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Category Archives: Family Stories

A Dwelling Place for God

(a sermon for May 17, 2020, the 6th Sunday of Easter, based on Ephesians 2:11-22)

Unless I miss my guess, I suspect that most of us can recall a time in our lives when, for whatever reason, we felt “left out.”

I remember one time in particular: I was about 13 or 14 at time, it’s summertime and I’m at the lake, and one day I’m just sitting down on our dock all alone and feeling incredibly lonely while all my friends were out there on “the pond” having fun together.  Now, as I think back on it now I don’t think I could tell you the reason why; all the kids on our side of the lake had always hung together as one group.  I don’t know: maybe it was that by this time of our lives some of the guys and girls were starting to find more than a passing interest in one another and I didn’t quite fit into that equation; could be that some of the locals, who knew each other from school, tended to stay separate from us “summer people;” or maybe it was just a typical case of teenagers being fickle and flighty over matters of popularity!  All I know is that sitting down on the dock that day, I felt… awful!

I remember literally feeling hurt to think that I was, in essence, now standing on the outside looking in and feeling somehow excluded from all the fun that all my friends were all having: diving off Barker Rocks, having cookouts down at Sand Cove, waterskiing behind somebody’s motorboat or for that matter, just cruising up and down the shoreline, laughing and hanging out!  I so wanted to be a part of that, I so wanted to be accepted and included and a part of things; but since I was far too shy and awkward at that point to do anything about that myself, basically I just sort of sat there on the dock all through that horrible afternoon feeling lonely and isolated, alienated and utterly excluded, all the while miserably watching from afar everybody else having a good time.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but at that very moment not only was I experiencing something of the ways of the world as it truly exists, I was also learning a very important lesson in Christian theology!

Now, I don’t think I have to convince any of us that you and I live in a world where people and groups are routinely and systematically “left out,” isolated and alienated from one another, and for any number of reasons:  racism, economics, age, classism, geography, issues of gender inequality and identity, red state/blue state; it goes on and on, each and all of it a catalyst for how any semblance of unity and community can be torn asunder, creating an “us versus them” mentality.  Sadly, note even the church is immune to such behavior: many is the time over the years when as a pastor I’ve seen firsthand how bad habits, misbegotten traditions and a wide array of deeply held prejudices serves only to create deep divisions within the church, leaving folks with the feeling that they’re unwelcome, unworthy and on the outside looking in.

And that, wherever or however it occurs, is not only a travesty, it’s also heresy.  Because ours is the God who in Jesus Christ “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us,” so that, in the words of our text for this morning, those “who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ,”  with whatever dividing wall between us and God having been torn down, so that we are no longer “strangers and aliens, but… citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”   What that means, friends, is that not only are we brought close to God through Christ, but also that the barriers that divide us are torn down as well, and we are joined together and built spiritually into one household that is no less than “a dwelling place for God,” with “Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”

Bottom line is that no one, for any reason, should ever feel left out of the fellowship that exists in this community of faith, this Body of Christ of which you and I are each a part; for the love that is sown here actively seeks to gather in all those who stand on life’s shoreline longing to be included.  It is, as our hymn for this morning has so aptly proclaimed, our church’s “charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth,”
and each and every one of us, friends, are invited to be a part of that divine charter.  The good news, today and always, is that it is our Lord’s intent that no one should ever be left standing off to the sidelines, feeling lonely and isolated, alienated and utterly excluded from the sacred community of God’s people.

Of course, all that said, it should also be noted (and this will come as no surprise to you either!) that in these days of pandemic, the feeling of being “lonely and isolated, alienated and utterly excluded” has taken on a whole new meaning, even as it pertains to the church. 

