11.22.2020: What to Be Thankful For

 New Testament Reading:  Matthew 25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'

25:40 And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

25:44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'

25:45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

Reflection:  What To Be Thankful For

Here we are; the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  The last Sunday of the church calendar year.  Yes, next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent and before we know it, 2020 will be over.  Can we all give a sigh of relief and Amen to that?  Because I think I can speak for us all when I say that 2020 has been a completely craptacular year.  (I’d put it in more colorful terms if we weren’t in church, but I think you all know what I mean.)

November is also national gratitude month.  Makes perfect sense with Thanksgiving at the end of the month and the miracle of Christmas right around the corner.  But this year…gratitude is a little bit harder.  What do we have to be thankful for? Last week those of us who were here wrote down what we are grateful for on paper leaves and pinned them to a gratitude tree.  It’s a beautiful tree and thanks to the two Cathys who put it together.  Writing down an answer to the question, what are you thankful for is more difficult to answer than it has been in previous years.  In this year of Covid-19, snowfall in May, more named hurricanes than ever before, blatant racial injustice, civil unrest and even murder hornets!  We have lost beloved members of our church family and have been unable to share our grief in our traditional ways.   I’m sure each of you could add even more to the list, but I’m going to stop right there because wallowing in despair is not what God calls us to do.

This year has been a challenge for us all.  But that does not mean we are not thankful.  We do not have blinders on our eyes and our vision is not narrow. We do not see the world in chunks of “bad” things; we have a wider view.  While we recognize the pain and suffering that exists in the world, we see beyond that and recognize that there still is goodness.  As followers of Christ, we realize that we are capable of creating goodness in the world. For as much as we  have been confronted with adversity, as people of faith we find comfort in the Lord and in each other, even when we are being physically and socially distant.  Gratitude is the backbone of who we are.

As Thanksgiving fast approaches, the holiday might not look and be what we want; we are thankful that God has still blessed us.  We are still able to celebrate; in different ways.  And that is not a bad thing.   Some of us plan to gather together or have already gathered, with outdoor meals, eating together, yet still staying a safe distance apart and wearing masks when not eating.  Some of us will have virtual gatherings.  While in the past we may have house rules not to bring phones or tablets to the table, this year many of us are encouraging it as we share a meal with each other from afar using technology to bring us together. And if you think about it, it is a blessing that we will be able to invite more people from all over the country into our homes virtually this year to celebrate and share.  Something that would not be possible we could if we were having a traditional Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has always been about sharing.  We may think of it as a time to share food with family and friends and sometimes even with strangers, but it is more than that.  It is sharing ourselves…And it is receiving from others as well. On the surface,   Thanksgiving may just be a date on our calendar, but if we look deeper, it is a connection we have with each other; a shared bond. When we celebrate Thanksgiving we are the sheep and not the goats.  The sharing we do every Thanksgiving and perhaps this year more than ever, is a time when we do God’s work.  Thanksgiving is a time in gratitude that we feed the hungry; where we take care of the lonely.

In many ways, Thanksgiving is a day of service.  Serving our families, our friends and others.  Isn’t part of the joy of Thanksgiving being able to serve?  To share our blessings, while also receiving them from others.

This Thanksgiving can be the one where we focus less on the food and more on the service and on the sharing.   When we are not so focused on getting the perfect meal on the table, but instead on sharing each other’s company.  When we don’t have to spend a fortune on food for ourselves and arranging the perfect home; but can instead donate food to those in need. Using the time we would spend staging our homes for company and instead spending that time with others via a phone call or video chat.  Instead of getting up early to prepare a huge meal, why don’t we get up early and handwrite a note to someone you care for?  It doesn’t have to be someone you know well…it doesn’t even have to be for someone you know.  Perhaps you might pen a note to a serviceperson and thank them for their service.  It could even be a family “project” on Thanksgiving Day.  It’s a tradition that could be more emotionally fulfilling than a second serving of pumpkin pie.

But that’s something we as followers of Christ do.  When we are faced with challenges, as we have this year, we do not run away, but we face them head on and find new and creative ways to carry on.  As we do so this Thanksgiving, let us continue to do so in our daily lives.  May we not ignore the suffering, grief and loneliness that goes on around us; saying that there is nothing we can do because circumstances prevent us from doing what we might usually do.  Let us not be ignorant goats.  Instead, let us be the sheep of God’s pasture. Let us be bold enough to continue to explore creative ways to spread the love of Jesus. Let us feed the hungry by donating to Sunday supper or a local food pantry  Let is clothe the naked by donating to a local coat drive or even providing a neighbor or stranger with a face mask to keep them safe.  I challenge each one of you to reach out to the lonely this week with a phone call, email, zoom meet or even a letter.  Let us be the ones of whom Christ says:  'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

For that we can be truly thankful. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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