Thanksgiving Sermon”Lest You Forget” (Deuteronomy 8)

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, it’s always good to offer a little refresher about forbearance and patience.

If that does not apply to your particular situation, I am delighted to hear it.  

You can go freshen your coffee for this first part or turn the volume down on your computer and spend a moment in prayer for those who might need this kind of word this morning. 

But for those who do: let’s take a moment to review forbearance and patience. 

Forbearance is knowing what we might do and holding back in the name of mercy and compassion. 

It’s in the snappy comeback we might speak, or the little bit of justice we might serve, the put away shot we might take, but don’t.  

Patience is a kind of spiritual and emotional endurance.  It appears passive but is really a kind of deeper strength.  

If you talk about those things on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a lot of people approach you, flabbergasted, worried that maybe the preacher is not ok.

Others feel as if you’ve looked straight into their soul.     

We know what’s ahead for so many of us.  

We may be together, or we may be on Zoom, but some things probably will not have changed. 

And so for those who need it, we ask for forbearance, particularly with those relatives who push their buttons.  

We ask for patience with everything from traveling on busy roads to sharing space in a tight kitchen to sleeping on a bed with the wrong kind of pillows, and whatever else might be on someone’s particular list of crosses to bear.

I know someone who once committed the cardinal sin of bringing a pumpkin cheesecake she had made to her sister-in-law’s Thanksgiving, where New York City things like that were not allowed.  

There was the year that my cousin came from California and shared that she had become a vegetarian, and hey, instead of this percolator coffee, who else was up for grabbing a latte?  

She was breaking rules we didn’t even know were rules.  

In such cases, forbearance all around would stand us in good stead.  

But if it feels like forbearance is good, but a garlic necklace would be better…or if sometime Wednesday, you’re in the car on your way somewhere, trying to get your head into a good place, and it’s not happening… remember: you can do this. 

If you’re staying close to home, and the day seems like it will be like every other day since March, you can do this.  

You are a beloved child of God…you are fearfully and wonderfully made…we are the clay and God is the potter, and all of us are God’s handiwork.  

The sustaining, creating, unstoppable love of God for the world is what this day is supposed to be about.  

It still is, even if maybe you’re just saying it to yourself.  

It will see you through.  

Thanksgiving is a day to remember who God is.  

What faith understands is that everything else—literally everything—flows from that.  

II.

If you think about it, it’s notable that as a nation, our two great civic holidays are Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.  

The Fourth of July is a day when we celebrate the meaning of political freedom—when we lift up independence as a way of life.   

There’s a lot to independence, of course.  

The people who say “freedom isn’t free” are certainly correct.  

But for a nation that prizes independence so highly, it’s striking that, if you think about it, our other great national holiday goes in the opposite direction.  

Because Thanksgiving is a day to remember that, alongside our independence, our lives depend on so much that is outside of us – some of it perhaps even beyond us.  

Some of it is in plain view.  

Nature’s bounty and the company of other people, especially family.  

But the list is really a lot longer than that. 

This year, we might well add some who should have been on it a long time ago.  

We’ve learned to be grateful for first responders and medical personnel.  

The resilience and creativity of teachers deserves mention, too.  

But there are any number of folks we might also lift up. 

Haven’t we also come to see how dependent we are on the pizza guy, postal carriers, barbers, and the people restocking shelves at the supermarket? 

All kinds of people. 

Some of you may know the wonderful children’s books by Richard Scarry, which now that I’m fifty, I can say have been around forever. 

Many of them take place in a place called Busytown, and he tries to answer questions children puzzle over as they try to understand the world—questions like “What Do People Do All Day?”

In Scarry’s world, things turn out to be far more connected – far more interrelated – than might first appear.  

The tall and the small, the naughty and the nice, the doctor and the truckdriver and the baker all do what they do, keeping busy there in Busytown, but all the time, all over the map, they intersect.  

It might be a little bumpy when they do, but so what?  

The connection, the intersection, cannot be denied. 

Surely, we have learned how true that is, and mostly in ways for which we should be grateful.

