First Congregational Church
November 19, 2017
24th Sunday after Pentecost, Thanksgiving Sunday
Deuteronomy 8:7-18 & 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I never thought about it before, but have you ever thought about how many Thanksgiving jokes there are? And the number of topics - from turkeys to pilgrims to food to really bad puns. And some jokes are so old, I’m guessing they may have been graffitied into the Mayflower - like if the pilgrims were alive today, what would they be most famous for? Their age.
I did have to inwardly chuckle at the cartoon of the turkey in front of a computer, saying, “I wonder what it means when the farmer unfriends me on Facebook.” The one that would be called Dinah’s joke is the one where I’m picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store, but can’t find the right size. Because I’m in a hurry, with a thousand other things in my mind, I asked an employee, “Do these turkeys get any bigger?” The employee answers, “No ma’am, they’re dead.” That’s when I know I need to take a step back and claim this joke as mine.
I think part of the attraction or endearment of holidays are the traditions - until they can no longer be traditions because someone breaks up, divorces, there’s a death, or there’s a move, and all those traditions become harder - perhaps more so in facing the necessity to change.
Between the good and ill of todays’ politics, there is great room for contemplation and thinking. While modern day Thanksgiving has become more associated with commerce, food and football, the dark side of our historic Thanksgiving has been receiving more attention - that dark side being the deaths and killings of people who had no say in the arrival of non-native peoples to this land - including the death and sickness of infants and children. But if that’s where our Thanksgiving stops - in either the acknowledgement or disagreement - then we are cheating ourselves - and God.
Our first scripture passage today comes from the Pentateuch - the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a book that consists of three sermons delivered to the Israelites by Moses on the plains of Moab, shortly before they enter the Promised Land. It is comprised of 34 chapters that 1) recounts the Israelites forty years of wilderness wanderings, 2) reminds the Israelites of the need for a single God belief system with the observance of the laws God gave them, and 3) offers the comfort that even should the chosen people prove unfaithful and so lose the land, with repentance all can be restored, a la, Ms. Wikipedia. Perhaps it might be thought of - in really broad terms - as the past, the present and the future of Israel.
Anyway, this morning’s passage is part of that first sermon, perhaps delivered from a vantage point near the Dead Sea that allowed the listeners to look out over the land, as Moses perhaps used his best sermon hand gestures.
The second passage for this morning comes from the hand of Paul, who, feeling his authority attacked a little by the people of Corinth, wrote to remind them of his love for them and their mission as followers of Christ.
Deuteronomy 8:7-18 (NIV)
7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (NIV)
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Thank you, Tom. The Bible tells us it was God’s direction that the Israelites were “given” the Holy Land, but I’ve wondered about the people that were living there before the Israelites got there. I wonder, if in reality, most of where we are and what we have, as a world population, has come at the hands of those who were conquered and dismissed.
I am well aware that this message, up to this point, has been a little on the dark side, even more political than with what I am comfortable, and perhaps some feathers ruffled. But it’s precisely in those places, the dark places, the uncomfortable places, the disenfranchised places, the vulnerable places, the ‘I’d rather not look’ places where we need to find a way through. It’s in those places that we need to know where and what the Good News is. Regardless of whether the crop was good this year or not, while some have prospered and are filled with great thanks, others are suffering loss and disappointment. Is there a place where we all - regardless of situations, politics, or even our faith, can come to that place of true Thanksgiving?
I think that “place” is suggested in our scripture passages. The Deuteronomy passage alludes three times - and remember that three is a most divine number in the lives of the Hebrew people - to remember - or not forget the Lord our God. And the 2 Corinthians passage begins with the admonition “Remember this.” How nicely these two passages come together joining efforts and energies!
If any one of us could trade places with someone who lives in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico or any other place where water, fire and/or wind destroyed their present mode of life, what or who would our greatest Thanksgiving be about? What or who, over the past year, would be included in that memory list of goodness and blessing?
It is always right and good to thank God for the blessings we have so that we can give more abundantly. But if you take a good look at the first two verses from the 2 Corinthians passage, there’s no word about money or possessions. That one place where we can all join together in our focus on thanks this week is not about money or possessions or positions - although it is good to be thankful for them - but about that which we can sow for the Master Gardener - or Farmer - as the case may be - and the Master Farmer’s own self.
I’m sure a great many you would include spouses, family, and of course, your humble and amazing, favorite pastor, but how about remembering God’s part in your past year? I couldn’t find the name of the author, but over there at calvin.edu, someone wrote, “A good Thanksgiving is impossible without a keen memory. Only when we stir up our memory of the events of the past year, and recognize the hand of the Lord in them, will we be prompted to declare our thanks.”
I don’t know if it’s “impossible” to have a good Thanksgiving without a keen memory, or if we must stir up memories of the events of the past year, but the broader idea is pretty good. As the scripture passages seemed to hint, and from this keen insight by an anonymous journal contributor, there is a deep connection between remembering and giving thanks.
We can give God repeated thanks for this, that and the other, toothbrushes, and brussel sprouts and technology. But it is our remembrance of situations and the results of those situations that cause our thanks to God to be deeper and perhaps even more meaningful. And it may not always be the case, but I’d like to think that when we get to those deeper places of giving thanks, we are even more so moved to give thanks for the Giver - thanking God for giving us God’s self, even a human version of God’s self.
There are as many things for which to give thanks as there are stars in the sky. But none of those things - or stars - are even possible without The One who created them; The One who incidentally loves you more than you are generally cognizant. So let us begin our Remember-giving week.
Gracious and Loving Lord, we come before you this day with the beginning of memories over the past year that were brought about mostly by your hand, whether we realized it or not. As this week progresses, help us to remember more of those moments where your leading and guiding and love and mercy were so much a part of the moment; helping us to remember especially in those moments when we were most apt to forget about you. In this week, when we are reminded of how blessed we are to be your people, help us to peal back the blinders of separation and even elitism, even if we can peal back those blinders just a little bit. Help us to see the plenty that is there for all of us - all your people - those who look like us as well as those who don’t. And thank you for you, dear God, for your love and light and life and all that you are to us, and for taking our seeds of effort and the abilities you have given us and growing them into life that is sometimes beyond our realization. For the gift of faith which sees beyond the present moment and looks to eternity, we thank you. For the gift of faith small as a mustard seed, which has power within its simplicity, we thank you. For the strength and encouragement that comes in remembering and thanking you, all your people say, Amen.
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Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.