Good morning! There has
been a lot about the last eight months to be distressed about, including
the fact that hardly any of you are allowed in the Worship Center
this morning. I am so grateful for your presence at Creekside and
the technology and assistance of our Media Team to allow us to continue
to gather together. I’ve had to look hard for positive outcomes
from our present reality; one for me is that I’ve had more
opportunity for reading. I am an eclectic reader -- and my smorgasbord
will be even more varied if Tim Lund talks me into some science
fiction -- and I want to share a sampling of some of that reading
The first book is one of my favorites -- one I go back to often.
It’s called the Bible. The text which Lynne read for you is
not a traditional Thanksgiving text -- it talks about speaking in
tongues--but it’s notable for a couple reasons. First of all,
1 Corinthians chapter 14 comes right after 1 Corinthians chapter
13. You might have figured this out on your own, but let me remind
you that 1 Corinthians 13 begins, “If I speak with the tongues
of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong
or a clanging cymbal.” In chapter 14 Paul is continuing the
discussion about spiritual gifts -- in particular the gift of speaking
in tongues, and in particular the fact that some of the people to
whom he’s addressing this letter are keeping this gift for
themselves and using it to boast about how “spiritual”
they are, by not letting anyone else know what the Spirit is inspiring
them to say. Paul is telling the folks at Corinth that spiritual
gifts are not meant to be private property. He writes in verse 14,
“If you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in
the position of an outside say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving,
since the outsider does not know what you are saying?”
Something else I read about 6 weeks ago was Larry Ford’s
notes from a webinar he attended on building up the church. That
presenter used the image of pipes and buckets. A bucket is used
to catch or collect liquid so you can hold on to it. A pipe allows
liquid to flow through it so it can get somewhere else. That presenter
suggested that one of the roles of the church is to be a place where
blessings flow: where we take the good gifts, both material and
spiritual, which we have been given by God, and instead of holding
on to them for ourselves, we let them flow through us and channel
those blessings to others. I have no doubt that Paul would agree.
In verse 12 he writes, Since you are so eager for spiritual gifts,
strive to excel in them for building up the church.” We have
received so many blessings from God -- I’m not going to begin
to try and list mine, let alone yours. But these are not meant to
be kept in a bucket for our use, or to brag about how big my bucket
is, “Look, she has a little sand pail, and I can hardly lift
my 5 gal. bucket.” The things which we should be the most
grateful for are the things we’ve been able to give away to
build up others, or to build up the church. We praise God from whom
all blessing flow -- not God where all our blessing stay.
I read an amazing book in September called Braiding Sweetgrass:
Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.
The author, Robin Wall Kimmerer is Potawatomi American, and she
has a PhD. in botany. The chapter, “Allegiance to Gratitude,”
has made me re-think my grade-school version of Thanksgiving, which
goes something like this: the Pilgrims came to America and had a
very hard winter and almost died. A friendly Indian named Squanto
taught them how to plant corn with a dead fish, and there was such
good harvest and hunting the next year that the Pilgrims and the
Indians had a big feast together to celebrate. The Pilgrims gave
thanks to God, and that’s why we have Thanksgiving. Is that
something like what you learned -- or taught -- in fourth grade?
That may all be accurate, but it’s pretty exclusively from
the European point of view: helpful savages, generous Pilgrims.
Here’s what I learned from Wall Kimmerer: native Americans
had a sophisticated and sustainable method of agriculture way before
the Pilgrims arrived. They relied on the Three Sisters -- corn,
beans, and squash -- which were planted in a mound together. The
corn would sprout first and start a sturdy stalk; the bean sprout
would put out a few leaves and then focus its energy on a stem which
wound around the corn for support. The squash would sprout last
and spread out along the ground, and its leaves would shade the
base of all three plants to help keep water from evaporating and
keep competing plants from growing up. Beans help fix nitrogen from
the air and replenish the soil. Together, these Three Sisters provide
nutrients which can sustain humans: the corn is mostly carbohydrates,
the beans have protein, and the squash has other vitamins like beta
carotene. I have corn and squash on the chancel table -- no beans
-- but most, if not all of these Three Sisters, are part of our
traditional Thanksgiving meal. European immigrants saw this elegant
and sustainable agriculture and assumed Indians were ignorant because
they didn’t plant a single crop in straight rows.
Wall Kimmerer talks about the Onondonga Nation school by her property
in upstate New York. The students there learn something called the
Thanksgiving Address. This is not related to the fourth Thursday
in November, it is something each grade learns and leads each week
-- much like kids in public school recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Only the Thanksgiving Address is more participatory and lot longer.
The actual words vary with each speaker, but the Thanksgiving Address
begins something like this:
Today we have gathered
and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles
of life continues. We have been given the day to live in balance
and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let
us put our minds together as we give greetings and thanks to
each other as People. Now our minds are one.
And then the speakers go on to thank the Earth, the Creator, waters,
fish, plants, animals, trees, birds, weather, teachers, and the
Great Spirit. At the end of each paragraph, the speaker says, “Now
our minds are one,” and the listeners murmur their assent.
The Thanksgiving Address is spoken by adults at the beginning of
tribal meetings and events, as well as by schoolchildren. It made
me realize that Thanksgiving was deeply ingrained in native culture
-- which understood blessings as something which are to be shared
for the benefit of all of creation, by those whose minds are one.
At least some of the European immigrants saw their charge from God
as coming to a new world and getting as much as they could -- and
giving thanks to God for blessing them with such a good haul. Pipes
I want to close with a reflection from American poet Wendell Berry.
I took his collection of Sabbath Poems with me on retreat earlier
this month. His name had been familiar to me for a long time, but
this was the first time I had read his poetry. Here is a stanza
from his long poem “The Farm,” written in 1979:
Be thankful and repay
Growth with good work and care.
Work done in gratitude,
Kindly and well is prayer.
You did not make yourself,
Yet you must keep yourself
By use of other lives.
No gratitude atones
For bad use or too much.
We did not make ourselves -- we are the work of God’s hands,
and yet we are sustained by the plants and animals of this good
earth, who are also the work of God’s hands. May our work
be done in gratitude so it becomes a prayer of thanksgiving; may
we give God our thanks for all the blessings which have flowed to
us -- not so that we can keep them, but so that we may allow them
to flow through us and be a blessing to others. Give thanks with
a grateful heart. Now our minds are one. Happy Thanksgiving. Amen