Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; MATTHEW 6: 25-33
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God. AMEN.
Happy Thanksgiving. Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” On this day, of all days, it’s a toss-up whether I find this sentence condescending, sexist, or just plain objectionable—surely infuriating, “Don’t worry about what we’ll eat”—so who’s cooking for you today? Just as Jesus scolded Martha for not just listening after she’d provided, served, and cleaned up for him, and commended Mary for listening, so also I find it hard to take to be scolded for worry over a meal on Thanksgiving. Maybe Tina’s calm, but I’m always up late making pie, pealing apples and potatoes, writing, and up early to stuff the turkey, so that even if I get home from church latish, we’ll still eat at a reasonable time. Who picked this reading anyway—someone with household help, or a subservient, non-working wife? I suppose one doesn’t need to add worry, but there sure is a whole lot of work on this day for many women—now many people: driving, shopping, visiting, flying, chopping, waiting, baking, cooking, eating, cleaning, and celebrating: so how not to worry about it all coming out right?
More, the worry, for so much of the worry, really is about planning. There isn’t much to worry about baking four pies and one large turkey in one oven, but it surely does take planning. Even with careful scheduling the time and oven, if the ingredients are too expensive or are otherwise unaffordable or unavailable, it’s not possible to bake those pies and roast that turkey. Then the worry is about eating. Does worrying contribute to the meal preparation, maybe not, but if families are hoping to gather for a pie and turkey meal, not having food becomes a worry. (The Black Seed Café does not and cannot arrive at every door with enough, generous as it is for us here.) Is the worry: embarrassment, anger, hunger, or indignation at not having enough?
As a nation, the specter of the “fiscal cliff” or the growing “economic tumor” includes both some worry and also some indignation. There ought to be food and clothes enough for all, so how are we to spread resources around? If we strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, will all these things actually be given to us as well? We experience that for us, and I imagine, for all groups, through time, it’s never that simple. Is it the obligation of those with wealth to use their riches to care for those with less, or are those riches proof of those people’s righteousness, and so are theirs to keep? Sometimes riches are held to be a sign of God’s favor and poverty a kind of earned disfavor, rather than a valid concern of justice. On a large scale we observe that economics is less a science and more a kind of governmental “playing the ponies” to use an old expression. Economics can describe fairly well what did happen and indicate some causes, but economics do not predict and describe accurately what will happen, let alone in a particular time frame. Does worry help? Apparently Congress sees the main worry in these issues to be: getting reelected, rather than about the food or clothes. That makes planning difficult for the rest of us, and there’s always plenty of worry to go around to guarantee food enough for all. I don’t observe that righteousness, cynicism, or planning actually “get the job done” efficiently, and so more worry grows to feed righteousness or cynicism, but not enough to achieve the real work of planning and doing.
On this Thanksgiving, facing that “fiscal cliff,” how then do we strive for the reign of God and God’s righteousness? The first and constant reality to remember and live into is “God is good—all the time.” We remember, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” People reminded us that, “The Lord has done great things for us. The Lord has done great things for us and we were glad indeed.” The Lord provides rain enough, and growing seasons enough for all, and all will know that the Lord is in the midst of Israel.
These images of plenty for Israel like those of cornucopias of plenty for America are hope and goal, reality and dream—all— cause for celebration, work, and worry. Joel’s wonderful image of Israel’s prosperity in the Lord’s presence, doesn’t seem to be tracking the lobbed missiles and bus bombs we hear about daily, let alone that they live through—or not— daily. The Norman Rockwell groaning Thanksgiving tables and Hallmark cornucopias of fruits of the field don’t seem to be tracking the cries of the poor and the weariness of those who work with them. Sometimes we try to skate over the distance between our pictures of enough, or even too much, and the scarce reality for so many. We try to say that the images of enough are metaphors of God’s reign, as are ones of peace on earth. We try to say that the images of plenty are just pictures of the way it should be or as foretaste of that heavenly banquet guaranteed in eternity, which we’re all promised. We here however have seen occasions of plenty, and so we demand that it be the present equitable reality. We’ve seen so many pictures of pie in the sky we want that pie for lunch, and pecan chocolate please. We have lived into those promised images of God’s reign more than almost at any other time or place, and we just assume it’s a news photo, not a poet’s dream.
If God is good, all the time, these prosperous images are both achievable and sometimes achieved realities, as well as gracious promises and hopes. While worry may not add to the sun and the rain, planning crops which grow better in heavy rain, if rain is heavy, and those for scant rain where there is scant rain, does help the growing. Worry won’t help the growing, reaping, storing, or distributing but it can lead to better record keeping and planning. Worry isn’t helpful, if, or, when, it is tied to judging, and yet sometimes worry does lead to useful contingency planning. Worry won’t make it rain, but worry about rain can lead to preparing for water storage.
Do we then slam people who worry for not demonstrating adequate faith? Often, we do, yet we are also urged to be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves. We are to trust in the Lord’s graciousness and bounty, and yet I think we’re also charged to do our work, live out our vocations as workers in the fields of the Lord, while trusting it’ll be enough for all. I doubt that scripture writers ever envisioned the possibility of the bounty we have and can produce. We can feed and clothe the world with our skills, ingredients, and distribution systems. Yet there are still hungry unclothed people in the world. True we now know more about more people and so our concern goes further. Then our providing must go further too. Canaan’s fields of milk and honey, and Zion’s prosperity are now images of the plenty we think God’s reign will be like on earth. We’re sometimes so close to doing that part of God’s reign on earth, rather than only in imaginings or the everafter. What has not changed is God’s bounty and love extended to all in all times in all places. God is good—all the time. This meal at this altar is a preview of both that heavenly banquet and also the huge luncheon downstairs. Please join each meal and both meals.
On this Thanksgiving, what are we thankful for: a peaceful and decisive election, many hands to relieve the suffering from Superstorm Sandy, engaged diplomacy to stop the bombs flying between Israel and Gaza, Tina, The Black Seed, and the Cathedral’s Monday lunch group’s diligence to plan, prepare, and produce an increasingly delicious smelling dinner, fair weather for traveling, our own friends and family, and what else? I’ve asked that we each take a pencil and card and write something each of us is thankful for on this Thanksgiving, and then at the Offertory, we’ll collect the cards and we’ll offer them with thanks to God at this altar along with our gifts of bread, wine, and money. We do gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing. O children of today, here, and of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord our God. May we continue to strive for righteousness to help achieve God’s reign, and to give thanks for God’s ever-present grace to us. God is here and God promises us this foretaste of the eternal banquet when we’ll be in Paradise forever with Jesus his Son, our Savior: Good News. AMEN.
© Katharine C. Black, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Boston 22 Nov 2012