I begin this homily by giving honor to the Chinook, Clatskanie, Cowlitz Kalapuya, Sillamook, Siletz, and Yakama people, and to the many other tribes and bands of First Nations people whose original lands we occupy in Oregon. Their stories and histories are a part of the long, complicated, and ultimately beautiful narrative of the Creator’s relationship to all of creation. May the lives of their descendents be nurtured by the Spirit, and may the wrongs that have been done against them for our benefit be righted in our shared pursuit of Shalom.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a national holiday with roots that trace back to the Puritans in England, who sought to purge England of its “popish” tendencies throughout the 1600’s, and who publicly recognized Days of Humiliation and Days of Thanksgiving as expressions of Christian piety. The former were days of great fasting to make appeal for God’s mercy, and the latter were days of great celebration of — well — God’s mercy, and God’s abundant blessings.
According to the scholarship of Lucy Ann-Baker, a UK historian, these days were proclaimed in response to a variety of ecological, political, or social events, including victories, defeats, disasters, droughts, and seasons of abundant harvest. Today, the US holiday of Thanksgiving has no humiliation-counterpart, which I’m sure we’re all grateful for. We did not, for example, have a public Humiliation Day after the Eagle Creek fire that ravaged the Gorge in September, even though many grieved the fire publicly. Nor did we really see the fast spreading fire, itself, as a sign of God’s punishment. Some American Christians think of God that way, but I don’t. Perhaps you don’t either.
Future historians may debate whether our culture’s love of feasting and general rejection of fasting means that we no longer fear God’s wrath or that maybe we simply just prefer turkey and stuffing to empty stomachs. But whatever their verdict, I think that the Thanksgiving we experience today is a unique and fascinating phenomenon.
This is not simply a harvest festival, even though our readings this evening speak mostly in the language of agriculture. We could try to see Thanksgiving in that way, but it would be difficult for many of us because we are not living in an agrarian society. We are living in a consumer society, a technological society. And even our consumption of food — the bounty of God’s green and increasingly warming earth — is mediated by automated machinery and a multinational food industry. Harvest is big business, and most of us are disconnected from where our food originated.
The popular imaging of our Thanksgiving holiday paints a picture of the quintessential, quaint, New England-style family gathering, and we connect that image to a myth about the “first Thanksgiving.” But thanks to modern scholarship, particularly around the oral storytelling of the Native people in New England, we have come to recognize that our national origin story lacks a bit of historical credibility. For First Nations communities, this holiday brings generational trauma right to the surface.
And maybe you have heard these critiques before. Perhaps you have grown tired of the appeals to reexamine the stories we assume to be true about our national identity and history. You might think that turning a critical eye on our cultural traditions is a little more than a byproduct of our culture’s persistent political correctness, and you’re just tired of taking everything apart all the time.
I understand that feeling of exhaustion, and that desire to have the world, and our place in it, be simpler. But, following Jesus is not for the faint hearted. Following Jesus complicates many, many things, including a whole hosts of -isms — nationalism, for one, and patriotism, capitalism, consumerism, heterosexism, ableism, and racism. Following Jesus requires us to take a second look at our stories — like, for example, the stories we tell about who is worthy of God’s restorative love. Is the foreigner worthy? The outsider? The one who is not like us? Does God, in the person of Jesus, demonstrate biases in the same way that we do? Or, does God reach across the boundaries that divide us from one another, and in so doing teach us something about our own capacity to cross boundaries in the spirit of love and healing? Thanksgiving is a day when many of us discover that cultural and social boundaries have cut right through the middle of our family’s living room, with us on one side and the people we love on the other. And this can be very painful, and very difficult to navigate.
But we are called to try. We are called to follow Jesus across the divide.
My hope for us all as we experience this Day of Thanksgiving — however we celebrate it — is that we open ourselves up to experiencing a love that reaches across our points of difference. May we sow that love abundantly, and may we also reap abundantly. May we share the gifts and talents and joys of our lives, cheerfully. May we have the eyes to see that those who struggle with hard-heartedness are still the beloved of God and equally deserving of God’s love. May we, in the midst of whatever difficulties we face during stressful moments, cultivate a generous spirit — toward ourselves and toward others.
And when we experience moments of healing and grace, however small or large, may we, in our hearts, fall down at the feet of Jesus in gratitude and thanks. For the love that comes from God is an indescribable gift; one that we are called to experience fully as God’s beloved people, and one we are charged to share generously as those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus.
So, may you walk as Jesus walked, heal as Jesus healed, and proclaim, as Jesus proclaimed, that your faith has made you well.