What’s been interesting to me lately about all of this is that now, after two long months of having this unprecedented experience of having been unable to hold “in-person” services because of the threat of Covid-19, across the denominational spectrum we’re all trying to figure out what happens next.  Do we seek to cautiously reopen, do we take a “wait and see” attitude, or do we just decide right now, as some congregations have already done, that for the sake of health and safety we need to shut down for a year or more?  None of these are easy choices to make; and speaking as a pastor, believe me when I tell you that these are maybe the most difficult decisions for any of our churches will ever have to make.

But even more difficult is the reality that in these days of “staying at home” our congregations have become, well, scattered.  As I’ve said to you before, I’m very gratified at your understanding and support of these online services; but I’ll admit it, what we do here can never be quite as satisfying or as meaningful as our physically coming together at church on a Sunday morning.  And yes, I know, as the old saying goes, that “four walls and a steeple do not a church make,” but I do have to confess that there are times these days that I worry that in many ways without the building we end up feeling much like I did on that fateful day so long ago… as though we’re standing on the outside looking in, feeling as though we somehow don’t belong.

Well, if you’ve been worried about that, or if about now you’re kind of feeling on the outside looking in, then let me say to you that it seems to me that this good news that Paul brought to the Ephesians belongs to us as well.

To put this in its proper context, there was actually a fair amount of division amongst the early Christians in Ephesus. Obtensibly, it had to do with the Jewish ritual of circumcision and how the letter of the law was to be followed, but what it really was all about was “the insiders” versus “the outsiders;” about who amongst them were the truest, longest and most important members of the church, and who among them who… weren’t.  And as far as Paul was concerned, this was unacceptable; it was a sin of division that not only compromised the church’s witness and its very existence, but which also grieved the Lord. Paul makes clear here that the church, as God intends it to be and as Jesus himself has gathered it, is meant to be ONE: as Paul says elsewhere in this epistle, “there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.”

In other words, it’s not about the stone foundations and white clapboards of a church building, it’s not about the program, it’s not even about the joy of our singing and praying and sitting together on a set of admittedly uncomfortable pews for an hour or so on a Sunday morning… it’s about who we are and how we are as a people of faith; a people who “once were far off,” but who now are near to God and, in the process, drawn ever nearer to each other; a people who through Jesus Christ “share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.”  As The Message translates this part of Paul’s epistle, “It’s plain enough.  You’re no longer wandering exiles.  This kingdom of faith is now your home country.  You’re no longer strangers or outsiders.  You belong here, with as much to the name Christian as anyone.”  And here’s the capper:  “And he’s using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building… he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together… a temple in which God is quite at home.”

You see, that’s the thing that we really do need to keep reminding ourselves of right about now: that church is not something we go to; it’s something that we are, that strong and indefatigable identity that we bring to a hurting and divided world, an identity given to us in the person of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Jesus is the one who invites us, Jesus is the one who makes us who we are, and it is Jesus who gives us what we need to survive and thrive. To quote Kevin Baker, “Jesus is the singular, God/human wrecking crew that demolishes division and gifts us with unity, peace and reconciliation.”  And here’s the thing… even now – especially now (!) – Jesus will not ever leave us on the sidelines, apart from that unity and feeling lonely and isolated, alienated and utterly excluded.  Never… because you and I, all of us together, beloved… have been made into his dwelling place, and that will never, ever change.

I should tell you that in my particular story about feeling left out, and the biggest reason I still remember it so clearly, it was actually an experience short lived.   Maybe it’d been an oversight; perhaps one of them had seen me sitting there alone and figured I ought to be included.  But before long, here were all of my friends, inviting me to come along with them; and ten minutes later, we’re swimming and cruising and water-skiing and it’s like nothing had ever happened.  Just as quickly as I hopped into that boat, all those feelings of hurt over being left out vanished, replaced with this incredibly joyful feeling of… belonging.  And it felt good: good to be invited, good to be welcomed in, good to be inside that circle of friendship rather than on the outside looking in.

And beloved, that’s what our God wants for each one of us, most especially in these days when it has become so easy to feel scattered and disconnected from one another. 

