(Homily notes for Thanksgiving, Year A, 2011 by Rev. John Gishler)Thanksgiving is a special time of the year when we focus on how God has blessed us – at least that was the original intent. The readings remind us that Thanksgiving leads to increased blessing. Thanksgiving acknowledges our dependence on God for material and spiritual blessings and keeps us in right relationship with God. Thanksgiving increases our blessings. It is like a harvest of righteousness
1. The flip side of this is a warning that failure to give thanks leads to disaster
In the Deuteronomy Reading (8.7-20) Moses is reminding the Israelites of how God has made a covenant with them. God has promised to give them protection, good land and prosperity. They are reminded of the powerful and miraculous things God has done for them. They are warned to not become proud and forget their God. Being human, this is of course what happened over the centuries. In the Old Testament Isaiah describes the long period of apostasy when Kings and clergy forgot their part of the covenant. The official reading from the Common Lectionary stops at verse 18. The next two verses are very sensitive, particularly in our time of conflict in Palestine. In verses 19 and 20 the Israelites are warned that “If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods...you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you...” Moslems and Christian Palestinians obviously interpret this as negating the territorial claims of modern Israel. Failing to give thanks has consequences
2. The Great Thanksgiving celebrates our personal spiritual harvest
The Great Thanksgiving is the heart of the Eucharist. It is like Deuteronomy in summarizing a history of all the good things God has done for us, culminating in the gift of forgiveness through Jesus and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is the New Covenant of Jesus which we renew each time we say ‘amen’ at the end of the prayer. This is why participation in the Eucharist –‘celebration’ is so important. By showing up and affirming our Faith we are giving thanks. The consequence is a harvest of righteousness and blessing as the Holy Spirit pours out more blessings on us. God dwells in His praises so the act of giving thanks somehow opens a doorway for healing and spiritual blessings to flow into our souls. Righteousness means being in right relationship. One of the best and easiest ways of staying in right relationship with someone is to say thanks at appropriate times. This acknowledges, confirms and builds up the relationship.
3. There is a spiritual Law of Sowing and ReapingJesus often used examples from the agriculture around Him to explain spiritual things. Most of the time we cannot see what is going on in the spiritual dimension. Agriculture is a good analogy as what happens to seeds underground is also hidden. The basic principle of sowing and reaping is blindingly obvious. You reap what is sown. If a farmer sows wheat he does not expect a harvest of corn. In spiritual terms you cannot sow hate, bitterness and anger and expect to harvest love, joy and peace. The Apostle Paul gives us a good example of how this works in his Second Letter to the people at Corinth. He is taking up a collection of money to support the Christians in Jerusalem who are facing persecution from the Jews. Paul is challenging them to show their gratitude – to give thanks, for their spiritual blessings in Christ. Their lives have been changed. They have gone, as it says in the Great Thanksgiving Prayer “...out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.” (BAS p.198) Paul is giving them an opportunity to give thanks by sending money to those in need. The spiritual harvest of this is fourfold. First God is blessed by their charitable actions. Secondly, the individual givers will be blessed spiritually by God with increased joy. Thirdly the people who receive the money are blessed both materially and spiritually. They know they are loved and spiritually connected to the Corinthians. Finally, the Jerusalem Christians and others will respond by praising and thanking God for the money – a fourth blessing.
There are two questions for reflection at Harvest time. We can examine our current lives as a harvest. First of all, do we like what we see or do we wish we had sown something else? Most of us find we have some weeds in our harvest. This may be reminding us to be more careful what we sow. These may be the things we have done or not done that we need to repent. The second question for reflection is what is missing from the harvest. I am often disappointed with my own harvest. The take away for me is usually that I have ignored the law of sowing and reaping and not been more proactive is sowing wisely. The good news of examining the harvest of your life is that you will probably get another chance next year – and now you know the importance of sowing the right things.
As we give thanks to God we are blessed with a richer spiritual life!