I just love starting my sermon after a gospel where the final words are ‘weeping
and gnashing of teeth.’ It’s really one of the best phrases from scripture. So
descriptive! I encourage you to try to use it this week with friends and family, in
your conversation at Thanksgiving dinner.
But this is our ingathering day, and the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and we don’t
want any weeping or teeth gnashing here today! Today is a day for celebration,
and for giving thanks, and for coming together. And, by the way, for marveling at
what a countercultural thing it is we’re doing here in this place.
In just a few moments I’ll invite you forward to bring your pledges and gifts to St
Michael’s for the coming year. We’ll all come together, coming to put our gifts on
the altar, an echo of how we come forward for communion every week in this
service. Every week we come up here and receive and go out into the rest of our
lives, fed from this table; today we also give back, and celebrate that together,
lingering together over cupcakes and conversation after the service. And in the
curious state of the world we live in, this act is itself countercultural: coming
together to give back. In a time of extreme individualism, where our culture
celebrates ‘getting what’s mine’ and taking it, extracting from the earth and from
the labor of others and from the body politic and the common good, we’re
pausing to honor the source of all we have, and to give back. And to do so as
many becoming one, all of us different people, uniting in this action that goes so
very much against the tide.
We were having a small debate at our dinner table the other night about the
holiday of Thanksgiving. It was argued – not naming names – that the pressures of
our modern culture are likely to squeeze out Thanksgiving altogether in the near
future. Between the consumerist rush of ‘the holidays’ – a euphemism that
doesn’t actually include Thanksgiving, when Black Friday begins in early
November – and the revised understanding of American history – those pilgrims
and Indians maybe didn’t sit down all nice-nice for a meal after all – a holiday that
has no purpose beyond eating has got to be endangered. I argued, for the other
side, that Thanksgiving is the one time when America all agrees on the menu, and
for the menu alone, the holiday will continue. I mean, even if the dinner is entirely
variations on the tradition – tofurkey or mac & cheese or more sides than the
main entrée – the tradition is still there. There will always be cranberries, after all.
You all can discuss afterward who you think is right.
But beyond the menu, I hope Thanksgiving continues to exist because it is so
devoid of any real agenda. We try to give it purpose with lofty cooking ambitions,
but the only things to say about it really are, what are you eating, will we all get
along, and how will the travel be? Beyond that, it really is just sitting down at a
table and sharing a meal. Period. It’s countercultural to make this meal a holiday.
Or more accurately, it’s countercultural to the culture we live in today.
Thanksgiving is a remnant from the days when we really needed each other to
survive. That origin story to the feast, however flawed it may be, is a testament to
that: the settlers didn’t know how to live in this new land, and winter was coming
on, and they were starving – and the native people who did know how to live
here came and shared their bounty with them, making friendship and peace
instead of enmity. I wish that really were how it happened – but at least
somewhere in it is a grain of truth, it seems. Whoever really was at that first meal,
Thanksgiving is a feast that harkens back to a time when each of us taking and not
giving back could actually harm everyone. When you needed to come together
with people who were very different from you in order to survive. When if you
didn’t share and invite others to your table and make peace with your enemies
and give thanks to the Creator whose creation provides our sustenance, the world
would suffer for it. When grabbing and focusing only on ourselves and our kind
could only bring disaster.
Then again, maybe Thanksgiving still has a purpose after all.
And yet it is such a countercultural purpose, all the same. Isn’t it amazing that we
still have a national holiday that holds up a different way for us to live. A holiday
that’s kind of like what we’re doing here today.
In the epistle reading, Paul is reminding the Christians in Thessalonica that they
should be living in a different way. This is the very earliest of Paul’s writings, likely
the very first of all the texts in our New Testament to be written. Step aside from
the culture around you, he says. This culture is like people living at night, in
darkness, with all the ignorance and depravity and selfishness that that implies.
We’re children of the day – we should act like it. What we do is in the light, meant
to see and be seen, life with eyes wide open. We’re made to live fully and
abundantly. And we should encourage each other as we do this, and build each
other up, because we need one another to live. We can’t live a full life when
we’re divided and living only for ourselves. We need one another.
I think the weeping and gnashing of teeth in Jesus’ parable comes when we forget
this. When we take and hoard and live in fear of one another, we create a world
where there isn’t enough. The first two servants in Jesus’ parable are commended
not because they’re great investment bankers, but because they are able to risk
what they had in order to multiply it – and then to give back all the increase they
had been given. They held what they had lightly enough that it expanded, became
more, the good measure spilling over that Jesus talks about elsewhere.
Abundance. The one who fearfully hid what he had couldn’t see this. Even what
he tries so fiercely to hold onto is taken from him. As is anything we try to hold
onto too tightly.
This day today, ingathering, is all about bringing our abundance back to share
with one another. It’s the abundance of our material gifts and resources, yes, the
money that symbolizes all that we have to live on. But we also bring the
abundance of our selves, our individual, neurotic, self-focused selves – opening
up the paper that’s been folded too small and showing each other what is written
there, unfurling the flower from its tight little bud, offering ourselves to the
greater whole. Because we can’t live without doing that. We have to come
together around the table in all of our differences and uniqueness, because this
table is where we are all fed. We can’t exist without it.
Encourage one another and build one another up, Paul tells us. What we’re doing
here is essential – and it’s not the way the world is going these days. So we should
live it out, fully, in all of our lives. Make sure everyone here has a table to join this
Thanksgiving. Pray for one another. Bring and share your gift at this great potluck
altar. Find a time, whether it’s this week or another, to sit at table with someone
you disagree with. Share out of your abundance to those who have little, even
when you don’t think you have enough. Give thanks to God for everything. We
need it. We need this to live.
Happy ingathering – happy thanksgiving. May we come together as one to this
table, and to God’s great table set in creation, and give thanks.