As We Give Thanks
A Refection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
November 20, 2016, the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Thanksgiving Sunday
Based on Isaiah 65:17-25
This section of Isaiah was written during a time of transition, a time of oppression and despair led to visioning for the future. The verses we will hear are a psalm, a poetic hymn, describing how God will restore God’s people so they may rejoice. As we celebrate a holiday of giving thanks, listen to these words and consider how God is promising renewal for Lyonsville, and what changes must happen for those promises to be realized.
Next Sunday begins a new church year – the first Sunday of Advent, when we prepare for Christ’s presence in the world in a new and renewing way. After worship next Sunday we’ll adorn the sanctuary with symbols of our preparation. Before you come to worship next Sunday, you’ll probably have to reach through a lot of leftovers in your refrigerator to get to the stuff you want for breakfast. But first we need to get through today.
Usually on the church calendar this is Reign of Christ Sunday. (Maybe you learned about the church calendar from the previous way of naming holidays when this Sunday would have been labeled “Christ The King Sunday.”) It is a day for exploring how the universe is different because Christ reigns. It is a fitting conclusion to the Christian year: how will we live differently given our assurance that Christ reigns?
This is one of those days when the church calendar competes with our cultural calendar. Let’s be honest: most of what I would say about Christ’s reign will be forgotten throughout the week in between preparing the Thanksgiving Day feast, watching a parade in the morning and eating way too much, navigating the difficult discussions that come with a family gathering, topics that are so much more awkward if instead of a family dinner you find yourself at a meal with strangers. What I could say would probably be lost in the sleepy haze induced as you pretend to watch a sports game while catching quick naps, or the sleep deprivation of rising early to be part of the black Friday shopping crowds. A lot is going to happen between now and next Sunday, which makes it hard to keep this holy day of the Reign of Christ.
So I’ve decided today in worship we’ll emphasize thanksgiving – not the cultural practice of one day a year of setting the table with too many roasted and baked foods. Rather, I am hoping to generate a sense of thanksgiving to remind us all that that God has given us vast resources, great spiritual gifts, and the strength of community through which God transforms us as individuals, as a community of faith, as neighborhoods and a national culture, and as part of the universe.
That’s a pretty high expectation – and I’m not sure I am up to it by myself. So I’ve asked three elected leaders of the congregation to help me this morning: Nayna, our moderator; Sherry, the current assistant moderator; and Doug, the incoming assistant moderator.
I have asked them to speak about how they are thankful for Lyonsville at this time of transition, at this time of change for our nation and for this congregation. I’ve asked them to speak less about what Lyonsville has meant for them and more about their visions for what Lyonsville may become.
With apologies, notes from the three speakers were not requested.
I have a vivid childhood memory of a Thanksgiving. My mother and my grandmother – that is, my father’s mother – had a huge fight. My grandmother was visiting our home. She was upset that my mother was not putting the stuffing into the turkey. My mom was insisting that the stuffing would be just fine prepared in the oven without being inside “The Bird.” My grandmother declared she had always put the stuffing inside the turkey so it is moist; who was my mother to challenge so many more years of experience cooking a turkey? My mother replied that her own mother taught her how to make stuffing in the oven – and she liked having some crunchy bits; besides, the turkey cooked faster without stuffing in it. But, my grandmother retorted, it won’t taste as good. Well, my mother said, it is my home, and I paid for the turkey and the stuffing, and if you don’t like the way I make dinner you can …
I know better than to trust the accuracy of my childhood memories, so I asked my mother if she remembered when this happened. Her answer: “Which year?!”
We all have families, and none of them are perfect.
My father stepped in and somehow diffused the situation. I asked my father why mom and grandma were fighting about the stuffing. He could have said a lot of things to me. What he did say was “Families sometimes have different ways of doing things, and being family means sometimes trying new things even when they are strange. We try out different things in order to show we love one another. But sometimes trying new things is uncomfortable.”
I do not remember how the stuffing was prepared. I do not remember the prayer said at the table, I do not remember what game filled the afternoon. I do remember my father’s words. It was an important lesson in families, and an important lesson in relationships.
I continue to learn about what it means to be a family, and how to have healthy relationships. I am thankful for your witness of the importance of relationships. Some of you have known one another longer than I have been alive (or since we’re all about the same age, longer than Mike, Carrie, Jim, Dave, and Gary the office administrator). That familiarity brings a sense of extended family. That is a strength – and it presents a difficulty: How do you help new people become part of the existing network of relationships?
That is a dilemma within congregationalism. We understand that the place to discern God’s call is within the relationships of the congregation. We invest in those relationships so that we may identify God’s call to faithfulness. It can be difficult to accept God speaks to us through one another, but over time we come to trust the discernment that is part of lengthy relationships. As John Robinson said to the Pilgrims before they set sail on the Mayflower, “the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.” Can we also trust that God speaks to us in voices that are new to the congregation? How long does a person have to be part of a congregation in order to be trusted? Are the established relationships strong enough to allow for new ideas and new ways of doing things?
As I look back, I know the fight between my mother and grandmother was about a lot more than how to prepare the stuffing. As I look at what it means to be a congregation, I know it is a lot more than just getting our individual relationship with God in order and it is a lot more than just being polite to the people we see in our neighborhood or sit near in the sanctuary. I am thankful that Lyonsville is willing to keep working at the complexity of what it means to be a congregation that uses relationships as a means to discern God’s calling. And I am thankful that I am permitted to be with you at this important time of discernment in the history of Lyonsville. My hope is that we will continue to give thanks together for the ways God is present and at work in our shared lives.