The Rev. Preston B. Hannibal
Let us pray:
Teach us Lord that in order to change the world we must first change ourselves.
Teach us Lord to see more than outward things and to trust your voice within.
Teach us Lord the meaning of Faith.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
In the midst of all of the joy and thankfulness of this season there is also the reality that something is not quite right. For many people in this country this year’s Thanksgiving does not feel the same as past years.
There is a growing anxiety that is creeping into our national psyche. It seems to be taking hold and spawned a sense of entitlement, and a meanness that is the antithesis of what this season of acceptance and mutual respect is meant to exemplify.
A growing fear and uncertainty of the “other” have given license to public pronouncements—half-truths—untruths and vitriol, as well as an unrestrained viciousness that in no way can be justified.
The words of our Lord, taken from today’s gospel, “do not worry about your life…but strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness”( Matthew 6:25-33)
seem to have been placed on the back burner as we seek the safety and security of a time that never was.
So this then is not so much a Thanksgiving homily as it is a series of brief reflections and prayers; a contemplation of what thanksgiving is for us, but also for those in our midst who, for one reason or another, find little for which to be grateful.
The late Rev. Prof. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in Harvard University’s Memorial Church once wrote: that in spite of all of our doubt and uncertainty, God is to be trusted—
“God is to be trusted in good season and in bad, when we win or when we lose, whether we live or whether we die. God is to be trusted—for God is trustworthy and true; and the evidence of our own being is sufficient evidence of that.” (Peter J, Gomes, You Can Do This! “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” PG. 58, Harvard University VOL. VII 2000-2001)
So for us, who are here today, let us remember first and foremost that God is trustworthy and true, in our good times and in our bad times.
I would like to briefly share some thoughts about a family, a person and a group, that represents a growing number of the disenfranchised not only in this country but across the globe.
After this service most of us will go home, or to some agreeable destination to join in the annual events surrounding this most American of holidays.
Every year the news and travel media tell us that more people gather as a family unit on this one day than at any other time of the year.
Under normal circumstances the family I am thinking of would be gathering together to perform this uniquely American ritual.
Today should be a day of family and friends getting together to eat, play, watch football and at the appropriate time, thank God for the blessings of the past year, as well as the hopes of the year to come, before moving on to another round of eating, playing and watching.
But this year all that will have changed.
For the family I have in mind—
For them the holidays will never be the same again. A few days ago, the young mother of this particular family passed away.
For this grieving family, there is nothing to be thankful for.
For them, there is only sorrow, profound grief, and a very large question…Why?
Their world has been destroyed, their family torn apart, and there was nothing that they could do about it.
The sense of hopelessness seems unimaginable.
Their loss—inconceivable at any time—is, at this time of the year, particularly unfathomable.
In the midst of their sorrow, anger and pain, let us pray that God will find a way to them, not simply to lessen a hurt that will never really heal, but rather to comfort them, by weeping with them, and holding them close; eventually restoring their hope in a future that seems hopeless.
Let us pray:
O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered: make us, we pray, deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life; and let your holy spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days; that, when we shall have served you in our generation, we may be gathered to our ancestors, having the testimony of a good conscience, in the communion of your church universal, in the confidence of a certain faith, in the comfort of a religious and holy hope, in favor with you, our God, and in perfect charity with the world. All this we ask through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen.
Recently I had a visit from a person touring the cathedral. He told me that his marriage had ended and a sense of hopelessness had overtaken him.
His biggest concern in the final divorce settlement was that of custodial and visitation rights.
He told me the hardest thing for him to reconcile about his divorce was that he was not there nightly to tuck in and say goodnight to his five year old daughter.
He told me that since his divorce the holidays were the loneliest times of his life. In his attempts to lead the good life, he had lost the only life that now mattered to him.
He confided that he was not sure that he could bear another holiday alone. Thanksgiving for this father was a reminder of all he once had, and all he had thrown away.
He could find nothing to be thankful for. He was alone and lonely.
His power, wealth and influence had become his God at the expense of his family and friends.
He had given up everything for nothing.
He had lost his centeredness and was floundering in his aloneness and self-pity.
He was calling out for help to a world that does not care to listen. So he stopped by the cathedral to call on God.
Let us pray for all those who will find themselves alone for not only this holiday, but for all the holidays that have been and will follow. May God be with them, and with us all, as we seek to discover what makes us truly whole.
Let us pray:
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the Godly: grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us do, that the spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen.
And finally, have you ever thought what it must be like to be a native American on a day like thanksgiving?
Have you ever really considered what the season must conjure up?
The worst nightmares of a proud people—continually ridiculed, discriminated against, and made to feel less than human—was in fact their reality.
Have you ever thought about what it must be like to be continually classified by race, or gender or ethnicity, and not simply by your humanity?
To be described by color, and not by personhood.
We cannot help see, and be affected at the strife and struggle all over the world; Paris, Brussels, Chicago, Minneapolis, the mid-east; and who knows where the next hot spot will be. A world on edge looks for scapegoats to blame for our self-inspired prejudices.
Last year it was the young immigrants coming from central and South America to cross our borders. In the last few weeks it has been the refugee movement from north Africa, Syria and the middle east.
During the season of thankfulness there is very little for the native American, the refugee, the homeless veteran and many other marginalized people in our country to be thankful for. If you read the newspapers, watch the evening news or listen to the radio you will hear the stories of a life situation that most of us should thank God does not affect our comings and goings.
Yet the reality is—that the liberty and freedoms that set our nation in motion is often still being denied to those in our land who are viewed as being different—as if being different from the norm is somehow an excuse for ridicule—mockery or worse.
In the New Testament Epistle—The Letter of James we find these words.
“The one who looks into the perfect law—the law of liberty, and perseveres—being no hearer that forgets, but a doer that acts, that person shall be blessed in their doing.” (James 1:25)
Let us pray that the words of the Letter of James will direct and guide our way in the service of those who seek there just do.
Let us pray:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your son: look with compassion on the whole family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen.
A family, a person and an ever growing number of groups may seem random, and not at all related to each other, or to any one of us, but please remember that they represent the other thanksgiving. The holiday that most of us will never experience or be a part of. They also represent people you may know, or at least pass by daily.
In your prayers during this holiday season remember them. Remember them in your thoughts as you enjoy all the blessings of family and friends.
It really is the least that we can do.
Let us pray:
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected people whom it would be easy for us to forget: the lonely and those who are alone; the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to be with those who are bereaved or broken in body, mind, or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this o God, for your mercy’s sake. Amen
I end where I began with another quote from the writings of Rev. Professor Peter J. Gomes.
“God is. We are.
In spite of our fumbles and because of God’s grace we are not daunted by the troubles of this age, nor are we fearful of what is to come.
We do not bless God for our wealth, our health or for our feeble wisdom. We bless God that God is, that we are, and that God’s promise and love shall be with us when time itself shall be no more.”
(Peter J, Gomes, Sermons, Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living PG 234, “Redeeming The Familiar,” WM. Morrow And CO. 1998)
In the name of the living God: