“thanksgiving, thanksgiving,” November 22, 2015

thanks2Responsive Call to Worship
We gather a thankful people—
a people who look beyond circumstance
to live into gratitude—
less in reactive response to circumstance
than in considered response
to our belief—our assurance—
in blessing—in grace—
in the long arc of the divine will
bending inexorably—inevitably—
to wholeness and holiness—
ever to health, never to hell—
with hope—
in joy—
through love.
Come ye thankful people come,
gathered now in worship—
to sing the word, to hear it, to pray,
and to be sustained in our thanksgiving—
this and every day.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Deuteronomy 8:7-18
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land,
a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters
welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley,
of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,
a land where you may eat bread without scarcity,
where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron
and from whose hills you may mine copper.
You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God
for the good land that he has given you.
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God,
by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances,
and his statutes, which I am commanding you today.
When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them,
and when your herds and flocks have multiplied,
and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied,
then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,
who led you through the great and terrible wilderness,
an arid waste-land with poisonous snakes and scorpions.
He made water flow for you from flint rock,
and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know,
to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.
Do not say to yourself,
‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’
But remember the Lord your God,
for it is he who gives you power to get wealth,
so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors,
as he is doing today.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
A week or so ago, I decided to get offended this past week—
which may seem an odd way to approach thanksgiving,
but it seems the thing to do these days,
and I’m so very all about doing the thing to do!

I even tried for that self-righteous tone of indignation—
somewhat unctuous, somewhat noxious.
And I have to tell you,
it’s frighteningly easy to come by!

So I started—I’m not saying this is the only way to go about this,
but I started by extending some sensitivity—
reaching out to notice things—
some things relevant to my priorities and affirmations—
and, particularly, some things noticed
in contrast to—conflict—confrontation with
my priorities and affirmations,
and then, having noticed these things,
I took them personally.

I started small—
by watching some TV.
And I’m not even talking about the exploitation of sex—
the demeaning—the objectification of women, and the violence—
though now that I’ve mentioned that,
I will share with you (how could I not?)
an insight I came across online
pointing out that while even though a 1999 senate judiciary report,
reviewing studies and reports of film, television, video games and music
noted that “[b]y age 18 an American child will have seen
16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence,”
the affects of watching acts of violence
are typically dismissed as inconsequential,
and yet—and yet, it costs a company four million dollars
to pay for a 30 second Super Bowl commercial
because what we watch affects us!

Okay, so you see what happened?
There I was not talking about that,
but I noticed it, and I took offense.
And maybe a little self-righteous indignation kicked in.

Originally though, I was simply noting a couple of commercials—
and not focusing on the obvious sex and violence stuff.
so, two commercials.
first, an NBC sports network commercial.

You noticed, I’m sure, amidst words like:
care, feel, connect, create, nurture, fight, reject,
work, collapse, blood, sweat, tears, and crush,
also the words love, hate, and worship.

You may not have noticed, not having watched that commercial
as many times as I now have,
that the word “worship” is shown three times!
Blood, sweat, and tears only once each.

So that struck me—first, that worship was included.
Then that it got as much weight as it did.
It struck me as inappropriate.

Part of it is that sports
(and let me clarify, I love sports!
I’m so glad so many of our children are active in that way),
but sports as suggested in this commercial,
at the highest levels, is about a vicarious experience.
At those levels, it’s what we watch others do—
which is precisely what we try hard not to have worship be—
at any level—
with responsive calls and hymn singing,
praying and involving different people in worship leadership.

Another part of it, of course, with regards to worshipping sports,
is that life is about so much more than competition—
about so much more than being bigger, stronger, faster—
about so much more than winning—
beating someone else.

And that’s not even going for the obvious point
that worshipping a team is idolatry—
a very common idolatry.
When you consider how much time, energy and money
is invested in being a fan,
the line between fan and worshipper does blur.
We don’t necessarily take offense at what’s false, do we?

Then, there was a Best Buy holiday commercial
about Steve?

