Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve Service
Old Ship Church in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on November 27, 2014
I feel like Rapunzel up here. Actually, I’m not a big fan of heights so this is making me a bit nervous. Does Old Ship have workers comp in case I fall out out of the pulpit? It’s all in good fun until the preacher breaks his neck.
What a joy to be with you all this evening, to sing these wonderful Thanksgiving hymns, to hear God’s word through the lens of a variety of traditions, to raise our prayers as a community, to give thanks together for the many blessings of this life, in a place that is the historical and communal heart of Hingham, Massachusetts.
But it’s important to remember that this isn’t just a quaint tradition we have here. We don’t come together every year to pretend we’re pilgrims or to start a rumor that the first Thanksgiving actually took place at the Hingham Bathing Beach. It’s not just an excuse to escape our extended families for an hour or so — you know, those in-laws who have been in town since yesterday afternoon. No, the community gathered matters. Individually and collectively we are signs of God’s presence, signs that our common life transcends any differences, signs that despite all the changes this town has undergone over the past 380 years, there is still a unity of purpose and a clarity of commitment to one another through both our common geography and common humanity.
So we gather and we give thanks. And we give thanks not in the abstract or to Aunt Helen for not overcooking the yams this year or to the Detroit Lions for keeping this year’s game competitive or to Grandpa for refraining from his distasteful political commentary at the dinner table. These are all good things but ultimately and specifically we give thanks to God. In whatever expression or form this takes, we gather and give thanks to the God of our particular traditions. And when we participate in this service through prayer and song, rather than watering down our faith or stooping to the lowest common theological denominator, our coming together hints at the fullness of God. The fullness that speaks to the God who is beyond human expression and knowing; the God who is both transcendent and at hand; the God upon whom no single faith tradition has a monopoly; the God who knows us intimately and still loves us with reckless abandon. “Now thank we all our God” indeed.
And yet amid this warm feeling of unity and gratitude, we can’t forget that as we sit in this cocoon of our beloved South Shore town, surrounded by history and family and neighbors, Thanksgiving looks a lot different in Ferguson, Missouri, and in many communities both far and near. And until fear is completely driven out our work is not complete. Because, whatever our politics, when some of our brothers and sisters are feeling marginalized or broken or less than human, we are not whole. And so we pray for peace. We work for justice. And we open our hearts and minds and souls to the hope of a world where the barriers that divide us crumble, the suspicions that cause distrust cease, and the divisions of hatred are healed.
Perspective is so important. And it’s one of the great blessings of having a day specifically set aside to take stock of our surroundings and give thanks for the interconnectedness of our lives. And yet, we spend so much time worrying about things beyond our control and so little time giving thanks for the blessings of life that surround us.
Maybe it’s human nature but as Jesus asks rhetorically in this passage from Matthew’s gospel, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Well, of course not. But, boy, most of us are world class worriers. 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. And we worry because we’re afraid — the source of worry is fear.
And God just looks at us amid all our spinning and toiling and says, ‘Stop. Stop worrying. It’s okay. You don’t have to do everything yourself. I’m here to help.’ To illustrate this point, Jesus 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 consider 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 some perspective 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 — which is tough in a community with so many options and so many resources and so many obligations.
But when we recognize that we are not actually the center of the universe, when we remember that all of creation doesn’t depend on what we do or fail to do, it takes all the pressure off. 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.
My prayer is that this Thanksgiving you will receive that gift of perspective. To remember what matters; to pray for the healing of a broken world; to stop and enjoy the blessings of family and friends and faith. “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.” Yes. Yes we do. And as we do, our eyes are opened and we see the manna raining down in the form of God’s blessing. All around us.
So thank you for your presence this evening. It matters. You matter. This community matters. Our interconnectedness with the wider world matters. And may you all have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck