And now we interrupt your debate over refugees, Caitlyn Jenner, and Donald Trump’s toupee to bring you Thanksgiving. The day we are obligated to be well-mannered while sitting at the dinner table with in-laws. Among the aroma of a golden brown turkey and sweet potato lathered in butter, we express our gratitude for another opportunity to express our gratitude.
Thankfulness can be as hard to swallow as Aunt Betty’s cranberry sauce if you happen to be the butterball of the family. The one who walks in carrying a red Starbucks cup. The die-hard conservative who actually believes Donald Trump’s toupee makes him look ten years younger sitting among red Hillary arrows. The one whom the contemporary refugees crisis reminds of the Christmas story. Or the only one at the table who believes that Caitlyn Jenner really doesn’t get womanhood.
“Love thy enemy” could really just mean “love thy Uncle Phil” or “Cousin Val.” But you remain civil, swallow your pride along with your potatoes, and express gratitude for a blessed life. The bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:18). Those words are written for the times when you sit beside Cousin Val and gag on cranberry sauce.
For some, the family gatherings of Thanksgiving can make you feel like a leper, unclean and an outcast. The book of Leviticus spends two whole chapters teaching how to diagnose diseases of the skin, how to pronounce lepers ritually unclean, and how to perform rites of purification should they be healed. As for the lepers, they had to live outside the city walls and whenever someone approached they had to cover their mouth as they cried, “Unclean, unclean.” It’s like the kids screaming out the window as the RV pulls into the driveway, “Cousin Eddie, Cousin Eddie, is here!”
There is a story in the bible about lepers and thanksgiving. Jesus is trying to get to Jerusalem because he has some important business to take care of, our salvation. But on the way, he is stopped by ten lepers. Out of respect they keep their distance, but they cry out, “Jesus, have some mercy!” He takes notice, sees the need, but recognizing his strict time schedule, he replies to the guys, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” It was on the way to the priest that they realize, “We are clean, we don’t have leprosy anymore.” Nine keep walking but one turns around and heads back to Jesus. He finds Jesus and says, “Thank you!” Jesus looks around and says, “Wasn’t there ten?” And he responds to the one who came back, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 7:11-19).
The nine didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just they missed out on the wholeness that comes from saying, “Thank you.” Life throws a lot of pain and hurt and loss at us. It can leave us feeling weighed down. A simple “Thank you” is our refrain that we have made it through the bad days. It helps us to realize that we are more than our worries, anxieties, and fears. In a give and take world, a “thank you” is a simple acknowledgement that life is a gift. When so many feel entitled, a “thank you” reminds us that we are blessed with opportunity. We can go through life demanding blessings but it is the one who returns with a “thank you” that discovers wholeness.
In a lot of traditional churches the “Doxology” is sung as part of the liturgy. The ushers bring forth the offering, the congregation stands and sings, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise God all creatures here below…” The word “Doxology” is Latin and means “praise or give honor.” In one of Garrison Keillor’s stories, he tells how a group of Christians would plaster bible verses all over their car. One fella, Brother Louie, had a car that looked like a rolling display of scripture truth. Not only did his license plate display a verse of Scripture, but additional ones were plastered all over the inside of his car – “across the dashboard, both sun visors, the back of the front seat, …the ashtray and glove compartment.” But the best thing about Brother Louie’s car, Keillor says, was its horn. He had “found a company in Indiana that advertised custom-made musical horns. Louie’s horn played the first eight notes of the Doxology. It sounded like a trumpet. Louie blew it at pedestrians, oncoming traffic, while passing, sometimes just for his own pleasure. On occasion, vexed by a fellow driver, Brother Louie gave in to wrath and leaned on the horn, only to hear ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow.’” Keillor says, “It calmed him down right away.”
“Thank you”- It may not seem like a lot and the effort may not appear to be worth it but it is the words that carry us to an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude puts cheerfulness in your life. It is the antidote of fear. Gratitude says to worry and anxiety, “You are not robbing me of this day! Not today!” Nine lepers found healing. But the tenth discovered wholeness.
Who needs to hear those words from you? Is it Aunt Betty for her cranberry sauce? Or Uncle Eddie for being a good brother to your father? Or is it your children who rarely hear how they make you proud? Or is it your spouse who longs to be appreciated? Thanksgiving turns into thanks-living when we take the time to say “Thank you.”
Sometimes we need a little tangible reminder. I want to encourage you to consider the “Thanksgiving Chair.” For the next four days leading up to Thanksgiving, set aside a place in your house for a thanksgiving chair. It is not an attempt to escape or retreat from the struggles and hardships of life; rather it is giving ourselves a point of reference from which we can face those hardships.
Grab a chair. Take a seat. And be thankful. Do it for the next four days. When thanksgiving arrives on Thursday, Uncle Eddie may be a little more tolerable and the cranberry sauce a little easier to swallow. But more importantly, thankfulness will be in the heart and “thank you” on the lips when the turkey is passed. Amen.
(Sermon preached at Liberty Hill United Methodist Church on Sunday, November 22, 2015)