Psalm 100, Philippians 4:4-7
The Rev. Tom Herbek
November 20, 2016
This Thanksgiving, in a world with so much seriousness, I am thankful for people who make me laugh. I don’t know who wrote this, but it always makes me smile, so I am sharing it with any of you who have not heard it before for the first time, and those who have heard it before: may it make you smile again!
Martha Stewart will not be dining with us this Thanksgiving. I’m telling you in advance, so don’t act surprised. Since Ms. Stewart won’t be coming, I’ve made a few small changes:
My sidewalk will not be lined with homemade, paper bag luminaries. After a trial run, it was decided that no matter how cleverly done, rows of flaming lunch sacks do not have the desired welcoming effect.
Once inside, the guests will note that the entry hall is not decorated with the swags of Indian corn and fall foliage I had planned to make. Instead, I’ve gotten the kids involved in the decorating by having them track in colorful autumn leaves from the front yard. The mud was their idea.
The dining table will not be covered with expensive linens, fancy china, or crystal goblets. If possible, I will use dishes that match and everyone will get a fork. Since this IS Thanksgiving, we will refrain from using the plastic Peter Rabbit plate and the Santa napkins from last Christmas. The centerpiece will not be the tower of fresh fruit and flowers that I promised. I will be displaying a hedgehog-like decoration hand-crafted from the finest construction paper. The artist assures me it is a turkey.
We will be dining fashionably late. The children will entertain you while you wait. I’m sure they will be happy to share every choice comment I have made regarding Thanksgiving, pilgrims, and the turkey hotline.
Please remember that most of these comments were made at 5:00 a.m. upon discovering that the turkey was still hard enough to cut diamonds. As accompaniment to the children’s recital, I will play a recording of tribal drumming. If the children should mention that I don’t own a recording of tribal drumming, or that tribal drumming sounds suspiciously like a frozen turkey in the clothes dryer, ignore them. They are lying.
I toyed with the idea of ringing a dainty silver bell to announce the start of our feast. In the end, I chose to keep our traditional method. I have also decided against a formal seating arrangement. When the smoke alarm sounds, please gather around the table and sit where you like. In the spirit of harmony, we will ask the children to sit at a separate table. In a separate room. Next door.
Now, I know you have all seen pictures of one person carving a turkey in front of a crowd of appreciative onlookers. This will not be happening at our dinner. For safety reasons, the turkey will be carved in a private ceremony. I stress “private” meaning: Do not, under any circumstances, enter the kitchen to laugh at me. Do not send small, unsuspecting children to check on my progress. I have an electric knife. The turkey is unarmed. It stands to reason that I will eventually win. When I do, we will eat.
Before I forget, there is one last change. Instead of offering a choice between 12 different scrumptious desserts, we will be serving the traditional pumpkin pie, garnished with whipped cream and small fingerprints. You will still have a choice; take it or leave it.
Martha Stewart will not be dining with us this Thanksgiving. She probably won’t come next year either. For that, I am thankful.
And I am thankful this Thanksgiving for the people who make me laugh. And after, the carefully-planned Thanksgiving dinner is completed, there is also reason to be thankful. Let us be thankful for leftovers. Robert Fulgham puts it this way:
Thanksgiving leftovers. When the refrigerator becomes the Fort Knox of late-night dining. Let’s face it, Thanksgiving is often a strain. You have to dress up and behave and there’s all that ritual fuss and bother with too much food. Exhausting. But two nights later is a different story. There’s good news in the fridge by then—solid-gold leftovers.
The pecan pie has ripened and congealed now so you can pick up a big piece with your hand. The cranberry sauce has matured; the dark meat of the turkey is easy to peel off the bone. And the dressing has transmogrified into something that would give truffles and caviar a run for the money. THIS is the way dressing ought to taste! A true prayer of thanksgiving is in order.
Leftovers in their less visible form are called memories. Stored in the refrigerator of the mind and the cupboard of the heart. These are just a few of mine that came up tonight: the laughter of a friend, the last embers of a great fire, the long glance of love from my spouse from across a room full of people, an unexpected snowfall, the year everything went wrong and turned out right, and a chunk of poetry I learned in high school.
I’m not often aware that I am happy. But I often remember that I have been happy. Especially when I sit in my kitchen wrapped in an invisible patchwork quilt made of the best moments of yesterdays.
These precious things – these leftovers from living on – remain to serve as survival rations for the heart and soul. You can’t entirely live off them. But life is not worth living without them.
