THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
World Communion / Thanksgiving Sunday
Joel 2: 21-27
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Matthew 6: 25-33
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[a] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[b] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[c] and his[d] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
In Jesus’ famous sermon on the “birds of the air” and the “lilies of the field,” he provided a timeless example of what it means to hear the Good News of God and to practice an “attitude of gratitude”!
Jesus begins today’s reading by saying: “do not worry about your life”
Do not worry about your life? What a countercultural thing to say! When are we not worrying about our lives?
How long can any of us follow the commandment to “not worry about our lives” when we have a whole society, a whole economy devoted to production and work and stress?
So many of the inventions we interact with in our day-to-day lives were developed to help us be more productive; to “worry about our lives” more efficiently:
-calendars, alarm clocks, cars, buses, elevators, and Egg McMuffins: all to ensure we are able to leave our homes and get to work earlier and faster.
-Laptops and Smartphones: so we’re never truly away from work
-Health care, dental plans, medication, gym memberships, ergonomic chairs, and Health and Safety officers: all so we spend less time sick or hurt; less time on the couch and more time in the office chair – the place where we trade in our worries for productivity and the pursuit of progress
-Helmets, Airbags, safety vests: to keep us safe
-car insurance, home insurance, life insurance: so that even when we’re not safe, we can get ourselves back on track
With all of these things to worry about, with these busy worried lives that we live, who has time to practice gratitude? Who has time for thanksgiving?
Before I became a Christian in my early 20s, “Thanksgiving” was just a word that appeared once a year on the calendar…
Now that I work and preach in a church, I have not only the idea of the “thanksgiving” event that happens in October, but also the added association of “The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving,” part of the Communion liturgy that will take place in just a little while.
But still, for most people, church goers and non church-goers, thanksgiving happens just once a year. There is one weekend a year where the calendar (another product that is excellent at encouraging worrying) tells us we have permission to stop and give thanks.
One Sunday in October.
Once a year Canadians gather together with their families, they travel long distances, and begrudgingly get up at early hours on Sundays to go to church because…y’know…we promised mom we would; we prepare lavish meals, we wear our most comfortable sweaters, we share food and drink and we sit around and give thanks for all that we have received. Now I KNOW that in reality Thanksgiving often does not live up to the expectations we have for it.
Families do not always look or behave like characters in a Normal Rockwell painting.
Simmering family quarrels that lay quiet for 364 days a year have a way of flaming up between the last serving of turkey and the first serving of pumpkin pie.
I know that despite our good intentions and best efforts, the work that goes into preparing that lavish meal and the work that goes into travelling those great distances has a way of making us less thankful, less calm and more stressed, more anxious.
Thanksgiving often does not live up to our expectations. Or our plans.
And that’s OK. That’s actually kind of the point.
One of the big things that Jesus teaches us this morning is that nothing in life is so dependent on our “plans” as we think.
When Jesus said “look at the birds of the air,” He was inviting us out of our lives. Jesus was inviting us to get out of our anxious and worried heads for a moment and to look around. To look side to side, to look up.
“Look at the birds of the air…”
Look at the person sitting next to you. No, for real, do it!
Do you see that person? Do you see that they are just as uncomfortable that I’m making them do this too?
You saw. I know you did. I saw it from here.
For a brief moment you saw that person; whether they were family, friend, enemy, or stranger you saw them.
What did they look like?
Did they look like the kind of person God loves?
Of course they did! Because, of course, God loves everyone. And you can bet that you looked that way to them too.
“Look at the birds of the air…”
Think about the person I just asked you to look at.
Jesus asks us:
“Are you not of more value [to God] than they?”
“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
Why do we worry so much? What is there really to worry about? Life? Death? Taxes?
Do you worry about money? About how you will pay your bills? About how you will afford the things you want to give to those you love? About what you will wear?
Again, of course! We all do.
