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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 Sermon

In 1621 after a year of disease, hardship and diminished hopes, the harvest came in leading to three days of celebration and thanks. There were likely no turkeys, no potatoes, no cranberries, and no pies. But there was likely lobster - which when we think about it would be pretty cool as the official crustacean of Thanksgiving. There were twice as many Native Americans as pilgrims and they brought deer meat to share. No parades. No marching bands. No big balloons. No Santa Claus on a float. No football. No doorbuster sales about to begin. No Black Friday to distract them and empty their bank accounts. They were glad to be alive and to bring in the first harvest of their small struggling colony, a colony that had learned so much about surviving in this new and different land from the local tribes. So they feasted and celebrated together and had no idea that they were inaugurating a holiday. And I am thankful for the help that the Wampanoag tribe gave since one of my ancestors was numbered among the 50 or so colonists feasting that day.

 We have no idea if they continued to tell the story of that first harvest celebration, though two accounts of it have surfaced over the years and they became the basis in later years for the event we celebrate today. Our Thanksgiving evolved in the hands of a few enthusiasts  from what was originally a time of prayer and fasting to well, the fasting part has changed course, hasn’t it?

 We do not know if they continued to remember and tell the story, but within a generation they seemed to forgotten what lay at the heart of the story, their gratitude for the Wampanoag who helped them survive that first most difficult year and taught them how to farm and hunt in this wild new land.  Their thanks for the Wampanoag and Squanto who interpreted and served as liaison for them, who had been captured in his younger years by Europeans and sold into slavery until later freed by monks.  

 When generations gather around the table for a meal stories are often told, aren’t they? Children hear tales of their parents or aunts or uncles in their younger days  - about the mischief they enjoyed, how they spent their time, their play and their imperfection. Such stores humanize us all. And they help us remember where we have come from, our roots, our family. They renew our identity. I’m not sure what my own children have pondered as they have heard tell of the times I used to walk into parked cars or the many times I spilt my milk or the time I nearly broke my arm on my parent’s anniversary because I ignored their request not to try to learn to skateboard that particular afternoon. When the generations gather around the table, stories are told and thanks given, sometimes with a side-helping of laughter.

 Our reading for this Thanksgiving Eve is a story that the people of Israel told over and over again - for each generation to hear, to know and to claim as their heritage. A story of a people, a land and their God who both brought them to it and gave it to them. A story told over and over so that the people would not forget.

We read again:
When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." 18But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today

 Just because society has turned Thanksgiving into a morass of over-indulgence of food stirred with a large heaping of mega-discount sales and doorbusters does not mean that we need to give up telling the stories as a waste of time or stop giving thanks for the bounty before us, through the offering of table grace. When we take the time to give thanks we remind ourselves that all we have comes from God’s bounty and blessing and we connect ourselves to the long long story as part of God’s vast redeemed creation.

 Thanksgiving is really a story of two tables - that’s what we need to remember and share and pass on and on - one table being the one at which we find ourselves not only tomorrow on Thanksgiving, but every day. That is the gift of the Wampanoag, for they gave thanks for every meal, for every bit of food from hunt or harvest. The first table is the one that the Lord blesses and provides for our sustenance, for our nourishment and to build the bonds of family and relationships. And for that we say our table graces of Thanksgiving, rooting ourselves as a people of God and for God, the one through whom all blessings flow.

 The second table is the one that we will find ourselves at this evening and often: The Lord’s Table; The Table of Grace. We come as guests at the Lord’s invitation. We do not presume upon the Lord’s generosity, but feast with hearts full of thanks for the blessing of grace we receive through the Bread and Wine, the body and blood of our Lord and Savior. We come to be fed with the food that truly satisfies, that gives live eternal. We come as many people, rich and poor, of many generations and places of origin, forged as one people gathered around the table with the Lord as host of our heavenly banquet.  The Lord offers his own Table Grace:

This is my body given for you do this in remembrance of me. This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you and for all people for forgiveness of sins, do this in remembrance of me. And remembrance is not about an old  old story stuck in history, but the word captures this wonderful concept – anamnesis – in which the past is active in the present – in which we, too enter into the paschal mystery, part of the ongoing story of a good and gracious God saving us in and through Jesus Christ and claiming us to be God’s people.  

Anytime we find ourselves at a table, there will be stories to be remembered and told and thanksgiving to be offered – what stories will shape you and I tonight and tomorrow? And will our hearts receive these stories with gratitude or indifference? AMEN!

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