Posts Tagged 'thanksgiving'

For Nov. 26, 2014: Thanksgiving

The Reading                                                   Deuteronomy 8:7-18

In Deuteronomy, Moses addresses God’s people as they prepare to take over the land of Canaan. Verses 7-10 describe a land in which hard work can be rewarded richly—which means it will be easy to forget that all the good is the gift of God.

The Response                                                Psalm 65

Psalm 65 is a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s activity in the Temple (verses 1-4), in the natural world (verses 5-8), and in supplying plentiful rain for the harvest (verses (9-14). The opening phrase dumiyya tehillah elohim, usually translated “Praise is owing” or “You are to be praised”, can also be rendered “Silence is praise to you.”[i]

The Epistle                                                     2 Corinthians 9:6-15

According to 2 Corinthians 9:1-6, this epistle has been sent ahead so the Christians of Corinth can ready their gift for the Church in Jerusalem (“the saints’) before Paul and a possible Macedonian escort arrive. Verses 6-15 go on to explain how cheerful giving blesses both receiver and giver while glorifying God.

The Gospel                                                      Luke 17:11-19

As Jesus makes his way toward Jerusalem and the last week of his life through the area between Jewish Galilee and non-Jewish Samaria, ten lepers there beg his mercy from a proper distance and he responds with healing. The one who turns back to thank Jesus is the one from Samaria.

Further thoughts

The theme of the Year A lectionary readings for Thanksgiving Day might be “mixed blessings”. As the people of Israel stand on the bank of the Jordan, ready to enter Canaan after the deprivations of life in the wilderness, Moses warns them—and us—not to get cocky enough to think that all the good is of their own getting. The psalm sings glory to God for the grandeur of Creation and for the humbler gift of soil and water for planting and growth—but it begins with confession: “Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out.” The Corinthians get an explanation of why and how to give: the gifts given in thanksgiving for God’s blessings are themselves God’s blessings to the recipient.

The blessing of healing from Jesus may have been very mixed indeed for the Samaritan. “The region between Samaria and Galilee” is the land around the border that divides two peoples, Jewish and mixed-blood Samaritans, who turn their backs on each other. This land between the averted backs serves as a place to which lepers may be banished lest they defile decent people on either side. Ten such outcasts have made something of a community there, and the Samaritan, the double outsider, is accepted as one of them.

Then they cry out to Jesus and are healed. (One wonders how these castoffs knew who it was that walked their no-man’s-land.) The Jews go off, as Jesus and the Law instruct them, to Jerusalem to be judged by the priests as whole, to rustle up somehow the sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus 14 for being declared clean and for atonement a week later, and thus to be readmitted to decent Jewish society. For the Samaritan, however, this isn’t an option: the priests of the Jews will not admit jurisdiction over such as him. He may well fear that the family from which his disease has excluded him will no longer be willing to accommodate him—or that he will no longer be prepared to accommodate to them. Nevertheless, he knows that Jesus has done him, a Samaritan, a stupendously unconventional miracle. He returns to give stupendously unconventional thanks, falling at the feet of the enemy who has just revealed himself as more than a friend. And Jesus’ response hints that the Samaritan’s own openness to miracle and readiness to thank is a factor in his healing.

Surely the result of thankful and thoughtful acts of giving opposes the vicious cycles of the world—in which inequality breeds entitlement breeds oppression breeds inequality and sooner or later despair that boils over in violence—with a virtuous cycle in which thanks foster gifts foster blessing foster thanks and sooner or later love that overflows into the giving and receiving of grace.

What if we’re called to practice thanks as giving and giving as thanks?

[i] Segal, Benjamin A, 17 May 2011, “Psalm 65—Silence Sings from Afar.” A New Psalm: A New Look at Age-Old Wisdom. Web. http://psalms.schechter.edu/2011/05/psalm-65-silence-sings-from-afar-text.html. Consulted 25 November 2014.

For Feb. 17, 2013: 1 Lent, Year C

The Reading            Deuteronomy 26:1-11

The Book of Deuteronomy, though it tells of the time of Moses, was actually written centuries later, perhaps during the time of the exile or captivity in Babylon. This story about Israel’s past redemption from a time of suffering—the “wandering Aramean” is the patriarch Jacob—is surely meant as a story of present hope as well.

The Response            Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

The Epistle            Romans 10:8b-13

The letters to the Corinthians that we have heard over the last month set out how God’s justified people should live and behave. Now, writing to the Jewish and Greek Christians in Rome, Paul explains just what is required to be justified and to be saved: believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord—no matter who you are.

The Gospel            Luke 4:1-13

 

Further thoughts

As Lent begins, many people undertake fasts or other forms of denial. The rest of us may not manage to launch such a discipline or may falter in carrying it out; we may wonder whether we’ve given up the right thing, or we may sadly conclude, as everyone else apparently gets it right, that we are uniquely failures and some of us—all right, I admit it, I’m talking about myself—may interpret Lenten discipline as an order to deal with All-That-Is-Wrong-With-Me-And-Lord-Knows-There’s-Plenty by my very own self before I’m fit to show my face among Christians.

Woven into today’s readings for the first Sunday in Lent, in addition to the obvious lessons about trusting God and resisting the devil, are some subtler and perhaps less expected ones that confront these points.

In the season of giving up chocolate, the reading from Deuteronomy startles by bidding us to feast in gratitude for God’s blessings, and we are to make sure we share with everyone—foreigners, slaves, employees, panhandlers, even bosses—so they also may rejoice and give thanks.

As to not measuring up, Paul’s message for the Romans, and us, is that none of us measures up, whatever it looks like; what’s more, expecting to measure up misses the point, for the salvation that today’s psalm promises is exactly what God will deliver to us, if we believe to the extent of acting on it.

The passage from Luke similarly contains a surprise. Jesus is facing a powerful and determined adversary, so one expects him to show power in return: a little flexing of divine muscle, or at least an assertion in his own voice of his godly superiority. Yet the very Son of God doesn’t do so. Even Jesus’ final response, while it comes close to sounding exasperated, is nevertheless phrased, like the preceding ones, as a quotation from scriptures that he would have studied as a kid in the synagogue with everyone else. He relies not on his godhood but on God’s Word and the community of faith and love that has shaped him on earth: precisely the tools that, through God’s bounty, are available to us.

The most rigorous Lenten discipline may be learning to trust more than try.

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.


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