This is a “sermon reduction” – you know, like cooking down a sauce into something even more savory? This was a twelve minute sermon preached last Sunday, now reduced to 500 words for the newspaper. It is also an example of how almost any theological discourse could become more user-friendly for a secular audience. Happy Thanksgiving!
I am going to start with a funeral but end up with Thanksgiving, so stay with me here.
One of the best funeral sermons I ever heard was delivered by a minister in his late seventies, talking to hundreds of seventy and eighty-year-old friends gathered to say good-bye to their long-time associate. The preacher began by telling his contemporaries gathered in grief, that it was an auspicious occasion for all of them to think about what they wanted their own lives to stand for. Then, he went on to ask specific questions designed to provoke an evaluation of the distance between what we say we stand for and how we actually live our lives (our walk verses our talk).
It was brilliant, and nothing I could have preached at the time, due to my youth. Standing at the lip of someone else’s mortality, he asked his peers: What do you stand for in this world? What does your life mean in the vast sea of time and space? Who are you exactly? Who are you and what do you want your life to be remembered for?
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, that is a wonderful Thanksgiving meditation. It forms an intimate connection with gratitude because, what we value most and are grateful for, is also very likely the same thing we could assist others with enjoying. So, as we gather for Thanksgiving and consider what we are grateful for, we could also ask ourselves whether or how we have assisted others with gaining access to it as well.
This should be easy and just plain obvious. For example, we value good, nourishing food and as we give thanks for it, we could also ask ourselves when and how we have enabled others to have access to good, nourishing food also? That could lead to a reflection on those who make it possible for us to eat – farm workers – immigrant farm workers – farmers, truckers, and folks who work at the grocery. Clearly, we are grateful for what they produce and deliver, so what have we done or what could we do, to ensure they have access to good and nourishing food also?
You see, it is an easy equation to contemplate. In fact, this is a great time of year to make a Gratitude Inventory: brainstorm a list of all the people and things we are especially grateful for, and then do an inventory of when and how we might be able to assist others to access those very things we have appreciated ourselves.
It doesn’t have to be a big, complicated list, and we certainly do not have to carry responsibility for the whole world on our backs. I am talking about a simple inventory of our abundance. You see, there is a kind of spiritual symmetry between what we are grateful for and what we may be able to do to share that very goodness with others.
My guess is, when all is said and done, most of us would be pleased to be remembered for providing to others what we have been so grateful for ourselves.