Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

Once again, I spoke at Otter Creek's 50 something-ith Thanksgiving service. It was really nice and laid back and just enjoyable to be a part of it. Here's what I said:

On a day like today, it is very easy to think about abundance. Most of us will leave hear and go home to places where sumptuous meals are being cooked and set up. We will enjoy the company of family and friends. We will play games, watch games, make plans for being up way too early in the morning. We will take joy in the blessings that such a holiday offers us.

I’m particularly thankful this year. It’s been a very full 12 months. This time last year, Sheryl, Kinsey and I had just gotten back from a mission trip to England and Sheryl was pregnant. This time last year, the word of a possible move from Granny White to this location were beginning to brew and in the space of three months, we had moved an entire church building full of 50 years of history and memories to this location. My son Connor was born in May and in August my daughter started Kindergarten. It’s been one of those momentous years that I will always look back on and thank God that it happened.

As I started thinking about what I was going to say today, I honestly had trouble. I’ve talked in this service the last couple of years and wanted to think in some new ways about the subject of Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. So I decided to do what any self respecting former English/History teacher would do and go back to the beginning of this celebration.

I learned surprisingly enough, that the first Thanksgiving celebration was held in 1619, in the Virginia Colony. The more famous one occurred two years later in 1621 in the Plymouth Colony. And like many people, that’s the one that intrigued me. Because while we think of Thanksgiving as a celebration of abundance, it was for a very different reason that the colonists in present-day Massachusetts celebrated. That celebration was about survival.

On the Mayflower at its outset from Plymouth, England in September of 1620, there were 102 passengers. By the fall of the following year, only 50 had survived. And it’s important to remember that these early immigrants would not have survived without the help of the native people of the land. Without assistance of Squanto and the rest of the Wampanoag Confederacy to teach them about ways to fertilize their crops and the best places to fish and trap. That first celebration is 1621 was not about the celebration of abundance, because it had been a hard year. Losing half your population makes for a hard year. The cause for celebration for those early settlers was simple survival. Did they have abundance? Not yet. Soon though they would. But for this first celebration, they were simply thankful for life.

Most of us here are not in that situation. Most of us don’t have to struggle from season to season, praying that life would continue, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people here today who aren’t thankful for survival. For those who have lost loved ones, who have battled disease, who have seen jobs and goals not come to fruition, who have watched children takes paths they wish they wouldn’t, for the death of a marriage. For these, like for those early colonists, the Thanksgiving is for survival, it is for making it to the next morning. These situations in the people which sometimes are easy to hide from public view but are still just as real as the dangers of starvation, disease, and injury.

It’s in those times, when you’re in the middle of them that it is hard to see God’s hand in them. How could God allow me to lose my job? How could God allow my child to be sick? How could God allow my marriage to fail? And the easy platitude would be to say, “Well, God has a plan,” or “When you come out of it, you’ll see how God was working in this.” I will say that I believe that there were lessons for me and my family to learn when I lost my job. One of those was a reliance on God and His provision, which is an incredibly hard thing to learn and wait on. The other (which I believe firmly is part of the first) was a reliance on the community of faith.

The stories that I could tell about how we were upheld by this family would take more time than I have. Suffice it to say that, even though we live in a time where admitting weakness can be cause for ridicule, saying that we needed help brought a flood of help that is one of those places of faith for me and Sheryl. And at the end of that time, when I got another job, I did see God’s hand in it, but what sustained through that time was His love manifested through His body. People becoming the hands and feet of Christ to us. We were thankful for what He did for us and in turn that thankfulness led us to a call to action.

One thing it did was really start to open my eyes to people who were hurting. And in seeing those people who are hurting emotionally or physically, there is a call for us as followers of Christ to be a blessing to people. Going as far back as Genesis 12, when God calls the then-named Abram, he says that all people will be blessed through Abraham. Part of our calling as the spiritual descendants of Abraham is to be a blessing to people, to help those who need it. If we rely on our abundance and do not share that with those in need, then we are the rich fools that Jesus speaks of in Luke 12. If our Thanksgiving to God does not include the help for the poor and those on the fringes of society, then we do a disservice to our calling as followers of Christ.

It’s for this reason that we use the Thanksgiving season once again, as a kickoff for the gift card drive. Otter Creek receives several calls per week of people needing help buying items that are not included in food stamps and government assistance. It is one way to give thanks to God for how He has blessed us by giving to those in need of help.

A word of caution though… in his book, The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne calls charity a dangerous thing, because it allows us to assuage guilt. It allows us to do good and to be a help without actually getting to know the poor. So while we can be a help, perhaps a goal for this next year is to actually get to know someone who lives on the margins of society. To treat them as much of a friend as the person sitting next us. As a wise person once said, It is perfectly right to ask God to feed the hungry, go out and feed someone who is hungry, then thank God for answering your prayer. We are to be God’s actors in this world. We are to be His partners in bringing forth His Kingdom, His Will. And that means acting as Jesus did. That means associating with the people he associated with. The despised, the hated, the unloved. It is a radical, scary call. But it’s also the example that our Lord set for us.

And if we can commit to that, there might be someone at this time next year thanking God for their survival.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful words... Thank you for sharing them.

Anonymous said...

God is at work. You can see it all around you. We can be his hands and feet. He still deserves all the glory!

Thanks for your attitude of gratitude!

Alice said...

Phil, I'm sorry we are never in town for the O.C. service--I know it's nice.

I am thankful for you and your gift!! What a blessing it was to have our show amplified the other weekend--it really gave the kids alot of confidence, and the soft-spoken ones a chance to be heard.

We are loving our cd--you are so kind to include it. Thanks a million.


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