2 Corinthians 9: 6 – 15; Luke 17: 11 – 19
Since thanksgiving is a joyful celebration, I thought I’d begin with some really bad thanksgiving jokes: If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims. If the pilgrims travelled on the Mayflower then what does a teacher travel on? Scholar ships. Why do the pants of pilgrims keep falling down? Because their belt buckles are on their hats! What kind of music did the Pilgrims like? Plymouth Rock. If the Pilgrims were alive today, what would they be most famous for? Their age!
The first Thanksgiving took place when 102 “Pilgrims”, who had first left England due to religious persecution arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The year was 1620 and the Protestant Reformation still had a lively impact on Christendom. Called “pilgrims” because they set out on a pilgrimage to find a safe place to live and worship, most of these people were Puritans and Calvinists who had separated from the Church of England because they objected to the papist overtones of the Church’s structure and liturgy. When they arrived in America, they built relationships with the Wampanoag people. The Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims how to subsist in the new land and they became allies with them to ward off attacks from other tribes. Life was not easy. The first year brought hunger and illness. In 1621, after the first successful harvest, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people sat down to a 3 day feast. For the Pilgrims it was a time of thanksgiving to God for their survival, for the harvest, and for the Wampanoag who had welcomed them and given them invaluable help and friendship.
Because of the subsequent history and the horrendous treatment of the First Nation People by North American immigrants, the first Thanksgiving story is often told as a story of oppression and shame. While the subjugation of the native people is certainly cause for shame and repentance,the first thanksgiving could be for us today, a symbol of hope. It reminds us that two very different groups of people discovered their common humanity. It shows us that people can live in harmony and help one another without fear. It reminds those who feel they deserve to be on the top of the food chain, or who hold prejudices against others, and those who self identify as white supremacists that we’re not as superior as we think we are; without the skills and help of the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims wouldn’t have survived. We are all inter-dependent. Everything relates to everything else.By the friendship they offered, the Wampanoag give us a model of what welcoming the stranger into our midst can look like. Diverse people living together in community can only happen when our hearts are filled with thanks because thanksgiving generates the fruit of humility and love. A lack of thanksgiving breeds a spirit of resentment and self-pity. Out of those traits, we’re open to discover our inter-dependency with all people and we are able to build caring, respectful relationships. But thankfulness is a trait that seems to be fading from the human heart as we claim what we see as our rights to power and privilege. We are like the 9 lepers whom Jesus healed. We go on our merry way to live the life which we believe is our due.
But today we pause to turn back and say “Thank you” to our gracious and generous God. Today’s sermon is going to take a slightly different format. I’ve asked some of our members to sharetheir stories and their expressions of Thanksgiving.
Let me lead the way by sharing two of my experiences. On my last birthday, Terry took my kids and I out for supper. He’d arranged to have a dessert brought to the table with a candle in it. After they sang I sat there thinking while the wax dripped down the candle on to the cake. I knew I was supposed to make a wish and that I was holding up the show, but I was completely blank. Over the years many of my wishes have been to be more loving, or to have strength to make changes or to wish good things for those I love. But I couldn’t think of one problem I wanted solved or one thing I needed. Finally, I said, “I can’t think of anything I want.” Everyone looked at the coating of wax on the cake with distress. Finally, my son said, “Then just say thank you.” For a moment that seemed odd – it’s not what you do with a birthday candle. But I did and I hope that will be my practice on however many birthdays I have left.
My second experience of thanks came after my son finally got employment. I had been praying, at least once a day, for a year that he would. When he did, I gave thanks. Then I said to Jesus, “I hope that my thanks to you will be equal to my nagging.” So often we do not turn back to give thanks as it is due.
Yvonne Demanya Finn
I’d like to close with another story. One day, for no particular reason, I was thinking about how blessed I am. A feeling of joy and gratitude welled up inside me and began to overflow. I had this very clear moment when I prayed: You know Lord, if it turns out there’s no heaven, that we die and that’s the end of it, that’s okay because this life is enough. Oddly, I didn’t think of this as“thanksgiving”; for me it was an experience of reveling in the abundant generosity of God’s love. It was about God’s gracious goodness in blessing me beyond belief. I guess that’s what thanksgiving is all about: receiving with awe the things God has done.
In our scripture today 10 people were healed. Only 1 returned to give thanks. That one was a stranger, an outsider to Israel. As the recipients of grace, may that 1 grateful stranger be our role model. May we always recognize what Jesus has done for us, turn back, praise God with a loud voice, fall at Jesus’ feet and thank him.
I’ll sum up today’s celebration with a word of thanks to those who shared their stories – Bill, Sharon, Yvonne & Rose.
As we gather up our gift of worship and offer it to God, let’s say with St. Paul, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”