Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve Service
St. Edwards Church
November 23, 2022
So, I’m the new guy at Bethesda. I’ve literally been on the job for one week. And as I was unpacking boxes and meeting staff and going over dates, they mentioned the annual interfaith Thanksgiving service. And I said, great! I look forward to meeting my new clergy colleagues and getting a better sense of the Palm Beach community. Then they mentioned that the service rotates to different congregations every year. And I said, great! I look forward to seeing all the different houses of worship on the island. Then they mentioned that the preacher rotates every year. And I said, great! I look forward to hearing different voices from the various congregations. Then they told me it was Bethesda’s turn and I was the designated preacher. And I said, wait, what?!
But it is great to be among you this evening as we gather to give thanks for God’s abundant blessings in this community, to pray together, and to revel in our unity as people of faith.
You know, I just moved down here from Massachusetts, only about 30 minutes north of Plymouth, the site of the very first Thanksgiving. And we all know the myths surrounding the pilgrims and the native people at that gathering. The talk of sharing resources and food, the pretty picture of brotherly love and the acceptance of other cultures. It’s become part of our national narrative, handed down from one generation to another. I certainly learned all about it in school as I traced my hand to make a drawing of a turkey. So we like to hold onto this myth in our collective imagination, even as the reality of the interactions between the English colonists and the native people is much harder to face. In fact, many have called for a Day of Mourning to mark the genocide of native peoples that came about as a result of the English settlers coming to these shores. Hard truths often involve an uncomfortable reckoning.
Now, I know it’s a lot easier to just talk about the three F’s of Thanksgiving: food, family, and football. That’s what we really want to focus on and celebrate this evening. But then we hear this passage that Rabbi Michael read from the prophet Isaiah, which gets to the heart of how we are to act as people of faith: “Here is the sort of fast I want” — and yes, it’s rather ironic to call for a fast as we prepare for a great feast — “Here is the sort of fast I want…letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke, sharing your food with the hungry, taking the homeless poor into your house, clothing the naked when you see them.” It is this call for Biblical justice that allows us to hear the cries of the native people, who deserve to be seen and recognized and lifted up. So there is challenge and a call to action in the midst of our Thanksgiving preparations.
But I also want to say how grateful I am for your presence this evening. This gathering isn’t 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 gathered community matters. Individually and collectively we are signs of God’s presence, signs that our common life transcends any differences, signs that despite our different beliefs — both political and religious — there is still a unity of purpose and a clarity of commitment to one another through both our common geography and common humanity. And amid these deeply divided times, when there is so much dehumanizing and demonization of others, we need to gather together now more than ever. To model what it means to be in relationship across difference. To celebrate our diversity. To build bridges between and among those who may not share our particular perspective.
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. 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 and Scripture, rather than watering down our faith or stooping to the lowest common theological denominator, our coming together hints at the very 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 and unwavering abandon. And so in this spirit, I bid you all a very happy and holy Thanksgiving.