Wednesday, November 25, 2015

MY HOMILY FOR THE INTERFAITH THANKSGIVING SERVICE AT MULBERRY STREET UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

Last night (Tuesday) we had our annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. Last year it was at St.Joseph Church with the Rabbi preaching, this year it was at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church with the priest preaching and next year it will be at the Jewish Temple with the pastor preaching. Sounds like a joke, but it isn't in fact it is very beautiful and something to look forward to each year.

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)

Homily:


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!

16 comments:

Gene said...

Fr, I must say that you walk the ecumenical tight rope pretty well. Don't try for Niagara Falls yet, though...LOL!

Gene said...

Since this is an ecumenical thread, with your permission, Fr, I would like to re-post my comment in another thread which is now in the abyss of the second page. And thank you JBS for your response:
This is a difficult issue, but I find myself agreeing with Cavy Gnaw to an extent. Although it is true and correct to say that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict indicated that the "ecclesial communities" of protestantism fall within the shadow of the Church. The Church remains the true path to salvation, and the warnings are very strong about remaining outside her, but we must understand that dispensations, as it were, do occur in God's mercy and in salvation history. Although, were I a protestant, I would grow anxious about remaining there given the state of protestantism...however, the Church is no longer a shining example of Truth, either. There is certainly a dynamic relationship between the Church and protestantism...while the Church holds the repository of doctrine and the Faith, protestantism provides a check against theological excess and things like a too lovey-dovey relationship with Enlightenment Reason. I believe that now, in particular, the history of the neo-protestant failure and the decline of most protestant churches into secular humanism provides a very strong warning to the Church. In my personal theologizing, I find that Calvin, for instance, delineates very clearly the differences and agreements between the Church and protestantism. My prayer is that the Church will get straight and that more and more protestants will be drawn into her. I could certainly be wrong, but in the Resurrection life of the New Creation, I expect to see and converse with many of our protrestant brethren who have confessed the Creeds and faithfully trusted in and preached Christ crucified and resurrected. Christ have mercy if I am wrong...

November 25, 2015

Gene said...

On this Thanksgiving, here is what we are dealing with:

1. Scientists are expressing concern that we may have sent sexist messages into space. (Oh, the horror!)

2. Students at a California university had to receive "counseling" after seeing a Confederate flag on their laptops.

Anonymous 2 said...


Father McDonald:

This is a wonderful homily. Thank you for sharing it. I always enjoy the Thanksgiving Interfaith service in Macon, when I am able to attend it. This year, unfortunately, I had to miss it again. I will hope to make it next year, although the pastor will have a hard time topping your homily this year.

On the subject of ecumenical and inter-faith relations, I am currently reading Rabbi Jonathan Sachs’s recent book “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.” I am about one third of the way through it. So far it is excellent:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-Gods-Name-Confronting-Religious-ebook/dp/B00T39BNU0

This is from the Amazon webpage description (enjoy the British English spellings—Rabbi Sachs is British):

“Despite predictions of continuing secularisation, the twenty-first century has witnessed a surge of religious extremism and violence in the name of God.

In this powerful and timely book, Jonathan Sacks explores the roots of violence and its relationship to religion, focusing on the historic tensions between the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Drawing on arguments from evolutionary psychology, game theory, history, philosophy, ethics and theology, Sacks shows how a tendency to violence can subvert even the most compassionate of religions. Through a close reading of key biblical texts at the heart of the Abrahamic faiths, Sacks then challenges those who claim that religion is intrinsically a cause of violence, and argues that theology must become part of the solution if it is not to remain at the heart of the problem.

This book is a rebuke to all those who kill in the name of the God of life, wage war in the name of the God of peace, hate in the name of the God of love, and practise cruelty in the name of the God of compassion.

For the sake of humanity and the free world, the time has come for people of all faiths and none to stand together and declare: Not In God's Name.”

Anonymous 2 said...

Gene:

I appreciate your respect for Protestantism (of which of course you have much personal experience). Now if you could just broaden it out . . . As Rabbi Sachs seems to suggest, people of faith (especially those belonging to the Abrahamic faiths) have got to work together to meet the terrible challenges of our times, and this includes Jews and Muslims as well.

Gene said...

