Thanksgiving or Black Friday: Choosing Which We Will Live – Sermon for November 22, 2015

I’m not a big Black Friday shopper. The few times in my life that I’ve shopped on Black Friday I’ve done so under duress, and I’ve never liked it. I’ve watched people swarm into stores, fight over toys and TVs, and spend more money than they have trying to make this the best Christmas ever.

This year Black Friday will once again start early. Some stores will open at midnight after Thanksgiving. Others even earlier, during the time when families could still be gathering around the turkey. And once again crowds will be there. A few years ago a crowd walked over a man who was having a heart attack, ignoring him. The next year, a man pulled a gun on someone who had cut in line.

All of this to celebrate Christmas, which is ironic in many ways, not least of which is that we are not in the Christmas season yet. In fact, we aren’t even in the Advent season of waiting and preparing for Christmas. In the church calendar we are celebrating the last Sunday of the year, a day called Christ the King Sunday. Today is the day when Christians proclaim that our allegiance is to nothing less than the power of Christ’s love. Christ is king, not the world, and not Black Friday.

And at the same time, we’re celebrating another holiday: Thanksgiving. This week we’re supposed to reflect on all we’ve been given, and thank God for it. It’s supposed to be a celebration of our gratitude. Yes, we eat the bird and the potatoes and pie. We spend time with family and watch football. But more than anything else, we are called to look around at our lives and look at what is good, and to say to God, quite simply, thank you.

But in our cultural rewrite of Thanksgiving, gratitude is slowly being replaced by the desire for more, and the one day a year we set aside for giving thanks is literally losing time to a day when we bow down to the pressure to try to buy our Christmas joy.

Which is why texts like the one we read today are such a powerful reminder of what it means to claim Christ as king. Jesus tells his followers not to worry. Not about food, or clothing, or anything else. He says “consider the lilies of the field” and how beautiful they are. If God clothes them like this, how much more will he give to you?

Instead of worrying about what you do not have, he says, do this: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In other words, don’t let your anxieties about not having enough consume your life. Instead, focus your mind on God, and on creating God’s reign of peace here on earth, and you will find true peace and never want for anything.

Put that in modern terms. Don’t worry about the store with the better sale. Don’t concern yourself with commercials and big screen TVs. Don’t join the crowds that trample one another for 20% discounts. Instead, consider what God has already given you, and have faith that God will provide what you need.

2BF0413000000578-3222405-Sanctuary_Although_the_vast_majority_of_Syrian_refugees_live_in_-m-73_1441380822991It’s pretty counter-cultural, isn’t it? While the world worries about finding the best deal, Christ calls us to give thanks for what we’ve already been given for free. When the world asks us to crown retail king, Christ instead reminds us of the reign of God. When the world asks “how can we get more”, Christ tells us we will always have enough.

But that’s not always a popular sentiment.The irony isn’t lost on me that the whole point of Black Friday is to prepare for Christmas, the birth of Christ. The same Christ who tells us in today’s passage to not worry about material things and to instead focus on helping to create God’s kingdom here on earth. I don’t think that’s done by rushing the doors of the mall when it opens, but more than that, I don’t think that’s done by cutting short the one day of the year we explicitly set aside for gratitude.

That’s too bad, because gratitude can change everything. People in early recovery from addiction who hit a hard point are often told to make a “gratitude list”. They’re told to take a piece of paper, look around at their life, and list everything for which they are grateful. Usually the list starts pretty basically: I have enough to eat, I sleep in a warm bed, I can make ends meet. But as the list goes on, more and more is added: I’m grateful for people who love me, for family who care about me, for a chance to make a difference with my life.

By the time most people are done, it’s hard to look at their lives and feel anything but gratitude. More than that, it’s hard not to realize that the good in our life is far greater than anything we have worked for. Because what has been freely given to us is grace. And that grace comes from God.

Grace and gratitude always go together. Grace comes from God and the only proper response is to thank God. Because of that, the measure of the Christian life is only this: how well you say thank you. And if you really feel that gratitude, and really understand what God has done in your life, you will say thank you by passing on God’s grace to everyone you meet. Because it is impossible to truly feel God’s grace and not share it.

And yet, I think sometimes that gratitude is our biggest cultural problem in this country. And I think that’s because we don’t know how much we really have, and we don’t know how destructive our fears about not having, doing, and being enough can be.

