Sermon Archive

You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

Thanksliving

Thanksliving
Joel 2:21-27
November 22, 2105
Jennifer Browne
UUMC

In these difficult times, we may be tempted to reduce our thanks-givings to thanks-distinguishings:

  • Thank you, God, that I do not live in Syria, as others do.
  • Thank you, God, that I do not live in a refugee camp, as others must.
  • Thank you, God, that I do not live under oppressive governments, as others are forced to.

True gratitude celebrates security and freedom - and much else - but it does not do so as a conclusion drawn from the suffering of others. True gratitude does not assume, or even imply, that God is more gracious to us than to others. It does not take one step on the path that leads to the conclusion that we have more because we deserve more.  It does not entertain the notion that only what is good or comfortable earns our thanks, while the painful and the difficult are worthless.

Genuine thanks-giving is an expression of gratitude for all of life – the good, the bad, the plenty, the want, the comfort, the affliction – because life comes from God.  And therefore even in times of affliction and want, even in the face of evil, to be a person of faith is to trust that God is present and working, plenteous in mercy and abounding in steadfast love…always.

For a reason I cannot name, I’ve been ending my sermons with poems lately.  So I thought I’d start my sermon with one today: a poem about gratitude for all of life.

What The Living Do, by Marie Howe.
 

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some

utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the

crusty dishes have piled up

 

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the

everyday we spoke of.

It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the

sunlight pours through

 

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high

in here and I can’t turn it off.

For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the

street, the bag breaking,

 

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday,

hurrying along those

wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee

down my wrist and sleeve,

 

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush:

This is it.

Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you

called that yearning.

 

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and

the winter to pass. We want

whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and

more and then more of it.

 

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of

myself in the window glass,

say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by

a cherishing so deep

 

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat

that I’m speechless:

 

I am living. I remember you.          

 

Rev. Peter Gomes wrote that he had a friend who kept an old Sunday worship bulletin from the 1930s.  It was printed for a Thanksgiving Day service, but with a typographical error.  The day was printed as being Thanksliving Day. “What a wonderful mistake!” Gomes said. “What a wonderful difference that mistake can make in an attitude, a life, a world!  Don’t make a different mistake - the mistake of believing that a current privation is the end of the world.”

Remember for a few seconds your worst moment: a sorrow, a loss, a sadness…. Now, remember that here you are, able to remember them. You got through the worst day of your life. You got through the trauma, you got through the trial, you endured the temptation, you survived the bad relationship, you’re making your way out of the dark and out of the miry clay.

And now, remember who got you through.  You got into the mess on your own, but remember that it was the Lord who got you out of it, got you through it, and was with you in the middle of it.

We know that God’s tender mercies do not happen always at once: sometimes there are long parched periods where we are dry, without guidance, and without inner or outer strength, and we have to function like the camel, living on what we have stored up.

And you can bet that there are more troubles still to come.  You may be in trouble right now.  But if you remember that God got you through them before, you will know that God will get you through them again.  How it is that we are all here together in this present moment, we don’t know.  How God pulled us through we will never know. But we can remember to thank God for the whole process.

We often count our blessings on Thanksgiving.  This year, can we include more than just the good things – the things we tend to take for granted when it’s not Thanksgiving?  What if, seated around our tables filled with turkey and the trimmings, we stopped, just briefly, to remember where we have been, and then stopped a few moments longer to reflect on where we are now?

We are not sure where the prophet Joel was, or when he lived, or even who he was.  Anywhere from the 8th C BC to the 4th C, the scholars say. Joel’s prophetic writings give us no hints.  He speaks of a destructive invasion of locusts, but never lets us know if he’s talking about an actual locust infestation or using it as a metaphor for the invasion of one of Israel’s enemies. We don’t know if they are invading army-like locusts, or locust-like invading armies. Either way, they leave utter destruction in their wake:

Fire devours in front of them, and behind them a flame burns.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
But after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. (2:3)

In true prophetic style, Joel reads into these events the judgment of God. He urges the people to remember God, to repent and pray. "Return to the Lord, your God, for who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him?" The people respond.  They remember who God is, they repent and pray. Then how does God respond? Listen to what Joel says:

"Do not fear, o soil; be glad and rejoice." His message of deliverance is directed first of all to the soil. Then it passes to the animals: "Do not fear you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield." And thirdly, it is directed to the people: Ό, people of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord, your God, for he has poured down for you abundant rain….  The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil."

God’s salvation is so complete and thorough-going that it includes even the soil. God’s gift of wholeness, peace and well-being applies even to the animals. God’s abundance means there is no fear of scarcity, no threat of violence, no anxiety for the future. God's ardent, compassionate, steadfast love enfolds land, animals and people in a single embrace.