I do not recognize Muslims as being of the Abrahamic faith. It is a faux religion, made up by Mohammed out of his crazy fantasies and a bunch of stealing from Judaeo-Christian writings and the Bible. We do not worship the same God...if you believe that, then you are an idiot. Violence has often been necessary to ensure that there will be any Church at all. Any man who will not fight to defend what he loves and believes in is not a man. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin...if you love deeply, you must be able also to hate...to hate those things that would threaten the family, friends, culture, and faith that you love. Grow a pair and quit reading that stupid, boring, peacenik, head trip crap. Buy a gun and read the manual instead. It may come in handy when all your Muzzie buddies come for you.

Gene said...

Anybody see the South Park show about "The History Channel Thanksgiving?" It is a hilarious send-up of the entire History Channel and their stupid pandering to idiots. The premise is that the Indians and the Pilgrims were actually space aliens come to earth through a worm hole controlled by Natalie Portman in order to get help fighting a war over the stuffing mines on their planet.
All the turkey stuffing in the universe was inaccessible because of this war. I thought it made about as much sense as anything I have seen on the History Channel. (Caution: lots of bad talk and naughty stuff on South Park, but great social satire).

gob said...

Eugene.....Here's a quarter....

Gene said...

Gob, you must not make very much money.

Anonymous 2 said...

Gene:

Any man who will not fight to defend what he loves and believes in is not a man. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin . . . if you love deeply, you must be able also to hate . . . to hate those things that would threaten the family, friends, culture, and faith that you love.

I accept what you say, including that we need to hate certain "things", not people. We just disagree about what it means to “fight.” It is the same problem in Islam.

And I am quite well aware of the differences between the prevailing conception of God in Islam and the conception of God in Christianity (I do teach this stuff). Are YOU aware that Islam also developed a similar conception of God in the early centuries but it lost out to the now prevailing conception? Recapturing the alternative conception of God developed within the Islamic tradition is central to the current battle for the soul of Islam, in which we need to help our allies and not alienate them or those who are persuadable, for whose loyalties both sides are contending.

Happy Thanksgiving!

By the way it is Sacks, not Sachs. Sorry about the misspelling (not British this time).

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Anon 2 - I am also currently reading Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks' book, "Not In God's Name." As with the others I have read, including "The Dignity of Difference," it is superb.

"Not In God's Name" would be an excellent book for discussion with Muslim, Jewish, and Christian participants. Find us a room on campus and let's get this started!

Anonymous 2 said...

Father Kavanaugh:


I agree that it would be an excellent book for such an inter-faith discussion hosted at Mercer. Thank you for suggesting this idea. I will get working on it and contact relevant colleagues with a view to setting something up for the beginning of next semester. I should be able to get back to you about it next week.

Gene said...

Anon 2, RE: what it means by "to fight." It means kicking, punching, breaking bones, taking to the ground and choking, shooting, thrusting and slashing with edged weapons and, on a larger scale, small unit tactics, fire and maneuver, bombing, strafing, and otherwise destroying the enemy, his assets, and his resources. Clear enough?

Gene said...

PS What fighting does not mean: swishing around academia and having "meaningful" discussions over latte in the co-op or on the quad, crossing pork swords in the dorm after hours, marching up and down the street "protesting" and annoying other citizens who do not take you seriously anyway, whining on national TV, and expressing outrage when the police shoot thugs and law breakers who richly deserve it.

Anonymous 2 said...

No, Gene, it is not clear enough. The series of words you give is only one of the several possible sets of meanings of "fight." As an intelligent and well educated person, surely you know this full well. In case you have been blinded to this by only having a hammer in your toolbox, here is a reminder:


http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fight


There is similar ambiguity in certain words in Islam, such as the notorious ambiguity in the word “Jihad.” Consider the following which comes from a website in the United Kingdom. When one starts exploring among the weeds like this, things just are not as simple as so many people try to make them out to be:


http://www.justislam.co.uk/product.php?products_id=2


Notice how the author distinguished among several different meanings of the word “jihad”:

• Jihad of the heart/soul (jihad bin nafs/qalb)
• Jihad by the tongue (jihad bil lisan)
• Jihad by the pen/knowledge (jihad bil qalam/ilm)
• Jihad by the hand (jihad bil yad)
• Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif)








Gene said...

I was telling you MY definition of it, not expounding all the possible definitions.