Again Jesus asks “And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin [nor worry about credit card debt], yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”
That’s a rhetorical question, my friends. The answer is “yes” J
I ask you, if you were able to get out of your own head for a moment (…and if not, that’s OK too, it’s always in God’s time…) What did it feel like to look around? What did it feel like to stop worrying for just one moment and share a moment with someone, just looking around?
Did it feel like a waste of time?
Did it feel like there was something more important you should have been doing at that moment?
Or perhaps did you feel free? Did you feel nothing at all? Did you think nothing at all as you just stopped to look and notice one of the other 7 billion people we share this amazing blue marble with?
Did it make you feel thankful, just to be alive?
Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, did you feel thankful in the way Jesus invited us to this morning?
A few months ago, I went to a lecture by quantum-physicist-turned minister David Wilkinson from Durham University in the United Kingdom.
It was a fascination lecture which included a discussion of the so-called “science vs. religion” narrative in culture. Dr. Wilkinson made the point that despite the rise of anti-religious figures like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the work of real-life scientists who work at universities is not actually all that concerned with religion or God. As a physicist himself, he said that it’s not so much that science doesn’t like the Bible or doesn’t agree with Christ, only that it tends not to think about God at work…and he cited several example of individuals who are not only extraordinary scientists but also very faithful Christians in their private lives. Science vs. religion isn’t so much about choice but about where one finds oneself in the moment; in the laboratory or at church.
The reason I’m telling you this is because one of Dr. Wilkinson’s examples stands out particularly strongly in my mind. And it has to do with the idea of Christian thanksgiving.
As a final example on the way that Christ’s thankfulness finds its way into unexpected places, Dr. Wilkinson brought up a figure who was not only a staunch atheist, but one who served as a hero and role-model for generations of people who thought they had chosen science over religion. That figure is the brilliant, late, Stephen Hawking.
Hear what Stephen Hawking wrote in one of his books:
I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful
No matter how you live your life;
No matter how much you learn;
No matter how you think about the universe and your place in it.
Human beings, as persons loved and saved by Jesus Christ, at last come to a place of gratitude, a place of thanksgiving.
Whether we consider ourselves Christians or not, despite what we believe about God and the afterlife, we can all agree that we each have only a brief moment on this earth together.
We have only a brief moment to behold one another the way that you did a few minutes ago.
We have only a brief moment to reflect on the words of Jesus, who taught us not to worry, not to fear, to look to the beauty of the created world; the birds and the lilies and to be thankful to God who takes care of them and of us.
We were not created to live our lives from alarm bell to alarm bell.
We were not created and cared for and loved by God to spend only one Sunday a year being thankful for what we have.
We were not saved by Christ on the cross so that we could spend our days worrying to the point that we can no longer see each other or the world around us.
In Paul’s letter the Ephesians, that we also heard this morning, the Apostle says that God destines us for adoption in Christ.
“[God] destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will…”
God adopts us into the family of God through Jesus Christ, just because it pleases God to do so.
In Christ, God says to us:
You who are worried…
You who are busy and overtired with preparations…
You who are fighting with your family…
You who have no family to fight with…
I choose to adopt you. You are all my children. Because it makes me happy to have you as my family.
I send my Son and my Holy Spirit out into the world in order that you would know how much I love you.
Do not worry…
As a final assurance of our adoption into Christ, of our belonging to God, of our place in God’s heart who wants us not to be worried but to be thankful, God calls us to participate in the mystery of Communion.
God says: I created the universe and everything in it.
God says: I sent my Son into the world to die for the forgiveness of sins.
God says: I sent my Holy Spirit to accompany you that you would know my peace until the end of the age.
And to seal this covenant, we will share bread and wine together.
That may be an awfully large mystery, but there’s something about it. There’s something about the Sacrament of communion, of the simplicity of bread and wine that reminds us to have faith and not to worry.
As a student of preaching, I was always taught that if someone else can say it better than you can, use their words.
