Saturday, October 11, 2008

Thanksgiving Day Sermon

Open singing the chorus:
Da-da-yeinu, da-da-yeinu
Da-da-yeinu, Dayeinu dayeinu
Da-da-yeinu, da-da-yeinu
Da-da-yeinu, Dayeinu dayeinu

That is the chorus of a traditional Jewish Passover song. Dayeinu means “it would have been enough”. Each of the 15 verses lists one of the great gifts God gives during the Exodus story and then says “Dayeinu”.

At Thanksgiving it seems a good time to ask what would be enough? What would have us cry out “Dayeinu”? Do we have an awareness of what enough might be anymore? Is that what gets in the way of thankfulness? Partly perhaps. Hold on to that thought. We'll come back to “enough”. But first let's look at thanks giving and what might get in the way.

Last year at this time we were wondering if Fibratech would survive. Last year AFP was still running. This year both are closed. This year the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving have been filled with news stories about financial meltdown and possible, even probable recession. What does it mean to be thankful in such a time as this? What is there to be thankful for?

It has been said that there are only two basic prayers. One is “Help” and the other is “thank you”. And yet it always seems so much easier to remember the first and forget the second. In bad or troubling times it is far easier to wonder what will come next, to wonder if we are going to get out of this mess than to stop and count our blessings But it is only when we count our blessings that we remember to give thanks.

The Scriptures we have just heard speak to the difficulty in saying thanks in the good times. In Luke we hear the story of some lepers who are made clean. To be made clean means to be re-admitted to the community. In their excitement and joy they forget to come back to give thanks – the only one who does is an outsider already, a Samaritan who would be unable to follow the instructions Jesus gives anyway. The story reminds us to pause in the times of unexpected joy to remember our blessings.

Deuteronomy highlights a different, and likely a more common issue. Deuteronomy warns the people “do not forget!”. Amnesia is the great threat. When all the great things of the land have come true there is the temptation to forget that the land is a gift from God. When times are good it is too easy to take the blessings for granted. When times are good it is to easy to believe the age-old myth – so prevalent in North American social thought – of the “self-made person”. Foreseeing that temptation, Moses says to the Israelites “DO NOT FORGET”. Moses warns the people to always remember that God has done all these things for them , to always remember that they did not get where they are by themselves or by their own efforts. It is only when we remember our blessings that we can remember to give thanks.

In a way this brings us back to (and answers) the question of how do we give thanks in a world of chaos. When employment is scarce, when families wonder where the next month's rent will come from, when the news fills us with worry and anxiety about the future, how then can we fill our hearts with thankfulness, with praise, with gratitude? How do we give thanks when we see so many reasons to not give thanks?

How? Well the same wisdom that we find in Luke and in Deuteronomy still holds. We can only give thanks when we take time to remember what we have to give thanks for. In times of uncertainty and chaos we need to intentionally think about what blessings we do have. We need to clearly name our blessings so that we are able to give thanks. And so that brings us back to the question of “what would be enough?”. In this era of crisis, what is it enough for God to have done? What gifts make us sing dayeinu?

1) If our God had merely made us
Formed us, blew life's breath into us
Simply gave us our existence
As Fraulein Maria told the Von Trapp children: “Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”. Our story starts with creation and so we give thanks to Creator God for life itself. If God had only given us the gift of life and set us free to face whatever life threw at us by ourselves even that clockmaker God would be worthy of our thanks and praise. Even just life itself and nothing else would have been enough.

2) If our God had only fed us
Gave us food and drink to nourish
Fruits of earth for us to cherish
Later today, or perhaps tomorrow, many families will be sitting down at tables full of food. For many people the feast almost seems to be the main purpose for Thanksgiving – well that or the opening of moose season. But when you think about it, when people of faith gather together for a meal how does the meal start? With grace, with a prayer of thanks. Even before we know if the food is good or not we give thanks that there is food. God not only gave us life, God gives us that which we need to sustain life. Thanksgiving is seen as a harvest festival by many to celebrate the miracle of growth but also because we know that even if God had only provided us with food that would have been enough.

3) Or if God had brought us freedom
Freed us from sin and oppression
Merely made us free for service
Freedom. An old Star Trek episode called that a worship word. And indeed the faith story is one of freedom. God frees the people of Israel from slavery, reminding us that God's vision is of a world where none struggle with oppression. God commands that no member of the community is ever to be bound in servitude forever, reminding us of a different economy, one where our value is in our existence not our productivity. God redeems those who are exiles, reminding us that we can always come home again. And God frees us from guilt and shame and sin, reminding us that there is always a new start, a second chance to get it right. Freedom, that indeed would have been enough.

4) If our God gave us companions
Family and friends for comfort
So that we would not be lonely
The three “peoples of the Book” as Muhammed called us (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) share many things. We share a common God. We share a similar morality. We share a community focus. Our faith is not one that can be lived in isolation. Our faith calls us to live in community, caring for and with each other, being cared about by each other. In wedding sermons I often comment on the fact that humanity seems hardwired to seek out companionship and support. And God creates us so that this companionship and support is available. For community, for friends and family, we give thanks. And indeed that would have been enough.

5) Or if God gave us vocations
Tasks to do that give life meaning
Helped us feel that we had purpose
We all need to feel useful. We all need to know that our lives have meaning and purpose. Some of us find that in our career, but not always. But each of us has a vocation (that is with an o, not vacation with an a). There is something, or a set of somethings, each of us can do that make a difference in the world. When we discover what God is calling us to do and find a way to do that then we feel much better. For the knowledge that we have a purpose, for those things that make life meaningful rather than just existing, we give thanks. And most certainly all these things would be enough, dayeinu.

But of course the great cause for Thanksgiving is not that God does all these things. The greatest cause for thanksgiving is that God does them all over and over again and more. On Thanksgiving Day we pause again to think of all the ways that God gives us life in great abundance. God continues to bless us over and over and over. And in response to all these blessings we say thank-you not only once a year but regularly, daily, whenever we are made aware of our blessings. And for each of those blessings we say not only thanks but dayeinu, it would have been enough.

6) But our God provides more blessings
Gives us life in great abundance
And so daily we say thank-you


Teri said...

nice work. I like how you've woven the song in.

moose season? ;-) down here right now that would be a political statement!

Gord said...

Yep, moose season. The 2nd Sunday of OCtober is the opening of moose hunting (with gun) season. BOw hunting has been allowed for a few weeks now.