1 Timothy 2:1-7; Psalm 126; Matthew 6:25-33
Gracious God, Creator of all, we thank you for this day. Open our hearts to the power of your love, that we may harvest sheaves of hope and light and peace.
Happy Thanksgiving! Welcome and thank you for gathering with us here at Washington National Cathedral this Thanksgiving Day. Whether you have joined us in person or through cyberspace, whether you come with a heavy heart or with joy, you come with the knowledge that today is a day set aside to give thanks to God. We worship as people have worshiped for centuries in gratitude for a rich harvest and to pray together for ourselves, our families, our country, and the world. Look around this sacred space and you’ll see a harvest–a plethora of breathtaking beauty in the fruit and floral arrangements adorning every nook, every altar, every doorway. At the west entrance to the nave you may have even noticed farm fencing in the arrangement. There are pumpkins and apples and pears, flowers, and palm branches, and hydrangea. All point to a bountiful harvest. Only a few of us have the actual experience of farming but we all plant and harvest every day.
Dorothy Day, social activist and servant of God wrote, “We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so [it’s] best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, [so] peace and abundance may manifest for all.” Individually and collectively we sow seeds. Individually and collectively we harvest the results of those plantings.
On this Thanksgiving Day 2009, may we join with Rabbi Michael Lerner who said in his Thanksgiving address, “There are just moments when it is important to stop looking at all the problems and just to focus on the good.” We do enough focusing on what’s wrong. Focusing on the good is the purpose of weekly Shabat in the Jewish tradition. This is the purpose of Holy Eucharist in the Christian tradition. Holy Eucharist means the Great Thanksgiving. A time to pause and enter into the realm of God where goodness and hope abound even in the midst of the challenges of this world.
The author of our psalm today supports this wisdom. The psalm begins in a mood of joy and then shifts to a mood of sorrow and yet even then faith in God is proclaimed, “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” Rich harvest. No matter what, we can know that we have the seed of the love of God, the seed of hope, the seed of the knowledge that in seeking God all can be turned to good, the seed of new life in Christ all planted deep within us and we too shall come home with shouts of joy carrying the harvest.
For what harvest do we give thanks this day? Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in life is ‘Thank you’ it will be enough.” We can give thanks that we have a government of democracy. We can then pray for all leaders and rulers in the world as we do in our prayers of the people each week. We all know, especially in this city, the complexities and moral ambiguities of public life. Yet precisely because of this, we can know, as the author of our first reading knew, that because of this our leaders need our prayers all the more – and I’m not talking about praying just for our own political party or praying that the members of the party opposing our beliefs would come around to our way of thinking. No. I’m saying give thanks for all of it. Give thanks that we have the freedom to explore in gut wrenching ways the ins and outs of important issues. Give thanks for people who are willing to govern and then pray for them. We can give thanks for the opportunity to change environmental habits. To turn and re-turn always to God’s righteousness.
We can give thanks for simple things in our relationships especially when things are strained. In marriages, we can give thanks for wedding vows that if prayed, can heal deep hurts. I know of one couple who were about to divorce. The wife was distraught and then one day she told me that she prayed over and over again, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Thank you God for giving me the strength to see you in him… thank you God for healing our marriage.” And with the help of counseling she said she consciously forced herself to begin to thank her husband for minute things in their lives and he her. Slowly but surely their marriage grew stronger and healthier and they are now rediscovering each other after twenty years in ways they never thought possible. We can give thanks for family members even when separated. Thousands of our women and men in the armed forces overseas get through each day by looking at pictures of their loved ones, giving thanks that they have the courage to serve their country. We can even give thanks when we are hurting. We can give thanks that we can weep. We can give thanks that we can rejoice.
Sometimes we just forget to look for the good. We get out of practice. It’s like anything. We have to practice it to become it. We must give thanks to become grateful. As a chaplain at an Episcopal school I taught a class called Sacred Studies to individual classes of students from pre-school through eighth grade. During Thanksgiving week one year as an opening exercise I had the students go around the room and say one thing for which they were grateful. They had some real difficulties at first but once they were prompted with a few examples: the air they breathed, the seats upon which they sat, the air conditioning on a hot day, a wonderful school, their families…they just took off. We papered the walls with expressions of their praises to God and they left the classroom in joy.
In all gratitude, we can embrace the message from Jesus in today’s gospel that there is no need to worry. We can know with absolute assurance that God cares for us deeply and walks with us through whatever is going on in our lives. In this section from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching his disciples and all who follow him, new horizons of spiritual insight and ultimate faith. You can just see him sitting on the mountainside, people gathered all around on the lush green grass. Jesus stretching out his arm and saying, “Look at the birds of the air. Consider the lilies of the field, how they live and grow without toil or stress. Do you think God cares for you any less?” The truth that Jesus is giving us is that we are cared for and do not walk alone. We do not have to endure suffering without help. We can live a resurrected life in Christ. We are accompanied not only by God but are surrounded by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven…and for this we give thanks.
To be clear, though, Jesus tells us not to worry but that doesn’t mean we abdicate responsibility. We can allow gratitude to lead us to persevere in difficult situations. Praying with assurance, in advance, “Thank you God for showing me the way.” And God will! We can allow gratitude to lead us into the knowledge that we are children of God. We can give thanks for the incarnation of God in the form of a tiny babe especially as we approach a new church year and the beginning of Advent this Sunday.
And so we can now pray to our gracious God: Thank you, in advance, dear God, for the knowledge that you can heal our fears, restore our confidence, humble our attitudes. Thank you for helping us to focus on you and know that all else will be added. Thank you for helping us move past our doubts and seeming limitations. Thank you that we can make that dreaded phone call, begin the hard process of forgiveness, be the first one to admit that we are wrong. Thank you that we can revel in the absolute magnificence of your Creation, the beauty of the seasons, the wonder of yet another new day. Thank you for the rich harvest of our lives. Amen.