God calls us together today and invites us to let go of our anxiety and fear, and, walking in God’s reign, let God center us and make us part of the healing of all things.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Day of Thanksgiving, year B
Texts: Matthew 6:25-33 (adding v. 34); 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Joel 2:21-27
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Why are we here this morning?
This is the only day on the Church calendar that’s not a Church holy day. Now, the Church strongly approves of giving thanks; our weekly worship is called Eucharist, which means Thanksgiving. But we’re only here today because for over 150 years U.S. presidents have declared a national Day of Thanksgiving, and for nearly 80 years it’s been on November’s fourth Thursday. Otherwise, this would be a normal work day and we’d gather for our weekly Thanksgiving feast next Sunday.
This secular holiday is complicated for us. Nationally, this day is marked by the encouragement of gluttony and joking about that, by the spectacle of parades and football games, by the official launch of the rampant consumerism of the so-called “holiday season”, by pressure on families to get along, and by regurgitating the national myth of benevolent forebears coming to this land in peace, eating a feast with the natives, never mentioning the destruction, genocide, religious intolerance, and suffering that those pilgrims brought with them on their little ships. We like to give thanks to God. But this day is filled with lots of things we’re not thankful for.
But a funny thing happens when the Church adopts a day into the calendar. Drawing this national, secular holiday onto the calendar meant the Church did what the Church normally does: gave this day readings from Scripture, three years’ worth.
And suddenly today has the same reason to worship as every day on the Church calendar. God’s Word tells us what we’re about, defines why we’re here today, not presidents or the marketplace or the parade announcers.
And it turns out we actually have important reasons to be here.
For this lectionary year, we’re drawn here for a simple message from God: don’t be anxious or afraid.
Joel first beautifully addresses the earth’s soil, saying, “Don’t fear, O soil, be glad and rejoice, for God has done great things for you!” Then he says to the animals of the field, “Don’t fear, for the pastures are green, the trees are bearing fruit!” Last, the prophet tells God’s people to rejoice and be glad, for God is providing abundant rain and harvest of grain and oil and wine.
Jesus doesn’t directly address the non-humans. But he portrays the lilies of the field and the birds of the air as models of ones who have no fear, no anxiety, who trust in God’s abundant care. From their model, Jesus says to the people, “Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink or wear, be like the birds and the flowers and trust God will provide.”
A national Day of Non-Anxiety. That’s worth gathering for. So, we give thanks, and we hear God’s prophet and God’s Son invite us to release our worries and fears and rejoice in God’s abundance.
But then we think about the world.
And we realize the soil, the animals of the field, the birds of the air, and the flowers have much to fear.
When we consider our world, we want to restate Joel and Jesus and say instead, “Be afraid, O soil, for the people of this world are dumping their toxic waste into you, stripping you of your nutrients, and exploiting you until you are incapable of supporting life. Be afraid, you animals and birds and flowers, for the people of this world are consuming the resources of your abundance, polluting your habitats, dangerously and rapidly heating up your planet, and blithely ignoring the disappearance of millions of your siblings and species.”
Joel couldn’t have imagined this. Jesus could have, but didn’t speak of it. But in our age we can’t simply look at the natural world and rejoice in God’s abundance. The human race has been systematically exploiting God’s abundance, without care or concern for any of our fellow inhabitants, the soil, the animals, the birds, the plants. We’re equally dismissive and destructive of our fellow human beings, creating systems of oppression and violence and indifference which, on top of our destruction of the climate, harm the most vulnerable of God’s children.
How can today be a Day of Non-Anxiety with the world as we’ve abused it for so long? And then, the writer of 1 Timothy urges today that we give supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for everyone, including kings and all in high positions. So, we’re commanded to pray for current leaders who do this horror not with well-meant ignorance but with malice and purpose.
What can we do here today that is at all faithful?
First, breathe for a moment. And then return to Jesus’ words.
Jesus doesn’t deny our reasons for anxiety and fear. But for those who follow him, who hear his voice, he says, “Change your focus. Don’t worry about what might or might not happen, about what is wrong with the world, about all the things that make you anxious. Instead, focus on God’s reign and God’s righteousness.”
Seek God’s reign. For Jesus, this means focus your life on following God’s way as Jesus has taught it. Beginning with love of God and love of neighbor, this is a way that Jesus invites you to follow with everything you have. It’s the way of the cross, the way of self-giving love. Let your heart be ruled by that, Jesus says, and you’ll find peace.
And seek God’s righteousness. To be righteous is to be in tune with your true self, the way you were made. A car that is finely tuned, that has all its parts oiled and working correctly, is righteous, what it was created to be. So, Jesus says, seek God’s true-ing of you, making your heart and soul and mind to be what they are meant to be. God’s clearing out blocks and hindrances, shaping you into Christ, your pattern of righteousness.
God’s reign and righteousness are our path out of our anxiety into trust.
Knowing that we are loving as God is, walking where God is, and shaped to be God’s people we were made to be, gives us peace of mind in the worst of the world’s evil and pain.
And as people trued to God’s pattern, walking God’s path, we are agents of God’s healing of this broken, sinful world ourselves. So we become the ones who protect the soil, who look out for the animals of the field. We become the ones God uses to keep the flowers clothed in beauty and the birds of the air safe in their nests. We rejoice in the abundance we still see God pouring on the earth, and ensure that all are included in its grace. This also lessens our anxiety.
And, we become witnesses of the truth of God’s undying love for all things. We witness to the God who, 1 Timothy also says, “desires everyone to be saved – healed, rescued – and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That’s why we pray for everyone, even “kings and all in high positions.” Because God will not rest until all are drawn into the life-giving reign of God and are made righteous. Until all are saved, and know God’s truth.
Whatever reason we have for coming here today, the Church in her wisdom has said, “focus on this: Don’t be anxious or afraid. God’s abundant love is healing all things.”
God’s pleasure, God’s desire, God’s dream is to have the whole creation blessed with abundance and fullness. And we get to be a part of that dream, bringing healing and wholeness in our very lives as Christ, and calming not only our anxiety and fear, but that of our siblings in this abundant creation, from humans to all God’s creatures.
So today, let’s join the soil, the animals of the field, the birds of the air, the flowers, and all God’s children in singing praise and thanksgiving to the Triune God, whose love brings calm and trust in an anxious and frightened world.
Focus on that today, Jesus says. Leave tomorrow in God’s hands.
In the name of Jesus. Amen