I know that in the face of a still uncertain future it’s hard for us to think of ourselves as existing apart from our building, our traditions, our routine and our usual sense of purpose… but we need to understand that when our Lord talks of our being gathered together as the church, he’s talking about a house not made by human hands, but only by his loving hands; a house made up of people whose hearts and lives have been changed forever by the strong and saving v. Mgrace of Jesus Christ; and a house where community and fellowship and mission are not mere buzzwords, but the very way we live.  

We are the church… you and me together, from wherever we happen to be… we are the “holy temple the Lord… built together into a dwelling place for God.”

May it be said of us, beloved, that God was and is alive and well at this church… and in us.

And may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

.© 2020 Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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Down from the Mountain

(a sermon for February 23, 2020, the Last Sunday after Epiphany andTransfiguration Sunday, based on Matthew 17:1-9)

One summer several years ago when our children were young, our family did some camping at Mount Blue State Park, located in the beautiful western mountains of Maine; and as part of that experience, the kids and I decided one morning that we would actually climb Mount Blue itself.  On paper, that didn’t seem like a hard thing; the park brochure said that the trail we were going to take was a relatively easy one, and what’s more, you could drive right up to the base of the mountain, park your car and then you only had to walk a mile and a half-long trail to reach the summit; I mean, what could be simpler?  Of course, what they don’t tell you is that’s a mile and a half straight up! 

So I’ll admit, it was an arduous climb for the children and especially for the father(!), and honestly, we spent as much time sitting down to rest as we did actually walking (it’s no coincidence that the gift shops in those parts sell t-shirts, key chains and such that proclaim, “I survived Mount Blue!”)!  Despite the huffing and puffing, however, we did make it to the top, and it was well worth the climb.  The view was amazing, a literal panorama of God’s glory revealed in the beauty of creation, and we pretty much spent the rest of the day just drinking it all in. 

And I have to say, I’m feeling pretty good about what we’d accomplished, even getting a little cocky about it; I remember actually saying to my kids, “You know, this wasn’t easy, but in the eternal struggle of man versus wilderness, we triumphed!” But then I made my real mistake, by adding these words: “…and getting back down is going to be a piece of cake!”

Definitely a mistake!  The fact is, heading back I made the interesting discovery that I was tired, my legs were stiff and hurting, my arthritic knees were starting to kill, and every single step I made walking down the mountain trail felt like it might well be my last!  And adding insult to injury was the fact that Jake (who was, as I recall, 14 at the time) and Zach (who was seven!) fairly well ran down the trail, leaving Sarah and I to slowly, painfully hobble our way down (and truth be told, I think Sarah – my sweet little girl (!) – held back because she felt sorry for me!).  At one point we’re about three quarters of the way down, and we run into some hikers on their way up the trail, and one of them says to me, “There’s two kids down there – a big one and a little one – draped over the hood of a car.  Do they belong to you?”  And I said, “Yesss… Are they alright?”  “Oh, yeah,” he said back, “They’re just wondering if you’re going to make it back anytime soon!”

So much for the triumph of the mountaineer!  Needless to say, we did make it down… eventually; tired and sore, but otherwise none the worse for wear.  It’d been a good time and a great memory for the kids and me, but I did learn an important lesson:  that oftentimes, the hardest part of climbing a mountain is coming back down; and eventually, you always have to come down from the mountain!

It’s a lesson I’ve thought about a great deal as I’ve returned this week to this morning’s reading from Matthew, the story of how Jesus led three of the disciples “up a high mountain, by themselves,” where Jesus was “transfigured before them,” his face shining “like the sun, and his clothes [becoming] dazzling white.”  Actually, it makes sense that the setting for this particular story is a mountaintop, because throughout scripture mountains always hold a place of great significance; basically, if anyone from the Bible goes up a mountain, you know something important is going to happen.  It was on a mountain, for example, where Moses was confronted by the burning bush, and later where he received the Ten Commandments.  The temple was built in Jerusalem on Mount Zion; one of Jesus’ most powerful teachings is now commonly referred to as the “sermon on the mount;” and even his crucifixion took place on that “hill, far away,” Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” otherwise known as Mount Calvary.  In the Bible, you see, mountains are always considered to be places of revelation and clarity and wonder; and more often than not, serve to illumine what happens beyond it!  

