Sermon Archives

Thursday, November 23, 2017
Feast of Thanksgiving (Year A)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Thanksgiving

Lord, make us instruments of your peace, where there is hatred, let us sow love, where there is injury, pardon, where there is doubt, faith. Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Thanksgiving is one of those occasions that is both a feast in the Episcopal Church and a national holiday.

Unlike religious feasts, like Christmas, where we look to our sacred text and tradition to find its meaning and history, for Thanksgiving we look to the nation’s history to find the meaning of this feast.

The origin stories of these holidays help us commemorate an aspect of a society’s history. They also act as containers for the values and principles that are held near and dear to the hearts of many who celebrate these holidays.

These stories foster a sense of national identity and connect us back to a shared narrative about what it means to be a part of this society.

Recently, we’ve witnessed a debate taking place across this country, about what that shared history is and what it could be. We’ve seen this most concretely in the debate about monuments to national heroes which gloss over some of the questionable aspects of their pasts.

In a New York Times article called Most Everything You Learned about Thanksgiving is Wrong, the author places commonly held notions about the history of Thanksgiving side by side with historical data and unresolved questions that the neatly packaged story glosses over.

One of the points the author makes is that there is no evidence to suggest that native people were invited to the Thanksgiving feast for helping the Pilgrims with their harvest.

While we don’t know how the native people and the Pilgrims ended up feasting together, their shared meal is recorded in an English written record (even though not recorded in Wampanoag oral tradition). The fact that they ate, prayed and played together sets that moment apart as an exceptional cross-cultural moment.[1] Especially given the deadly conflicts between the settlers and the native peoples.

And I think this holiday strives to enshrine that exceptional cross-cultural moment to hold up for us a key value of this society.

This story reminds us that no matter where we come from, how different we are, what histories that we carry with us, that we can all come together around a table to share a meal and give thanks.

And as Christians, this behavior is enshrined in our spiritual DNAs.

The documents of our faith, and in particular, the stories of Jesus’ life and the letters of Paul to the early church, set us on a way of life that makes gathering with those who are different from us to eat together a fundamental part of who we are and the way we live in community.

Our spiritual DNA is imprinted with the truth that communion transcends our differences. This is what it means to be Christian.

In our Gospel passage today, Jesus performs a healing miracle, somewhere in the region between Samaria and Galilee. It’s unclear whether all the lepers are Samaritans, what Luke tells us is that the one that turned back was a Samaritan.

The history between the Samaritans and the Jews was characterized by a 500-year old hostility at the time of Jesus. It’s a long and troubled relationship. Here are some of the highlights:

Three hundred years before Jesus, the Greeks used Samaria as a base for their control of Jewish territory.

In 128 BCE, the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple on the top of Mt. Gerizim – the centre of Samaritan worship.

The Samaritans defiled the temple complex in Jerusalem a few years before the birth of Jesus by scattering bones of the dead across the area on the eve of Passover, which made it impossible for Jews to keep the feast.[2]

Against this background of historical and ethnic tension, Jesus wanders into the boundary land between Galilee and Samaria. He praises the behavior of the one Samaritan leper who turns back to give thanks for his healing.

This story teaches us about the nature of faith.

The leper’s act of ‘turning around’ is deeply significant.

It represents the movement that we are all called to make in response to God’s work of healing and grace; we are called to constantly reorient and recalibrate our lives towards God.

This is what has made the Samaritan well.

The Samaritan has been healed in body and in soul.[3] And a key ingredient of that healing balm is the act of giving thanks.  

We live in a divided and polarized time. According to a recent poll, 58% of U.S. adults across the political spectrum said that they “dread the thought of having to talk about politics at Thanksgiving dinner”[4].

The opportunity in a holiday like Thanksgiving challenges us to find an alternative to division and polarization and invites us to turn towards practicing a different kind of community.

As we puzzle through the important question of how we share the Thanksgiving meal with others that we may not agree with, whose behavior or beliefs might differ significantly from ours, we need to hold that puzzle in the wide embrace of our spiritual DNA that continually calls us out of ourselves and into relationship with God and our neighbor.

A spiritual DNA that finds it nourishment and repair in the spiritual act of thanksgiving.

The Greek word used to describe the Samaritan’s act of thanksgiving in v. 16 of our Gospel passage today is eucharist.[5]

As Christians, as Episcopalians, we are called to be a Eucharistic community, a people who constantly place God first and give thanks to God for all that we have been given. That act of giving thanks holds a lot of power.

It reminds us who and whose we are. It stands in opposition to the pathological identification with what we lack. It reminds us of the overflowing and abundant grace that exists all around us, if we choose to wake up to that reality.

In one of my parish placements, I was asked to lead a bible study. After we had wrapped up and were leaving the building, I fell into step with one of the participants. I asked him how long he had been coming to the bible study. He said that he began attending after his wife had passed away.

He described her illness, his caregiving and his life after the loss. Before I could respond to his story with words of sympathy, he continued by sharing his immense gratitude for the time he had with her, for the gift of their relationship, for the wonderful family support through his wife’s illness and beyond and the richness that his grandchildren brought to his life. I remember being struck by his overflowing gratitude despite the grief and the loss.

One of my favourite bands has a line in one of their songs: “It’s easy to be thankful for the things you’ve got – it takes guts to say thanks for the things you’ve lost.”[6]

Our healing and health, both individually and communally, is bound up in this spiritual practice of receiving the gifts of God’s grace and offering them back up to God with thanksgiving. This is the movement of turning towards God that we are about to participate in through the Eucharist. Our liturgy helps us exercise the spiritual muscle of thanksgiving.

In preparation for communion, Fr. Drew will say the ancient Jewish prayers of thanksgiving for the bread and the wine once they are received at the altar. Then we will all join our prayers into one in the Great Thanksgiving – Holy Eucharist.

We are called to wake up to the reality of abundance – the abundance of the things we share in common with others, the abundance of the spiritual gifts we are entrusted with, the abundance of creation, and for the abundance of God’s grace.

Author, Anne Lamott, says that her favourite prayer in the morning is: “Help me. Help me. Help me” and her favourite prayer at night is: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”[7]

May God open our hearts to receive the spiritual gifts that abound every day of our lives. Amen.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/us/thanksgiving-myths-fact-check.html...

[2] Kenneth Bailey (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, p. 203.

[3] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ), Luke 17: 11-19, Theological.

[4] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/poll-most-americans-dreading-talk-...

[5] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ), Luke 17: 11-19, Theological.

[6] Cloud cult, lyrics to ‘No Hell’

[7] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ), Luke 17: 11-19, Homiletical.