Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.
If I were to distill an image of a classic Thanksgiving Day, it would look like a large family smiling across the table, over a perfect turkey and steaming sides. It would be followed by people lounging around, more or less engaged in a football game, utterly content. It’s an image of complete satisfaction.
Now, I don’t know if my stereotypical image of Thanksgiving is anything like the day you or I will experience. So, instead of getting too caught up in whether or not you left the oven at the right temperature or how Uncle Joe is going to behave this year, I’d like you to move away from Thanksgiving to imagine for yourselves when you’ve been the most satisfied in your life. When you’ve felt like everything was actually going right. Or if you haven’t been there, how you imagine you’ll feel when you finally have everything you’ve ever wanted.
It’s to this moment of achievement that Deuteronomy speaks. It describes a future moment:
12When 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,
To that moment, it declares God’s command:
14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God,
It reminds them of God’s faithfulness and power:
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. God 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.
It repeats God’s command just in case we missed it earlier:
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 God who gives you power to get wealth, so that God may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as God is doing today.
The text describes itself as speaking to those who are being led out of slavery in Egypt, through the years of wandering in the wilderness, into the promised land. There they will enjoy a life of abundance. But will they remember God when they are safe and content?
Recognizing all you need for life comes directly from God seems a little easier when bread is falling from the sky and water suddenly gushes out from a rock, rather than when you’re butchering a sheep you’ve raised and tended. Relying on God when it’s impossible to find food and shelter is one thing, and relying on God when your fridge is stocked and your home is beautiful is another.
The claim of Deuteronomy is that no matter how much work you think you’ve put into it making it, all you have is from God alone.
This can be troubling on many levels. First, people who have stuff often are able to describe how it is that they have come to receive and deserve it. They can point to good planning and hard work as the cause of their present happiness.
Secondly, if it is God who gives, how could there be people who do not have what they need?
In confirmation the other week, we were talking about the explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed. We were trying to make sense of these words, which I read between the verses of our hymn for the litany this morning. The problem with this statement of faith is that we say we believe something that isn’t always true.
How can we say we believe that “God daily and abundantly provides” when we know that not everyone is experiencing this provision. Not everyone has what they need. Even while many people have access to more than they want, still too many do not have enough. Does God ignore or punish? Is God not powerful enough to provide for all people? Why is there a disparity between rich and poor?
This disparity is sin. For some to have, and have abundantly, while others do not is contrary to the will of God. The reality which finds people without adequate food, shelter, clothing, work, and life-giving relationships does not match God’s intended vision for creation. Because it does not match, it’s right to call it sinful.
We name the sin, and do what we can to work alongside God to heal it.
When we remember that all we have is from God, and that God’s vision is for all to have enough, then we can hold what we have loosely enough that God’s provision slides through our hands to those in need.
All you have comes from God. What you have been given is more than the place you live, the food you eat, the clothes on your back, and even the people around you. You have life. You have life today and forever, from the one source of life, our God.
We taste this gift of life as we celebrate Holy Communion. This experience helps us to know that God is the giver of all we have, God gives to all people, and that God’s gifts will sustain us eternally. We are transformed by our encounter with God at this table, transformed into a thanksgiving people.
Another name for Holy Communion is the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. We gather around the table with thankful hearts. God provides life-giving and forgiveness creating food as we gather around Jesus’ table. Jesus gives us himself so that we would be filled.
Our feast leaves us filled with God’s love, but also still hungry for more. We leave not quite satisfied. We long for a fuller meal, and look forward to the day we shall receive it.
You may or may not experience satisfaction in your perfect or not so perfect Thanksgiving. Compared to the typical volume of the Thanksgiving feast, our Eucharistic feast seems meager. But it is this holy feast that transforms us. At this table, you are welcomed. You who have much and you who struggle to make ends meet are drawn together by the God who gifts you with life. In this bread and wine is the promise that God is victorious over sin, and one day, you will be fully satisfied as you feast in God’s eternal banquet. Until that day, may this taste give those who have resources the gratitude to let those resources be shared, and those who have less the hope that God has not forgotten them. Let us respond to God’s gifts with thanksgiving.
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