For much of our lives, we Americans have been taught about the origins of the holiday of Thanksgiving…we all know about the feast co-hosted by the native American Indians to the near starving Puritan settlers at the end of that very first year of 1620 in the New World. We remember stories about how the Indians introduced the settlers to corn, squash and wild game turkey and deer that was so prevalent in North America at that time. We also know how grateful the pilgrims were to receive the help of the Indians in their time of need. The story of the Indians and the pilgrims is truly a Thanksgiving story that will live on and on as we pass this story from one generation to another as a never ending story of hopefullness, helpfullness, and happiness. The story we remember is like a snapshot made in heaven of what the world ought to be like…about how one people can help another people… not because of some article of religion, or some commandment that says we have a duty to help (I doubt the Indians of the day had yet to hear about the Bible or about Jesus or about Christianity), but because of some greater, deep down, good that says to us down in the depths of our soul that, ‘Yes, you need to help, for the good of your brother, but also for your own sake as well and for the sake of your soul’.
This need, or yearning to help, is what St. James explains to us in his epistle. That every act of generous giving is from above and in his words . . . ‘comes down from the Father of lights’. Giving is not a natural tendency among humans. It may be ‘more blessed to give than to receive’…but most of us find it is a lot easier to keep than to give away. Why do you suppose that that is true? Do we have a tendency to keep things because we are so attached to them that we cannot bear to part with them…or is it because we have some deep seated feeling that in giving we may someday go wanting? Jesus talked about our dependency on material things in the gospel reading today. How many of us could really live these words that he spoke to us this morning? He basically is saying, have a deep and abiding faith, give generously, and with abandon and God will replenish your supply, God will fulfill all your needs. But to a person like me with gas bills, electric bills, insurances, mortgages, kids, tuition, two cars, two cats and a dog, it becomes a little more frightening to give with the abandon he describes, to go out on limb, unsure of how or when my own future needs will be met.
But that leads us right back to the story of the Pilgrim fathers, who, for the freedom to practice their religion they chose to abandon everything they knew in England and in Europe, to abandon their homes, their families, their jobs, their careers, in order to face a very uncertain future in the New World. Armed with only faith and a prayer, they gave up everything to face unthinkable dangers and struggles and starvation in a land that only held for them one promise, the freedom to worship as they chose. And I’ll tell you, I think that is why they succeeded. They were armed with only the faith that the God they knew would provide for them and an earnest prayer giving Him thanks for all things, no matter what the outcome. And isn’t that the mark of true discipleship in Jesus Christ? Isn’t that what Jesus was trying to explain to all of us today?
I want to remind you of a modern day thanksgiving story you may remember that was printed in the Buffalo News a few years back. It was an Associated news release about how, during the American invasion of Haiti, the people there were seen dancing in the streets, because, all of a sudden besides a new found freedom, they have so much to eat. You may know that Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and most Haitians, at least before the Americans came to their country, only ate one meal per day. Well, the article interviewed many mothers who were so grateful for the extra food that was available after the Army came to her town. She recounted how now she could feed her family twice a day, with good food, American food like lasagna, and brownies and Rice Krispies. The reporter told about how whole cottage industries that had sprung up selling this wonderful stuff and how that year (the year 2000) would be the greatest Thanksgiving in recent Haitian memory. The writer became very interested in which agencies distributed food to these Haitians but was taken by surprise when the lady told him that, there weren’t any agencies . . . no NGOs . . . no Red Cross . . . nothing. Incredibly, the people simply went to the Army Dump every day and picked up the garbage of what the American soldiers threw away! Can you imagine an entire country living off of what a few thousand soldiers threw in the trash?! To the Haitians it was a blessing from God. To us, I am sure, it is an appalling embarrassment.
In our Eucharistic Service each week, we are reminded that it is our bounden duty, at all times and in all places to give thanks for what God as done for us. How often do we unconsciously worry about how we expected so much more out of our lives than what we have, and yet in comparison, everyone in this room lives like a virtual king when compared to the lives of the vast majority of humanity living outside this building. We have been richly blessed by God and for that I am sure we should all be exceedingly thankful. But how can we express this thankfulness, our thanksgiving if you will?
The easiest way that I know of is to simply emulate as closely as possible the giver of all good things. Go out of your way to find someone, some family, some organization, someone or something that needs your help, your prayers, your money or your enthusiasm and simply give of what has been given you. If you know a person you can’t stand – start praying for him. If you have a neighbor or a relative who is in trouble financially – then give them a boost anonomously with no strings attached. If you are asked… say YES – if you aren’t asked… then volunteer. In this way you will be sharing with others what God has given you, you will be sharing God’s love for all of his creation. You will be showing your thanks, and not merely saying your thanks for all that He has done for you in your life. Amen