Posts Tagged 'give thanks'

For Nov. 21, 2012: Thanksgiving Eve, Year B

The Reading            Joel 2:21-27

In the verses that precede this evening’s reading, the prophet Joel described a plague of locusts that came down on the people of Zion as a punishment from the Lord, and he prescribed what the people must do to atone. Now Joel shows the fruit of Zion’s repentance in the astonishing abundance of God’s grace and care.

The Response            Psalm 126

The Epistle            1 Timothy 2:1-7

Whether we agree with leaders of governments at home or abroad, tonight’s reading from the letter to Timothy urges us to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” for all of them. Not only do their decisions matter: indeed, the salvation of each of them matters to God no less than does our own.

The Gospel            Matthew 6:25-33

 

Further thoughts

It can be a challenge to give thanks to or for those for whom one isn’t feeling grateful. The workers displaced by the imminent closing of the company that makes Twinkies and Ding-dongs doubtless feel no gratitude to the shareholders and board of directors; those who backed Romney most vigorously in the recent elections surely feel no thankfulness that their fellow voters reelected Obama or to Obama himself; parents whose neighborhood schools are being closed or repurposed as charters in Chicago and Florida feel disregarded and disrespected by the school boards making these decisions. The readers of the letter to Timothy must have felt in very much the same position: the Jewish religious hierarchy, still reeling from the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem a few years before, had little love and less patience for the upstart Christians, and the Roman authorities, as Christianity spread and began to seem to draw allegiance away from the Empire, increasingly treated the Christians as a radical fringe in need of suppression, not least on account of the extent to which its internal dissensions tended to become unpleasantly external.

So why give thanks for “the other side”? First, because even wicked rulers tend to be right about something: Napoleon attempted to dominate all of Europe, but he also reformed the French law and education codes to stop wasting the talents of boys not born to noble families. Second, because even good rulers, when they start feeling defensive, tend to get heavy-handed. The Adams presidencies went badly not because John Adams and John Quincy Adams lacked the talent to govern but because their prickly personalities antagonized everyone around them. Third, because administering well, or even half-well, is harder than it appears. For proof, compare a portrait of any president at the beginning of his first term with a portrait of him at the end of his last. Fourth, because giving thanks for them is good for us. It is easy to demonize the opposition, but I find it is considerably harder to keep demonizing the opponent for which I conscientiously give thanks, and I am a good deal more likely to give that opponent credit for accomplishments and openness to ideas when I can bring myself to give that opponent any credit whatsoever; what’s more, it is easier on my blood pressure. Fifth, because giving thanks where it goes against my grain makes me likelier to remember to give thanks where I should, which is at all times and in all places.

Finally, any thanks we truly give is ultimately thanks to God.

For August 19, 2012: Proper 15, Year B

The Reading            1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Today’s reading begins with the accession of Solomon to the throne of King David. Solomon’s dream can be taken as political packaging—of course the anointed king should have a confirmatory dream from God—but Solomon’s request for wisdom with which to govern is one that we can hope all leaders in all places will emulate.

 

The Response            Psalm 111

 

The Epistle            Ephesians 5:15-20

The good advice for the people of Ephesus continues to be good advice for us: at all times and in everything, give thanks to God.

 

The Gospel            John 6:51-58

 

Further thoughts

What a set of contrasts in today’s reading! Wisdom is opposed to… cannibalism?

On the one hand, there’s the dream in which, to launch Solomon’s reign, God offers a divine blank check and Solomon surprises not only the chronicler but us in bypassing power, honor, and long life in favor of wisdom. There’s the psalm’s commendation of the glory of God and of the wisdom of holding God in awe. There’s the advice in the book of Ephesians to life wisely in this world while giving thanks for everything.

On the other hand, there’s “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). This verse is difficult for those of us in the 21st century with a taste for a nice rare steak. A first-century Jewish audience would have found it downright indigestible. The word in the Greek for “flesh” is σαρχ sarx (as in sarcophagus ‘flesh-eater’), so it is either ‘raw meat’ or ‘dead meat’; the Law expressly forbade Jews to consume raw meat and blood and to touch dead bodies, so Jesus has given orders to perform acts of eating and drinking that are about as ritually impure as it is possible to be. Jesus uses two verbs for ‘eat’ in this passage; one of them just means ‘eat’, but the one in John 6:53, τρώγω trogo, has been glossed as ‘chew’ or ‘gnaw’ (Davis) or ‘chomp’ (Ewart): vivid words for messy eating, and therefore claimed to be very literal.

It is important not to make the Good News less shocking than it really is. The fact is, however, that, in most languages, words for eating are commonly used metaphorically as words for learning and thinking: to ruminate, from Latin rumen ‘cow’s stomach’ is literally ‘to chew one’s cud’. A slightly different reading of trogo may be justified, along the lines of ‘chew really thoroughly, so as not to lose a single bit of the goodness’.

Think about a really enjoyable meal with some delightful surprises for the mouth, in the best of company, and with time and space to savor them and to be refreshed by each other’s time and attention. It is simple wisdom to eat, drink, and commune mindfully, noticing what one is taking in. In such a meal, everything comes together to satisfy needs of body and of spirit, needs one may not even have known that one had, and in it we catch the slight but unmistakable whiff—a foretaste, if you will—of how Jesus feeds us.

And what if—minus the matter of salvation, of course—we are similarly called to do what we can to feed each other?

 

D. Mark Davis, “From ‘Bread of Heaven’ to ‘Gnawing on Flesh’”, Left Behind and Loving it, http://www.leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2012/08/from-bread-of-heaven-to-gnawing-on-flesh_14.html.

David Ewart, http://www.holytextures.com/2009/07/john-6-51-58-year-b-pentecost-august-14-august-20-sermon.html.


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