Does this ever happen to you? There are times that I look around at all of my possessions; you know, everything from books and papers piled on the desk and in bookshelves, trinkets I’ve picked up or which have been given to me here and there, closets full of clothes, some of which I’ve rarely worn and will probably never wear again. There’s the old computer (it’s not even 10 years old, but by technology standards, it’s nearly a dinosaur). Anyhow this “old” computer that I’ve recently replaced is sitting in a pile on the floor waiting ‘til I figure out what I’m going to do with it.
And I look around at all of the stuff that I supposedly “own” and I wonder if these things truly make my life any better or make me any happier? Does this ever happen to you? And, you and I both know, when we take the time to think about it, that it could all be gone in nearly a moment. A fire, a job loss, a medical crisis could wipe-out everything, and then what would I have?
I think we use our possessions as a kind of safety blanket thinking that we are more secure behind the literal and figurative walls of stuff and of illusions that we have built up. We may use our belongings as a barrier to separate ourselves from others and think we are somehow protected from the emotional struggles of everyday life. Yet, does this use of “belongings” give us the deeper sense of belonging and connection that our hearts and souls truly crave? What is really the point, I sometimes wonder of accumulating so much when I am not sure if it makes my life better or more fulfilling?
In the Bible, the connection between God, the Holy One, and human beings is built on the idea of covenant, a reciprocal relationship in which both parties give and receive. We receive blessings of food and clothing and shelter, the love of good people and health and happiness. Biblical writers often remind us that our lives are not of our own making and that all of life is a gift. Praise and gratitude are the most common responses that are expected to the gifts we have been given.
But if we see this as the only response to our blessings, then we have fallen short of what is needed. Covenant is the model on which the most ideal human relationships are built. If gift and blessing are something we hoard for ourselves they lose their value and meaning. Even though we might express thankfulness, our gratitude is incomplete if we do not give to others in at least the same measure that we have been given.
A gift, and by the word gift I am not only referring to an item or a thing that is given from one person to another. I want us to think of “gift” in its broadest meaning, as any blessing, skill, or resource we possess. These gifts have the power to change us and I don’t think we have fully accepted a gift until we can share it. When we, in some way, pass along a gift, share knowledge, skills, time and resources, we participate in an act of gratitude that completes the meaning of the gift or blessing.
Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday. Perhaps there was a moment in time when the native peoples of this land and the European settlers met on common ground and feasted together to celebrate a good harvest and their good fortune. But if such a moment existed, it did not last long. For many non-Euro-Americans this holiday symbolizes the oppression, greed, and extermination of peoples and cultures that many experienced at the hands of those in power. And we have to be sensitive to this.
And yet, it is important to me and I hope it is important to you that we have a day and a season where we are reminded to be aware of our blessings and to express our gratitude in word and deed. Then perhaps our “Thanksgiving” can be more about the ways we transform the future than about remembering a complicated past. If it is true, as I have said earlier, that the most important aspect of a gift is to pass it on in some way, then I think it is important for us to bear the tension of this day and redeem and transform it into a day of gratitude for which we can be truly proud.
Amen. Blessed Be.
Rev. Arthur Lavoie is the minister at First Parish Church on Meetinghouse Hill. Read more of his sermons and thoughts online at firstparishdorchester.org/wordpress.