November 22, 2012 (Thanksgiving Day)
Thanksgiving Day, Year B
The Rev. Elizabeth A. B. Tesi
Joel 2:21-27, Psalm 126,
Timothy 2:1-7, Matthew 6:25-33
Happy Thanksgiving! I confess this is the first time in my life I have ever attended a Thanksgiving service on Thanksgiving. In high school, I was a cheerleader, so the day was all about getting up early to get dressed and ready for the big game. And quite frankly, to this day, Thanksgiving is just not Thanksgiving without a few back flips and a football game, even though I am no longer the one doing the jumps.
In recent years, Thanksgiving was at my in-laws, whose tradition includes plunking a crate of fresh oysters onto the back deck of my brother-in-law’s house, cracking them open, and slurping them raw, with the condiments of your choice, all while standing on the back deck. Oh, I suppose that a few of them end up in the stuffing, as well, but who cares about stuffing? (I do, actually, and you’d better be careful if you are having me for dinner, because I am so greedy about it, it’s a little embarrassing. I am always very sorry for my greed, after the fact.)
But church on Thanksgiving day? That’s a new one for me. I confess I am curious about what draws us to this place- away from the football, away from the families, away from the Macy’s parade.
I imagine that we came here because we are seeking a connection with God. I confess, I chortled with glee, just a little, when I saw that the reading appointed for today included Matthew’s “lilies of the field” passage. In these dying days of the year, it is so hopeful and life giving to hear “consider the lilies”.
On one hand, for Thanksgiving, it is a fine interpretation to hear this passage as a message of thankfulness. God cares for all our needs, God knows our needs, and God provides splendor for those in God’s care. So give thanks for what we have. That is indeed a good and right way to hear this passage.
It is also good and valid to hear it as a clarion call against worry. Jesus tells us this parable not only to help us think outside eth box on thankfulness, but also to call us to steadfast trust. And this, to me, is a greater challenge.
At St. Mary’s, we make a regular practice of thankfulness. Each week, we try to include thanksgivings in our prayers. In our Vestry meetings, we begin each meeting with “body of Christ” moments, times when we saw other people in the parish doing things for each other, and in every staff meeting, we have “ministry in motion” moments, when the staff thinks of the many ways people in our community have acted in Godly ways to each other. It is easy, as your priest, to give thanksgiving. I do it professionally each week when I preside over the Eucharist, and as a pastoral caregiver when I hear reports that the surgery went well or the baby is feeling better.
But worrying? That is not such an easy discipline. In our society, we have plenty to worry about. The examples that Jesus cites in this passage point out a few of the typical worries of the day: “do not worry about your body, what you will wear… or eat or drink.’ On one hand, especially in Eugene, it is easy to think of ht others who have even less than we do, but I am going to challenge you to think of yourselves. You see, thankfulness is a discipline, but so is letting go of our worry. It’s easy to deny that I feel a sense of worry if I’m busy expressing that worry in terms of other people. And while that sounds like a very Christian train of thought, the risk of that is that I can trick myself into denying that I too have the need to grow in my faith and trust in God.
So let’s think about ourselves for a moment. For me, Jesus would have to say things like “Do not worry about your gas tank or the bike tires. Look at the birds of the air- they neither toil or pump gas.” He’d caution me not to worry about what I wear: “For not having the exact right pair of boots will not be the death of you, and while a set of Toms would be the perfect pairing for that skirt, you have other shoes so you aren’t really barefoot, are you?” And probably, “Remember the pixels on the internet: they neither toil or work. Stop worrying so much.” Like so many others, I do worry, worry, worry.
If I am not careful, in my line of work, I can spend so much time expressing my worry in care of others that I can deny that I too hunger to grow in my trust in God. I can let my own anxiety expand unchecked, because I am not focusing my efforts on my own spiritual growth. I think that is part of the challenge that Jesus gives us in his parable today. “Who by worrying can add an hour to his life?” The lilies exist and trust entirely in God. God also wants that simple, trusting relationship from us. That relationship of trust and release feeds us and fills us, as God’s people.
And if that applies to me, because I’m really not all that unique of a person, it probably applies to you, too. I am sure I am not alone in the worrying department. We have a lot to worry about in our world. And sometimes, it feels like it will never end.
Back when I was in Seminary, a friend and I were walking with a Bishop cross the oak grove. We were both job hunting, and of course, were quite worried and anxious. It was early spring, and the oak grove had thousands of little yellow wildflowers scattered across it. As our professor listened to our concerns, the wise old man gestured at the oak grove, dappled in sunlight and shade. “Consider,” he said, “the lilies in the field.”
How unfortunate for him that the grounds crew, at that exact moment, slapped down their mowers and mowed down all the flowers.
“Perhaps not those lilies,” he added.
It certainly does feel like I’m in a moment when all the flowers were mown down by oblivious grounds crew members. And yet- even now- I see this reading and am called to lay down my worry.
For whatever reason you came here, we find ourselves together, a community on this Thanksgiving day. For whatever you give thanks for, we add our joy in one voice. For whatever worries you came here to flee from for just a little while, we acknowledge your pain and invite you to lift up that worry to give to God. Jesus challenges us this Thanksgiving with a great gift: do not worry about your life. Consider the lilies. Do not worry, he says. Live the life you are given to live and live it fully with joy.