This Interfaith Service involving the three Macon downtown churches and temple has been going on now for almost 50 years!
I preached last night and here is my homily. I got a few chuckles here and there:
The Scripture I read was from:
Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians (4: 4-9)
One of the things that I love the most about Thanksgiving is that everyone can claim it as a part of their own religious tradition. In fact, even people of no official religion or of no faith can claim Thanksgiving as their own.
For Catholics, we can see elements of the Last Supper, the Holy Eucharist and the ability we have by God’s grace to thank Him for the great sacrifice of His Son on the Cross and the eternal banquet of heaven.
Methodists and other churches of the reformation can see in Thanksgiving the fellowship they understand as so important to their congregations, people coming together in one great fellowship of love, trust and service.
Jews can see in the first Thanksgiving with the pilgrims and Indians, the Exodus from the Land of Egypt and the journey in the desert where God fed them with Manna as they made their way to the Promised Land.
And those of no faith can see in Thanksgiving one great orgy of eating and drinking, in fact, all of us Jews, Protestants and Catholics can join our atheist and agnostic friends in that one great day of gluttony and not feel a darn bit guilty about it.
But apart from gluttony, the great fellowship that Thanksgiving celebrates is sorely needed in our time when political and religious strife and conflict have led to terrorism and the death of so many, Jews, Muslims and Christians alike as well as those who profess no religion at all. We need to be reminded that the true God is love and not hate. The true God unites us in a fellowship of Love; He does not divide and conquer. The true God makes the sacrifice to save us from our personal sins and the sins of others, He is the God of Mercy who wants to forgive and reconcile not judge and punish. The true God makes a way for us out the land of slavery, whether it is the real historic slavery that Jews experienced in Egypt or Africans experienced in the Americas or the slavery we experience from our passions, our addictions, our habitual sins and our dysfunctions or from the slavery of the paralyzing fear of those who threaten to murder us or take our freedoms.
Immigrants coming to a new Land and being cared for by the indigenous people and the good earth that provides for all is very much connected with the First Thanksgiving and a model for us in our present day with so many immigrants come to us looking for a promised land too.
In his recent Encyclical, Laudato Si on the care of the earth, Pope Francis writes that “The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). The pope in this encyclical is calling all people of whatever religion or no religion at all to recover the great harmony that God first planned for His creation."
"A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshiping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality."
Pope Francis also speaks of the indigenous peoples of the world, such as our Native Americans who played such an important role in America’s understanding of the First Thanksgiving. Pope Francis writes: "For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best."
The first Thanksgiving story that most of us know and love is actually a wonderful story of restoration between God, humans and our mother earth and the indigenous people of our land, the native Americans or Indians play an extremely important role and help us to see how we can recover the interplay between God, human beings and the earth and all on it. They show us how to welcome the stranger, the immigrant and to care for them.
We all know the story of the first Thanksgiving very well. Even though the pilgrims and Native Americans could have complained about the disharmony that they experienced in life, such as the imposition of this unknown immigrants to the lands of the indigenous people of America, theirs is a story not of complaining but of thanking God. They know they are not God only God is.
The pilgrims were not in good condition. During the harsh winter, nearly half their number died of exposure or other diseases. They were in a desperate situation. Out of their pain and suffering, help came to them in the form of the Indians, the authentic Native Americans, who observed their dire circumstances and rather than being repulsed or fearing of them, they assisted them in their need and thus act as a model of true Americanism for us today as so many want to escape the slavery of poverty, violence, terror and war in their own countries.
Two Native Americans, in particular, Squanto and Samoset stayed with the Pilgrims for a few months to teach them how to survive in their new place. They brought deer meat and beaver skins. They taught them how to cultivate corn and other new vegetables and how to build Indian-style houses. He pointed out poisonous plants and showed how other plants could be used as medicine. They explained how to dig for and cook clams, how to get sap form the maple trees, use fish for fertilizer and dozens of other skills needed for their survival. By the time the fall arrived, things were going better for the pilgrims, thanks to the help they had received. They had food, lodging and their health had improved. Born of suffering, they planned to give thanks to God for the blessings they had received with a sumptuous feast. The Pilgrims and Indians had a feast of Thanksgiving that lasted three days. Their uncomplaining heart enabled them to give thanks despite the hardships they had endured. Together in sacred meals they experienced the restoration of fellowship, health and harmony between them, God and creation. The ability to give thanks is an act of faith in Almighty God and His power to save us.
Our history as Jews, Catholics and Protestants is a mixed history of good and evil. We have not often treated each other well. We have not welcomed all immigrants with open arms or cared for them as we should. We have shown contempt for one another and have beaten, bruised, injured and killed all in the name of God. Like what is going on in the world today in this regard, we too failed our God and our religion when we used our religion and in the name of God to harm others and even to massacre. In doing so we betrayed our God, we betrayed one another and we betrayed the good earth that sustains all life. We acted like we are God. We are not GOD!
And thus in continuity with the Native Americans and the immigrants to this great land, the pilgrims, we celebrate tonight our own vision of acknowledging God as God and our reliance upon Him and His mercy and the great fellowship He inspires between people of diverse differences. We try to respect the land God has given us to cultivate for our needs and not abuse it and one another.
Yes, for Catholics our time together tonight is reminiscent of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eternal Banquet of Heaven which the Mass is a sign. For Methodists, our time together emphasizes the centrality of fellowship in worshiping God and being united in love with one another.
And for Jews, Thanksgiving is a reminder of the exodus from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land and the experiences in the desert and the manna from heaven which sustained them.
In a few moments, after our great prayer of Thanksgiving, we will have a reception. It won’t be turkey and all the fixings and in this Methodist Church I lament there won’t be any wine or beer, but there will be food and drink, not quite like what the Indians and Pilgrims had that first Thanksgiving, but our fellowship and breaking bread will be very much in the same spirit.
Thanks be to God and His powerful grace that we are able to do this together! Happy Thanksgiving!