Sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday: The Chain of Thanks
Go from giving thanks to being a grateful person
On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, our scripture lesson from Deuteronomy 8:7-18 gives us guidance on how to go from people who occasionally remember to give thanks to becoming genuinely grateful people.
Thankless consumption is what concerns Moses as he instructs the people about living in the Promised Land. Our reading for today describes a land of abundance. After forty years of eating nothing but manna for breakfast – after forty years of eating nothing but quail for supper – after forty years of trusting that God will provide for the day – after forty years of living in nomad tents – after forty years—–they were about to enter into the land of milk and honey. Water, fruit, fertile soil, mountains of minerals, all if it will be theirs. They can finally build homes, have full bellies, and live the good life. Moses tells them to give thanks not just for what God has already done, but to give thanks for the future, trusting that God will continue to provide. Being genuinely grateful involves having a trusting spirit that God will be there into your future.
But the Promised Land is presented with a warning. When you go romping around in the land of abundance, “Don’t forget where all this stuff comes from. Don’t forget those who toil. Don’t forget the fertile soil. Don’t forget you are dependent upon one another. Don’t forget the commandments. Don’t forget about the destructiveness of greed, and envy, and slander, and gluttony. Don’t forget those in need. Don’t forget God.
The lesson is that we are continuously called to recall, to consciously remember, the source of where things really come from so that we may be truly grateful and not take things or people for granted.
Where science and religion agree
I love how new science confirms the importance of this ancient religious wisdom. Scientific research “overwhelmingly reveals that gratitude is critical to individual and collective well-being. It helps us get through hard situations, provides perspective on loss, improves our physical health, supports our mental health, and helps us to build bonds with people at home, at work, and across differences. It might even help us to live more sustainably on the Earth.” (From Greater Good Science Center email).
What we need doesn’t come from stores
I once toured the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture near White Plains, New York. Our guide told us about a group of students from New York City on a field trip to learn about something they had little appreciation for–agriculture. The guide told us she bent down and plucked up a carrot from the ground. One of the kids’ eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped. He asked, “Why do you keep your carrots in dirt?” The poor little guy had no idea that carrots are something that grows in the soil and not something you just pick up at the store.
I was reminded of just how much I take for granted; how easy it is to become disassociated from all the steps that it takes to produce a meal. It’s easy to think that things come from stores not from the back-breaking work of countless people who worked to produce what we have.
A mindfulness exercise
My wife once sprung a “mindful eating” exercise on me on a day I was not really in the mood for mindfulness–I had stuff to do. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, but I’m sure it was important. She handed me a bag of carrots to peel and with every swipe of the peeler I was supposed to give thanks for one of the many people that had a hand in producing that carrot.
The first few swipes were easy. This one is for the farmer. This one was for workers who grew and harvested the crop. This one is for the truck driver who brought it to market. This one is for the people who stock the produce section of the store. Okay. I asked Dayna, “Am I mindful enough, yet?” I could tell by the look on her face, the answer was ‘no.’ “Go deeper, she said, it’s a big bag.” It was one of those big Costco bags that feed small armies.
I thought I knew what she was getting at. I was fodder for her next children’s sermon. Okay. This is for God who made the soil, provided the sunlight, water, and invented carrots and all root veggies.
Am I done? No! There are a lot more people involved than that. Someone in a factory built the tractors and trucks. Someone worked in a steel mill to make the parts for those things. Someone else mined the ore to make the steel. Someone else built the roads. Someone else engineered how those roads would get stuff from one place to another. Someone had to teach the engineer. Someone had to build the schools the engineers attended. Someone had to make the bricks to build the school. A whole lot of people had to pay their taxes to pay the teacher and build the school. Then there is the whole money chain–people involved in our finance industries that make this possible. The people who have sacrificed themselves to give us a free country where I can buy carrots. The more I thought about it, the faster the peels flew off the carrots
Growing beyond Cookie Monster thinking
I’ve got to admit that before this exercise I was vaguely aware of all of that but mostly my association with food was the Cookie Monster approach. See cookie. Eat cookie.
God reminds us to be more mindful, more grateful. I thought about all the people in those chains that had hard lives, did back-breaking work because that’s the job they could get, not necessarily the career they chose. People who had problems, sick kids, elderly parents, but got up and did what needed to be done.
Lengthen your paper chain of gratitude
Remember those paper chains we made in school. Sometimes if we are pressed, we might come up with a link of thanks that would extend our chain a few links, and if we think about it more, it becomes longer but if we really did as the scripture suggests the links would be extremely long and interconnected, creating wheat Martin Luther King Jr. called a single garment of destiny.
Appreciating Ordinary People with Problems who Produce
We live in this consumer-driven world and economy. With hundreds of thousands of cargo containers we can see from three blocks away, we are more aware than ever that everything we buy came from somewhere and there are chains of gratitude. You just know that so much of what we enjoy comes off the labor of people who are not fairly paid or treated. Think of all the sweatshops, forced labor, child labor, around the world. Think of everyone who had to put up with crappy bosses and crabby customers to get you that carrot. Everything we touch has a chain that leads back to someone who made sacrifices and put labor into getting it to you.
The point is not to feel guilty, but to be aware, to be appreciative, not to take those people for granted. To find ways of participating in systems that focus on justice.
Moses warns against thankless consumption
The Promised Land is presented with a warning, don’t forget where stuff comes from and there is the great line: “Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Deut 8:17)
The American Dream should come with this instruction. Instead, the American Dream is bolstered by the myth of the self-made man (or woman). Do you think you are self-made? Try telling that to your mother. The idea of being self-made explodes pride into malignant hubris. When we put ourselves at the center and forget the chains, we fool ourselves.
The Business Insider Magazine (hardly a touchy-feely leftist source) says, “The bottom line is – no one is “self-made.” And people who use this term are almost certainly trying to perpetuate some sort of self-aggrandizing myth that makes them feel more comfortable with what is likely fragile ego masquerading as a heroic white knight.”
Thanksgiving is an antidote to delusions
When we break out of the delusion that “I did this!” we finally start to see the shoulders upon which we stand, the backs upon which we flourish, the hands that provide us food and goods, the natural resources that make it all possible, and our privilege. When we remember…our remembering leads us to thanks…and our thanks connect us, and our thanks lead us to God. There is always a chain of thanks – if we choose to see it.
Whatever your Thanksgiving looks like this year, look around you, create a chain of thanks, each thank you – a link. Make sure you have lots of paper. Amen.