Joel 2:21-27; Ps 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Matthew 6:25-33
‘But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’
The Very Rev’d Bertrand Oliver
There is a real sense of joyfulness and of celebration with the first hymn we sang – ‘Come, all ye thankful people, come’ and depending on which part of the world we come from, we may have visions of village feasts celebrating the gathering of particular produce, the picking of grapes for wine, the abundance of meats and dairy products at the end of the season, and feasting in preparedness for the chilly – or indeed bitterly cold – season of winter to come.
There is real romance in these images that come to our mind, as well as in seeing the vast array of produce in our supermarkets, and even laid here in front of our altar today. It is thanksgiving – a time of rejoicing, a time of family gathering, a time of celebration and the marker of the change of the season.
For urban folks and urban children, the feelings evoked by our hymns today may be a bit lost – used as we are to find everything we might need, want or desire available all year round. Most of us will not have been anxious that our food supply was at risk, so Thanksgiving is a feast day that had carried no risk, we enjoy the joy and relief that our food supplies are full but in truth, we probably were not worried.
The availability all year round of most fruit and vegetable from different hemisphere has been a development that happened within my lifetime. When I was a child, menus were much more limited by the seasonal availability of the local produce. With the exponential development of international transport, made possible by better travel links through the sea and through the air, it suddenly became possible to eat strawberries at Christmas, and to enjoy most vegetables all year round.
And now, in our culture, we mostly take it for granted that we will be able to buy whatever food takes our fancy, whatever we want, when we want. Yet we don’t usually come out of the supermarket with a feeling of thankfulness – usually more a feeling of frustration at perhaps the one thing that was not available when we yet have a trolley load of food.
Thanksgiving has become a noun, when originally it was a verb.
A desert father once said:
“If you have a chest full of oranges, and leave it for a long time, the fruit will rot inside of it. It is the same with the thoughts in our heart. If we do not carry them out by physical action, after a while they will spoil and turn bad.’
Living thankfully is not essentially about feeling thankful, or even being thankful. To live thankfully is to act differently day by day because we are compelled by the Spirit to participate in the generous life of God-with-us, constantly practicing thanks-giving.
So what does ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ mean for you? – and what does it mean in a culture which has mostly rejected the existence of the divine. How does Thanksgiving translate into your life?
For Christians, Thanksgiving is at the heart of our faith. After all, the very word ‘Eucharist’ in Greek means exactly that – to give thanks. In the process of coming together for our weekly act of worship, we come and bring back to God a portion of what God has given to us individually and in community through God’s providence.
And as we do so, as we acknowledge and meditate on the gifts of God to us, we become aware of our responsibility to the world – to share them, not abuse them. Because God’s purpose is to provide for the needs of all, not simply for the need of a few who can afford it. And the act of Thanksgiving is an act of trust in God’s continuing providence, that after this harvest another will come, that the cycle of nature will provide again in the next season, and that meanwhile what has been given will not rot and be ruined but instead used for God’s purpose.
Periodically, we hear about new mores in urban living, and one trend that has captured the attention of journalists recently has been a rise during the time of the pandemic is ‘dumpster diving’.
In a recent radio programme, a number of people were being interviewed about the reasons why they had embraced this alternative way of feeding themselves.
And the result was quite an eye opener about the way in which we treat food in our country.
It appears that Canada is the country with the greatest food wastage in north America, and not only do people waste a great deal of food which goes from their fridge to the trash. But supermarkets and shops routinely throw away vast quantities of food that could still be eaten but which they cannot sell, therefore creating a bounty for those willing to surf the ‘ruelles’ behind the shiny facades and fill their shopping bag with a different kind of harvest altogether.
For those practicing this new urban sport, the reasons are manyfold, but they are summarised in two categories – lack of money to buy food, or outrage at the waste.
There are of course official channels which pick up food waste for redistribution to community organisations, such as Moisson Montreal. But there is still so much waste around that it is hard not to feel shocked at the dichotomy between the concept of Thanksgiving and the waste of God’s gift that we allow to exist.
In these past Covid months, as well as dumpster diving, many urban dwellers have also turned to urban gardening, a project that perhaps may have focused the mind on the difficulty of the task of relying on mother nature, and which has brought pride at the tomato, zucchini or peppers grown on our balconies – if we managed to harvest them before the squirrels.
Which gardener would willingly waste what they have worked for? Instead, there is pride in that salad made with home grown produce.
And yet, within our culture, we tolerate – in fact make vast profits – by throwing away food which could feed many on the bread line, food which has been brought to us from great distances through the burning of fossil fuel, adding to the effect of climate change and contributing to food scarcity and insecurity in other parts of the world as well as ours.
Perhaps it is time to revisit Thanksgiving, and not only say the word, but also live it daily, thereby being witnesses in the world of what God has done and is doing for us.
And take heed of Jesus’s words: ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’
Strive for the kingdom:
- Let there be love
- Let there be joy
- Let there be peace
- Let there be justice
When we look at these four points, we might find it hard to relate them to our current agri-business culture, where size is everything and human labour is as cheap as can possibly be – whether on the picking fields or in the maritime industry.
But by being actively thankful, using what we need, avoid waste, and ensuring that others have what they need, we will honor God who knows our collective needs and has given us the means to provide for them.
Jesus’s story of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field does both ring true and yet also rather unreal. It feels unthinkable that we should compare our lives to that of flowers or birds. But it teaches us something about just taking enough for what we need, and not more – and see the beauty in it.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, let us commit to be doers of it rather than simply pay lip service to it.
Let us give thanks for the wisdom of previous generations who worked the land, and here specially for people of the First Nations who shared their knowledge with settlers allowing us to survive and live richly in a harder climate.
Let us give thanks for the gift of science which is helping us to pinpoint where we have gone wrong and help to put it right again, helping us to feed those in need and not simply making a profit for the rich.
Let us give thanks for rural communities and especially for all those farmers who are trying to model human size production, and reminding us of the benefits on health, climate and the environment of holistic farming models.
And let us keep our eyes open, that we may see the need around us and discern ways in which we too can bring love, joy, peace and justice in thanksgiving to God.
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