And so it follows that it’s on the mountaintop where Peter, James and John see Jesus, bathed in brilliant, dazzling light, and with incredible clarity come to recognize just who Jesus is, standing there and in “deep conversation” with Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet. This was form them an experience filled to overflowing with God’s mystery and power, and it’s awesome and terrifying all at the same time.  And it’s not at all surprising that Peter’s first thought is to preserve the moment forever: “It is good for us to be here,” he says, “if you wish, I will make three dwelling here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  

What’s interesting is that in Mark’s version of this story, we’re told that Peter was so stunned by what was happening that “he didn’t know what to say,” (9:6) and he just sort of blurted this out without thinking; but I’ve always kind of felt like it was a awe-inspired gesture on Peter’s part, an effort to try to hang on to the feeling of this “mountaintop experience” as long as possible!  But of course, the thing about mountaintop experiences is that try as we might for it to be otherwise, they aren’t made to last; and the gospels all make it clear that as suddenly as this one began, it was over; and “when they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.” (The Message) It’d been this incredible, fleeting moment of wonder and terror and divine revelation, but now it was gone.

But here’s the thing: though the disciples’ transfiguration “experience” had passed, their journey – in just about every sense of the word – was just beginning. And we know this because of the very next verse in Matthew’s account of all this: that just as soon as it was done, “they were coming down the mountain.”  You see, this is the other thing about mountaintop experiences: eventually you always have to come down from the mountain; and while that’s often the harder part of the experience, it’s also the place where true faith begins.

It’s worth pointing out here is that biblically speaking, the transfiguration story comes essentially at the mid-point of the gospel.  Up to this point in the story, we’ve learned about Jesus’ teaching and healing acts, and his growing ministry, and even after the experience of transfiguration, all that continues for Jesus and his disciples; except now it’s different.  Now it’s off to Jerusalem, with all that that journey implies.  In other words, we’ve had a moment of glory up on the mountain, but now it’s time to come back down to the valley.  It’s time for us to go to the cross. 

Likewise, it’s no coincidence that this is the story that bridges the boundary between the season of Epiphany, in which we revel in the light of Christ coming into the world, and the season of Lent, when we remember how darkness sought to overcome that light.  Moreover, it serves as a reminder to us that in the Christian life, we always stand on the boundary between mountain and valley, light and darkness, radiance and pain.  In faith, as in life, we cannot avoid the darkness and pain; the reality of things is that we can’t stay on the mountain forever but always to come down into the valleys of life to face all the dangers that dwell there. 

There are those, of course, who would succumb to this notion that the Christian life is simply one mountaintop experience after another; and that a belief in Jesus somehow removes you from things like human hurt, personal tragedy and the many injustices of life.  But the truth is that for believer and unbeliever alike, there is trouble in life, and it does rain on the just and unjust.  And anyone who approaches faith with the expectation that all of life will be all sunshine and roses will either drop out at the first sign of trouble, or else find glean on to some bad theology that convinces them that they are somehow personally at fault for every bad thing that happens; and that’s a burden that some people will carry for a lifetime.

It’s one of the great misunderstandings of the Christian faith, in my opinion, that its power is to be measured based purely on “good things” that happen.  The difference between this kind of thinking and true Christian faith is that we already know there are dark valleys, and that the shadow of death lingers over so much of human experience but nonetheless as we come down from the mountain we walk confidently, because we also know we are not going into this valley alone but in the embrace of God, who brings us safely to green pastures and still waters. 

This is true faith, friends; and what we discover in this transfiguration story we’ve shared today is that this faith finds its assurance in Jesus.