Scarry’s books get what we seem only to learn the hard way: that independence and dependence are both part of human flourishing. 

They are different, but closely related, a tension within which we are called to live, and not some choice that we make and from which we then move on.   

The calendar knows that too.  

Between Independence Day and Thanksgiving, our national civic culture really gets that right.  

III.

In our Scripture this morning, we hear Moses’s warning about how easily we might forget it.  

It comes from the Book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible, which was written about seven centuries before the time of Jesus, but which imagines even further back, to the final days of Moses. 

In fact, the entire book consists of a long, three-part speech – his last words before his death.  

The gifted Bible scholar Jack Miles observes that “Nothing written after it was not deeply affected by its rich, undulating cadences and its mood of soaring national pride balanced by a religiously motivated humility.”  

The Moses who speaks in Deuteronomy, Miles says, is “one who has suffered much at the hands of the nation he has led but now sees his own sufferings as well as theirs bathed in the radiance of a high calling” (God: A Biography, 139). 

We can hear that in this morning’s Scripture, when Moses speaks to the people, now poised to enter the Promised Land. 

He talks about this “land of streams of water, springs and Ocean-flows, issuing from valleys and hills…a land in which you will never eat bread in poverty, [a land in which] you will never lack for anything.” (Everett Fox translation.)

And yet, he warns, “Take-you-care, lest you forget…your God…lest (when) you eat and are satisfied, and build goodly houses and settle (there), and your herds and your flocks become-many, and…with all that belongs to you becoming much—that your heart become haughty and you forget YHWH your God….”

It is a moment for which he has been preparing them over a generation of wandering.  

Unlearning the false lessons of life in Egypt has taken 40 years, but by God, they are ready.  

They are chomping at the bit to get across that river and get cracking. 

“Moses, thank you for everything, so sorry you can’t come. Buh-bye!”

Independence is calling.

And make no mistake – they’re going to get it. 

Here in their last few minutes together, that’s actually what worries Moses.  

Because he understands their high calling to be something other than just getting the wherewithal to do their own thing.  

What is it the singer Joe Walsh says? 

“It’s hard to handle this fortune and fame…everybody’s so different…I haven’t changed….”

Because of course they will be changed.  

And so he warns them. 

“Take-you-care lest you forget,” he says.  

Live into the blessing of your life now by remembering how you got here.  

It’s not just what you’ve been through – it’s what got you through.  

Because if you think that what got you through, what got you over the river to the promised land, was only you…just you all by yourself…the corporation of me, myself, and I…that is not so.  

The intersection – the connection – between our lives and the lives of others cannot be denied.  

To our ancestors, it was unthinkable to be thankful to God without also seeing the divine fingerprints in the goodness of other people, and in the bounty of Creation.  

Moses wants us to understand that.  To hold onto it.  

And he wants us to understand that the proper response to it is gratitude.  

Thanksgiving.  

It is a delight to use the many gifts we have received.  

They were given to us for a reason, and therefore all the more important to use them to their fullest.  

But it is clear as can be that they are, indeed, gifts.  

Thanksgiving remembers the hand of a generous giver. 

It remembers the story of how those gifts came to us with the help of many other sets of hands along the way.  

We are beloved children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made—and each of us made into who we are by life for and with one another.  

This was our maker’s vision. 

IV.

This is why we say that the sustaining, creating, unstoppable love of God for the world is what this day is supposed to be about.  

It still is. 

It’s what we’re grateful for.  

Even if maybe we’re just saying it to ourselves this year, it’s still worth saying.  

Everything else—literally everything—flows from that. 

The love of God is the gift upon which all the other gifts depend. 

So as we go into our own Thanksgiving holiday, we reaffirm these truths that have guided saints and citizens through the ages. 

Independence and freedom remind us of everything we might do. 

Forbearance and patience are ways of living into what we should

“Take-you-care lest you forget.” 

In your staying and in your going, keep that memory close. 

Go into the day with a grateful heart.  

And may you end the day even more sure of the love that binds us all. 

Amen.

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