Rev. Martha Jacobs
Giving Thanks When It’s Not Easy to Do So
Psalm 92, Philippians 4:4-9
Sunday, November 20, 2016
As I was driving to Syracuse on Monday for a UCC meeting, I went through a stretch of route 17, which is in the Catskills. If you’ve ever driven that 60 or so miles of mountainous up and down highway when it is 55 miles per hour, and the road is light on traffic and where the local police enforce the 55 mph speed limit, you know it is boring and so hard not to exceed 55. So, I set my cruise control at 57 and try to enjoy the sights – the Delaware River as it winds along that very long stretch of road, the changing trees, an occasional deer and more police with radar than cars or trucks. Oh, and there is no radio signal. So, I get to travel in relative silence for most of that 60 mile stretch. I say “relative” because of course my mind is working – my subconscious is working and that is often when God can get a word in edgewise.
As I was driving along, a song from Godspell came into my head. I found myself humming and then singing, “We plow the fields and scatter, the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.” And, later the refrain lyrics are “All good gifts around us, are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord, for all his love.” It was like an “earworm” – a song that gets stuck in your head and you can’t get rid of it. So, for most of that part of my trip, I kept singing All Good Gifts. It got to the point that I couldn’t wait for the radio signal to return and I kept checking, but got only static and the song, that song, would still be there, in my head. And I knew that was a sign.
So, I thought to myself, “really God” – well, to be honest, I actually said that out loud. “Really, God! You really want me to talk about giving thanks in the midst of our country trying to deal with the surprising outcome of our election? God, our congregation is going to think I‘ve gone off the deep end, or something.” And yet, that earworm of a song – those lyrics – kept haunting me.
Well, as I thought more about it, it began to dawn on me that despite what negative things are happening in the world, we still do need to stop and take stock of what is good and what we do have to be thankful for. It’s easy to wallow in the sadness. It’s harder to stop and look around and see what is good. Then, I started to laugh because I realized that I was going to have to email Keith and ask him to include that song in today’s service.
Now, my giving you the backstory on what led to today’s sermon, I pray will allow me some grace. And, if you don’t like my talking today about giving thanks, please blame God, because it’s her fault, not mine!
As I was working on this sermon, Pat told me about a face book posting that she had read that she thought I should read. It was posted by Rabbi Joel Simonds, who is a part of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He wrote:
“Today makes the seventh day of grieving and sitting Shiva for the loss of our country and the woman who inspired us. As Judaism teaches us, after seven days of Shiva, we stand up. We emerge from the dark. We do not have to accept, we do not have to move on, but we stand up! So today, we emerge from the darkness. We are taught that the righteous do not complain of the darkness but rather create light. Today we begin to create light and we do so as the resistance and we fight and fight and fight for good, for love and for justice.”
This afternoon, we are standing up and we are creating light. We are hosting an event that gives us reason to give great thanks – our Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and Meal. Our Muslim, B ’Hai, Jewish, Quaker and any and all beliefs are going to gather in this very place. We are defying the sentiment that different is bad. Different is good and it is something for which to be very thankful.
And, we have stood up as a congregation and continually stand up and create light by welcoming everyone here. We may have only a rainbow flag out front, but to us, that symbolizes that yes, we welcome members of the LGBT community, but we also welcome immigrants, those who are other-ly abled, those who are in different economic or social or educational places. All are welcome. We give great thanks for the diversity of our world and our congregation and our striving to grow in and through that diversity.
A third string that came into my sermon preparation (as if I needed more than God’s giving me an earworm), comes from several people who have mentioned to me their concerns about gathering with family and friends this Thanksgiving. For some of them, this is the first time they will be gathering with people whose political beliefs they know are different from theirs. Some people have said that they had no idea that their friend or loved one would support the candidate that they supported and they are worried that their Thanksgiving table will be filled with tension and with anger and perhaps hatred.
I would like to suggest that, instead of talking politics, people choose to talk about what they have to be thankful for personally, not for our country or town or village, but what brings them inner thanks. I pray that we will not allow the hatred that was spewed during this presidential campaign to be a wedge between family and friends and turn our family and friend time into more hatred and anger. Love triumphs over hate, as Jesus showed us. I, for one, need to remember that because I too will be sitting at a thanksgiving table with family who are of a different world view than mine. I, too, need to be reminded that Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God, what is God’s. Our thanks goes to God. And, what better time to remember that, than when celebrating this Thanksgiving. So, this Thursday, I encourage you to stand up to love, not hate, to create light, not darkness.
As I said last Sunday, we need to do what we can to support not only the members of our church but those in the wider community who are in need and we seek to do that as Jesus did. We have done that by providing close to 100 lbs of food from our Luke’s Pantry first Sunday collection for the Northern Westchester Community Center this month alone. We give great thanks for all who brought donations that have enabled us to donate almost 700 lbs of food this year.
We also give great thanks to those who have given of their resources to support our worship space. You may have noticed this morning that our sound is different and hopefully better! We give great thanks to Lucia Maloney who provided the resources for us to upgrade our sound system. I also hope that you have noticed our beautiful new paraments. We give great thanks to Jane Smalley who provided resources for our new paraments that have our cross on them. While these are examples of gestures of generosity that affect us in worship, we also continue to receive monies to support those who are in need with help for medical bills and psychological support. Your generosity is enabling us to help build God’s kingdom here on earth as we continue to be a loving and caring community where people find sanctuary. Out of our abundance of blessings, which we sometimes lose track of when a curve ball is thrown at us, God calls us back to remember and to give thanks for what we have.
And, so before I end my sermon this morning, I would like to give us an opportunity to take a few moments to consider for ourselves those things for which we are thankful. You may choose to say them out loud, or do so silently. And, if you think Thursday might be very stressful, take the time to write them down on an index card and keep it in your pocket to remind yourself to choose love and light and not hate and darkness.
I pray that as you gather around whatever Thanksgiving table you gather, that you will remember to pause and give thanks for the love that overcame even death, the love that knows no end and the love that brings peace, the peace of God, which surpasses all our understanding, which guards our hearts and our minds, and leads us to Christ Jesus.