Thanksgiving Week 2021

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Texts for Preaching this Week

Matthew 6:25-33, and:
“Messenger” by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.


Almost every year at this time, I cheat.

The lectionary counts this as Proper 29,
or Christ the King Sunday.
The Gospels selected for each year on this Sunday
all have to do with the juxtaposition
of Jesus’ torture and execution
with the reign of Christ
and in the variety of ways that is imagined.

But I cheat
and use the readings for Thanksgiving instead.
I do it because thanksgiving is so profoundly more…
more of everything
than Jesus as King.
Honestly, Jesus depicted as a king is blasphemy.

I will shift to thanksgiving in a minute
but I am going to climb up
on my theological soapbox
and tell the world how wrong our tradition is.

The blasphemy I am speaking of
is symbolized by those church crosses,
many of them altar crosses,
on which Jesus is crucified
clothed with the garments of a priest
and the crown of a king.

Christ the King.
The art I am talking about
is not a crucified Jesus —
no naked, sagging body gasping for air
or slumped in the posture of death.
This Jesus is a king,
his arm straight out in the shape of the cross.
He seems to be levitating
from inside a red chasuble, maybe even wears
a priest’s stole,
and always has a big fat crown.
It is blasphemous.

It is blasphemous because Jesus was not a king.
Jesus was anything but a king.
Jesus died as an insurrectionist, a guilty criminal.

He rejected coercive power.
He rejected religious authority and conformity.
He rejected images of royalty for the holy.
Everything about Jesus
was a denial of human power,
a refutation of political and cultural hierarchy,
and a prophetic embrace of the humble table
around which we eat,
as the metaphor for God’s presence.

And so the prosecution rests its case
against the Church
for its embrace of emperors
and empire
as any kind of metaphor for Jesus, God,
or the reign of God.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

Now, thanksgiving.
”My work is loving the world…” Mary Oliver
begins that sumptuous poem.
Then she goes on to write a poem
that seems to me
a re-phrasing of Jesus’ priceless
“lilies of the field” advice to his friends.

Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mohammad, Francis…they each
have famous words that come to this:
Our work is loving the world.

They each mean slightly different things
when they say it,
because they spoke from within
different cultures and points in human history,
but they echo one another.

Jesus says, “Seek first God’s kingdom
and what God wants.
Then all your other needs
will be met as well.”
He does not mean that as a result
of our work loving the world,
we will get the house or car we want.
He does not mean that as a result
of our loving the world
we will get the job or the fame or
even the love we want.
He means that if our first work
is loving the world,
the rest of that stuff — whether we get it or not —
will not matter so much.
That is what the rest of the spiritual superheroes
say about it, too.

But most if not all of us, live life backwards.
We get,
and then we are grateful.
Jesus and the others, are saying:
be grateful, then live.

Even though each of us
usually live life backward,
all of us have moments of genius
when we live it the right way around:
We are grateful,
and then we live.

When that happens we feel different inside.
We open up
and see the lilies of the field — as if for the first time.
We open up
and taste our food, smell it,
and are amazed how wonderful it is.
We open up
and the colors of the world all around
pop as if our cataracts have melted away.
We open up
and tears fill our eyes
because we love someone so darn much.

You know what I am talking about.
When we are grateful, then live
the goodness of even very small things
fills us with appreciation —
and then the things that seemed so big, so important,
suddenly seem less so.

Now look, there are a bunch of things
we are not grateful for — and shouldn’t be.
There can be people and things in our lives
that sometimes seems like they are killing us
and we do not need to pretend
to be grateful for them.

But when we are grateful-then-live,
instead of being grateful for getting what we wanted,
then even the stuff we are not grateful for
begins to feel different.
Not better.
Not good.
But a little smaller.
A little more surrounded
by the other stuff.
Not even all the time.

But when we are grateful-then-live
instead of the other way around,
both the good and the bad
shrink into perspective.

I dare say, each of us may know someone
who is grateful first, then lives.
He or she is so effective at loving the world
that their gratitude
is not rooted in the things they get
but in their loving the world.
If we know someone like that, we know
how much we love being around them.
Just being in their presence can feel healing;
just being with them helps us, in the moment,
to be grateful like that.

I am sure that if Jesus actually does have a kingdom somewhere, then first,
he doesn’t call it a kingdom;
and second, it is permeated with gratitude.
It is a place where it is impossible to live backwards.

Well, in case you are not feeling grateful right now,
this is the end of the sermon.
If our work is loving the world, we are grateful
even before “we get.”