(A sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday — November 20, 2011 — 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
It’s possible my hair is sparkling today. You see, one of the first things that happened when I arrived for the Fair yesterday is that Gail S asked if I would like to be sprinkled with pixie dust. She spread the pixie dust indiscriminately, as if sowing seeds for a crop of joy. And when I woke up this morning and looked in the mirror, I could still see it glimmering.
You may not want pixie dust in your hair. You may not even have much hair that would hold it! Or you may be sitting there wishing you had been here to get some. It takes all kinds of people to make a community, from pixie-dust lovers to the ones who vacuum it up later to the ones who forgo washing their hair to enjoy it another day.
In a letter to a young community of faith, the apostle Paul wrote,
What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop. (2 Corinthians 9:6, CEB)
We don’t get community without sowing the seeds of love and the pixie dust of joy.
I grew up in Virginia, where one of the community norms was Smithfield ham was on the table right alongside turkey, and another was that every Thanksgiving you could be sure to see a beautiful little crystal dish filled with watermelon pickles. My mother and my father’s mother worked together to make those meals happen, and it’s only with the perspective of adulthood that I realize how unusual their cooperation was, especially considering how little either of them enjoyed cooking for a crowd. Every year felt like the ultimate banquet, everyone gathered and thankful not just for the food, but for each other.
|My first turkey, 1988|
When I grew up and moved away, I spent holidays with my new in-laws, learning their traditions and recipes, becoming part of their community. There is a photo in an album of the first turkey I roasted myself, but I can assure you I stepped aside and let my father-in-law make the gravy.
Later, there was a Thanksgiving when despite being the mother of three children, I felt like a waif, an orphan, a displaced person. That year I got divorced, sold the family home and moved with my children to a rental. A few months after that, my very supportive father died suddenly. Even though I had been a member of the same church for a long time, I wasn’t sure how to fit in there among all the married people I had known for ten years. Life included adjusting to a custody agreement that said I had the children on Christmas Eve, but not on Thanksgiving. It seemed like I had nowhere to go.
It felt like I didn’t have a community anymore.
And then Georgia, a fellow member of the church choir, asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving, and invited me to join her family for dinner.
I understood the part about sowing the seeds, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be the one reaping them someday, a bountiful, generous crop of kindness and hospitality.
When I settled into a new home of my own, the house where we still live, I did all I could to fill the house with people on the holidays. Two years after Georgia opened her home to me, I was preparing to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. It sounded great until Lucy came home the Sunday before running a fever that only got higher. By Monday she had a diagnosis of scarlet fever, and I had strep throat. We both started taking antibiotics right away, but I still felt weak on Wednesday, and I couldn’t have made Thanksgiving happen without community. My friend Amy circled the grocery store with me, pulling things off the shelves while I leaned on the cart. And even on Thursday morning, if my boys hadn’t been there, I never would have gotten the 24 pound turkey into the sink to rinse off, much less into the oven.
Twelve years and many turkeys later, I’ve mastered such fine points as trussing the bird. I make my own gravy now, and I even have secret ingredients! But when the lid on the food processor cracked a few years ago, I couldn’t handle the problem by myself. It took both my sons to open that thing and liberate the cranberry relish. Thanksgiving is ever and always an exercise in working together. It takes a community to bring in the harvest.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Corinthians 9:6, NRSV)
Here’s something I love about this this church: we actually care about other people. This community of faith works to help those in need, not just in the church but in the wider community of the town. Last Sunday the Deacons met and talked about where we help this Thanksgiving. Clark commented that you used to just be able to ask the town for information about people in need, but in these days of increased privacy rules, it’s more complicated. Still, it was amazing, the ease with which we made a list, because our Deacons are paying attention to friends and neighbors. The Deacons can do this because of the generosity of the congregation. When you put a donation into the envelopes that say Deacons Fund, that money goes directly to helping people in the local community. We give away Hannaford gift cards, and gift certificates for gas, and help with heating oil. That’s one way the church helps. People in need also come to our Missions committee for assistance. The money you pledge to our church’s wider mission goes in part to the seeds of caring they sow.
If you came to the Fair yesterday, and especially if you worked on it, you know that this huge creative effort goes on all year to raise money used by the Women’s Fellowship to help other non-profits, local people in need, and even this church when special needs arise. The Men’s Club does much the same with the money earned at the Cumberland Fair, at a food booth staffed by many church members. Working together, each using our different gifts, makes us cheerful givers, happy to sow and joyful at reaping when the event comes off or the gift is given.
Today, we’ll be dedicating our pledges for the coming year. Our giving makes everything we do possible, from worship to education to fellowship to outreach. Supporting the ministry of our church is a mutual effort, like a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. Someone brings the turkey, and someone else the pie, and someone else the cranberry sauce, and someone else that watermelon pickle. We may not all partake of everything that is offered, but we hope everyone gets something he likes, or something she needs. Together, we can lay a table that feeds everyone; we can keep giving thanks together, all year long.
You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11-12, NRSV)
Paul wrote letters to the churches he had planted to guide them in their growth as faith communities. Members of the church in Corinth had only a small experience of being a Christian community, and few examples to consult because they were among the first. Paul addressed the issues he heard about from a distance, and he made suggestions that he believed would create faithful people and faithful churches. Paul was trying to guide the community of faith in Corinth to authentic, heartfelt generosity. Part of making a healthy community was caring for others when they needed it most, right there in Corinth and also in Jerusalem, where following Christ was still a dangerous thing to do. He urged them to give, but he also urged them to give freely, to act on a generosity that came from the heart.
Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. (2 Corinthians 9:6, The Message)
It’s a changeless truth. We may not always see a bumper crop in the end, even when we’ve worked hard and done everything right. But if we don’t plant the seeds, we can be sure there will be no harvest in the end. It’s true in work, and it’s true in families. It’s true in relationships, and it’s true in churches. It’s true wherever we hope to have a deeper sense of community. It’s true in our spiritual lives, too. God does God’s part; God loves lavishly. But we have to show up and have the relationship if we want to know God’s lavish, bountiful, extravagant love.
The part that’s hard to believe, the angle that makes our relationship with God completely unlike most human ones, is that God will always be there. God will *always* be there. God never stops working on the relationship with us, never gives up on the human community or any of the people in it. We are assured of this by the many ways that God shows up in our lives: in the fruit of all creation, in the saving love of Jesus Christ, in the unending companionship of the Holy Spirit.
Today we gather to thank God for gifts so great that our words can’t quite describe them, not in their fullness. We give thanks for feelings of warmth, of relief, of satisfaction or pride in a child, of a sudden “aha!” that we are not alone. We give thanks for pixie dust, still sparkling. We give thanks for human relationships, found in our families, with our friends and in our church. We give thanks for this community of Christ’s people, sharing and giving, committed to God and to one another. Thanks be to God, for God’s indescribable gifts. Amen.