We live thankfully, we are thanksliving, when we are able to trust God with our future.  Not that we are fatalistic or passive, not that we believe our own actions are unimportant or ineffective, but we believe that in the ultimate sense, God has the last word.  And that word is one of love – steadfast, unending, unbreakable love. And love is based on trust.

You can tell in a relationship that the lights are going out when one of the parties is constantly saying to the other, “Do you love me? Prove it.” But love is based on trust, not proof. Interestingly, it is infidelity that is based on proof.

More than any human being, God is the one who can be trusted: in good season and bad, when we win and when we lose, whether we live or whether we die, God is trustworthy and true.

Today is not only the Sunday before Thanksgiving, it is also the last Sunday of the season of Pentecost.  Next Sunday will be the first season of Advent, leading up to the day and season of Christmas.  In many churches, this day – the last Sunday before Advent - is recognized as Christ the King Sunday. 

And often, on Christ the King Sunday, we read and hear and sing about the day when all the world will worship, follow and obey Jesus:

Jesus shall reign where-e’er the sun does it successive journeys run; his kingdom spread from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him, king of glory now….

In these times when human kingdoms are so vulnerable and fragile, the picture of a world-wide nation run by Jesus Christ is more than appealing. The idea of world where we live in peace and plenty – no terrorism, no global warming, no racism, no oil spills, no human trafficking, no suffering children – seems both utterly desirable and utterly impossible.

But Christ’s kingdom is not a place. It’s not a location conquered or a population subdued.  It’s a relationship.  Jesus’ kingdom, says Prof. Karoline Lewis, is a state of being, a way to live, a commitment to a particular way of viewing the world.

Jesus’ kingdom is only about place if place indicates the profound and intimate “place” of relationship with God. Jesus’ kingdom is not about amassing additional amounts of control. Jesus’ kingdom is not about his ultimate rule over and above others. Jesus’ kingdom is about relationship.

“So you are a king?” Pilate asks Jesus when he is on trial before him. “My kingdom is not from this world” Jesus says, because it is from God. Jesus’ kingdom is from God, just as Jesus is from God. Jesus radically recalculates the concept of kingdom, from geographical boundaries and structures of power that strain and sever relationships, to a way of being that puts relationship at its core.

 That’s a whole different perspective on kingdom.

  • When kingdom is construed from the truth of relationship and not rule,
  • from the truth of incarnation and not location,
  • from the truth of love and not law,
  • when our days and nights are spent in trust and gratitude,

when our living is thanksliving, then we will be citizens of Christ’s kingdom.

“What the Living Do,” Marie Howe’s poem that I read at the beginning of this sermon is addressed to Johnny, the poet’s brother. It was written a few years after his death from AIDS in 1989. It begins by describing what could easily be called a bad day:

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some

utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the

crusty dishes have piled up

 

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the

everyday we spoke of.

It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the

sunlight pours through

 

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high

in here and I can’t turn it off.

For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the

street, the bag breaking,

 

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday,

hurrying along those

wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee

down my wrist and sleeve….

 

It’s winter now, and soon we start yearning for spring, if we haven’t gotten there already.  But come July, we will want fall.

We want the spring to come and the winter to pass.

We want

Whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss – we want more

And more and then more of it.

 

But this is living. This is what the living do.  We buy a hairbrush, we park and slam the car door. We miss the importance and beauty of these small moments, yearning for something else.

But at the end of the poem, the poet recognizes with intense gratitude how remarkable those small, unnoticed moments are. How extraordinary and lovely it is simply to be able to walk down the street.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of

Myself in the window glass,

Say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by

A cherishing so deep

For my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat

That I’m speechless….

 

I am living. I remember you.

 

My prayer for you, brothers and sisters, is that sometime during this Thanksgiving holiday, amidst the annual strains and traditional annoyances that holidays bring, you catch a glimpse of the extraordinary gift that is ordinary living. And that it brings forth from you a cherishing so deep that it leaves you speechless.  

 

 

 

 

References

Ana Langerak. "Study of the Word: Joel 2 - New Creation," Mission Studies, 10 no 1 - 2 1993, p 78-82.

Barbara Baumgarten. “Gratitude is the secret.” Thanksgiving Day (B) – November 24, 2012. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2012/11/07/thanksgiving-day-b-november-24-2012/

Steve Kelsey. Thanksgiving Day (B) – November 26, 2009. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2009/11/26/thanksgiving-day-november-26-2009/

Karoline Lewis. “Kings of Relationship.” November 15, 2015. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3728