November 21, 2018 – Thanksgiving Eve Year B
Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33
We have a men’s group that meets weekly here at St John’s, and throughout this fall session, we have been reflecting on the lives of different saints each week. This past Monday night we discussed the life and witness of Thomas Merton. I gathered some of his quotes for us to discuss; and there is one on gratitude that seems fitting on this Thanksgiving Eve that I’d like to share with you.
“To be grateful,” Merton writes, “is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.
I find Merton’s words to be a powerful reminder of the fundamental importance of gratitude in our lives with God. Gratitude is to recognize the love of God in everything. Every breath, every moment of existence, they all are part of the never-ending flow of God’s self-giving love. Gratitude helps us to not take any of it for granted—the breath in our lungs, or the present moment in which we exist. To be grateful is to acknowledge God as the source of everything we have, and it awakens us to wonder at the goodness of God.
Gratitude is fundamental to our spiritual lives and awakens us to wonder at the goodness of God, but we live in a time and place that makes gratitude very difficult. In fact, I’d venture to say that we live in a culture of ingratitude. It’s a culture which is constantly trying to convince us to be ungrateful and it deadens our sense of wonder.
Digital marketing experts estimate that Americans see over 3,000 advertisements on a daily basis. You and I are bombarded with a tsunami of commercials, print ads, Brand labels, Facebook Ads, Google Ads, ads on your phone, and billboards from the moment we get up in the morning to the time we go to sleep at night.
I recently read an article by a marketing strategist who felt like that the estimated number of advertisements we see on a daily basis is too high. So he dedicated one day to count every ad he encountered.
“On my test day,” he writes “I woke up in the morning to my Sony radio-alarm clock, heard about 14 ads on my local station, KTTS before I opened my eyes and hit the snooze on my Sony clock. I used my Panasonic TV and Dish Network receiver remotes, noticed a Kenwood receiver and Toshiba DVD player, and watched/listened to 46 TV commercials as I got going.
I got dressed in my Fruit of the Loom undershirt, Big Dog shirt, Wrangler Jeans and Nike shoes; 11 Brand advertisements are within eyesight in the closet. I’m not digging for them.
I opened my pantry and counted 214 food Brand labels, all colorful and professionally created. I get my box of Kellogg’s for my Jersey Maid milk and count 62 product Brands. I open a can of Folgers coffee to brew in my Mr. Coffee maker. I’ve gotten around 487 ad exposures and I haven’t even finished breakfast.
He had counted almost 500 ad exposures before he finished breakfast and decided to stop counting. And what is the basic formula of all these advertisements. How do the carefully crafted logos and commercials and ads work? The basic formula of all of the thousands of ads we encounter every day works like this: Your life is incomplete. But if you buy this product or service your life will be better.
Wonder and gratitude are buried by three thousand messages a day of ingratitude that tell us we don’t have what we need. That we need to buy a particular product or service for our lives to be whole.
In tonight’s Gospel, Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives-what we will eat or what we will wear. True life isn’t about these things, true life is about relating to God rightly as the source of our lives, and living from that center. But many of the thousands of messages we hear a day are the exact opposite. They tell us that our life is incomplete without this product or brand or sale. And I think it is a bitter irony that tomorrow’s national holiday of thanksgiving will be followed by Black Friday. Thursday will be dedicated to sharing a meal with family and friends and giving thanks, and Friday will be marked by crowds of people elbowing their way through doorbuster sales and online deals to buy more clothes and gizmos and every sort of thing that Jesus tells us that the Gentiles strive for. And all the while, gratitude to God as the source of everything we have and wonder at the goodness of God, are drowned by the tsunami wave of our culture crashing over us with its insistence our life is incomplete and will only be made whole by buying more. We live in a climate of ingratitude and a deadened sense of wonder at the great gift of life itself God has given us, but we have each other.
And that’s what so powerful and important about being a part of the church, the community that forms around Jesus. Our identity as the church is a thanksgiving people. Tonight, we gather for Holy Eucharist, and as we all know, Eucharist means thanksgiving. This community is one that forms us into a people who gives thanks to God.
We gather together as community, in the shadow of the tsunami wave of not enough, and say that we have everything we need in God’s love for us. That more than clothes or food or Black Friday, we have the love of God in every breath we take and in every moment in which we exist. That if we are rich or poor, healthy or sick, living or dead, we have everything we need in the love of God. That we are complete and are made whole in the One who will never leave us or forsake us.
Abraham Joshua Heschel was a rabbi, author, and civil rights advocate. Several years before his death, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Sam, was one of Heschel’s closest friends and was at his bedside. And this is what Heschel said to him. “Sam, I feel only gratitude for my life, for every moment I have lived. I am ready to go. I have seen so many miracles during my lifetime.” The old rabbi was exhausted by his effort to speak, and after a long pause, he said, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and He gave it to me.”
I asked for wonder and he gave it to me. Heschel was grateful to God for his life and this gratitude created a room in his heart for wonder.
Food and clothes are not bad. Possessions that we need or those that we desire are not bad in and of themselves. But are we practicing gratitude that leads us to wonder at the goodness of God?
Imagine what our lives would look like, if we were told 3,000 times a day that we have everything we need and that our lives are complete in God’s love. If 3,000 times a day we were reminded to recognize the love of God in every breath and each moment of our existence.
And that is precisely what we have gathered together to do. We as the church are a thanksgiving people. We have gathered to give thanks to God for all that God has done for us. To bless God for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above for God’s immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. To give thanks to God for everything God has given us and to wonder at the goodness of God.
So tonight, in this Great Thanksgiving of Holy Eucharist, tomorrow on the Day of Thanksgiving, and for all the days of gratitude which will follow, let what was true of Heschel also be true of you: I asked for wonder and God gave it to me.