Thursday, November 26, 2009

Counting our blessings: The story of Thanksgiving

Here is my Thanksgiving Day sermon. May your table be full and may many blessings bring you peace and joy this day and forever.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have much to be thankful for today, beginning with all of you. Thank you for being here, for sharing with me in this journey of faith that brings us together here in this sacred place.

I have much to be thankful for today. For the love and companionship of Lori; for good health, a warm and comfortable home; food on the table; my family on the West Coast, and friends on both coasts and in between and all over the world.

All of us have much to be thankful for, beginning with this gift of life from God we share, this privilege to walk the earth with each other. I hope today you will pause, and as my grandmother used to say, count your blessings.

This day we call Thanksgiving is one of two secular holidays that are also sacred feast days in the Episcopal Church, the other being the Fourth of July.

You may not know the origins of Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday. Although the pilgrims took a day of thanks for their survival, that really is not the beginning of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

Nor did it really begin with George Washington, who, it is true, declared a day of prayer and thanks for the nation having won its independence. President Washington’s declaration for Thanksgiving was observed in some places but not everywhere.

Thanksgiving as we know it began with Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863, in the midst of the worst calamity this nation has ever known, declared a national day of thanks that should be observed ever after on the fourth Thursday of November.

What is significant is that Lincoln declared Thanksgiving not in a time of national celebration, but in the midst of a terrible civil war that claimed more lives than all of our other wars combined.

Lincoln was urged to create this holiday by Sarah Hale, who was a single mother of five children, a widow and penniless. Sarah Hale urged Lincoln to declare a day of Thanksgiving hoping it might bring the nation a moment of healing.

By the way, Sarah Hale went on to become a champion for the education of girls, and a famous writer. You know her best as the author of “Mary had a Little Lamb.”

I think Lincoln knew what he was doing when he agreed with her by declaring a day of thanks: It is in those times when it looks bleakest that we are called to stop, to give thanks, to count our blessings. When we do, we might find our courage renewed, our spirit lifted, and we might see God walking next to us, holding us, embracing us, bringing us blessings, and lighting our path with hope.

Our nation is in one of those bleak times before the dawn. We remain engaged in two wars, with little prospect for peace in the coming year. The challenges abroad and here at home are large, indeed. Unemployment is the highest in a generation, and even if you have a job, I can safely bet everyone here knows someone who is out of a job or marginally employed.

Meanwhile, the government of our nation seems badly mired in the politics of fear and partisan polarization. We have a new president who is maneuvering with difficulty across the shoals of state. Whatever your politics, whatever your opinion on this issue or that, he deserves your fervent prayers.

And then pray for the world, and put feet to your prayers. Much of the world is in need of your compassion, in need of healing, in need of hope for a world not yet seen, and in need of action to make that hope real.

Today, let us begin by counting our blessings – all of our blessings, whatever they may be: in material wealth, or in talent and time, or in the love of family and friends. Let us count our blessings, and come to this table to share in the sacred bread and wine of our Holy Communion.

And then let us ask again how we can share our abundance, how we can make real the Lord’s Prayer “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

1 comment:

Pam said...

Jim, it is good to have you back. I am thankful for you and Lori.