“Thanksgiving for New Humans” Dt.8:7-18 , Matthew 25:31-46
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, November 22, 2020
How many of you already have a plan for your Thanksgiving meal this week? Though I’ve only been the beneficiary of the meal, I’m always in awe of the amount of planning and preparation that goes into it. I’ve noticed a number of social media posts lately promoting “how to” plans and highlighting the multistep process of preparing everything from the turkey and dressing to the pecan pie. It’s great to have someone show you how to do Thanksgiving.
That’s what our scripture readings do for us this morning, show us how to do thanksgiving. What we hear from them is two-step process for thanksgiving—remembering where our blessings come from and then sharing them with others
The first step for thanksgiving is found in our Deuteronomy text this morning, 8:7-18. These are more words of caution than a particular step. The danger for the Hebrew people was for them to move into the freedom of their release from slavery, receive the blessings of God, but then forget who provided it all for them. While enjoying the abundant wheat and barley, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, honey, land, copper, and homes they may start thinking they got this for themselves rather than remembering it was all from God. And so they may start to forget about God and God’s way for them to live in the world. The author of Deuteronomy warns them, saying, “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.”
That sounds like pretty good advice, doesn’t it? And yet why is it that we all have trouble remembering who gave us what we have and how we got to where we are? What is it about getting blessings from God that seems to result in our forgetfulness and ingratitude? A look at what others have done with their blessings and at what we have or haven’t done with them in our own lives no doubt shows our tendency to cling to the blessings rather than the blesser, to turn our possessions into our obsessions, and to see them as our belongings rather than our offerings. What’s great about having a day of Thanksgiving is that it causes us to stop and reflect, even if just for a day and in between football games, and to remember the Source of all we have.
It’s not enough to stop there, with just remembering. We are to do something else, as found in the parable from Jesus we have heard this morning. It comes on this last day of the church year, known as the Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday. It is the parable of the sheep and goats. While we often hear this as a reminder to be like a sheep rather than a goat, caring for the “least of these” in our community rather than ignoring their needs, it is actually more directed at nations than to us as individuals. What Jesus was saying was that God would judge the nations based on what they did about justice, the topic of the parables he has been sharing with them, the ones we’ve heard here in Worship these last several weeks. Jesus identified himself as the Son of Man, the “new way of being human,” (for more on this, see Brian Zahnd’s writing on the Girardian Lectionary Study page) the one who would bring judgment on the nations for how they treated the most vulnerable within them. The judgment and failure that comes to nations is a certain consequence, one seen in the history of nations, for disregarding their responsibility to care for their people in need.
So this parable informs us about the second step of thanksgiving: sharing. This step primarily has to do with nations, but applies to us as individuals as well. As a part of this nation, we are to pay careful attention to these words about sheep and goats. We would do well to evaluate our nation in light of what separates them—care for the “least of these” in our nation, particularly those in these four groups: the poor, the sick, the immigrants, and the imprisoned. So how do we rate right now with sharing God’s blessing of justice with each of these? Not so well. In fact, we are clearly in the goat section. The increasing number of people living in poverty, the attempts at limiting healthcare for millions of Americans, the brutal immigration policies and news of at least 600 children still not united with their parents, and our rates of mass incarceration put us in that category. Realizing this ought to motivate us right now as a nation to repent and change our ways to provide justice for these. As individuals in this nation, we are to hold our government and leaders responsible for taking care of the poor, the sick, the immigrants, and the imprisoned.
As with the Israelites, nations are to pass on the blessings of God to people in need. This is justice. This is what Jesus did as he entered our world to show us a new way of living as humans, one that is self-giving, liberating, and nonviolent. We live like Jesus when we make ourselves aware of the needs around us, take stock of our blessings, and then get busy sharing them. That’s what our nation must do. It’s also what we are to do as its citizens and as a church. What we do on Tuesdays and Thursdays with meals and clothes is a great example of doing that. We also have many opportunities to share with Volunteers of America and in our other partnerships that help meet the needs of the “least of these” in our community.
When we do this kind of sharing, along with the first step of remembering, then we will be getting it right, doing thanksgiving as God desires. Like a satisfying feast, the product of our actions will be a blessing to the world, one where everyone belongs and gets what they need, one where we are no longer counted as goats but sheep.