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Thanksgiving Day November 24, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Thursday, November 24, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
The Bible’s story of creation
is a story of God’s prodigal generosity . . .
the story of a God who
imagines into being
a world of
astonishing beauty and abundance,
seemingly infinite variety and possibility . . .
and in that world
God sets into motion life . . .
and richly provides
everything necessary
not just for sustaining life,
but for the well-being,
            for the thriving,
            for the delight
            of all that God has made . . .
and God entrusts the world
to the beings
God has created to care for it . . .
            human beings.
And God sees that it is all good.
This is the foundational story
of the Jewish and Christian scriptures . . .
a story of eternal relationships
            established by God . . .
the reciprocal relationships
            of God and God’s creation,
            of God and the human caretakers of creation,
            of human beings and the creation
                        God has entrusted to us . . .
relationships of
            freely giving and gladly receiving,
            generosity and gratitude.
But, sadly,
there is more to the story
            than giving and receiving,
there is what we come to understand
            from the story of Adam and Eve  . . .
Having been given
everything they could possibly need,
God’s first people
decide to take the one thing
            that was not given,
the fruit of the tree in the center of the garden.
And so we see
a certain insatiability in humankind.
There is giving and receiving . . .
but also craving
so long as there is even one thing beyond our grasp,
we do not have enough.
And this is a thread
that runs throughout the story
of God and God’s people.
In the reading from Deuteronomy,
the people of Israel,
having been rescued by God
            from slavery in Egypt,
prepare to enter the land
            God has promised them,
            a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
Moses instructs them in
a practice of thanksgiving . . .
gratitude for God’s gift
            of this fruitful homeland.
They are to offer to God
some of the produce of their first harvest
and recite,
in a kind of creedal statement,
their salvation story –
“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor . . .”
But this is, sadly,
only part of this Biblical story . . .
. . . for the Israelites’ assumption
of how they were to possess this bountiful land
God was giving them
was that they were, in God’s name,
to conquer and displace the peoples
            already living there,
the peoples whose gods were not Israel’s God.
A pattern repeated throughout history.
This country
for which we gave thanks
on this Thanksgiving Day
came into being
through people
who thought they had the God-given right
to take it
from the peoples
            who lived on it
                        peoples who had no concept
                                    of possessing land
                        but rather,
                                    saw themselves as belonging to the land.
The concept of exclusionary land ownership
and ownership of all that comes from the land
and the sense that everything in the world
            is ours for the taking
came along
with the European settlers and conquerors.
And so, still, today,
the Standing Rock Sioux nation
struggles to protect the land to which they belong,
            and to protect themselves,
                        from the pollution that is almost sure to come
                                    (if experience is any teacher)
                        from the oil pipeline being constructed
                                    across that sacred land.
My white middle-class childhood Thanksgivings
were all about
hand-turkeys traced on paper,
stories of Pilgrims and Indians,
days off from school,
dressing up and gathering with my family
            at a table laden with more food
            than we knew what to do with,
touch football in the backyard,
and being thankful that
we lived in America where everybody was free . . .
I remember those naive and simple Thanksgivings
with great fondness,
and some embarrassment . . .
I did not know that there were
countless Americans
            who were not free,
who were dispossessed and displaced in their own country,
who did not have Thanksgiving food on their tables
            (if indeed they had a table,
                        or a home to put it in)
who were lucky to have the clothes they were wearing,
            never-mind dressing up
                        for a special occasion.
I do not remember
any conversation about those people
around our table of Thanksgiving bounty.
I give thanks now
for an awareness
of human need, the creation’s need,
            and of the thread in humankind of
            greed and wanting and taking
                        that creates those needs.
An awareness
that has come to me
through my life in the Church,
to which I came at the ripe old age
            of thirty-three.
Here I first understood
the principle of thanksgiving,
the necessity of
practicing constant gratitude,
            no matter what,
for in the practice of gratitude,
            one becomes formed in generosity. 
The understanding
came and continues to come to me
through the Eucharist,
our Sunday act of thanksgiving,
our sharing
            of bread and wine . . .
the Greek word itself, Eucharist,
            meaning thanksgiving,
the act itself, Eucharist,
            cultivating gratitude,
            and the recognition
            of our dependence on God’s generosity
            and of God’s dependence on our generosity
                        for the well-being of God’s people and God’s creation.
When we celebrate the Eucharist,
we bring the first fruits of our week
to the altar
in the forms of money,
and of bread and wine
            bought with the money we have given.
We recite our salvation story
in the Creed and in the Eucharistic prayer:
what God has done for us
            and for all God’s creation,
                        in Jesus.
And we share equally
            in all that is given,
an image of God’s intent for the world,
            God’s economy of abundance for all.
“I am the bread of life,”
said Jesus,
“the bread which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”
This bread that gives life to the world
is the Sacramental bread of the Eucharist,
            the very being of Jesus
                        feeding us body and soul . . .
but this bread of life
is also found in
the creating, healing, restoring, encouraging power
            of God’s Spirit abroad in the world,
                        and at work in us, the Church,
for in receiving the Body of Christ
                        in the sacramental bread,
            we together become the Body of Christ,
                        given for the life of the world . . .
            we become God’s generosity,
that is,
            if we are willing
            to become aware of the world’s struggle and pain,
            the needs of human beings, animals, and all creation,
if we are willing to see and hear
            and not only do what is right
            but stand up for what is right.
And so this Thanksgiving Day
is a day not only of gratitude
for harvest bounty
for this land flowing with milk and honey
but also a day to recognize
this violating thread
that runs through our national psyche . . .
the exploitation of peoples and the earth
that has become a way of life
in a culture of taking and accumulating . . .
a culture that has lost the distinction
            between what is wanted and what is needed.
As Americans,
we have this day of Thanksgiving,
on which we do give thanks
all the promise of our nation,
all the values we would claim
            as at the heart of our nation,
as the community of faith at Christ Church
for the blessings of our life together as Church
            and how we may share those blessings with others,
            and for our own lives and all that is in them,
                        and how we may share ourselves with others . . .
But the day must also remind us,
as people of faith
            that God’s desires for God’s Creation
                        will be fulfilled
            but are not yet fulfilled
and that we have a part in that:
in both the “not-fulfilled,”
and in the work of fulfilling.
It seems to me
that all this comes together
in the rejoicing of Paul,
who even in prison rejoiced
with the joy that had come to him in Christ,
a joy and a gratitude for that joy
which carried and sustained him
throughout his ministry
no matter his frequently difficult
            and dangerous circumstances,
the joy of knowing
and depending on the risen Christ.
“Finally, beloved,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,
            think about these things.
In this uncertain time, especially,
think about these things,
give thanks for these things,
and “Rejoice in the Lord always.
Again I will say, ‘Rejoice!’ ”