Interfaith Thanksgiving, 2014 (preached 11/23/14) A worship service for the community, sponsored by four Christian congregations and a Jewish synagogue, hosted this year by the congregation which I serve.
reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
I have an eight year old son, as well as two older daughters. One of the joys of parenting is watching their knowledge of the world expand.
This week, my son asked me a question that illustrated this point. He asked me, “Mommy, are we Greece?” After thinking for a second I realized he was asking if we were GREEK. I explained that people from Greece were Greek, and then had to tell him, no, we weren’t.
That turned into a conversation about what we WERE – for us that’s mostly German, Swedish, English, Lithuanian, and even a little Native American.
That’s one of the beautiful things about this country in which we live – that unless we’re 100% Native American, we all have our roots somewhere else. Perhaps some of us here can trace our American roots back generations, others might be the first generation born here, or you might even be new to this country yourself.
That being said, we should ALL be able to relate to our reading tonight from Deuteronomy. We all have a “wandering Aramean” as our ancestor, or ARE that wandering Aramean – coming here as a stranger. We each have our stories of how we find ourselves, here, in this United States of America.
And my guess is that we’ve all come to this place tonight as a way to give thanks for being here. To show our gratitude for our country and our community. But my guess is also that we come here to give our thanks and show our gratitude to God.
I HOPE we’re here because we feel blessed to live in our country – flawed, my goodness yes, yet always striving to be that more perfect union, as our Constitution declares.
There are so many places in the world governed by tyrants, where fear and violence are the means of control. Places where bombed out buildings and rubble take the place of parks and schools. Places where people fear going to temple or church.
As much as we may complain about our government, at least we have the RIGHT to do so without fear of imprisonment or worse. Our rights and freedoms are precious, made even more so when we remember all those who gave their lives to establish and preserve our liberty, and also when we remember that there are many people in the world who suffer from real religious and political oppression.
So it’s good, and appropriate, for us to take the time, in the middle of our busy lives, to be thankful for this community, this country, in which we live.
But there is more to do than merely saying thanks. What are we to DO with our thankfulness?
God gives us direction for how to celebrate the perfect Thanksgiving in our reading. The Israelites that God is bringing into the promised land are told, once they settle, to bring their first fruits to their place of worship and present them.
What are our first fruits? Tonight we’ll take a monetary offering and also a food offering, all of which will go towards members of our community who are struggling. But what would it mean to give our first fruits, not only now, but throughout the year?
Lord knows the food pantries are busy ALL year round. Real neediness doesn’t just happen in November and December.
If you are thankful this week, and remembering the things for which you are thankful, then God teaches us the best way to DEMONSTRATE our thankfulness is through giving – giving to God and to others.
That may mean a monetary donation to an organization or person, it may be a food offering to a food pantry or a neighbor, but it can also mean giving our TIME, to volunteer for a group, or even driving someone to a doctor’s appointment – practicing acts of kindness.
In popular culture this is called “paying it forward,” but in theological circles we know it as “loving your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).
The other thing our reading tells us to do with our thankfulness besides giving, is to just plain CELEBRATE.
In the last verse of our passage for tonight we read, “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.”
Gathering together as a community and celebrating what the Lord has given us. Exactly what we are doing now. Remembering, even in the midst of our fears and worries, that there are many many things for which we are thankful.
What are you thankful for right now? I’m sure you can think of something – even if it’s only that this day is almost over.
I want us each to take a moment to reflect on those things for which we’re thankful. Let’s stop for just a little bit in the midst of our busy lives to remember and acknowledge these things, so that we can fully celebrate. You know, it’s hard to be thankful, both for our country and for the blessings in our individual lives, if we don’t stop and take the time to reflect. So a day like Thanksgiving is good for us, because it gives us that time.
Take the time to reflect on everything you’re thankful for and remember too, to put your thankfulness into action for others.
Then we’ll truly be celebrating those who were brave enough to make the journey to these shores, those who fought to make us free, and those who fight even still to preserve that freedom.
Then we’ll truly be celebrating all the things, great and small, that give us cause for thanks in our personal lives.
And let us not forget where we should direct our thanks for it all – the Lord our God, who has given us ALL things.