Thanksgiving 2013, a sermon by Rev. David M Bryce
Summary: We give thanks this day for the bounty of undeserved gifts that we receive from life, from the earth, from friends and other loved ones. Join in celebration of all that is beautiful.
Thanksgiving and the holidays following it are a time of gatherings of friends and family, family in whatever form we find it.
As the nation holds up a vision of happy families gathered around a groaning board table, full of the bounty of the earth, it is important to remember that while for some of us this vision holds true, for others this can be a very difficult time because the vision does not seem to apply to them.
This can be especially difficult for those who do not have food or a place of physical warmth to call home.
This can be a difficult time for those with no place of emotional warmth to call home, those with no family or with families that disappoint or even damage.
This can be a difficult time for those who suffer from illness of mind, body or spirit, and who struggle to get through the day.
This can be a difficult time for those with special expectations for the family gathering that are not fulfilled since few of our families can live up to the perfect families pictured in movies and television commercials. And few of our real-life experiences can live up to the ideal presentations of our hopes.
But if we decide that our families do not have to be perfect, if we do not hold them to that measure, if we allow them to have all of the odd quirks and idiosyncrasies that fill all families, then many of them can be absolutely wonderful.
But gratitude is not just for family and friends. That is a hoped for setting; an actual setting for many of us, but it is not the only setting.
Gratitude can be for life and the gifts of life; and that can begin with smallest of gifts; and it can also encompass the greatest.
One of the things I am deeply grateful for is this congregation. You will forgive me if I speak “in house” for a few moments.
I am grateful for this congregation: For the leaders who have served on the Parish Board over the past years; for the Committee chairs and committee members; for the people who lead our programs; for the teachers in the Children’s Religious Education program and the mentors in our youth program; for those who have organized the rummage sale and the auction; for the choir members and the musicians; for the many people who work on the Musical; for those who do the summer services; for the Lay Pastoral Care team and the Worship Assistants; for the ushers and the donators of flowers and the folders of the newsletter; for those who keep the building beautiful and functioning; for the staff members who work so hard to serve the congregation; for those who give money so that all of these things can happen; for those who provide meals and rides; for those who provide a listening ear, a welcoming smile, a shoulder to cry on; for those who keep our computers upgraded and connected; for those who take care of our sound system and lighting; for those who set up and clean up, sometimes without being asked; for those who quietly pay attention; for those with good ideas who express them in kind and loving ways; and for all of those who in any way do the work of community: who bring warmth and welcome and wisdom.
I give thanks for the wonder of birds. I give thanks for the fact that there are so many different kinds of birds, so many different shapes and colors and songs.
I give thanks for the magic of flying creatures whose very existence inspires our creative imaginations so that we too may go flying through the air and around the globe.
I give thanks for the magic of swimming creatures; and for crawling and slithering and hopping and walking and running creatures.
And for beautiful and ugly and befuddling creatures—for butterflies and stonefish and platypus.
I give thanks this day for the gifts I personally have received. I want to name some things that I am thankful for as that may raise up some similar thoughts within you, thoughts of the gifts you have received.
I am grateful for food and shelter. Any of us can find ourselves homeless and hungry, life can turn on us in an instant. But at least this morning I awoke in a soft bed and did not fear going without food—many people in this country and on this planet cannot say the same. For me t is a good day.
I am grateful for a life partner who loves me, who does so unreasonably, who does so despite the person I am. That is astonishing, really.
I am grateful for those of my family who are present in the world today–and for those no longer present. They have been a strength, a support and a source of hope and courage. This Thanksgiving as we sit at our table I will feel the presence of all who have been with us in the past and I will be grateful for them.
I am grateful for friends past who shared joy with me, shared my sorrows, shared my weak moments and still stayed friends.
Sometimes it is the difficulties in life that raise up our gratitude. Genie and I had the misfortune to lose two pregnancies, each in the fifth month of term. We had felt the babies moving. Somehow they had become “real”. Those were sad losses. And our daughter was born prematurely; she was three pounds ten ounces at birth. At one point in the pregnancy we thought she had died; and later as her birth was delayed by medication, there was concern that her lungs were not sufficiently developed to sustain her life if she was born too soon.
When I am in my wiser frame of mind, I remember how fragile life is, how fortunate Genie and I are to have a child at all. And though I still grieve for our lost children, perhaps I am more deeply grateful for our daughter than I would have been had we not suffered those other losses—and I am deeply grateful for her presence in my life.
And I am grateful that in the face of loss Genie and I grew closer together rather than falling apart, as happens to so many.
And I sometimes remember how fortunate Genie and I are to be alive ourselves. That applies to each of us, to each person in this room. The mix of events that had to come together for you and I to be here is a long one, an improbable one. From conception through development through the varied events of our lives, the fact that we are here to day is a joy filled miracle.
I experience the world, I feel love, I know connection to family and friends only because I am alive. And life is, for me, the greatest gift because without it these other things could not and would not be.
I have been given many gifts, including the ones I have named: life and love, wife and child; I also have an abundance of food and clothing and shelter, I receive good medical care—I truly am wealthy. I am wealthier than the vast majority of people on this planet; I am wealthier than the vast majority of people who have ever lived on this planet. I want to remember that always.
I know that some religions hold that where we are born in this life is due to the Karma we accrued in a previous life; in some that can lead to a false and egotistical sense of deserving what we have been given. Beware for “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall”.
Life itself is not the result of Karma. Karma is accrued based upon what we do with the gift of life. And I know that in the religions that hold to Karma the goal is escape from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
And even so I say, life is a gift and we should honor the gift.
We live in a society that honors achievements. And that is fine. I, too, honor those who have achieved something with their lives. But they had to have life in order to do so. I did not “achieve” life. None of us did. We are here because life was given to us as a gift and only then did other gifts come.
I want to be grateful for these things, and I want to express that gratitude.
How does one do that? How does one express gratitude?
The first thing to do is to honor the gift, in part because doing so honors the giver of the gift.
I can express that gratitude in words and in deeds.
In deeds I can use my life well in the service of others and in joy-filled living.
In words I can say, “Thank you!”
I can say, “Thank you” to God, to the Goddess, to the Cosmos, to life, to the universe, to evolution, to Mother Earth, to the sky, to the ocean—or to whatever the unknown and unknowable, unnamed and unnamable, unfathomed and unfathomable source of life may be. Thank you. I can just say it. Thank you.
Whether we say it out loud or say it in our heart, it doesn’t matter as long as we say it: Thank you. I am grateful for life; thank you.
One of the things I want to recognize about life is that it is brief. I don’t say that in a frightened way or intending it to be frightening; it is a simple statement of truth. Life is brief; less than one hundred and twenty five years.
I am grateful for each year, each day, each moment and so I want to express that gratitude in each year, each day, each moment.
And, speaking for myself, I want to feel humble about that gratitude.
For all that is my life, I say thank you.
For singing birds and growling puppies;
For music and the sound of falling rain and beating hearts;
For blue skies and red sunsets and green hills;
For dry summer days and moist forests;
For cooling breezes in summer, the smell of smoke in autumn and warm clothes in winter;
For brightening sunshine in the morning and soothing darkness in the evening;
For all that is good and joyous and happy;
For all that strengthens and nurtures and comforts the spirit;
For all that brings hope to the heart and help when needed: Thank you.
May that gratitude for life fill me always, even in the harshest moments of those pain-filled days that come to us. For each breath, for each caress, for each welcome, for each day may I be grateful and give thanks.
So let it be.