And then there are times when we need to recover the ability to see things through the eyes of a 5-year-old in order to appreciate what is right in front of us. Lex Urban told the following story:
As a five-year-old kid during my first of many seasons of Little League baseball, my friend, Patrick, was on second base when I came up to bat. I sent a line drive out to left field, and after admiring my hit for a while (that momentary pause that drives coaches and parents nuts), I took off running in the direction of first base. Patrick, however, had yet to start running. In fact, he hadn’t even left second base. Instead of running for third, Patrick had picked up the base to explore what was underneath. Apparently the mystery that had plagued kids for centuries—what could possibly be hiding underneath second base?—needed to be solved immediately. The fact that it was the second inning of our first game was of no consequence.
What followed were howls of laughter from many kids and even a few adults. I don’t remember if we won the game, if I made it to second base, or if Patrick took the base with him as he advanced to third. What I do remember, and what has become a core philosophy of mine, is that I should always take the time to find out what’s underneath second base.
Looking underneath second base is about living for the moment. It’s not caring if others think what I’m doing is stupid or foolish. It is about being honest with myself and doing what makes me happy and not bowing to outside pressures. It is a reminder that I should look beneath the surface of things, and more important, people.
Everyone has a story—a series of significant and insignificant experiences that precede each moment of their lives. I am more patient and understanding, because I realize that the story may be a painful and stressful one.
No longer a five-year-old without a care in the world, I have been introduced to the adult concepts of planning, responsibility, and maturity. No one can deny the importance of the future, but no one can guarantee its presence, either. I try not to get so wrapped up in planning for the future that I forget to enjoy what’s right in front of me. Taking time to look underneath second base reminds me that it’s the journey and not the destination that counts.
Looking under second base reminds me to take the time to appreciate things. It reminds me that the daily grind and the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced world is a voluntary activity. I can choose how I live my life. I choose to always take the time to find out what’s under second base.
–This I Believe, Life Lessons
If we fear loss enough, then we lose our ability to enjoy life at all. One of the dangers of any time of great stress is that our fear of what will happen may keep us from living the life we have. And yet, I have heard of people who have almost nothing who are able to give thanks for the one meal a day that they have. Look at the children in Haiti, helped by the What If? Foundation’s food program, who are so thankful that, on five days of each week, they get one meal.
It is hard for most of us to give thanks for what we have. At least in part, on many days, I am more worried about the things not going right, than I am like the children of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, thankful for what I have been given, giving thanks for the blessings of that day.
From the Holocaust survivors like Victor Frankl to the people who have faced terrible illnesses and injuries, the ones who survive intact spiritually are those who are able to give thanks. They are the ones who, even in the midst of all that is going against them, are able to recognize and give thanks for what is going for them. I have seen this happen many times with people who have faced a life-threatening illness and survived, and it has caused them to view life in a whole new way.
Rachel Remen tells of one such woman:
After completing the last treatment in a year of potent chemotherapy one of my clients went to San Francisco overnight with her husband to celebrate. Her oncologist had tried to discourage her from this. It had seemed rather pointless to him, as she was still far too weak to see the sights, go to a restaurant, or participate in any of the fabled activities of this rich and complex city. He couldn’t imagine why she might want to go if she could not do these things, and he had suggested she wait a few months until she was stronger. But she and her husband had gone anyway and stayed in a nice hotel.
Afterwards, I asked her about it. “It was wonderful,” she said. “First we ordered room service. They brought it in on a table with a cloth a half-inch thick. My first meal without a tray. It was so elegant, the wineglasses and the butter carved into little flowers. And the food! We sat in this lovely room overlooking a little park and ate real food that I could actually taste.
Then we took long, long hot baths and used up every single towel in the bathroom. Great big thick towels – there were twelve of them. And we used up all those delicious-smelling things in the little bottles. And watched both movies. And ate most of what was in the little refrigerator. And sat outside on the terrace in our bathrobes and saw the moon rise over the city. We found all the pillows that they hide in the dresser drawers and slept in this king-size bed with eight pillows. And saw the sunrise. We used it all up. It was glorious!” she said to Dr. Remen who confesses that she spends most of her time in a hotel room asleep.
-Kitchen Table Wisdom
How many times have we spent the night in a hotel room, and all we did was sleep there? Thanksgiving is not just something that occurs one day a year. It is a life-long celebration of what is going for us, even in the midst of what is going against us.
In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul urges them to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And tells them: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” And then, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.”
When we are able to give thanks, it changes us. Without the sense of thanksgiving, we fear loss, always exhausted and worried that something might happen. At least for some people, great stress changes us. We see life in a whole new way. We notice the moon rise and the sunrise and enjoy all eight pillows and flowers on the table and food that is not on a hospital tray.
And life. May we use it all up, every minute of it.
So on this Thanksgiving, let us “make a joyful noise to the Lord.” Let us “give thanks and bless God’s name. For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and the Lord’s faithfulness to all generations.”