Thursday, 24 November 2011

Sermon for Thanksgiving 2011

The Revd J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key, FL

I preached this sermon at St. Boniface on Thanksgiving two years ago.  I forgot what I said, and so did you.  So here it is again.

How would you define an Englishman?  Try this:

“An Englishman is a self made man, who worships his creator.”

I can tell you that one liner in good heart, for I am English born and raised.  There is more than enough truth in the joke.

We are surrounded by “self-made” citizens who proudly affirm “I got all I have by good old fashioned hard work and no one is going to take it away from me”.  There is a common belief that good old fashioned hard work is a sign of virtue, and that virtue is rewarded by wealth. Somewhere, deep in the secret part of my heart I believe that too.

That belief flies in the face of the facts.

First: There are millions of good hard working Americans, many of whom have two or three jobs, who are barely scraping by.  And there are other millions who would welcome good old fashioned hard work – if such work were available.

Those of us who work with homeless people hear time and time again “I want to work, but there’s no jobs out there”.

That belief flies in the face of the facts.

Second: A wee bit of reflection would lead us all to acknowledge that there was much “good luck” involved in our success and prosperity. 

There was the teacher who inspired and encouraged us. There was the prospective employer who took a chance on us.  There was the good friend who was gutsy enough to challenge us into healthier ways of thinking and living. There was the spouse who both tended the home fires and worked outside of the home so that we could go through college.  The list goes on.

So much good luck.  The truth is that we did not do it all by ourselves.

The obverse of the coin of good luck is that many of the poorest and or homeless Americans are poor and homeless because of a string of bad luck.

We are the lucky ones.  We, and I mean those of us who are in this Church today, are in the top 5% of the world’s most fortunate people. None of us are here by merit and virtue alone.

Lest we should forget that as we often do, or deny it because it is an inconvenient truth, this holiday called Thanksgiving plops itself on our path as a temporary road block designed to make us reflect about our lives.

Such reflection might lead us to three sentiments.

First: to a kind of giddy and joyous humility.

Second: to a renewal of our glad commitment to deep stewardship.

Third:  to the exhilarating thought and emotion of utter gratitude.

The Boston Globe columnist James Carroll suggests these sentiments can also lead religious believers into worship.  His column two years ago inspired some of what I have said this morning, so I will leave the last words with him.   Carroll wrote:

“What do we talk about…………when we talk about (giving) thanks?
1.     Awareness begins when a person grasps the single-most basic fact of existence, which is that existence is given.

2.     The most important aspects of each human’s condition, from physical makeup to intelligence to family connections to cultural legacy, are accidents of birth.

3.     The givens  of life do not begin with us. How we make use of what  we are given is something else, but  givenness is the starting point.

4.      Self-consciousness is the recognition that we ourselves are not the source of our most precious selfhood.

5.     A religious view makes the instinctive leap from the given to the giver, calls it “God,’’ and offers gratitude as the essential form of worship”

(The numbers 1-5 above are mine, inserted for clarity. They were not part of James Carroll’s Boston Globe article)

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