I don’t know how it is that Thanksgiving always seems to sneak up on me, but it seems as if it always does.
It seems as if every year, I spend eleven months imagining what are more deeply engaged and present November might look like.
A few weeks ago, I think I talked about the LL Bean catalog.
I’m thinking about it again this morning.
Years of looking through the LL Bean catalog taught me to dream of a particular kind of fall—something wonderfully outdoorsy and unencumbered, with long morning walks in the woods with my dog, and coffee on the porch while I take a break from stacking firewood.
When I was younger, that was especially a vision of a world without homework. Or, for that matter, school.
The life I dreamed of seemed so unhurried. So unworried.
Something to strive for, surely.
But I still haven’t made it there, yet.
Even now, in the run up to Thanksgiving, it seems like I get disengaged from my best intentions.
In fairness, I have made progress.
When I was still teaching, by November I was always behind in my grading, living on frozen pizza and peanut butter, too busy to do laundry, too busy to talk to anybody – I was not my best self by a long shot.
You know those shirts in the back of your closet that maybe aren’t what you’d wear to an interview, or maybe there’s a permanent little oil spot – you know, a small one, so maybe with a sweater it’s…well, by November all those shirts were all decidedly back in my rotation, like has-been pitchers called back up from AAA ball.
November typically found me not so much enriched by gratitude, but exhausted and just sort of needing a break.
I saw a t-shirt once that said, “Stop the world – I want to get off,” and that pretty much sums it up.
And you know, that was a shame.
I have always been blessed to have people who were eager to take care of me.
I have always had the love and support of people who have been willing to greet me and my five foot duffel bag full of laundry coming through the front door on Wednesday, who let me sleep in and miss the whole Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, and who spotted me the money to buy their own Christmas presents on Black Friday.
The idea that, for their part, they had been hoping for a little bit more of me, that they were looking for more of my “fun side,” or my “interested side” or my “helpful side” didn’t occur to me until I was about 35.
Certainly, it was something they were too loving to come out and actually say.
But on some level, I always knew.
The problem, as I saw it, was not me, but that my life took so much out of me.
If I blamed anything, I blamed my life…as if, you know, my life was somehow not a thing of my own making, a product of my own choices, a reflection of my own priorities.
That never really occurred to me.
Instead, I would simply resolve that next year would be different.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus tells one of his most famous parables: the parable of the talents.
As we’ve just heard, it’s the story of three servants, each entrusted with a sum of money, a measure of silver (known as a “talent”) by a landlord.
But for reasons that go unexplained, the landlord ends up being unexpectedly delayed in coming home, and so figuring out what to do with those sums falls to each of the servants.
In fairness to what happens next, the sums themselves are enormous and that could be scary.
For a working person in the ancient world, even a single talent might be a year’s wages or more—maybe even well more.
One of the servants gets pretty shaken up by that.
Now when the landowner returns, the first two servants weren’t scared.
They have succeeded in doubling the amount they were each given.
Unfortunately, the third, the one who gets shaken up, has only managed to go hide that money in a hole somewhere.
His plan is that when the time comes, he’ll be able to return it safe and sound, nickle for nickle.
And it’s not hard to understand where he’s coming from.
From his perspective, there could only be downside in being left in charge of that kind of money.
Why bother pretending otherwise?
Wouldn’t he have loved living in a world that was different?
Sure — wouldn’t it have been great to pack up that money, go off to some soothing, peaceful place where he could clear his mind, clear his calendar and get more present – more deeply engaged – with being a good steward of what he had been given?
Wasn’t it a shame that life, being the way that it was, just took too much out of him.
I mean, hey, don’t put anything more on him.
Things were already so “stop the world, I want to get off” – amirite?
And that is what the landowner calls him on when the moment of reckoning finally comes.
It isn’t the money. That’s fundamentally a side show here.
It’s his excuses, as if his life was not a thing of his own making…a product of his choices…a reflection of his own priorities.
It’s not the landowner he’s cheated.
He’s cheated himself, and ultimately the world, of what his own life might have been…the difference he might have made.
Because he has not been faithful to his obligation to make his life count.
And that’s not o.k.
From Jesus’ perspective, his life was not entirely his just to waste in this way.
Because the man’s life belonged also God’s. His life belonged also to his neighbor.
And God and our neighbors deserve something more than just sitting tight.
This strikes me as very important for us to remember as we begin to think about Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks.
Thanksgiving is a day when we are reminded to count our blessings – to be mindful of all that we have received.
There’s no question that this is important, remembering that so many of us can be ungrateful wretches at the drop of a hat.
But our Gospel for this morning reminds us of a further duty.
It calls us to make a careful accounting of all the ways in which we have tried to be a blessing.
To do something for somebody.
It tells us plainly that whatever our circumstances may be, we’ve all been given a heart to offer, and that in God’s economics, it is the investment of our heart that matters.
The heart knows full well that there are all kinds of joy and laughter we might bring.
That there are tremendous acts of sympathy and kindness that could ease someone else’s pain.
That we are all able to offer companionship to break up the loneliness and monotony of someone’s days.
That there are dishes we could do.
Whether you have these gifts in great abundance or in somewhat shorter supply is not what matters.
The question is whom do you bless with these things? Whom do you bless in these ways?
Because that’s what matters.
To share ourselves is never a waste. It’s always a gift. Perhaps in some small way, even an investment toward a better, more loving world.
The story concedes that this is far from automatic for us.
There are times when it asks a great deal—and there are times when it may seem as if it asks too much—but the point Jesus is making is that, no matter what it asks, such a life finally offers far more, because to give of ourselves in this way will be the making of us.
It is in cultivating this kind of selflessness that we finally encounter our true selves.
Once again this year, Thanksgiving has snuck up on me.
I didn’t manage to zen my way through the fall, the way I’d hoped.
Life is as hard as ever. In some ways, maybe even a little harder.
But that’s no excuse.
There’s always something.
And so with God’s help, I’m still going to take the talent I’ve got, such as it is, and try to be a blessing with it, however I can.
I’m going to try to remember that my life doesn’t just belong to me—not only at Thanksgiving, but at any other time. And especially now.
And I’m going to hope that one day, when it’s time to turn in my accounts, the Lord will say “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been trustworthy in a few things…now enter into the joy of your master.”
What a Thanksgiving that would be.