Deuteronomy 26: 1-11 Albuquerque, NM
Philippians 4: 4-9 November 24, 2010
Remembering God’s Goodness; Re-membering God’s People
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
It is so good to be here in this place on the eve of Thanksgiving. Gathered together singing God’s blessing. Giving thanks together. So good to be hearing the old stories of God’s goodness—in fat times and in lean. It’s so good to be here with you tonight.
We gather here tonight, you and I, with so much pressing on our minds—lists of things yet to do, lists of things left undone, memories of Thanksgivings past, hopes for Thanksgivings to come, expectations about tomorrow. I imagine some of us approach Thanksgiving Day filled with joyful anticipation as we remember the warm glow of Thanksgivings past; I imagine some of us come to the day with a measure of dread or resignation or even fear—determined just to get through the meal and get on our way. There are so many different takes on the day. And so much work that goes into it.
Sometimes you just need to press the pause button. This is one of those moments. Time to pause. Time to take a deep breath. Time to breathe in the goodness of God. Time to linger in the memories of God’s grace at work in our lives.
After all, Thanksgiving is a day for remembering. A day for telling and retelling the old family stories. A day for remembering quirks and healed hurts and the hurts that have yet to heal. A day for remembering and giving thanks for those who are no longer at the table. A day for remembering God’s goodness in our lives.
Yet for most of us Thanksgiving is not a private, individual meditative kind of a day. It’s not a day of silent prayer. How could it be? It begins with a parade and ends with a game. Thanksgiving is a communal feast. A day of remembering in community. The kind of remembering that leads to re-membering, re-forming community. The glue of community—shared story, shared meal, shared laughter, and shared tears are all part of the day. Re-membering—it’s at the heart of Thanksgiving.
Remembering and re-membering are at the core of the scripture we hear today. The Deuteronomist draws people’s attention to their past—to Abraham, their ancient forebearer, receiving an outlandish promise from God; to their ancestor Jacob, the wandering Aramean; to the good times and the harsh times in Egypt; and to the time in the Wilderness. Through it all we see signs of God’s faithfulness to God’s promise and God’s people.
But listen closely to this remembering. The milk and honey part does not come until the end. Remembering at it’s best embraces the pain along side the joy. The light of God’s goodness shines most brightly against the darkness in our lives. The darkness is there lurking in the background of this story the Deuteronomist tells. It’s there in the despair of a childless couple long past child-bearing age; there in the ache of husband for his wife and a father for his favorite son; there in the hunger and thirst and bickering and faithlessness that serve as a backdrop for God’s signs and wonders in the Wilderness. It’s in the despair, the ache, the hunger and the thirst that we encounter signs of God’s goodness and are reminded of God’s faithfulness.
This is a truth that those Pilgrims understood on that first Feast of Thanksgiving in December 1621. That was a feast celebrated not in a time of plenty but in a time of scarcity. Only one of their three crops produced any fruit worth harvesting and not nearly enough to sustain a community over the winter ahead. As they looked around the table, the people gathered could not help but count the losses—half their community dead. And yet in the midst of all of that, those Pilgrims remembered the gifts of God and gave thanks for God’s goodness.
Perhaps in getting there they followed Paul’s advice: ‘Whatever is true, what ever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” I like to believe that in the midst of their fear, in the midst of their grief, they looked for the true, the honorable, the just and the pure and in so doing they found the hand of God. I suspect that in their remembering, they re-membered their community.
Re-membering—it’s at the heart of our Thanksgiving feast as well. Remember and re-member—that’s what we do as we gather at this table. As we remember Jesus at table with his friends—the lost and the lonely, the hapless and the hungry—we re-member
the community gathered around the table. We become a people forgiven, healed and renewed. And as we do, we become the body of Christ sent forth to heal the wounds of those we meet in the world beyond the table.
Shall we gather at the table?