Thanksgiving Sunday – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Let us pray: O God, guide my words and guide our words and actions as together we reflect on the abundance that comes from you and as we act to make those gifts come alive in the world today. Amen.
Thanksgiving Sunday should be the easiest Sunday of the year to prepare for. That’s the thought that came to mind this week on one of my walks from home to the office this week. There are no difficult theological concepts to describe. There are no enigmatic parables to explain. There are no questions about the literal or metaphorical aspects of scripture to explore.
Thanksgiving is a simple and important element of the life of faith. It requires nothing more than a simple assessment of what we have and from where it comes, combined with an equally simple word of thanks. Simple in concept, but not always as simple in implementation.
One of the reasons it is difficult is that we live in a frenetic world: fast food, overly busy schedules, a wealth of things to do and a dearth of time in which to do them.
Another reason is that of expectation and entitlement. When we live in abundance a lot of the time, it can become a part of our nature to expect the abundance, to come to the conclusion that we are entitled to have what we have had.
In the story we heard a few minutes ago based on Deuteronomy you may have noticed that God was not given the leftovers from the harvest as a sign of thanksgiving. It wasn’t the last one or two percent, or the part of the crop that was left in the field during the harvest. It wasn’t the grain spilled from the trucks when they delivered their grain to the country elevator. No, it was the first TEN percent. That was the portion rendered unto God’s work – the first and the best of the harvest.
What would it take for us to be better at giving thanks? A simpler, less frenetic life? Perhaps – but that is something that would really need to be worked at, and that would run counter to the trends in our modern day world. But worth considering.
Would it take a more humble and thankful attitude to life – more open to the gifts and abundance which surrounds us? Well, yes, it would help us to counteract the sense of expectation and feeling of entitlement that prevents us from acknowledging our gratitude.
Last week I offered to help my colleagues in the Yellowknife Ministerial with some visioning for the work that we could do as ministers and congregations working together in this community. I used an exercise called asset mapping that has been used a couple of times before here with people from this congregation. It is a very inspiring exercise – in part because it helps to identify specific mission ideas and in part because it helps us recognize the abundance that is among us. It begins with a twenty minute brainstorming session in which assets – which is just another name for gifts – are listed, one by one, on a piece of paper. These assets could be individual – particular skills and abilities that you have, or they could be physical assets – a vehicle you own, some space you have access to, things like that, or they could be assets connected with associations you or we are part of: what groups of people do you connect with, what groups of people do we connect with as a congregation? Or they could be institutional assets: what institutions share something of what we are like, what can we learn from the way they are or do things? Or they might be economic assets: what resources do we have – money or gifts in kind that could be used?
I have often thought about using the Asset Mapping Exercise during a worship service – because as I’ve said it is one of the most inspiring things that a group of people can do together to recognize the ways in which they have been gifted by God and then do something about it. We don’t have time to do that today, maybe we never will because it would completely change what worship would look like, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. However what I would like to do this morning is a part of it. And the part of it I would like us to do is the first part – the listing of the assets that we represent as a congregation of God’s people. As I mentioned, these assets can be individual or physical, institutions or associations, and they can be economic.
There were small pieces of paper and a writing utensil handed out with today’s worship bulletin. I want to invite you to take a few minutes, not twenty minutes, but a few minutes and start writing down assets – one per piece of paper – as fast as you can, but the actual number of them is not all that important, we’ll have lots of them with a group of people this size – so don’t worry if others are writing faster than you are. After you’ve written a few of your own assets, please form groups of three or four people and start sharing what you’ve written and adding more.
I think you’ll be amazed at what you discover about yourself and about who we are as a group of God’s gifted people gathered for worship on this day.
And hopefully, you’ve seen that by taking even a few minutes to consider the ways that God has abundantly provided in quantity and quality, this small group of people with a wide range of gifts, that there is value in taking a moment just to stop and consider the wide and gracious ways of God – and there is value in having time to stop and remember that it is important to live not in expectation but in gratitude.
Finally, let me ask you to hold on to the pieces of paper. We are going to use them later on the worship service.