We are gathered here tonight, as one community of faith, to give thanks.
Throughout this month, I’ve been preaching about gratitude and giving thanks and one of the things that we have highlighted is that God wants us to give thanks for the differences among us. It is only by being grateful for someone you disagree with that you can ever move beyond those differences into community.
And our three churches probably don’t agree on everything. I think that’s a good thing. We all play a different role in this great big body of Christ. And we choose to view one another not as competitors, but as partners in the amazing mission and ministry of God in this world.
For that, I’m grateful.
We choose to gather around this time of year in particular because of our national celebration of Thanksgiving.
While the fuller history of this gathering is far more checkered and controversial, one thing is certain… there were at least three days of community and peace between the pilgrims at Plymouth and the Wampanoag Nation (Wahmp – uh nahg). The colonists had barely survived the first winter and it was only through the charity and hospitality of these Wampanoag people that this feast occurred. They made sure that they would not go hungry.
Our scriptures call us back to an earlier time of Thanksgiving, however.
Gary Roth draws the connection between the early pilgrims, dependent upon the mercy of the native peoples and the Israelites, who were utterly dependent upon the grace and mercy of God.
As our text from Deuteronomy reminds us – “My father was a wandering Aramean…” The Israelites were brutally oppressed in Egypt, and God heard their cries of distress. They were led out of the land of Egypt, sustained by daily bread from heaven, and eventually came to the land promised to them by the Lord. God made sure that they would not go hungry.
And these Israelites were called to give thanks and to remember that the land and everything it produced was a gift from God.
The first fruits of the land were set aside as an offering of thanks and the people were called to celebrate their blessings and to share them with all.
We, too, are utterly dependent upon God.
And we, too, have been blessed.
As Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John, those Israelites wandering in the desert relied upon manna, bread from heaven to sustain them daily.
We like to imagine that we are self-sufficient and don’t need anyone’s help, but that simply is not true.
Every breath of air that fills our lungs is a gift from God.
Every ray of sunshine and drop of rain that nurtures our crops is a gift from God.
Every grain of wheat is a gift from God.
And so is the bread of life… the love and mercy of God… the incarnation and death and resurrection of Jesus that provided the gift that none of us could even imagine… true life, eternal life, life with God.
Because of God, we will never go spiritually hungry. And so we must give thanks.
The question is, what does a thankful life look like?
What does it mean to live in gratitude, knowing that is only by God’s grace we are sustained?
In Deuteronomy, we discover that one way to live in gratitude is to pay the gift forward again and again.
The Israelites remembered that their father was a wandering Aramean… and then they looked out at the immigrants and refugees who were among them and shared the first fruits with those in need.
The book of Leviticus is full of instructions to leave the gleanings of the harvest and the edges of the field for those who were in need.
We live out our thanksgiving by making sure that others have enough.
Whether it is spiritual or physical bread… God invites us to share it with others as a mark of our gratitude.
Talk about the DMARC / CWS offering for the Karin people… A Christian community from Myanmar/Burma that has found a home and a refuge here in the greater Des Moines area.
We can give thanks today by sharing God’s love and mercy and physical sustenance with these immigrants and refugees in our community. We can make sure that they will never go hungry.
But we also are challenged to think about sustaining gifts that go beyond immediate needs and create life-sustaining conditions. So the CWS offering will go to help the communities in Myanmar that are most at risk so that they don’t have to flee their homeland in the first place.
Let us give thanks to the Lord for all of our blessings.
And let us never cease to pass them on to others.