I would like to conclude this morning with the words of the great Fred Craddock, a master of preaching who died just a few short years ago. Fred Craddock was a lifelong Southerner, born in Tennessee, he taught at Emery University in Georgia. He represented the absolute best of the American South, but my absolute favorite story of his took place not all that far from where we are, in Winnipeg one cold and awful morning.
As you hear these words, I just want to invite you to listen for the things we have shared and will share this morning:
Jesus’ instruction not to worry.
Sharing a moment of connection with a stranger.
The way that God uses Communion to remind us that we are loved.
Fred Craddock was invited to speak at The University of Winnipeg’s Faculty of Theology. He arrived on Saturday night, and a snow storm blanketed the area. On Sunday morning his host called and said, “Craddock, this is a surprise to everyone. We cannot even get there to the hotel to help you. In fact, we had to cancel the lectures.”
Craddock asked, “Well, what am I to do?”
His host said, “Well, about a block and a half to the right of the hotel entrance is the bus depot. In that bus depot is a little coffee shop, and perhaps you can go there and find breakfast.”
Craddock said, “It was packed with everyone trying to find a warm place.” As he entered, there were a few that scooted over, and he was allowed to sit down.
There was just one employee in the whole, busy coffee shop. A thin, wiry man who wore a scowl and a greasy apron.
As Craddock sat down at the already busy counter, the waiter/chef/cashier approached: “What d’ya want?”
“Good morning,” Craddock began, “may I please see a menu?”
“No point. Grill and fryer are both out. All I got is soup.”
“Soup it is then” Craddock said with a good-humored smile.
The man walked away without returning the gesture.
A few minutes later, as Craddock was staring down at the worn Formica countertop, a bowl of grey…something…landed in front of him with a “plop.” A second later, another “plop” and now a drop of grey liquid appeared on his jacket sleeve as the man dropped a spoon into the bowl.
Craddock ignored the spot and pulled the bowl toward himself. He lifted the spoon, which was already forming an off-white film on the handle where the not-too-hot soup was quickly cooling. Craddock tasted tentatively.
It’s not so much that it was bad as it was mysterious? If he could identify what kind of soup it was supposed to be he might have found it downright revolting; but as it was cream of…something…it wasn’t without its charms.
A moment later, the door opened again. “Shut that door! You’re letting out all the heat,” bellowed the man in the apron.
A lady came in, wearing a shabby and worn coat that was far too thin for the cold weather she was shivering against. As she approached the counter everyone scooted down a little more and she found a seat.
“What d’ya want?”
“May I have some water, please?” The man brought her the water.
“Now, what do you want?”
“Water is fine.”
“No, I mean what do you want?”
“The water will be okay.”
“I mean, what do you want to order, Lady? We’ve got paying customers here. What do you want to order?”
“Listen, Lady, if you don’t order, you can’t stay.”
“Can’t I just stay long enough to get warm?”
“Listen, Lady, order something or leave!”
For a moment tense silence filled the small crowded coffee shop. The kind of tense silence that is created any time there is an argument in public.
The silence began to dissolve as the woman sighed and pushed herself away from the counter to leave.
But as she got up, the people on each side of her got up. Then the people on each side of them got up. As she started to leave, the entire restaurant got up to leave. Then the wiry man—seeing that he was about to lose his customers—said, “Oh, now wait a minute. Everybody sit back down, she can stay.” He even brought her a bowl of the gray soup.
Craddock asked the man next to him, “Who is she?”
The man said, “I never saw her before in my life. But if she ain’t welcome, ain’t nobody welcome.”
Craddock said in that new atmosphere, he began to eat his soup and found to his surprise it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was almost good. As he finished the soup, he had the feeling that somehow he had tasted it before. Something in the soup reminded him of something. As he walked out the door and looked back upon that group of people, he saw that woman sitting there – then he remembered.
It tasted like bread and wine.
Thanks be to God.