The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 19, 2017
Scripture: Psalm 95:1-7
Thankful for Thanksgiving
So I’m making an old, old plea this morning, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, in part because not many people seem to be listening year to year: Let us please, please, hold off the Christmas craziness for at least four more days, not including today. I know that’s a request not overly welcomed by many. It’s certainly not welcomed by the retail business. Not many of us, even here, have heeded the call to wait, to postpone, to put off the frenzy, either. I know this first hand, but I’m still stubbornly holding on to my plea to appreciate what comes before Christmas on the list of holidays. Because there is a holiday on our secular calendars that sits between Halloween and Christmas.
No my plea to wait for it, to attempt to allow it to have sole focus, to not share any of the spotlight with Christmas, earns me a title in my own home that is not altogether flattering. I admit, I understand it. Because for the past eighteen days, since Halloween was over, and for the four days ahead, I’ll be known around my own house by my three wonderful children and my beautiful wife as … a Grinch.
I’ve shared that with all of you before. I noted then and I must say, still, I rarely hear that title spoken out loud year to year, but the whispers are still happening. Sam’s off at college this year, so there’s one less grumble around the house, but Annie and Gabe are humming songs that have to do with the “weather outside being frightful” and about “snowmen with corn cob pipes and button noses.” This past Saturday, Katie was doing some housecleaning and had her headphones on. I had to ask her a question and when she pulled the earphones out, I’m pretty sure I heard a voice that sounded suspiciously like Amy Grant, and Amy Grant is rarely, if ever, played in our house unless it’s … well you know – “yada, yada-time.”
I’m a Grinch every year during this 3-4 weeks after Halloween, because I very politely request that no Christmas music or movies be played or shown until after the celebration that occurs between October 31 and December 25. At least not while I’m in the room. Again, I am fully aware of the quiet, quick movements to the television and the stereo when I return from work or from an errand somewhere. I have found a DVD in the television player and there are empty holiday CD cases on the stereo I know were shelved last January, so I’m little suspicious, but …
Anyway, by now, you must be wondering which holiday I’m talking about. Is there something between Halloween and Christmas? I’ll ease the tension. The holiday “in-between” is Thanksgiving, of course. And, I know, I run the risk of making too big a deal out of this, and perhaps alienating a few of you, many of you, but I find myself again this year feeling like the Thanksgiving holiday didn’t used to be so … “in the way.”
I remember as a kid it was a much bigger deal. I’m sure that some of that was because I was a kid. I didn’t go to stores much, except the candy store, so I don’t know if they put out the decorations as early as they do know. We didn’t watch a lot of television, so I can’t remember if the Christmas commercials started as early as they do now. There weren’t VCR’s, or at least we didn’t have one in my early childhood, let alone DVD’s, so the holiday specials had to wait until the television networks decided to air them. But even though these things were “out of my control,” I do remember that in my own house growing up, at least, Christmas waited.
It waited while, in school, we learned of the First Feast, made pilgrim hats, feathers for our headbands, and turkeys out of our own handprints. It waited while Charlie Brown and Snoopy prepared popcorn, pretzels, jellybeans and buttered toast for their friends’ big Thanksgiving meal. It waited for my grandparents and one or two aunts or uncles, sometimes even cousins or some dear family friends, to arrive. It waited while casseroles were prepared, turkeys were thawed and stuffed, pies were baked and my absolute favorite dessert, Indian Pudding, cooled on the counter in its brown ceramic covered dish. Christmas waited while we prepared our table and our hearts to express our thankfulness.
That’s awfully nostalgic, I know. Dangerously so, no doubt. But those memories are my last hope, my single lifeline, to holding off Christmas until it’s time, and I hold onto them passionately, no matter how manufactured they’ve become. I believe more and more each year that we need Thanksgiving at this time of year. Once the commercial Christmas is truly let loose, I’m not sure we express our true gratitude much. I mean, I know we say thank-you a lot, but are we truly grateful? So much is expected, so many are expecting, so much entitlement. We need a time, give yourselves that day, to express your thanksgiving before the bacchanalia begins!
Maybe it seems a bit odd to hear this plea from a pulpit. This holiday, our “day,” Thanksgiving, is not a church holy day, it’s not part of our ecclesiastical church calendar or rhythm. That’s true, but, of course, giving thanks is. Gratitude is a huge part of our communal celebrations and individual spiritual lives. It is out of our gratitude that our own graciousness grows.
Let’s read our scripture for this morning and turn ourselves around a bit, if only for four more days. (Read Psalm 95:1-7)
The opening verses of Psalm 95 are a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. Like many other hymns in the Psalter, this one cries out in praise and sets our lives in the context of all of creation and in the hand of its Creator, our God. In his commentary on the book of Psalms, James Mays states that human beings are incurably polytheistic. The ancient Israelites had neighboring gods with which to engage and we have our own, don’t we? I certainly feel the urge, and truthfully engage in the devotion every year, worshiping the lists we create and the expectations we hold, the calendar we fill and the capitalism we fuel. And we seem to do all this earlier and earlier every year.
In light of these realities, the theology of Psalm 95 has to be reckoned with. It’s states simply that “God is our God” and “that we are the people of God’s pasture, and the sheep of God’s hand” (verse 7). I am thankful for that reminder and for the life it beckons us back to in these days before Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for thanksgiving.
I was struck by what replacing the phrase “the Lord” and all of the masculine pronouns with the word “Love” did to the hearing, and even the understanding of these verses.
O come, let us sing to … Love.
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into Love’s presence with thanksgiving;
Let us make a joyful noise to Love with songs of praise.
For Love is a great God …
I’ll let you finish the verse at home. It takes “God” right out of the sky and places it right next to us at the Thanksgiving table, passing the mashed potatoes, in a face that looks wonderfully like your mother or father’s, or like your children’s, or even your uncle’s or a new friend. And for those who will have no Thanksgiving table at which to sit this year, it places the mystery right in the midst of an otherwise lonely and empty day. For we are all the people of Love’s pasture, and the sheep of Love’s hand.
We didn’t read the verses that follow verse seven. Perhaps we should have. Read them when you get home later this morning. They end rather bleakly. But these verses are a warning not to repeat what we have done before. They are a reminder that if, and when, we feel caught up in the cycles we have created for our lives, maybe evne again this year, we can break free. Every year, the party is inevitable, indeed the party is promised – and even I am looking forward to it. But every year we might just remember what we forgot in last year’s race to Christmas and so sing one more verse of Thanksgiving before it begins again. On this last Sunday before our country’s Thanksgiving holiday, let us “Let us sing to the Lord” a song of thanksgiving.
In this song of gratitude we will find the ability to frame all that is to come in our earthly lives in light of our God, Love incarnate, who has already given us all that we need – more than Toys ‘R Us or Target or Macy’s or even the Apple Store! We have life, one another, and Love to change the world. In our song of gratitude, not greed, we complete our wilderness journey and find our way home. In our Thanksgiving Song we find the courage to turn aside from the world’s tinsel and relax again into Love’s promise.
So, I’ll continue to play my “Grinchy-like” role and postpone Christmas cheer for a few more days. And as I do this year, I’ll wonder …
For the moment has it worked, has some time been loaned?
For the moment, is Christmas-the-party postponed?
And might we be trying, with our newly topped tank full,
To share with each other why we truly are thankful?
I wonder … Thanks be to God. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor /Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 19, 2017