It’s there in the final moment of that wondrous experience, when the cloud overshadows the disciples there on the mountain, and as they hear a voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; and with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  You see, whether they realized or understood it at all, these three slack-jawed, awestruck and fear-ridden disciples had just been given the key to dealing with everything that was to come:  

Listen. Learn. Trust

Listen to what Jesus is saying to you; learn from his teachings; and trust that even now as you’re coming down from the mountain you will be led safely through the dark valleys ahead.

I’m reminded here of something Frederick Buechner wrote some years ago about a time in his life when he’d been filled with despair over his daughter’s ongoing struggle with the eating disorder anorexia.  As you can imagine, this constitutes a nearly impossible situation for any parent, and so it was for Buechner.  In fact, in his book Telling Secrets he tells the story of how one day, driving back to his home in Vermont and sick with worry over his child, was forced to pull over to a highway rest stop so that he might at least compose himself for the remainder of his journey.  And there in the parking lot, Buechner spied a car with a vanity license plate; although, he noted later, this time it really wasn’t a vanity plate.  The plate read simply, in capital letters, “TRUST.”

Buechner saw it as a revelation, and in that precise moment, he said, a great sense of calm swept over his life and he knew he could go on.  Never mind that the vehicle in question was a company car owned by a New England bank trust department officer; it was the word “TRUST” that made the difference:  a simple insight, a little snippet of divine teaching, a vision of what was his all along:  love, strength… and hope.

Every once in a while, you know, we do get a real glimpse of who Jesus is, and what he has to give us:  sometimes it comes in the midst of worship and prayer; other times in the kind of love and encouragement that’s shared between friends; perhaps in the fleeting memory of a particular time or place that stirs our heart just for the thought of it; a singular moment, that mountaintop experience in which we knew we were standing face to face with the Lord. 

This morning’s gospel reminds us to hold on to such things even as we come down from the mountain; for these are the moments that will sustain us as we walk more deeply into life, and as our faith transforms us from those who merely plod along the way into those who walk boldly and in tandem with Jesus Christ; those who understand that even walking through the darkest of valleys, there’s going to be a light leading them forward. 

Beloved, I hope and pray that whether your journey this week finds you climbing up the mountain, or making your way back down, you’ll be carrying that light as your own. 

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. MIchael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2020 in Epiphany, Faith, Family Stories, Jesus, Lent, Life, Maine, Sermon

 

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For All the Gifts Along the Way

(a sermon for November 24, 2019, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost and Thanksgiving Sunday, based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11)

Actually, as much as you all know I’ve always loved Thanksgiving Day (!), I must confess that most of those celebrations over the years have all pretty much melded together in my memory; a cornucopia, if you will, of many busy, sometimes even chaotic family gatherings and endless servings of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy (and stuffing, and sweet potato casserole, and peas and onions, and pies, and… well, you get the idea)!

There are, of course, a few memories that stand out: one of my earliest memories of Thanksgiving, for instance, was one spent at my grandparents’ house and how their table was elegantly and perfectly set with the fine china, polished silverware, and freshly pressed linen tablecloths and napkins, with a small crystal goblet filled with cranberry juice set just so at the center of each plate, to be drank at the very beginning of the Thanksgiving meal, just after grace and before anything else was served!  By contrast I also remember later years when the meal itself seemed overshadowed by my father’s and my utter determination (and, I realize now in retrospect, my mother’s great forbearance!) that we get up to the hunting camp for the last couple of days of deer season that weekend!

And I’ll always have very fond Thanksgiving memories of our own children growing up, all of them running around underfoot laughing and playing with their cousins, even a couple of occasions of Lisa and I having to sit at the dreaded “children’s table” with them when they were very small (which, by the way, did not reduce my consumption of turkey one little bit!).  I also remember one year when Zachary, who was just a toddler at the time, was so fussy at mealtime that I ended up taking him out for a long drive all through the surrounding countryside, in the fervent hope that he might actually fall asleep and so everyone else could eat in relative peace and quiet; but how, all in all, it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable day for my son and me, and I might add, another great, albeit for me slightly delayed, Thanksgiving Dinner!