At the top of Christmas power rankings? What?
Because when you give tech,
people won’t just love it,
they’ll love you. Really?
Win the holidays!
Win the holidays?

Well, then I started noticing them left and right.

I heard this on the radio:
“Love is about giving,
so give them what they love.
Give them shoes!”
Which makes love about getting, right?

And there was the bathroom design company commercial.
“This is what your bathroom sounds like before our redesign,”
they suggested,
and you heard weird sounds coming from your speakers.
Then they said, “But this is what it sounds like after a redesign,”
and you know what you heard?
The Hallelujah Chorus. Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus!
Really too much in the toilet these days!

Well I was getting better at this noticing—
this taking personally—taking offense.
And so then it was the girls watching TV downstairs.
I was reading upstairs, and I could hear a little of the TV,
and mainly what I heard was the laugh track:
this murmur of conversation,
then “hahahahaha!”
Until I could even hear the same tracks repeated—
the hearty laugh, the extended laughter, the ripple of chuckles.
And I thought how stupid do they think we are?—
to have to be told when to laugh?
Because surely it’s not that they know how stupid their jokes are!
Or do they think we feel better if our laughter is accompanied
by fake laughter?—
that that offers some kind of assurance? encouragement?
And I took offense.

Now this was supposed to be an easy sermon.
Commercials easy to poke fun at.
Then I was going to transition from taking offense
into thanksgiving and the more important things …
and I’ll get to that.
I did so want this sermon to be a joyful list.

But then there was Beirut, Lebanon with 43 dead, 239 wounded,
and Paris, France with 129 dead, more than 300 wounded—
Yola and Kano, Nigeria with 49 killed, 133 wounded,
and Bamako, Mali with 21 dead, 6 injured.
Then the whole Syrian refugee debate.

Since civil war began in Syria in 2011,
9 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes.
Over 240,000 Syrians have been killed—including some 12,000 children.
One million have been wounded.
Healthcare and education don’t exist anymore.
You’ve probably seen pictures of the ruined cities.
More than 3 million have fled to bordering countries:
Turkey as taken the most, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq.
Then the Northern African countries.

Since 2013, the US
(which is about the right timing for a conflict beginning in 2011—
the rigorous process of earning refugee status takes 18-24 months)
since 2013, the U.S. has taken in just under 2,000 refugees.
Germany, 38,500; Canada, 36,300.
Norway, Brazil, Australia, Sweden, and Switzerland
all accepting more than we have.
In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris,
France has committed to take in 30,000
in an extension of Portes Ouvertes—open doors—
Paris’ response to the violence there
(http://syrianrefugees.eu
http://www.worldvision.org/news-stories-videos/syria-war-refugee-crisis
http://www.vox.com/2015/11/18/9756656/syrian-refugee-response-chart).

In the face of the power of brutality—
of an absolute disregard for human life,
it is so hard to balance
our faith story that is so very clear on this particular issue
and our honest desire for safety—
our concern for our children and our responsibility for other children,
our ideals and our fear.
I don’t want my girls to ever have to witness—
let alone live with what little Syrian boys and girls have,
but I don’t want Syrian children to have to either.
It is offensive to me that in our world any children would.

Our sacred stories suggest we either
live in fear
or into love.
They don’t suggest that’s easy—
always clear—
or that anyone makes the faithful decision all the time.
I do think those that manipulate fear
count on people not living into love.
They count on the blurred lines
between being careful and being fearful.

There’s so much in all this that is utterly offensive to me,
and so I thought about my earlier reaction—
to the NBC sports commercial of all things—
before all this other news hit the fan.
And I was thinking then it’s really not about “getting” offended—
even less about “being” offended.
it’s really more about “taking” offense.

And, here’s the thing, I thought:
taking offense is always really more about me
than whatever “it” is.
It’s about me wanting to sound like it’s about “it”—
be it the commercial, the ideology, the lack of care about others,
the willingness to resort to violence.

And that’s not always bad, by the way!
That at which you take offense speaks of you.
But a lot of times, it really is more
about some need to be noticed—
some need for validation—justification.

