“Is it Thanks Giving or Giving Thanks?”
October 8, 2017 – Thanksgiving Sunday – Year A
Growing up in Calgary, it was my family’s tradition to spend the thanksgiving weekend raking leaves. Saturday was a full day of raking and bagging the leaves. On Sunday morning, I would walk by myself to church while my Mom and Dad and sister were attending a competitive swim meet. Once the swim meet was over, it was homeward bound and Linda and I and our Dad would get to work finishing off raking the leaves. Mom was inside preparing a chicken or small turkey for our family meal. Monday was more raking.
We didn’t have much by way of family tradition concerning this day of giving thanks. We had a family meal, complete with pumpkin pie to finish the meal. Ours was not a family who went around the table and asked what you were thankful for this year. We didn’t think about giving a food hamper to those less fortunate then ourselves. We didn’t give an extra thank offering to the church, likely because, I was the only one of our family who regularly went to church.
Once I moved to St. Catharines Ontario and worked for the YMCA I spent many thanksgiving weekends working. So, there was no turkey and pumpkin pie in those days. It wasn’t until I went to seminary that we as students pooled our resources and invited those who were at loose ends on Thanksgiving Sunday to gather for a potluck supper, usually at my home.
It was when I was Ordained and began serving in churches that I became aware that there are many folk, like myself who are single or in partnership and crave to be together with others so they might give thanks for God’s abundance. And so, I started the tradition of inviting folk to my table for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter Sundays. Anyone who is on their own, either as a single, double or in-between is invited. I am richly blessed that I can share good food, interesting conversation, and lovely friendship.
What are your memories of Thanksgiving weekend from earlier days? Did you have traditions that you still follow? What new traditions have you incorporated into your way of honouring this special weekend? This church has the tradition of decorating the chancel with harvest fruits, vegetables and grasses. This weekend it is extra special as the 2 bouquets on the communion table are there from yesterdays wedding of Cory Nelmes and Joseph Burt.
Another tradition of churches like ours is reading the story from Deuteronomy of the abundance that God provided to the Israelite people as well as listening to the amazing account of the healing of a group of lepers while Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Without these two beloved accounts, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same.
Both lections remind us of the gratefulness we feel as we respond to God’s abundance. It is natural to turn and say thanks when one feels blessed. However, that leaves us pondering why the other people who were cured of leprosy didn’t stop and express gratitude? Admittedly, they were a group of outsiders, a group from Samaria. They were despised. The Samaritans were culturally inferior, theological and liturgical heretics.
The story of the 10 lepers is a puzzling one. One minute they were shouting “have mercy on us” and the next they were making tracks out of sight. All except one, that is. One realized he was healed and turned toward Jesus, falling at Jesus’ feet. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! He gratefully praised Jesus.
Jesus was rather astounded that only one person expressed his appreciation. “Where are the others, questioned Jesus?” Then Jesus said an interesting thing, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
It would seem that gratitude has something to do with faith. We know that although he was an outsider, he never-the-less was filled with thankfulness. For Jesus to say, “your faith has made you well” implies that faith and gratitude are closely related. Faith without gratitude is no faith at all. There is something lifegiving about gratitude. We see that wellness, wholeness, and salvation are used in the Bible almost interchangeably. So, it might have been that Jesus said, “your faith has made you whole”, or “your faith has saved you”.
John Buchanan, an American theologian, suggests “being grateful and saying thank you are absolutely at the heart of God’s hope for the human race and God’s intent for each of us.” Medical research points to evidence that grateful people take better care of themselves, and that gratitude is a stress reducer. New studies point to grateful people being more hopeful and have an improved immune system.
This wonderful story of 10 of God’s precious people points us to a world of thankfulness. One person was so grateful that he turned to Jesus and cried out Thank You. The remaining 9 were also healed, but we have no record of them giving thanks. Perhaps they still saw themselves as lepers, rather than whole, giving, grateful people.
What does this say to us, some 2000 years later. I see many folk holding back their “thank you’s” as if there was a ration. Rather than being generous and grateful, we respond briskly and coldly. If we were to slow down, look around and see who can be thanked, our community will be a much happier one. Many years ago, I was part of an organization that started a campaign entitled “kindness grows.” We wore green lapel pins with the phrase “kindness grows” on it. The objective was to live out ways of being kind. It was amazing how many ways that kindness was expressed.
So, why don’t we each commit ourselves to be a little more thankful. Let us act in ways that express gratitude. May we mirror God’s wondrous grace. Let us give, over and over again, generously.
Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of all time, was fond of saying that the basic human response to God is gratitude – not fear and trembling, not guilt and dread, but thanksgiving. “What else can we say to what God gives us but to stammer praise?”
Writer Anne Lamott says her 2 favorite prayers are, in the morning, “Help me. Help me. Help me. And at bedtime, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
On this Thanksgiving weekend, may we give thanks for God’s great abundance. May are giving be generous, our loving be extravagant, and our thanks be genuine. Amen.