This Sunday my colleagues and I split the sermon into three "reflections", each taking a piece. It went well and folks enjoyed it. The first reflection was actually the Children's Focus, an important element in an intergenerational service! I went last and talked about how hard it is to feel thankful sometimes, particularly around the holidays. At least it is for me. Frankly, being told to be thankful makes me wonder what it is that I should be the rest of the time.
I just don't follow orders well. I know a lot of other people in the same boat. Christmas can be like this, too. Everything says "be happy" which makes many people ask themselves why. There is always the flip side of these holidays. What are we trying to gloss over with all the decorations and lights, and presents? What pains in our lives? What injustices? Are we thankful for things that necessarily make life hard for others? Are we hoping our celebrations will be loud enough to ignore the tears of others...or our own tears? This is why Amos yells at us in the Bible, "I hate, I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies...but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
Still, we can turn that coin over once again and remind ourselves that in the midst of human selfishness there is still good in us yet. Yes, there are times when gratitude is used as a form of self-congratulation, but not all the time. It is also genuine at times. Gratitude--thanksgiving--comes from the best part of ourselves, the part that touches the Divine. Hopefully we don't wait for Turkey-Day to be grateful.
My grandfather, during his final illness found things to be thankful for that may not have occurred to many of us kids at the time. As I get older, I think I get them better. God's love is in our pain and our failures after all. God walks with us in the dark places of our lives. We have the gift of compassion, though we may not always use it. We have the gift of love. We can always be thankful for these things, even when our gratitude is tempered by the world in which we live.
Here is a poem by Theodore Parker. I used on Sunday as a closing reading to my remarks.
Thankfulness and Trust, Theodore Parker
For all the trials of my earlier day
I thank thee, Father, that they all have been;
That darkness lay about the rugged way
Which I must tread alone. For all I’ve seen
Of disappointment, sorrow, pain, and loss,
I thank thee for them all. And did I sin,
I grieve not I’ve been tried; for e’en the cross
Of penitence has taught me how to win.
Yet, of the ills as child or man I’ve borne—
My hopes laid waste, or friends sent off by death,--
Remorse has most of all my bosom torn
For time misspent, ill deeds or evil breath.
But yet, for every grief my heart has worn,
Father, I thank thee still, trusting with hearty faith
Update I meant to do this yesterday but completely forgot. Here is a link to another (much, much longer) Thanksgiving prayer by Parker....