Philippians 4:4-7; Psalm 100:1-5
The Reverend Tom Herbek
November 22, 2015
Thanksgiving hasn’t always been easy for Americans to agree on. George Washington proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789, although some were opposed to it. Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian, felt that the hardships of a few New England Pilgrims certainly did not warrant a national holiday. It was only in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln finally made the last Thursday in November a national day of Thanksgiving.
The Native Americans who helped the Pilgrims celebrate their first Thanksgiving had a long history of giving thanks. The Native Americans made giving thanks an important part of all their ceremonies or feasts:
Giving thanks was an important part of the celebrations, called Nickommo, which are still held by the Wampanoag. Give-away ceremonies, feasting, dancing and sports and games were common features of these occasions. Give-away ceremonies show gratefulness to the Creator who provides for the people and makes possible the blessings celebrated. The act of giving away material things shows respect and caring for others, while reminding the participants that material objects are only secondary to one’s spiritual life.
Gratitude, giving thanks, is now shown to help us emotionally and even physically. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, research was published which compared college students who were told to fill out a weekly report of five things they were grateful for, with college students who filled out a report weekly of five things they found upsetting or irritating. In addition, the study also compared people with a chronic, incurable illness, half of whom listed their five blessings and the other half listed their five hassles each week.
The people in both groups who counted their blessings slept better, showed significant improvement in mental health, and even in some aspects of physical health. They exercised more and woke up feeling more refreshed. They were also nicer to neighbors and more willing to help people with personal problems. It doesn’t seem to matter what we’re grateful for, what makes us thankful, but what matters is that we begin with an awareness of what is going for us, even in the midst of all that may be going against us. We are so fortunate that our church family is extraordinary generous, kind, and compassionate, willing to share what we have and who we are, to make a difference.
Parker Palmer, Quaker educator and writer, reminds us that how we see life affects who we are:
Most people seem to assume that scarcity is a simple fact of life. How else can one explain the obsession with acquiring, consuming, and hoarding that permeates our society? We live in constant fear of the future, the fear that money will run out, that food supplies will dwindle, that housing will be unavailable.
And when we act on those fears, the assumption becomes reality: as we consume more than we need and hoard against our fears about the future, stores do dwindle, prices do rise, and there will be too little to go around.
The tragic victims of this self-fulfilling prophecy are, of course, the have-nots of the world who lack the capital to act out their economic fears. For them, scarcity is no assumption at all: it is a hard and cruel fact of life.
But that fact is created by people who have a choice – the choice to assume scarcity and grab or all one can get or the choice to assume abundance and live in such a way as to create and share it. For those of us who are affluent and educated, choosing assumptions is no mere academic exercise or mental workout. The lives of others, and our own souls, hang in the balance.
True abundance comes not to those set on securing wealth but to those who are willing to share apparent scarcity in a way that creates more than enough. Those who seek well-being, who grasp for more than their share, will find life pinched and fearful. But those who reach out in service to their brothers and sisters, knowing that true abundance is found not in hoarding but in community, will find a life of plenty. Having been there for others, they have reason to believe that others will be there for them.
- The Promise of ParadoxThank goodness for our church family, who are there for us. When we are able to be thankful, able to reach out in generosity and compassion, able to truly make a difference in a positive way for those around us, it is then that we realize we have enough. And sometimes we realize that we may even have too much. Dr. Rachel Remen learned this from a young boy:Long ago, the little son of my friends and I became quite good friends ourselves. A lot of the time we played with his two tiny cars, running them from windowsill to windowsill, parking them and racing them and telling each other all the while what we imagined we passed “on the road”. Sometimes I would have the one with the chipped wheel. Sometimes he would have it. It was great fun, and I loved this little boy dearly.Then one of the major gas companies began a Hot Wheels giveaway: a car with every fill-up. I was delighted. Quickly I persuaded the entire clinic staff to buy this brand of gas for a month, and organized all twenty of us with checklists, so that we would not get two fire engines or Porsches or Volkswagens. In a month we accumulated all the Hot Wheels cars then made, and I gave them to Kenny in a big box. They filled every windowsill in the living room, and then he stopped playing with them. Puzzled, I asked him why he did not like his cars anymore. -Kitchen Table WisdomWe all have much for which to be thankful this Thanksgiving. But sometimes we need a reminder. Someone once sent me an email which reflects some of the things that she was thankful for, and it helps me to remember how much there is for which to be thankful. He looked away and in a quivery voice he said, “I don’t know how to love this many cars, Rachel”. I was stunned. Ever since, I have been careful to be sure not to have more Hot Wheels than I can love. At that time these little Hot Wheels cars were avidly collected by most six-year-old boys. Kenny dreamed of them and I yearned to buy him more, but I could not think of a way to do this without embarrassing my friends. Kenny’s father was an artist and a lay preacher, and his mother was a housewife who brought beauty to everything she touched. They lived very richly indeed but they had little money.
I am thankful for…
- For the daughter who is complaining about doing dishes…because that means she is at home, not on the streets.
- For the taxes that I pay… because it means that I am employed.
- For the mess to clean after a party… because it means that I have been surrounded by friends.
- For the clothes that fit a little too snug…because it means I have enough to eat.
- For a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing…
because it means I have a home.
- For all the complaining I hear about the government… because it means that we have freedom of speech.
- For the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot…because it means I am capable of walking and that I have been blessed with transportation.
- For my huge heating bill…because it means I am warm.
- For the lady behind me in church that sings off key…because it means that I can hear.
- For the pile of laundry and ironing…because it means I have clothes to wear.
- For weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day…because it means I have been capable of working hard.
- For the alarm clock that goes off in the early morning hours…because it means that I am alive.…
- For too much e-mail…because it means I have friends who are thinking of me.
At this time of year, in the midst of all the stress, may we each feel blessed, and may we remember:
If there is one person in the world who loves us, then we are blessed.
If we have one talent, one skill that we can enjoy, then we are blessed.
If we can taste the turkey or hear a song we enjoy or feel the sun on our face, then we are blessed.
If we can see the beauty of Canandaigua Lake or feel a snowflake on our nose, or hear the purr of a contented cat, then we are blessed.
If we can know that we are forgiven by those we have hurt or if we can forgive those who have hurt us, then we are blessed.
If we can look at our life and know that something we have done has made life a little better for someone else, then we are blessed.
If we have enough to set an extra chair at Thanksgiving, then we are blessed.
If we smiled at one person today, or one person smiled at us, then we are blessed.
If we have felt the presence of God in our lives, even for a moment, then we are blessed.
If we can decide that tomorrow we will do something kind and unexpected for one person we meet, then we are blessed.
If we can believe that tomorrow we will be surprised by goodness at least once, then we are blessed.
May this Thanksgiving be a time of great blessing, a time to celebrate the abundance of life for each of us!