Remember and Be Thankful, Thanksgiving Day (B) – 2003
November 27, 2003
Remember the long way the Lord has led you in the wilderness these forty years. . .
. . . one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
What does it mean to be thankful? Today let us not consider the traditional holiday, nor its implications for the nation. Instead, let us meditate on the state, the gift of thankfulness. Is this not a uniquely human response? Since gratitude involves memory of the past, awareness of the present, and trust for the future, it must be preeminently a human response.
Fortunate are they who wake up thankful to be alive, awaiting eagerly the events and responsibilities of the day, and who, like all believers, have Someone to whom they can offer thanks.
The passage from the Hebrew Scriptures puts a huge weight on memory. “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness. . .” Everything promised to the people of God and everything required of them seems to hinge on this memory-the continuous remembrance of God’s mercy, which is a prerequisite for thankfulness.
The portion of the Gospel according to St. Matthew is heavy on observation of the world around us, on awareness of what today we would call ecology-the state in which the natural world exists, a state that is not yet destroyed or interfered with by human beings. Be aware of the qualities of this nature, observe! Look at the birds! Jesus tells all of us: Look at the flowers but think, consider their growth, their beauty, their glory. There are many wild flowers growing in Palestine. These were the lilies of the field Jesus was talking about it-wild flowers, not cultivated plants. Their beauty is natural, their adornment is glorious, and even the most extravagant and vain of kings, dressed in gold and many-colored robes cannot compare with them.
Jesus sees a direct involvement of the Creator in all this natural beauty. And it doesn’t matter that it is transitory, Jesus tells us. God cares even about what is transitory, what is passing.
Observe the care of God for God’s creation. The grass is clothed with beauty, the flowers don’t make an effort to be beautiful, they simply are! Someone cares for them. Then how is it that we worry so much? How is it that we don’t pay attention? Worrying about tomorrow keeps us from paying attention to today and from remembering that God has brought us through to this day, Thanksgiving Day of the year 2003. And we are here today to thank God for this remembrance, for the goodness and beauty of nature, for the awareness of the goodness of the day, and for the assurance that we will not be abandoned in the future.
Worrying about what to eat and drink and what to wear, Jesus tells his followers, is for those who don’t know that God cares for them, and for those who strive and worry as if there is no God. That is what he meant by the word Gentiles in that age, in his place and time. But you are different, Jesus tells us. You know that God has brought you thus far. Why, then, do you worry? Doesn’t God know your needs?
Look around you. There are very few of us observing Thanksgiving today who worry about having enough food to eat. We are already thinking of diets that should come soon after the big indulgence. The truth is that we do try to pay attention on a day like this to those who do not have enough to eat, mostly because we are embarrassed about having so much. Today is the day to remember how different our national and personal focus is from the one Jesus is calling to the awareness of his listeners. The birds have enough, he says, the flowers are much more beautiful than the glory of opulence, and the extravagance of Solomon. Birds and flowers don’t worry. But we, who have so much, who want so much more, do worry. All the time. We worry mostly because we want more than we already have.
But we, children of God, are called to something higher than the worries of daily life. Jesus ties the words of his ancestors: we “don’t live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” to the heart of his own message: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”
This is what places us in a state of continuous, thoughtful, and serious thankfulness. It is only when we strive for God’s kingdom, for the values of that kingdom, that we forget about ourselves and focus on doing the will of God. And in doing so we, too, act with righteousness, looking out for the widows and the orphans and doing good, as the writer of the Epistle of James urges us to do. Being thankful for just being fortunate in having a good place to live, enough to eat, and more than enough to wear is a kind of selfish thankfulness. But being thankful in seeing that justice is done in the world, in seeing that the poor are fed and the orphans are loved goes to the heart of Jesus’ message. First comes the striving for God’s kingdom, a kingdom founded on justice and mercy and peace; then everything else is added as naturally as the feeding of the birds and the clothing of the flowers. This is what Jesus promised us. Let us then strive for God’s righteousness and let us go out of here this day and be thankful.
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