Strangely enough, however, as I was thinking about it this week I’ve realized that ultimately what I remember most about all these Thanksgivings past is not primarily the food but the people with whom it was shared; all the laugher and conversation, and the stories that get told and told again around that table often long into the night, all these joyous reminders of who we are, where we came from, the many blessings that we share, and most importantly, where those blessings came from…

…which, when you come right down to it, is kind of what the day is supposed to be all about anyway!

Therein lies one of the more interesting things about our Thanksgiving Day celebrations: as the late columnist Erma Bombeck once wrote, “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare, [but] they are consumed in twelve minutes,” so… the question becomes, what are we to do with the rest of the day?  Granted, for many people and families these days Thanksgiving becomes more like a progressive dinner with several stops (and very often more than one dinner!) throughout the day, and what with parades and football and of course, the infamous “Black Friday” sales that now begin as early as Thursday afternoon (!) there is plenty happening to occupy the day; truly, I don’t think I need to tell anyone here how busy and convoluted a day Thanksgiving can become!  But that said, you have to wonder if at the end of the day it’s all worthwhile.  After all we’ve managed to layer upon our celebration of the day and admittedly, in all that is often required by it, can it still be said of us that we’re honoring the origin and purpose of Thanksgiving Day; and perhaps even more importantly, is it still about true thanksgiving unto God?

It’s worth noting here that though our American celebration of Thanksgiving commemorates that storied feast of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, historically speaking it wasn’t the first in North America.  That distinction likely belongs to the members of an expedition to Newfoundland in 1578, who celebrated their survival from a series of vicious storms with a feast of “tinned beef and mushy peas” brought over from England (mmmm….).  History also records a celebration meal shared in Nova Scotia by European settlers and the indigenous people of the region in the early 1600’s; and there’s even a proclamation of a yearly “day of thanksgiving” following a safe landing at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, several months before the Mayflower even set sail for the New World.  But regardless of the timing or circumstance, all these celebrations had at least one thing in common: the admonition to give prayerful thanks to God for the blessings of the harvest and, indeed, for life itself.  In the exhortation of an English preacher named Robert Wolfall, who was amongst that group of explorers in Newfoundland, they needed to be “thankefull to God for theyr strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places.”  That’s a conviction that continues to be expressed every year as “we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” praying that in whatever form it might take in this particular generation “the wicked oppressing [might] now cease from distressing.”

So for us this act and celebration of thanksgiving does carry with it a long and austere tradition; but here’s the thing:  the desire of people to offer thanks to God goes back a lot further than that.  The example of giving thanks unto the Lord can be traced back to the very beginning of scripture; as far back as the story of Noah we hear about how after he emerge from the ark, the very first thing he did was to build “an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 8:20) for purposes of offering up a sacrifice of thanksgiving, thus establishing a tradition of giving thanks unto God.  In fact, there are at least 140 passages throughout scripture that call for God’s people to true thanksgiving, both individually and all together; giving thanks and praise to God as the giver of all our many blessings, and as the ultimate source of all goodness, the foundation of all that we have and all that we are.  And that story continues even now:  for God, you see, has always been the very heart of our story, yours and mine, and those of the families of which we are part; God is at the beginning of that story, God’s in the midst of every detail that’s unfolding as we speak, and God will be there at its conclusion.  And God’s presence through it all, is the supreme reminder of who we are, where we came from, all the many blessings that we share, and most importantly, of where those blessings came from… and the first and best reason for us to give thanks!

