontaneous, full to overflowing, wouldn’t it?
Well, wouldn’t it? Today it would.
We have been deprived of so much security; we have had basic things in life turned upside-down, so much so that just getting together for dinner is a rare treat; we have to remind ourselves of how it’s done!
Part of our joy would come from our experience of uncertainty; the fact that we’ve faced such a world-wide challenge and are still facing it.
At the same time we have to confess that we know that when these simple blessings are more reliable, when we feel assured of our supply of good food, the company of loved ones and a secure place to live, then we get complacent. We forget to give thanks, or worse, we feel like life owes us these blessings:
“I’ve earned this: I’ve worked hard, put in lots of hours,
I have a right to this!”
Our scripture lessons remind us of a more simple time; a time when people lived at the whims of nature; of storms that could wipe out a harvest, or a plague of locusts, or a drought could leave a nation hungry.
There were no international food programs then, no insurance for injured workers, no social safety net.
Our lesson from Joel is a simple celebration of a good harvest. Even the land itself and the animals are encouraged to thank God for the good harvest, for the rains that allowed for growth.
Most of us don’t think about this much. That’s changing for the people who have discovered gardening here or at home, but for most people in our urban settings, distant from farms and seasonal realities, it’s only in a time like this, when we come up against a reality stronger than we are, that we are reminded to be thankful.
Our experience these past months brings us that wake-up call, that adjustment to our perspective that we so badly needed.
Many of us are here at Knox this Thanksgiving Sunday; we are gathering for the first time in months, cautiously, being careful of our safety because we have been shown how fragile our health can be
and we have been reminded how much we love and miss each other.
We are thankful for this gathering, thankful for the hope that more will follow, thankful that we can re-connect and celebrate together again.
And with ongoing reminders of climate change both from extreme weather events and from the young people who are so concerned for their futures, we are even put back into that space where we are thankful for food.
We are thankful for having enough, and more than enough. We are thankful that harvests are being safely gathered in and that we can share this bounty with people we love.
We have been reminded that the human race is not in control; that despite all the things we can do, we are not God.
Humans have struggled with uncertainty for as long as we have had the imagination to look into the future and wonder where our next meal is coming from.
Our Joel lesson celebrates God’s blessing and bounty, yet even that celebration is based on the knowledge that there have been lean years, that there are times when the crop fails and the winter is hungry.
Our Matthew lesson goes farther. It calls us to stop worrying, to believe that God knows what we need and to trust God for the future.
This isn’t a call to be irresponsible, planning is still something we should do in our lives, but it is a call to that perspective in which we know that, on the one hand we can’t control everything, and on the other hand we know that God loves us and that God will provide for our basic needs; those things like food, clothing, shelter.
The early followers of Jesus lived in a hard time and they made this teaching work by gathering together in communities of love and by looking out for each other so no one ever had to go without.
They were very practical about it. This wasn’t some naïve “God will let me win the lottery” understanding. Rather, it was an understanding that God has already blessed us and that as God’s people, we have it in our power to see that those blessings go where they are needed so that no one need be hungry, cold, or naked; so that all have the chance to be thankful.
God has already blessed us and this pandemic is helping us rediscover how to be thankful for the basic things in life.
In this time may we also rediscover that understanding that Jesus’ first followers knew so well: that God’s blessings are more than enough and are to be shared so that no one may be deprived of the chance to give thanks.
Thanks be to God!