And if the focus is on me (this offends me),
then it’s not on God (even if we say that’s why we’re offended).
And my faith becomes something measured by me—
who I am,
not by God—who God is.

I’m still thinking about that,
so let’s think about it another way.
You ever think about Jesus being offended?
I’ve decided I don’t.
I might have before this week—
maybe at the Temple—overturning the tables?
Now?
Angry, yes.
Offended no.
What’s the difference?
Jesus offended, the focus is on Jesus—
on how right Jesus is.
Jesus never seems to invested in being acknowledged as right—
on other peoples’ opinions of him at all, in fact.
But Jesus angry, the focus is on what he’s angry about.

Now maybe that’s just word games.
Maybe that’s just me and the week I’ve had.
But I’ve been thinking about it all week.

Here’s another thing:
no doubt, Jesus could have been offended a lot,
but offense, you know, it creates two sides.
Offense and defense, right?
Or, in this case, offended and offensive—
still a winner and a loser.
And as much as I think some people are losers,
Jesus was, to my mind, never into that.

The other thing (the third—
the third thing, if you’re keeping track)—
taking offense doesn’t cost me a thing!
It’s a way for people to notice my reaction
without me really having to do much of anything at all.

But how I act in response to what I’ve noticed—
particularly to what I’ve noticed
that stands in contrast to my faith?
my faith story?
my understanding of who and how God is?
Ahhh.
When Jesus said “no” to something,
he managed to do it in ways
that you heard a more important “yes,”
and that “yes” was what you saw consistently lived out.

So instead of taking offense—
of elevating me and my sensibilities
over the strategies and priorities
of commercials and business and capitalism—
of enjoying my self-righteous “don’t they have it all wrong,
and so did you notice? don’t I have it all right?”
Instead of that,
what if I take it as an opportunity for thanksgiving?

I am thankful for a richer sense of worship
than team sports—than partisan ideology—
than national rhetoric.

I am grateful
for a richer sense of holy days than holidays—
grateful for a less material sense of love.

I am thankful
for a good sense of humor—
a wide appreciation of laughter—
a great respect for the process of communication.

And I am thankful for a story
that calls me ever into a more graceful living—
into a wider inclusiveness—
that challenges me to confront my prejudices
and my provincialism—
that challenges me in my justifications—
challenges me where I take offense—
challenges me to think less of me and more of God—
challenges me to live into a “yes” of grace and love
that incarnates any of my “no’s.”

Thanksgiving runs the same risk that taking offense does
that it remains entirely me focused—
even if what I’m thankful for is family and friendships and love.

And I say that not meaning in any way whatsoever
to suggest that there’s not a lot at which to take offense,
or that there’s not so very much for which to be so very thankful.

The challenge of our days—these days—
is to live God’s “yes”
in ways that make it obvious what we’re against
because of what we’re for—
that make of our anger commitment,
and make of our thanksgiving the same—
commitment to who and how we believe God to be—
ways of living not in fear, but into love—
commitment to God and to God’s way—
figuring out how to incarnate that in our living—
that gratitude—that grace—
in our relating—in our working—
in our extending our sensitivities into the the world—
in our being
within all the wonderful complexities
and all the terrible complexities of our world.

So that no child will grow up in fear and despair and uncertainty.

Who and how we are
must address the reality that children do
in the hope that one day,
no child will.
And all will be thankful.
All will live in love.

Until that day—until that day,
easy sermons—light-hearted, fun, joyful—
must remember Jesus
among the least of these—
scared, lonely, hungry, rejected—
or they are not about Jesus at all.

Amen?

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Psalm 126
A Song of Ascents.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘A new world of wonders!
The Lord is with them.’
Yes, God works wonders.
Rejoice! Be glad!

Lord, bring us back
as water to thirsty land.
Those sowing in tears
reap, singing and laughing.
They left weeping, weeping,
casting the seed.
They come back home with shouts of joy, singing,
holding high the harvest.

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