Sermon for Thanksgiving 2010: The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key, FL
Ben is aged three. When he thinks that no one is watching he pulls the hair of his two year old sister Helen. She begins to cry. Mum had in fact had her eye on Ben. She says “why in the world did you do that? Tell Helen that you are sorry”. Ben tells his sister that he is sorry. But he is not!
Aunt Felicity is visiting. She hands a gift to Helen who rips it open, and then rushes off to play with these new silly bands. “You come back here at once”, say Mum, “and say thank you to Aunt Felicity”. “Thank you” mutters Helen. But we know that she hardly means it.
Saying sorry and saying thank you.
These we are trained to say from our earliest days. We are trained to say them so that they will become a way of life. Saying sorry, and saying thank you, are a couple of necessary foundation stones if we are to build decent societies.
From time to time these foundation stones get covered with debris. This great American feast called Thanksgiving is a day on which we, of necessity, clear away the debris, and learn again to say sorry, and to say thank you.
Just a block or two north of Lockwood Ridge Road on 17th Street is the Cornerstone Baptist Church. A Spanish speaking Baptist congregation also uses the building. As we turn right to drive north on Lockwood Ridge we see another Church on our left. It is called “The Living Sanctuary”. It bears every mark of being an evangelical Church. Just up the road on the right is the Kadapa Meditation Centre – a place for Buddhist prayer. In a little while we pass Iglesia De Los Hermanos on the left. Next come the not quite completed building which will be a home for the Islamic Society of Manatee and Sarasota Counties. Soon we’ll see a sign for the Sarasota Friends Meeting. Then comes the Episcopal Church of the Holy Nativity. Almost opposite is Northminster Presbyterian Church, which also provides space for the Centro Evangelistico Relexiones.
So, within two and a half mile’s worth of Lockwood Ridge Road (or just off it) there are ten centres for religious groups.
They are in my neck of the woods, so I drive by them frequently. They give me pause to say sorry, and to say thank you.
For this I am sorry:
that I lump all Baptist Churches together, and hold them in a fair bit of scorn.
that I have next to no tolerance for fundamentalist/evangelical Churches.
that I often think of Islam as a hostile religion, and that I have never taken the time to explore the many Islams.
that I frequently get bothered when I hear the Spanish language in shops and restaurants, and that I forget that there were Spanish speaking colonialists in what we now call the United States, long before my English ancestors came to colonise.
that one of the early acts of those same ancestors was to strip Mary Dyer naked to the waist, and then hang her for her terrible crime of being a Quaker in Congregationalist Massachusetts.
For this I say thank you:
that the Baptists were amongst the first to insist on the freedom of conscience for every believer.
that Evangelicals have a passion to bring people into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
for the Muslims who serve in our schools, hospitals, armed forces and Congress to help in the creation of a better America.
to the Quakers who remind us of the importance of silence as we listen to that spark of God within each of us, and for their powerful witness to non-violence.
for the Buddhist reverence for the whole created order.
I do not believe that we can or should apologise for our historical mistakes. Such apologies may have a “feel good” factor, but not much more.
But I do believe that we can become a wiser and more mature nation as we acknowledge those mistakes, and then resolve to learn from them.
On this Thanksgiving I am grateful for a two and a half mile stretch of Lockwood Ridge Road on which the very best of American religious diversity can be noted.
And I also know that we shall grow in wisdom and maturity when as a nation we move from anger and reaction into gratitude and thanksgiving. That’s why we have such a day as this.