Benediction Online

Sunday, November 25, 2007

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in England. The first time I came across Thanksgiving was when I was living in a vegetarian community in Scotland. Once a year the Americans got to eat turkey – it was the only time meat was cooked in the communal ovens. I was very happy to be an honorary American one Thursday a year – who knows – perhaps it was those winter feasts that started me on the road to emigrating.

The closest equivalent in English culture is the harvest festival which is traditionally a community event rather than a family celebration. When I was growing up we had harvest festivals at school and at church… days when we brought in our prize marrows, chrysanthemums and canned goods for a special display of abundance, and sang special hymns. Some churches had harvest suppers with music and perhaps country dancing.

Today we are combining harvest festival and Thanksgiving. We haven’t brought in our giant squash and heirloom tomatoes but instead we have brought our pledges, our commitments to God from the abundance that God provides us with. It’s a step in faith, to promise to give to God what we don’t yet know for sure that we have. It requires trust that God will provide, that there will be a bountiful harvest.

I confess that sometimes I feel anxious when I look at the changes that are happening in our world. As oil becomes scarce it gets more and more expensive and that puts up the price of food which is already rising since corn is being used for ethanol and severe weather affects crops. Here in Los Osos I wonder about the cost of the sewer and the effect that will have on us all. I look at St Benedicts and I wonder what God has in store for us. When I’m anxious it makes me want to hold tight to what I have. Instead of being able to be generous I close down and want to give less.

The second reading today is an antidote to worry. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always… Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’ What a wonderful promise – this is one to cut out and put on your fridge. And then Paul goes on to tell us what we can fill our minds with now we’re not worrying, ‘Whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.’

Let’s take a closer look. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.’ This is quite different from counting your blessings. It’s not rejoicing in how lucky you are but rejoicing in the Lord. I am sure we have all had the experience of rejoicing in another person or a pet – someone who brings a light to our eyes – someone we’re delighted to see after an absence. Rejoicing in the Lord is thinking about God like that. It’s praising and worshipping God, not just on Sundays in church but every day. How would it be if every time you found yourself worrying you sang a verse of your favorite praise song or hymn? I think it would be a powerful way of retraining your mind.

‘Do not worry about anything’. The older translation says ‘Be careful for nothing’. I think there’s a fine line between planning and worrying. Sometimes I’ll be talking about what needs to be done for St Benedicts and someone will say ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be alright.’ I’m sure that God is looking out for us and that God will provide all our needs, but that doesn’t excuse shoddy planning and a failure to look ahead. It would be silly if we decided to have a bazaar in December and no-one prepared for it - we wouldn’t have anything to sell. But being filled with care or filled with worry doesn’t help either. Worry drains energy.

Instead of worrying the lesson tells us ‘in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your needs be made known unto God.’ We seem to have a certain reticence with this one. We feel good about praying for people we know who are sick or on trouble. We’re OK with praying for groups of people like the homeless or those serving in the military and for big issues like peace in the Middle-East. But we’re less comfortable praying for ourselves. When we pray together we rarely pray for St Benedicts and some of us feel it’s almost rude to ask God for money. But there are no exceptions to what we can bring to God.

‘In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your needs be made known unto God.’ There’s an important key in there – with thanksgiving. When we pray let us not neglect to give thanks - thanks for all that God has already given us and for all that God will give us.

Remembering to give thanks and rejoicing in the Lord help us to get unstuck from the material world. Today’s gospel reading is a helpful reminder that the physical world is not everything. ‘The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ We do not always have everything we want materially. We are not as well off as we would like to be and during the tough times it’s easy to wonder why God is not supplying us with everything we want.

But God is not a vending machine where you put in your prayers in the right amount, press the right buttons and get goodies out the bottom. Jesus tells the crowd that they are following him for the wrong reasons - they are following him because he fed them with bread but more important is God’s bread.

When we can remain focused on rejoicing in the Lord and giving thanks in prayer. When we are taking time to stay in God’s presence and to wonder at who God is – then we are filled spiritually. People all around us are trying to fill themselves up with things that don’t satisfy, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is why folk get addicted, whether it’s to drugs, alcohol, romance, sex, food, shopping, television or the internet. We look for something to fill the hole. We want to be full and we imagine that eating more bread will do it.

But it won’t, only fixing our gaze firmly upon God and allowing our hearts to be filled with divine love. Only a true conversion, a turning toward Spirit will fill the hole. This is a conversion that happens again and again, not just once in a lifetime. Every time we choose to turn to God and rejoice in God we experience a mini-conversion. And every time it gets a little easier.
All that we have is a gift from God. But it is not what we have that satisfies. Only feasting upon God brings fullness and life and true thanksgiving.


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