Thanksgiving in Troubled times – October 8, 2017

October 11, 2017

Reflection: Thanksgiving in Troubled Times October 8, 2017
Exodus 16:1-8; Acts 2:44-47a

Here we are, it’s Thanksgiving, and it’s time to give thanks. Kind of hard to do, isn’t it, in light of the events of the past week? And yet, giving thanks might be the very blessing we need in this troubling time. I came across this beautiful poem-prayer this week by a minister named Jan Richardson:

Blessing When the World is Ending
Look, the world
is always ending
somewhere.
Somewhere
the sun has come
crashing down.
Somewhere
it has gone
completely dark.
Somewhere
it has ended
with the gun,
the knife,
the fist.
Somewhere
it has ended
with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.
Somewhere
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the television,
the hospital room.
Somewhere
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.
But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.
It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.
This blessing
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.
It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins
again. —Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.”
The world begins again…always. Sometimes we don’t want it to. Sometimes we’d really rather go back to the way things were before. The way things were before seems so much gentler and kinder than the present we’re living in. Even when the truth is much more complex, it’s easy to look back on our lives before hardship or pain cuts us deep and think, “Oh, that was such a wonderful time!” This is true even when that time wasn’t so wonderful.

The Hebrew people have been free from slavery for all of 6 weeks and they’re exhausted, hungry and thirsty, and they want to go back. They remember pots of meat and bread – unlikely for slaves, but that’s what they remember – and they don’t see any hope for the future in this barren, dangerous wilderness. The celebration and thanksgiving of their miraculous escape is far behind them, and all they can think about is how bad things are now. Giving thanks is very far from their minds. Even when God intervenes and provides them with manna in the daytime and flocks of quail in the evening, they aren’t terribly happy. You know what “Manna” means? It means, “What is this stuff?” That’s what they ate for 40 years in the desert. It kept them alive, but would you be giving thanks after 40 years of “stuff” for breakfast and birds for supper? Not great big Thanksgiving Turkeys, but little, itty bitty birds that are more bone than meat. It might be hard to be grateful for that.

Blessings, big ones or small ones, can sometimes seem unimportant or insignificant in the face of some of what confronts us in life. Yet recognizing those blessings can be a powerful antidote to the fear and despair that creeps in when the world just doesn’t seem to make sense. A blog I read this week even offered a prayer one could pray for all of the bad things that can happen in our lives, and for what we learn from them. The writer suggested saying thank-you to God for suffering, for illness, for the times our prayers seem to go unanswered, for all the tough stuff. (http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/prayers/a-thanksgiving-prayer-that-god-might-rarely-hear.html)

I’m not about to suggest that anyone ought to give thanks that crazy or evil men have killed and injured more innocents this week – but perhaps we CAN give thanks for the first-responders who care for the injured, the people right on the scene that stepped in to help, the survival of those who made it, the potential of such acts to change people’s love affair with guns and violence. I know many who are giving thanks that their loved ones are safe, even as they grieve for those who did not make it out unharmed. In remembering and giving thanks for these things, we are, as Jan Richardson put it, helping each other turn our faces to the direction the light will come from as the world begins again.

According to Scripture, according to our faith, light and hope come from God, who made heaven and earth, and gave us the capacity to choose right from wrong, good from evil, helping from hurting. The miracle of manna and quail not only sustains the physical life of the Hebrew people; it also teaches them something about faith in community. The gift is given in such a way that any attempt to hoard it and keep it to oneself, fails. The manna rots and goes bad if stock-piled; the meat spoils. One cannot take more than one needs; one cannot keep more aside while others go without. And one has to trust that the God who blessed them one day will bless them again the next.

I’m not about to stand up here and utter platitudes about how the hardships we experience are all in God’s plan. I think most of our hardships and pain are very much human-made, and the events of last weekend most definitely were. But we cannot despair; we cannot lose hope; we cannot lose sight of all the good that surrounds us and the abundance that fills our lives. To quote Master Yoda from the original Star Wars movies: Fear is the path to The Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. That is not the path we want to take as people of faith.

I’ve added a few suggestions at the end of this sermon on what we can do to stand against violence and bloodshed. In the meantime, may our hearts be filled with gratitude, and may that gratitude bring forth kindness, trust, and openness to the possibilities of the new world as it is being born. AMEN.

*Enough Bloodshed: 101 Solutions to Violence, Terror and War by Mary-Wynne Ashford with Guy Dauncey. Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2006.

Ashford includes solutions for individual adults, children, activists, educators, nations, cities, business, and more. Some examples:
• Learn Non-violent Conflict Resolution
• Bear Witness to Atrocities
• Break Down Stereotypes – Meet the Other
• Raise Caring, Compassionate, Thoughtful Children
• Pray, Meditate, Reconcile and Forgive
• Resist Propaganda
• Reject the Glorification of War and Violence
• Welcome Diversity
• Speak Truth to Power
• Deal with Grievances and Injustices that lead to Violence
• Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

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