Monday, Oct 4, 2010
This week in Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving. Of all the festivals of the year, this is one of my favourites. It comes at harvest time, the earth is winding down for another season and the colours are gorgeous on the mountains. You can feel the coolness of the coming winter, and the air has a freshness that you can taste. It all inclines the heart towards gratitude.
This is also the festival that more than any other acknowledges our humanity, our limits, and our dependence on the creation and the creator. We have so much to be thankful for, and most of it had nothing to do with us.
Background on this week’s readings:
So to get a good sense of this reading you need to imagine yourself with Moses on the east bank of the Jordon River. That is the setting for the entire book of Deuteronomy. It is written as his final speech to the people after they have wandered in the desert for 40 years and are about to cross over into the promised land. And Deuteronomy is cast as a final speech. Moses will not go with them, so these are his parting words. So as he opens, he says, when you get there, there are a few things you need to remember. And this particular section is about remembering to bring the first fruits of the gifts of the land to God, remembering your story of liberation, and kindling within a humble gratitude. The assumption is, it will be tempting to think that you did this on your own. Remember.
Here we have a pretty standard simple ancient song of praise to God, set in the place of worship. As in Deuteronomy, we are told to remember God, behold who God is, know that God made us, and that we belong to God. I get the sense that both here and in Deuteronomy, these writers kind of expect that human beings will forget God and start to think that they made themselves. Hmmm.
You need to know that this is one of my favourite passages in the Bible. I have many, but this is near the top. It is one of the most elegant, loving and gentle sections in the entire works of Paul that we have. Paul had a special relationship with the church in Philippi. He was there from their very beginning, they had cared for him, and in their struggles, he had returned the favour. He was their spiritual mentor and here we see why. He is appealing to the very best in them and he knows that they will respond. He sounds just so very confident as he proclaims that “The God of peace will be with you.” That’s a promise.
The gospel reading for this Sunday is a real shift of gears from the other readings. This is vintage John, all multi-levelled and cryptic. Everything here has at least two meanings and you can never seem to get a straight answer out of Jesus. “When did you get here?” they ask, and he can’t even tell them that without talking about signs, and working for enduring food. They see that he is talking in riddles and they want some kind of verification that he knows what he is talking about. Give us a sign like Moses did with the manna? With this he launches into talk about bread. But bread means more than bread to him. Nothing is just what it seems but it packed with encoded meaning. Metaphors abound. Even he himself is not just himself, but is bread.
I had a load of top soil delivered this past weekend, and today was the day to shovel it into the various different garden beds. It was a cooler day today and as I got deeper into the pile of pungent rich soil, there was a smell that emerged from the pile that was nothing short of the smell of fertility. The soil steamed with every shovelful. This was not lifeless dirt I was dealing with but soil, alive with the process of breaking down and building up, of decomposing and re-composing. I am not much of a gardener, but I know that my shovel was messing with a process that was more powerful than me. Life is so much bigger than me.
My parents gave be a rose bush last summer. I was not ready for it. I left it for a while because I didn’t know where to plant it. So finally, after neglecting it for too long, I took a guess, dug a hole, threw in some bone meal and some potting soil and planted it where I think it will go. It is a climbing rose, and I have nothing for it to climb on. I went out the other day, and it has exploded, heading off in all directions, literally covering ground. This thing has a plan to take over my little part of the world and it is surely not waiting for me to tell it what to do.
Moses wants us never to forget where we have come from, the psalmist wants us to remember who made us and to whom we belong, Paul wants us to contemplate the goodness of things, and gives us a promise that if we do that, we will find peace, and in John’s gospel Jesus is pointing to the deeper meaning underneath everything.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving, can you stop and behold what you have, and seek the deeper meaning God has placed in it?
1. In Deuteronomy, Moses is pointing us to the ancient story of liberation as the base upon which an offering of gratitude is made. What is the story of God in your life upon which your offering of gratitude rests?