“Thanks Giving”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 23, 2014 – Thanksgiving Sunday

Scripture:  Acts 3:1-10

 

In my family, growing up, Thanksgiving came with a particular set of rituals. First, we would decide who was going to sit where—which can be tricky when you have several left-handed eaters in the bunch. We would put out the appropriate napkin rings to designate each person’s seat—the engraved silver ones for my grandparents, and the pewter ones with my parents’ names on them, and the assorted wooden ones for everyone else. When we had loaded the table with dish after dish of delicious food, we would all take our seats, and take hands, and pause in silence for a moment that can’t have been all that long, but it seemed like forever if you were a hungry young person. To end the silence, my grandfather would squeeze the hand of the person next to him, who would pass the squeeze on to the next person, and to the next person, and so on until it had circled the whole table.

And then, before we started eating, while we were all salivating at the wonderful smells in the air, we would go around the table again, out loud this time, and share something for which we were thankful.

Some years, I would be full to the brim with gratitude, and I would share several stories about the things in life I appreciated—a kind teacher, a new friend, the beauty of nature, food and shelter, family, music, blueberry pie, a good grade on a test, a somewhat-successful season for the Red Sox, or whatever else it might have been. Other years, when I was caught up in the struggles of adolescence or the inevitable hardships that we all face from time to time, gratitude did not spring so quickly to my lips. But every year, as I listened to the people beside me give thanks for the blessings they saw in their lives, I would realize ways in which I, too, was blessed. As they gave thanks, they gave me thankfulness.

I think it must have been like that for the people near the temple on the fateful day on which our story today took place. Some of them must surely have been having a bad day, a bad week, a bad year. Some of them must have just received bad news, just fallen ill, just had a loved one die. Some of them must have lost a job, a home, a relationship. Some of them must surely not have been feeling particularly grateful.

And yet the story tells us that all of them saw what had happened for that once-crippled man, and they were filled with wonder and amazement. As he went skipping and leaping into the temple to give thanks and praise to God, his celebration and gratitude spilled over and filled the hearts of those bystanders. And don’t you think they were reminded of their own gratitude and blessings? Don’t you think they thought anew about their own able legs? Don’t you think they thought anew about their own homes, families, daily routines?

 

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, perhaps you feel something like the man in today’s story. Perhaps something wonderful has recently happened in your life. Perhaps you have a new baby or grandbaby. Perhaps you have a new sweetheart. Perhaps you have a job you love, or a family you adore, or a home in which you delight. Perhaps you feel very much aware of the myriad blessings that surround you.

Or perhaps gratitude does not spring so quickly to your lips this year. Perhaps you are going through a hard time. Perhaps you’ve lost a job, or a friend, or a family member. Perhaps things don’t look so rosy to you these days.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul wrote this: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). When something spectacular has happened, like the healing in our story for today, it is easy to give thanks and praise to God. But what about the other times?

There is something to be said for cultivating an awareness, a mindfulness, a practice of gratitude for the blessings that are there, whether we see them or not. But there is also something to be said for being inspired by one another’s gratitude. We do not have to “give thanks in all circumstances” alone. Like the people who witnessed the healing in today’s scripture reading, and like the family sitting around the Thanksgiving table, we can be filled up by the gratitude of those around us. When our sisters and brothers give thanks, they give us thankfulness.

And so today, we will take a little time to share our gratitude with one another. In the racks in the pews in front of you, there are little slips of paper. I invite you to take a slip and write on it one thing for which you are thankful in this season. If your heart is full of gratitude this day, please take more than one and share more than one source of thanksgiving. If your heart is empty, don’t write something just because you feel like you have to. Wait and see if inspiration strikes. If it does, make a note of it; if not, there is another way you can partake.

In a couple of minutes, our deacons will pass baskets through the pews to collect your thanksgiving cards. Then, they will come back through and pass the baskets again, at which point I invite you—whether or not you put a card into the baskets—to take a card that bears someone else’s gratitude. Carry that card with you through this week, and give thanks with the person who wrote on it. And as you do, don’t be surprised if it inspires your own gratitude, too.