One of the funny things about being a priest is the way that everyday people interact with me. The funniest experiences occur when people first find out I am a priest. I love seeing the raised eyebrows or hearing the stammers as someone panics about any inappropriate things they might have said in the first ten minutes of our conversation. Parties with strangers or our children’s school gatherings are always fun as people try to figure out how they should modify their behavior in front of me. In fact, many of my single and dating priest friends have avoided the conversation altogether about what they do for a living, hoping that the other person will get to know them for who they are, not just what they do. There really is a sort of cultural divide that I forget about until I get in one of these situations and then have work with someone to create a sense of comfort and commonality.
That cultural divide is no more obvious than on a holiday like Thanksgiving Day. Today we gather to celebrate what is mostly a secular holiday. This day has become a day about an abundance of food, watching parades and football, enjoying fellowship with friends and family, and post-turkey naps. This is a day of giving thanks for the good things of life, but often in a secular way. I know many people who have a tradition of going around the table and saying something for which they are thankful. But those things are usually listed without a mention of God. In fact, the non-specific nature of gratitude this day is what makes it a perfect day for interfaith groups, like our own Plainview-Old Bethpage Interfaith Group, to celebrate – because we can all recognize in our own different ways our gratitude and thanks.
But for us Christians, this day is a little different. We may do all the same activities: feast, fellowship, and fun; but we also root those activities in gratitude toward God – the source of all our blessings. For us, today is not just a day to be grateful for the good things in life, but to be thankful to God for our blessings. That may sound like semantics, but I think that, especially today, our language matters. So we can still go around the table listing our blessing, but we also acknowledge that God is the source of those blessings. We can still enjoy a feast, but we begin our meal in a prayer that thanks God for the bounty of the earth, the hands that touch our meal in its many stages, and for the privilege and pleasure of good food. We can still watch the game or the parade, but we are grateful to God for the blessing of shelter and the disposable income to afford that television and cable service. And we can still enjoy the company of friends and family because we know that God blesses us with companions on our journey.
So why does our naming God today matter? What difference does our calling this a sacred day have to do with anything? The difference is that when we name God in the midst of blessing, there is a “so what?” attached. Our epistle lesson says today, “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” In other words, when we give thanks today, that is not the end of the story. When we give thanks today, God is well pleased. And God also expects us to share that abundance with others. As the epistle says, our blessing is not strictly for us. Our blessing is given to us so that our blessing might be a blessing to others.
And that is why we mark this day as a sacred day. Because if Thanksgiving Day is simply a secular day of being grateful, the day begins and ends with us – our experiences, our gratefulness, our happiness. But if we celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a sacred day, then the day may begin with us, but the day ends with others – our blessings overflowing to bless others. That is the true abundance of Thanksgiving Day. The abundance cannot be contained. In fact, our epistle lesson says that the more we pass along our abundance, the more that abundance grows, “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” So, go home and enjoy all the blessings of this day – and then share those blessings bountifully. Amen.