Thanksgiving Day 2009

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on November 26, 2009 (Thanksgiving Day)

I don’t like writing thank you notes. I think I was scarred as a young child by being plopped in front of a stack of blank note cards after birthday parties. In other words, I blame my mother. Which is easy to do since she’s not spending Thanksgiving with us this year. 

But it’s hard for me not to think about thank you notes on Thanksgiving. Giving thanks – that’s the whole point. And what better place to be than in church giving thanks to God and celebrating “The Great Thanksgiving.” That’s what we call the entire Eucharistic Prayer – the prayer that gets said over the bread and wine at communion. It’s no mistake that the word “Eucharist” means Thanksgiving. And thus, for Christians, each Sunday is Thanksgiving Day; we do this all the time. But today is different because it is a national day of thanksgiving. And as a nation we give thanks for a lot of things on this day: for obscene amounts of food, for football games, for extended family. But the reality is that unless our gratitude is first directed toward God; unless our thanksgivings are first heaped upon the God of all goodness the rest of it falls a bit flat.

And after all that’s why the Pilgrims gathered about 26 miles south of here on that first Thanksgiving Day. It was to give thanks to God. And so whatever legends have cropped up around that particular day, whatever half-truths and embellishments we’ve added over the years, the root of our Thanksgiving celebration gets right back to the essence of it all: giving thanks to God for the blessings of this life.  And it’s no mistake that as Christians, giving thanks is what we do when we gather to worship with one another.

In my experience, Thanksgiving Day services are always pretty quiet. People are traveling or preparing for the great feast that is to come. Some are serving meals to the less fortunate in our midst – which is its own form of Thanksgiving worship. Around here some folks go to the community Thanksgiving Eve service at Old Ship. And it was a nice communal gathering that took place last night. And this morning we’re left with a small remnant that has gathered to sing some traditional Thanksgiving hymns and share the Eucharist. 

I’m delighted you’re here. And if you’ve made the effort to come to church on Thanksgiving you are very much in the spirit of the day. You have paused to give thanks to God. You understand that Thanksgiving Day is more than just the gateway into another stressful holiday season. Thanksgiving is less a particular day than it is a posture of life, a way of living in relationship with God. And so here you are. Now, I realize that some of you may be here merely to escape your relatives or to pray for tolerance before they arrive. But it doesn’t matter; you’ve left space amid the stress to give thanks to God. That’s the important part. That’s why this day is of such importance to Christians.

I’m not sure what Jesus would think of our collective stress this time of year. But I do know that this reading from Matthew’s gospel is the ultimate stress management passage. Jesus asks those listening to his Sermon on the Mount, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to the span of your life?” Well, no. But that doesn’t seem to stop us. Most of us are pretty adept at worrying. We’ve had years of practice to hone our skills. We worry about money and our appearance and getting everything done. We worry about being accepted or liked. We worry about relationships and jobs. We are, generally speaking, outstanding worriers. And Jesus just looks at us and says, ‘stop worrying. It’s okay. You don’t have to do everything yourself. I’m here to help.’

And he gives us some great examples. Look at the birds. You don’t see them getting ulcers. You don’t see them working themselves to an early grave. They’re not so inwardly focused that they can’t open their eyes to see the glory that surrounds them. The birds simply exist. They don’t work themselves into a frenzy and yet God provides for their needs. They are taken care of. And the lilies of the field. They don’t work at a feverish pitch in order to grow into beautiful flowers. The lilies simply exist.

Yes, we are more complicated than birds or flowers. But we can certainly learn from them. We can learn acceptance and gratitude and thanksgiving. We can see that our priorities get out of whack from time to time. And staring at a flower or even stopping to smell one, isn’t a bad way to remember what’s important. And what’s important is this: to seek first the kingdom of God. To put our relationship with God at the center of everything. When we recognize that we are not the center of the universe, it takes all the pressure off of us. Because we can stop toiling and spinning and stressing ourselves out. We can simply give thanks to God for the gift of life and relationship.

In reality I really do like writing thank you notes. It’s not the writing of the thank you note that I struggle with. It’s the thinking about writing the thank you note that I find challenging. It’s the trying to find the time to write the thank you note that is tough. It’s the remembering to write the thank you note that is difficult. But I like writing them because saying thank you matters. Not because it’s good manners but because living a life of thanksgiving requires an attitude of gratitude. Which not only rhymes but also keeps life in its proper perspective.

God didn’t create you in order to be thanked. God didn’t send his only Son to redeem you in order to be thanked. And yet by worshipping God with the very core of our being we will be transformed by “such an awareness of God’s mercies that with truly thankful hearts we will show forth God’s praise not only with our lips, but in our lives.” 

I wish you all a most blessed day of Thanksgiving. May it be filled with joy and laughter, family and friends; and above all gratitude to God for all the blessings of this life.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2009


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