That’s dangerous, because that means our culture is at odds with our faith. Because the Christian life, at its core, is a journey of Thanksgiving. Without gratitude, we have nothing.

And if we act in our daily lives like we do not have enough, and like we have not indeed received grace upon grace, and if we live in such a way that our fears, and not our love of God dictate the way we treat others, then we are not living our faith.

We have enough. We have enough for ourselves, and we have enough for others. And we can’t look at the other with fear. We have to be able to look at others and see the image of Christ that is within them. Because there are people literally willing to risk their lives to live as we do. The least we can do is open our hearts to them.

And so I feel compelled to say this. My ancestors who emigrated to this country came here in many different ways. Some came from England on boats that arrived nearly 400 years ago so they could live their faith. Others came from Scotland as prisoners. Others came later from County Galway because there was no food at home. And others later from the mountains of Italy, because there was no work.

Of the ones who came voluntarily, none of them left home because they were having a good day. All came because home was a place where they could no longer live. I suspect that that is true of most your families as well. And if it is not, if your family is one of the ones who was here before others came, then you understand in a profound way the cost of welcoming the other.

In this season when we get ready to enter a new church year, one that starts with the story of a child who was born on a night when his family could not find shelter, it’s worth considering the ways in which our own families have been given grace. And it’s worth asking how we will pass that grace on to others, because our gratitude requires no less.

I’ll close with this: Thanksgiving isn’t a church holiday. It’s a national one. It’s not in the Bible or on any church calendar, but it’s in our hearts and so we gather. But the reality is that for people of faith, Thanksgiving Day doesn’t come once a year. Thanksgiving Day is every day because we are called to live in gratitude for what God has already given us, and to pass it on.

When you are able to do that, you will know that Christ, and no one else, is the king of your life.

And so here’s my challenge for you this week: will you live Thanksgiving? Or will you live Black Friday? Will you live like you have been given grace upon grace? Or will you live in the fear that you do not have enough, not just in terms of presents under the tree, but in terms of how you will treat this world.

In just a few minutes, we are going to baptize Tana and Bower. We are going to welcome them into this community of faith. And their parents, along with all of us, are going to promise to raise them to trust in God’s abundance, and not in fear. We are going to teach them this, because if we are serious about proclaiming Christ as our King, we can teach them nothing else.

So as we make the baptismal vows, and bless them off on a lifetime journey of grace, I ask you to pause a moment. Can you make those vows with hearts that are filled with gratitude, and willing to pass it on to them? I hope so. And I hope you will. Because the world needs these children to grow up to live lives of gratitude, and to share God’s grace with others. And it needs us to be the ones to teach them how. Amen?

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving or Black Friday: Choosing Which We Will Live – Sermon for November 22, 2015

  1. Hi Emily, I’ve admired your other posts about the confederate flag and your willingness to advocate for people of color, so I’m hoping you are open to listening to how this post reads. Given the origin of Thanksgiving as a celebration of massacre (see below), I’m not sure if you don’t know the history or do want to continue our church’s minimization of our role in the genocide of indigenous peoples.

    Here’s just one bit about the origin of the holiday, you can find a lot more online. I’d encourage you to check out why we call it a National Day of Mourning.

    The first actual proclaimed “Day of Thanksgiving” came in 1637 in a meeting between the Pequot Indians and English pilgrims (UCC ancestors). The Pequot were celebrating their annual Green Harvest Festival, which resembles modern-day Thanksgiving. On the eve of the festival, the English demanded that everyone come out of their homes, put their weapons on the ground, and surrender by converting to Christianity.

    Those who obliged with these terroristic demands were either shot dead or clubbed to death. Those who stayed inside their longhouses – including women and children – were burnt to death. In all, more than 700 Pequot men, women, and children were slaughtered that day.

    The “victory” was celebrated by the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony holding a feast and trumpeting this as a “Day of Thanksgiving.” During the celebration, they cut off heads of Natives and put them on display publicly; including beheading the Wampanoag Chief and impaling his head on a pole in Plymouth which stayed on display for the next 24 years.

  2. Emily,
    so happy to find your blog! I read the UCC daily devotional and am always happy to see your contributions. Thank you!

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