Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

“Together with the Levites and the aliens. . .”


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This evening at our Thanksgiving Eve service, we will read these words from Deuteronomy:

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. (Deuteronomy 26:1-11)

I think of my grandfather, the grandson of immigrants from Germany who came to America because they were starving in Pomerania and hoped for a better life in the New World. They settled in Kansas and farmed the land. It was a hard life, but they had enough to eat.

Grandpa was the son who went off to college and seminary to become a pastor. Ironically, his first call was to northern Saskatchewan to serve nearly 20 preaching stations of German/Russian immigrants who had fled Europe for the same reason his own grandfather had left. After a dozen or so years in the wilderness, he went home to Kansas to pastor congregations there. Yup. The son of German immigrants could call Kansas home.

I think today of the fact that contrary to the myths that I learned in elementary school about Thanksgiving, it was the indigenous folks already here who made survival possible for those first European immigrants to the North American continent. Thanks. 

Our faith reminds us that we are all pilgrims. We all are on a journey. We are all strangers and aliens. And we are invited to celebrate together the goodness of God. We are invited to remember that none of us does this alone, and none of us does this without provision from the One who has created us. We are creatures, all of us.  The Israelites, the Levites, the Philistines, the Moabites, the Mexicans, the Muslims, the members of the LGBTQ community, the descendants of slaves in the Americas, the descendants of starving Pomeranians. Creatures and fellow celebrants. 

I grew up in a small town in western Nebraska, and all I knew was people who looked just like me. The only diversity I knew was that besides Lutherans, there were Catholics, Baptists, and people who didn’t go to church. How my life has been enriched to know people who are different than that narrow slice of white, European heritage. Of all the things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving, I am most mindful in these tumultuous times of the gift and blessing of friendship and relationship with people who have taught me that life is large and who have shown me the rich mosaic of the human community. Whatever happens in the months to come, I stand with you. You are gift.

Happy Thanksgiving.

A Thanksgiving Reflection, Five Days after the Fact

I sense that Thanksgiving is a time of reflection for most people. This is the first Thanksgiving that I’ve paid much attention to Facebook; I loved all the short Thanksgiving posts on Thanksgiving Day and the days leading up to it. For years, I’ve looked forward to the editorials in my hometown newspaper reflecting on the value of Thanksgiving and stepping back a bit to see the world and our lives from the perspective of all the providential blessings we enjoy. I still enjoy reading the Thanksgiving proclamations of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and in the churches I’ve served we’ve established the annual tradition of reading the President’s Thanksgiving proclamation.

And I know that Thanksgiving is also the official beginning of the Christmas shopping frenzy. I don’t like it much and for the most part don’t participate in it, and least not on Black Friday. The whole Black Friday thing has the feel of an artificial construct. Who says that the day after Thanksgiving is the official start of the Christmas shopping season? The retailers and their brilliant marketing folks have decided. And now we have Cyber Monday to add to the list.

Millions of us have been willing participants. I confess complicity. But in our defense, it’s not really a fair fight. The marketers have all the research. They know what pushes our buttons. They know how they can create demand. You’re looking at the ads and see that the item they’re marketing is “limited to warehouse stock,” or “only 3 per store.” And of course, they count on the fact that we’ll come in for the deal, but we won’t stop there. As long as we’re out, we’ll fill up our shopping cart with stuff that isn’t such a good deal. They also have convinced us to buy things we don’t need.

So, back to Thanksgiving, even though it’s 5 days after Thanksgiving. Too much of our thanksgiving is giving thanks for stuff, when all the stuff is part of the problem. Most of us don’t really need more stuff. We don’t need the latest gadget. We don’t need the newest version of the thing we already have. In fact, if anything, instead of giving thanks for our stuff, we ought to repent of the fact that we have too much stuff, that we have an insatiable appetite for stuff, and that we keeping going out and getting more stuff. On Thanksgiving weekend, of all times.

In the Christian traditions that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, the appointed gospel reading for the Day of National Thanksgiving is that section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew’s gospel) where Jesus encourages his followers not to worry about clothing and food. God clothes the flowers and feeds the birds; God will also provide what we need. In that injunction, Jesus encourages us to a faith and trust that gives up anxiety about stuff. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine Jesus saying to us in the wealthy first world to also give up our obsession with stuff.

When Jesus tells us to seek God’s rule and God’s righteousness, I hear an invitation into a way of living in God’s presence that seeks what is good and right and just. Most of us don’t have to be concerned with the basics of survival. And since for most of us the food, drink, clothes, and shelter thing is pretty well covered, we can look beyond ourselves to the larger common good. In the true spirit of thanksgiving, there would be no clutching or hoarding. And I’m hoping we’d think twice about standing in line at 2 in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day to find the bargain for something that only feeds our obsession with stuff. And I’m thinking it would be good for this consumer — who has his own issues with wanting more stuff — to figure out how in these next four weeks of Christmas consumer feeding frenzy, I can more faithfully embody Jesus’ invitation.