Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve Homily

Thanksgiving Eve – Year B (RCL)
Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33
Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 7:30 pm
Joint Service with Trinity Episcopal and First Lutheran, Redlands (at First Lutheran)

Jesus said, “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”

Without a doubt, the bottom line of today’s Gospel lesson is a message of assurance. At some level, we all know that, we all feel that. But, like so many of Jesus’ words to us, this same passage can, at the same time, leave us feeling a little uneasy. Depending on who we are or what circumstances we find ourselves in, the cause of the uneasiness will be a little different.

I would hazard a guess that most of us are either pretty well of, or at least have sufficient means to live a reasonably comfortable life. What does today’s Gospel lesson say to us? Jesus tells us, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” For 21st century Americans, this injunction could be expanded to include do not worry about your house, or your car, or your 401(k). But having such things, having the means to live comfortably both now and in the future, brings with it a great deal of worry, particularly in our current economic climate. How can we not worry, with the stock market being more of an E-ticket ride than any rollercoaster? How can we not worry with employment on the rise? We may have what we need for a comfortable life now, but will we still have it next month, or next year, or when we want to retire? Worry is the sign of the times we live in.

For us, the Gospel message is quite clear. “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This message does not necessarily mean that we are assured of keeping what we have. Rather, it is an injunction to not worry about the material, but to focus on what is important. For us Christians, it is not the food we eat or the clothes we wear or the house we live in or the car we drive. What is important is our relationship with God. What this message is saying is that when we focus on such things as house and car and food and investments, those things detract from our focus on what is important. The Gospel cautions us to not let our anxiety over having enough become the driving force in our lives. For if that happens, when that happens – and we all succumb to such anxiety at one time or another, it is only human – when that happens, it becomes our ultimate loyalty. It becomes our idol. It becomes our god.

The corrective, according to Jesus, is not to worry about such things. It doesn’t do any good anyway. It just results in increased blood pressure, ulcers, headaches. Rather, we need to trust that God will watch over us, protect us, and help us get through such times. At times, this may sound like a platitude, but I’m sure we have all heard stories of those who do demonstrate righteousness by trusting in God, and when they do, somehow, all is well. God does provide. Not necessarily with miracles. Not necessarily in the ways we would like, hope, or expect. But God does provide. Of that we are assured, and in that we place our hope.

But as I reflect on this passage, I am also mindful of those who do not have sufficient means to life a reasonably comfortable life; of the results of a recently-released study that shows that one in seven people in the world, nearly one billion people, suffer from hunger and malnutrition. And I am mindful of a study released by the US Department of Agriculture last week that in 2008, one in seven households in the United States, nearly 49 million people, while not necessarily suffering from hunger or malnutrition, struggled to put enough food on their tables. While they may have food, it is not sufficient to for an active, healthy lifestyle. The government study noted that this was a significant increase over 2007 number, and that, because of the global recession, this number is expected to climb even higher for 2009. For many people faced with financial difficulties, something as simple and basic as food becomes an unaffordable luxury.

In response to the report, the administration called the findings “unsettling.” As Christians, I would say this is more than unsettling. It is unacceptable. It is morally reprehensible. So what does today’s Gospel lesson say to these people? Jesus tells us “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink.” How can these people not worry? These people and the billion others around the world who are waiting for the Good News of today’s Gospel lesson to tangibly manifest itself in their lives.

Does this mean that these people do not have faith? That they are not righteous? That if they would only trust in God, they would have the food they need? Definitely not! In fact, many of these people, in their poverty, have nothing to turn to but their faith. They have utmost faith that despite their circumstances, God will provide, as promised in today’s Gospel. Sure, they can’t help but worry – worry about how they are going to feed themselves, how they are going to feed their children. But in the midst of the worry, they somehow are able to see the truth of God’s grace, the bounty of God’s love.

So how come they are not relieved? How come they continue to suffer from hunger, homelessness, disease? That’s easy. In our day, God does not generally work through miraculous means. All that changed with the coming of Jesus Christ. Christ’s coming ushered in a new way of doing business. God now works through the Body of Christ present in the world. God works through us, who are called to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ in the world. So, from this standpoint, today’s Gospel lesson does not let us, those who have what we need to survive, off the hook, but rather invites us to struggle with our sense of priorities.

In ancient times, wealth was perceived to have limits – there was a finite amount to go around. Striving for personal gain, while providing for the well-being of the one seeking it, at the same time, meant that less was available for someone else. Striving for material gain was often viewed as robbing from another. We do not hold such views today. In fact, our current global financial crisis was at least partially precipitated by the prevailing notion in our own time that wealth knows no bounds. Maybe we need to return to the old way of viewing such matters.

Does that mean we who have sufficient means need to impoverish ourselves to exhibit our faith, our righteousness? By no means! But it does call for awareness. Awareness of the plight of the other who may not have sufficient means; awareness that we may not be so different, that what separates us may only be one or two paychecks; awareness of ways that we might be able to give of our bounty to help those who do not have even what they need to survive.

At this time of Thanksgiving, when we take time to be mindful of the riches we have, we are called to be thankful for our bounty, both material and spiritual. But our response does not stop there. Today’s Gospel lesson calls us to righteousness – to right living – to living into the Gospel message, to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ in the world. As we count our blessings, we are not to just stop there, but are called to consider how those blessings might be used to the benefit of others beyond ourselves. Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink. Instead, worry about the other – the poor, the marginalized, our brothers and sisters who are the least of these. And not just worry, but act. This is, in part, what it means to strive for the kingdom of God and his righteousness. And as the Gospel promises, if we do this, many more blessings will be given us as well. Now that has the makings for a Happy Thanksgiving.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: