Harvest Thanksgiving. A wonderful feast day in the church that is a “left over” of sorts from another time. Harvest Thanksgiving was once a day to Thank God that there was enough food in the cellar to make it to spring, or if it had been a bad year to pray that God would provide what the cellar wasn’t going to be able to. Clearly, an important day in the life of the 19th century Church but what is this day about in the 21st century? With food as close as the refrigerator door – what are we doing; still celebrating Harvest Thanksgiving ? What have we to be truly thankful for ?
My fear is that what we’re doing is reminding ourselves of just how fortunate we are. That we have in popular terms “Made it” The North American dream – family home in the right neighbourhood, new car, fat retirement savings plan. Or maybe it’s that we have a job to go to on Monday morning in an age of cutbacks. Maybe that’s what we’re thankful for.
St. Paul wrote a letter to some Christians like us it. He told them that he had all the things they had. He was from a nice neighbourhood, a good family, a member of the right church, he had a respectable job.
By all accounts Paul had it made. And then he met Jesus. And all of a sudden the rest was in Paul’s words – “rubbish”. All these things that we are thankful for, that make us feel good, and give us a place in the world. Paul accounts the whole lot as worthless.
Now if I told you that Paul wasn’t the most popular of preachers – I don’t suppose you’d be surprised. The folks Paul wrote to were not much different than you and I.
We want to be thankful for Volvos, stereos, stainless steel kitchens, marble floors and designer clothes. Paul and the Church want us to be thankful for Jesus. And unfortunately it’s really no contest.
Our cause, the Christian message is absolutely hopeless. We are too few and the opposition is too great. A small parish verses the marketing department of General Motors, our little church verses the allure of the Sherway Gardens. A preacher verses the marketing wizards of Bay Street. You don’t need a Las Vegas bookie to figure out that the odds are against us. And so is it any wonder that we sit here in this church surrounded by the symbols of God’s love being thankful for all the wrong things ?
We’re thankful for the things of this world instead of being thankful for the gift that God has promised us in the world to come. In St. Paul’s words the “prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Eternal life. The Word of God verses the powers and desires that be. It can all look so hopeless.
Except. Except that it happens to be God’s cause. God isn’t on the side of the Bay Street boys and girls and their campaigns to convince us that human life isn’t worth living without the latest offering from Chrysler, Sony, or Great Gulf Homes. God is on the side of the poor, of pennies in a mission basket. God is on the side of those who long for freedom. And if we’d all spend more time reading the old family bible more often we’d have more confidence in the knowledge that God’s causes always triumph- regardless of the odds !
Speaking of triumph. There is a wonderful story that comes out of Eastern Europe in the days of Communism. After the troops of the old Soviet Union had crushed a small uprising the local Communist Party scheduled a great parade – lumbering tanks, trucked in missiles, battalions of lockstepped soldiers. But suddenly, in the midst of the parade, there was a rusty little blue pickup truck weaving in and out, disrupting all the festivities, with a six foot sign on it reading, “For God’s sake, why ?”
Why are we thankful for our high standard of living when most of the world has a mighty high standard of dying ? Why are we thankful for the fancy cars, stainless steel kitchens and designer clothes that promised to make us feel good and ultimately only disappointed ? Why ? The audacious Word of God questions our world and pierces our hearts.
Does all this shock you, does it make you just a little angry ? Well listen to the words of another preacher, one with better credentials than mine:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19). Those of course are the words of Jesus. God’s most audacious Word.
We – you and I – are in one sense the poor, the oppressed and the captives. Our minds and imaginations have been captured by the concept that life’s meaning and worth is wrapped up in the car we drive, the neighbourhood we live in, the size of our bank accounts, yearly salary, and the respect the world does or does not gives us. Ours is a poverty of spirit. And yet, God’s audacious Word would free us from all that and re-orient us towards the riches of The Kingdom of God.
The newspapers reported that God’s word was spoken not so long ago in a multi-million dollar mega church not so far from here.
It was built in the North Eastern United States a “New England Colonial” style building that was most impressive. The day of dedication had been set, the Bishop was slatted to arrive, but not all the furnishings had shown up.
The chancel was empty; no pulpit or altar, no expensive tapestry for the back wall. When worshippers gathered for the dedication, they found that someone had snuck into the building at night and, with a wide brush, had painted in big red letters on the bare wall, “Stop the killing, Feed the poor, Sincerely yours, Jesus Christ.”
Do you sense our strange calling in this mixed up world, in this world that will go along with almost anything for a tank full of gas, a high credit limit, and a fat tax fee savings account? Somehow you and I are called to speak, to shake awake God’s people with the strong audacious Word of Christ.
We have been called to be thankful not for what we have, as is the world around us, but, to be thankful for what God has allowed us to do with what we’ve so freely been given. By God’s grace we live in the richest and most affluent society that this planet has ever known. Yet, we didn’t choose to be born into it. We are here in this county, at this time, by God’s grace alone. And set before us is the opportunity to choose Christ above all else. To count the riches of this world as “rubbish” and enter into the life and work of Christ.
We were not put on earth to shop, the mall isn’t the natural habitat of humanity and no matter what Bay Street might wish you to believe we are not consumers first and humans second. We human beings simply are not the measure of our bank balance, job status, and neighbourhoods.
The audacious word of God is simply this – God loves all of humanity – rich and poor, short and fat, gay and so called straight, ugly and even the beautiful. And on this Harvest Thanksgiving that is what we Christians are thankful for – God’s love shown for us in the person of Jesus Christ.
God’s love was shown to our forebears in the abundance of the harvest – In a world of abundance and excess – God’s love is shown by our willingness to give freely – to live simply – and to love those whom the world would not. This is our ministry at St. Margaret’s – and in this – as in all things we give thanks to God. Let the world give thanks for our standard of living – Let us give thanks for the standard of our giving – born in God’s love for all people, and shown to us and the world in the person of Jesus Christ.
Today, let us give thanks for the gift of Christ above all else. Amen.