Which brings us to our text for this morning, from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses seeks to retell the story of God’s chosen and redeemed people, as well as about the need for worship, true thanksgiving and a the humble offering back unto the Lord. Now, the “back story” of this particular passage is that the people of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and are just about to enter the Promised Land; however, Moses is dying and knows that he will not have the privilege of entering into that land.  And so, quite literally on his deathbed, Moses tells the story of their long history in the care and presence of God, along with very specific instruction as a good and proper “act and attitude” of thanksgiving.  As we heard it read this morning, you know that it involves taking “some of the first of all the fruit of the ground,” putting it in the basket and going “to the place that your God will choose as a dwelling for his name,” handing it to the priest who in turn will set the offering on that altar of the Lord.  It’s all very ceremonial, and in the parlance of Biblical scholars very much part of the “priestly narrative” of some the Pentateuch, that is, the first five books of the Old Testament; and it’s still very much in keeping with our Christian liturgy and tradition even to this day.

But here’s the thing I want us to notice this morning: that all of this culminates in… a story; a story that’s meant to be shared and passed on.  When this offering of first fruits has been set upon the altar, says Moses, “you shall make this response before the LORD your God: ‘a wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.’”  This is your story, says Moses, and it is a story that needs to be told again and again and again; it must be shared because this is the story of how God brought his people – our ancestors, yours and mine together – safely from there to here, guided and cared for and blessed every step of the way.

And you’ll notice also that the story that Moses recounts is unflinching in its honesty, remembering the painful parts of the journey as well as its triumphs: their affliction and suffering at the hands of the Egyptians, the years of slavery and their cries to God for redemption.  Just as so many family stories will inevitably include a remembrance of some the most difficult times that family has faced, Moses here wants to be clear that true thanksgiving, in some way or another, acknowledges both the bitter and the sweet, understanding that it was the hardship of their journey that led them to even more fully appreciate the mighty hand of God, his “signs and wonders” and his deliverance of his people to “a land flowing with milk and honey.”  This, says Moses to the people of Israel, is your heritage, this is your blessing, and this is who you and whose you are; and for this reason, you are to give thanks, make your offering and with all those who reside among you, friend and stranger alike, “celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”

And that, dear friends, is what Thanksgiving is all about.  It’s all about our story: yours, mine and God.

I love what the Rev. W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., of Truett Seminary of Baylor University, says about this: “Simply put,” he writes, “gratitude is rarely confined to the present moment.  More often than not the present moment is the culmination of ‘givings’ all along the way – sometimes being delivered to something and sometimes from something… the fruitfulness of the present [is rooted] with the faithfulness of God all along.”  I like that; Tucker’s words serve as a reminder to me that the act and attitude of thanksgiving, as well as to the matter at hand, our celebration of “Turkey Day” this Thursday, must involve more than just a cursory moment of grace for good food and fellowship, spoken quickly before the food gets cold!  Certainly we should be thankful for “health and strength and daily bread,” just as we ought to be happy for family and friends who have gathered around the table with us and for the countless gifts of love that are ours in the here and now.  But we also need to be aware and truly thankful for all the gifts that have come to us along the way: for the lessons learned over time and across generations, and the inheritance left us from those family members and friends – the saints of this and every generation – who have helped to make us who we are; for the experiences of life that have helped us to grow and persons and as a people, for love and laughter and wonder, and even for the difficulties of life and living we’ve been forced to face which have given us strength and understanding for the living of these days; as well as for the untold blessings of freedom and the fullness of bounty that is ours as a nation and as a people.

For all these gifts given along the way from generation to generation we give thanks and praise… but most of all, we give thanks to the one who is the true source of all good gifts around us, the ones, as the song says, are “sent from heaven above,” the ones that which “the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”

So have a wonderful day this Thursday, friends!  Have a great time with your family or with your friends, eat lots of turkey and stuffing (I know I will!) and if you can, make sure you take the time to visit and sit around the table and tell the good stories… again!  Have fun; and as you do, remember just who you are and where you came from… take some time to remember the many blessings you share – speak them aloud, because that’s always a good thing to do – but most importantly, let us all remember where those gifts, the ones for today and the ones along the way, actually came from…

… and may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

 

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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