Thanksgiving Day (A): Living the “Thank You”

Thanksgiving Day (A): Living the “Thank You”

Luke 17:11-19

By: The Rev. Ben Day

As a child, whenever I received a gift, I was not allowed to play with it until a thank you note was written, signed, addressed, and mailed. My parents wanted to instill in my siblings and me the practice of expressing gratitude to those who offered something to us, and it has served me well throughout my adult life and ministry. I am grateful for this practice that my parents instilled.

That was not always true, though. Around the second grade, I was not yet reading, so my parents had me tested by an educational psychologist and discovered that I am dyslexic. There are degrees of dyslexia which gauge the severity of one’s learning disability, and on the scale used at the time, I was a 6 of a possible 7 on the scale. The psychologist told my parents I would be functionally illiterate unless they intervened immediately. Even with intensive intervention and a plethora of supplemental resources and instruction time, I spent most of my primary and secondary education trying to “catch up” to my grade level in reading and writing skills.

On Christmas or after a birthday party, as I opened gifts, with every rip into the wrapping paper, I dreaded the thank you notes that must follow. My family’s tradition back then was to open all the gifts together, and then immediately retire to a table or comfortable chair with a hard-bound book in our laps to write out all the necessary thank you notes.

Sometimes it would take me 20 minutes to get through one note because I had to keep stopping to ask my family how to spell words like “grateful” or “lovely” or “sincerely.”

My family always tried to be cheerful in helping me. But it got on their nerves, I am sure—especially my older siblings. I found out just a few years ago that they were threatened within an inch of their lives by our parents if there were ever caught teasing me about my dyslexia, or refusing to help when I asked. Despite their coerced but helpful attitudes, it was a struggle and embarrassment nonetheless. I wanted not to need so much help. I wanted to be “normal.”

That brings us to the gospel appointed for Thanksgiving. St. Luke’s gospel tells the story of ten lepers who begged for mercy and were made clean of their ailment, but only one returns to show gratitude to Jesus after realizing the miracle of his healing.

Often we hear this text preached as a call to gratitude and praise for the gifts of our lives. Those include the the primary gifts for sustaining life: food, shelter, clothing; along with other material gifts: cars, homes, and boats; and even the sentimental gifts: family, friends, and loved ones. In sermons like these, we are usually led to consider some active application of the text like how to “live thanksgiving every day” or “embrace gratitude as a new spiritual praxis,” or maybe something even more saccharine or cliché.

As I attempted the read the text with fresh eyes, I began to wonder about those other nine who didn’t return, more than I had before. Why didn’t they return? Were they ungrateful, or did they just not know a return to say “thanks” was an expectation? Were they careless, or were they carried away in a mad fury to show their newly healed skin to those they were separated from by that dreadful bacteria? Were they distracted by the celebration with one another? Were they ungrateful, or were they swept up in the possibility of their new lives given in healing, and maybe even forgetful?

Those questions led me to a more graceful reading of this story than I’ve heard or even proclaimed previously. Jesus’ response to the lone returner, a Samaritan “foreigner” at that, may lead the preacher to highlight how we can forget to express gratitude, even though we experience it. The power of it is not the private emotion, but the offering. We uplift the Kingdom of God and therefore the world, not in feeling grateful but by BEING grateful—expressing it!

As we enter a season filled giving and receiving, let us commit ourselves to the graceful proclamation of the power of gratitude as an expressed element. Let us avoid drawing a false dichotomy of the grateful one, versus an ungrateful nine, but instead preach the power of expressive and bold gratitude offered to one another.

Untitled
The Rev. Ben Day

The Rev. Ben Day is Rector of Christ Church Episcopal, Kennesaw, Georgia.

Thanksgiving Day(C): The Bread of Heaven

Thanksgiving Day (C): The Bread of Heaven

John 6:25-35

By: The Rev. Jacob E. Pierce

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday when I was a kid. Thanksgiving Day meant Christmas was a bit closer and much cooler weather was soon on the way. Thanksgiving also meant spending the day with family and playing with my cousins in my grandmother’s backyard. But most importantly, Thanksgiving meant food! I can still remember the smells of my grandmother’s turkey and ham, the crunch of my aunt’s sweet potato casserole, and the delicious weirdness of my father’s oyster stuffing. What I remember most, however, are my grandmother’s angel biscuits.

My grandmother’s angel biscuits came from an old Appalachian recipe in our church cookbook. Angel biscuits are difficult to explain: they have the texture of a traditional southern biscuit but the taste of a yeast roll, deliciously perfect for soaking up gravy and bits of turkey.

Grandma always made her angel biscuits the day before Thanksgiving. She would place them in her refrigerator overnight on a large cookie sheet. I remember arriving early to her house and watching her cut the uncooked biscuits with precision and ease, something she had done many times. The smell of the rolls would fill the house, the yeast almost overpowering the smell of the fatback in the green beans on the stove.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I remember those angel biscuits. Grandma doesn’t cook much these days, and I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to make them myself three or four times. Perhaps it’s best they remain a memory.

The gospel appointed for Thanksgiving Day is an interesting choice. When our minds are most focused on food, what we might soon be cooking, or which dish we most look forward to, John’s words strike us: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal… Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”

It should be obvious to most that our civic and religious Thanksgiving holiday is not about food. Even the non-religious among us admit that Thanksgiving is at the very least a day in which we acknowledge what we have and what is important in our lives. For Christians, Thanksgiving Day is about giving thanks to God, the creator of all. The fact is, however, that when we give thanks to God for all we have, we are most often thankful for the “food that perishes,” as Jesus puts it. We might be thankful for our new car, for our home, for food, for clothing, for our job, and for money to pay our bills, things that are important, but things that perish.

There is certainly nothing wrong with giving thanks for the perishables in our lives, but that’s not the question Jesus is prompting. Jesus is asking where we place our faith. The gospel lesson doesn’t ask us to list the things for which we are thankful, the gospel lesson asks us to reflect on our faith and to receive the true bread, which gives life to world.

We can certainly be thankful for our material wealth, for our homes, for our jobs, and for the food on our tables this Thanksgiving, but let us not mistake thankfulness for faith. Thankfulness for turkey and biscuits won’t feed the hungry. Thankfulness for a closet full of clothing won’t clothe the naked. Thankfulness for a good home and a good job won’t house the homeless or right the economic injustice in our society. Only our faith in Jesus and our participation in God’s mission will do that.

The preacher should consider the implications of appointing a lesson from John’s bread imagery on Thanksgiving Day. The preacher should also consider how receiving the bread of life conflicts with or harmonizes with our religious and civic understanding of the Thanksgiving holiday and its traditions. Most importantly, the preacher will need to consider Jesus’s use of thirst and hunger imagery in the context of perishable bread. How might the preacher prompt her congregation to consider what it means to be thankful for the non-perishables? What does thankfulness for God’s mission and God’s kingdom look like? How might thankfulness move from acknowledgment and faith to action and participation?

As we break bread this Thanksgiving around our tables, may we who follow in the way of Jesus be moved beyond thankfulness for turkey and gravy; may we be moved to receive and share the bread of heaven, which gives life to the world.

 

fullsizerender
The Rev. Jacob E. Pierce

The Rev. Jacob E. Pierce is an Episcopal priest and the curate of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jacob has served churches in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. before receiving a Master of Divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2015. Jacob enjoys reading, collecting Marian folk art, and playing with his very energetic dog, Hamlet.