Why Do We Give Thanks?
Matthew 6: 25-33
Thanksgiving & World Communion Sunday; October 7, 2018
Text: Matthew 6, 25-33
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.25“Therefore 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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Every year on Thanksgiving Day we are invited to think about giving thanks. We might be thankful for a year of good health, an anticipated good harvest or a good job. Sometimes, even though some things have not turned out so well, we give thanks they were not worse. We all search for reasons to give thanks. When we think about Thanksgiving, we usually remember those things that have worked out well, events or experiences which have given us joy. Through this exercise of looking for that for which we are grateful, we often find that our thanksgiving is based on certain experiences: circumstances evoke our thanksgiving. So thanksgiving and circumstance may be two sides of the same coin. Based on our experience of Thanksgiving Day, I have questions to think about. What if we are living with many struggles in life and we find it hard to think of a reason for giving thanks? How, then, do we celebrate Thanksgiving? What is the source of our practice of giving thanks? For what do we give thanks? Why do we give thanks?
Today we read words ascribed to Jesus by a scribe writing about 40 years after Jesus was killed,“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Jesus suggests looking at the birds of the air and considering the lilies of the field. They don’t seem to worry about eating and drinking and they also don’t have grocery bills, mortgages, car payments, debts, credit card charges or high rocketing insurance payments to keep them awake at night. All of us would like to be relieved of worry and anxiety, but Jesus appears to be making an unrealistic suggestion: “Look at the birds, look at the lilies.” To this suggestion we are tempted to reply, “Yes, but …. look at the bills! Look at our problems.” I have just paid the property tax and I am concerned about the various fees to be paid. We still wonder if we can make the chequebook balance this month. We hope our finances are going to get better but we can’t be sure about that. We are filled with worries and concerns.
In these circumstances, how do we understand today’s scripture? For what do we give thanks to God? Jesus is not suggesting that human beings can live like birds or lilies. Indeed, Jesus means to emphasize the difference between birds and lilies on the one hand and human beings on the other. Compared with human beings, birds are usually thought of as mostly small creatures contributing little to the economy and lilies as trifling weeds growing wild in the fields. What Jesus wants to say to us is that if God cares so lavishly for inconsequential creatures, how much more will God provide for human beings. Jesus invites us to imagine God’s care for us in the midst of our various circumstances.
This is not a new thing, this giving thanks to God for caring for us both in times of joy and tragedy and trusting God to be God. Three thousand years ago the people of Israel formulated songs of thanksgivings for every circumstance of their lives. Come weal or woe, they had a blessing. If it were good news, then, “Blessed be the one who is good and does good.” If it were bad news, then, “Blessed be the judge of truth” (Mishnah Berachot 9:2). As far as they were concerned, human beings had a duty to pronounce a blessing on the bad in life as well as the good, because all life comes from God.
In the British and Canadian navies, the traditional grace before meals was simple, consisting of just two words, “Thank God,” normally said by the chaplain. When the chaplain was not present, the captain said grace. The story is told that one captain announced tersely, “Padre’s sick. Thank God!” Even when sickness comes, we can thank God for healing power. We thank God for strength to endure, confidence to risk and courage to find and face new challenges. Paul put it powerfully: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4: 8-9).
The above story leads us into new dimensions of thanksgiving. Our thanksgiving does not arise from certain situations or results, but from our relationship with God. Regardless of our circumstances we thank God because we belong to God and God is deeply involved in our lives. So, Jesus says “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will God not much more clothe you – you of little faith?”
Jesus says not to worry about what will we eat, drink and wear. Such materialism belongs to others who do not know God’s love, not to disciples. Jesus reminds us that when we worry and fret, that is not being thankful but reflects a lack of faith in God. Jesus suggests we be concerned about our lack of faith, not our lack of material things. Our lack of faith is the most important reason for our not being thankful, according to Jesus. What, then, is the meaning of faith?
A contemporary theologian Elaine Pagels says in her book Beyond Belief (2003), “Faith is a quality of relationship.” In our relationship, for example, I can have faith in you and you have faith in me. The relationship can be well nurtured or betrayed. Our relationship with God is like that: I can have faith in God or not. However God always has faith in me and in you no matter our circumstance in life. So if we want to have a good quality of relationship with God we have to work to nurture that. The quality of our relationship enables us to commit ourselves to that for which we hope and love.
We find a quality of relationship in Aboriginal people’s philosophy and culture. They do not have a certain day for Thanksgiving like we do today; not because they are not thankful people, but because every day is a day of thanksgiving. Many Aboriginal peoples give thanks for the ever-expanding, ever-depending on the circle of life. They give thanks for Two-Leggeds – Four-Leggeds, the Wingeds and all the Living-Moving Things of the Earth and seek just relationship with them. They seek mutual concern for justice for all and harmony with them, since they think we are all interrelated and interdependent on each other and we are all relatives. In other words, we all cherishes kinship relationship.
The season of thanksgiving is a good time to examine our relationship with God and each other. Do we have the quality of relationship with God we long for? And what is the quality of our relationships with each other? Even if in our mailboxes there are many bills and no good news in the newspaper, even though we have had painful experiences in the past in our relationships, we are thankful to God and each other, because we are journeying together to heal the wounds together. We give thanks because we are confident that even if we do not know what tomorrow may bring, just as we are sure that the sun will rise, we are confident that God will live each day with us: God is with us. Herein is hope as we make our thanksgivings.
Thanks be to God who is faithful. Now we are invited to the table of Jesus Christ to partake the one body of Christ for our journey together.
Minister, West Point Grey United Church