Stacks Image 5401

Rodrigo De la Serna and Gael García Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Luke 17:11-19

October 12, 2014

Thanksgiving Sunday

The reading from Deuteronomy reminds us that we should be thankful and that we should make an offering to the Creator for our many blessings. But even more importantly it is a reminder that abundance is a possibility for most of us. The text says that when we get to the Promised Land, there will be a land flowing with water, fields of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, a land where you will lack nothing… Moses believes that it is through being grateful that we will attain what we need. Well, maybe, and maybe not.

When I complained about having to do without, my mother always said just be thankful for what you have. My suspicion is that, that is what Moses’ means too. It’s hard to just be thankful for just what we presently have. It seems to be human nature to want more. However, I think the Old Testament passage is saying that it is okay to have it all but in some way we must give back, at least as much as what we have received.

I have been to a
learning cente in Cuernavaca, Mexico twice, and both times we went to Tlaltizapan in the state of Moraleos, and attended church there. The priest at that church said those of us who have more must share what we have so that those who have less will receive their share. How does that work? How do we get to a place where we understand that what we have is something that should be shared with those who have less?

Have you seen the movie called
The Motorcycle Diaries? (1952) In the movie two young men from Argentina set out on a road trip on an already dilapidated motorbike. One of them was a biochemist, Alberto, and the other young man, Ernest Guevara, (Che Guevara) was almost finished medical school. They were gone about a year and it was a fairly intense time as they made their away across Argentina, Chile, Peru and Columbia. What changed for them was there sense of being middle class. At the end of the movie when they were preparing to go their separate ways Ernest said, “I am a different person than I was eight months ago and I don’t know what the future holds.” In the end they both became revolutionaries. The road trip and what they experienced changed them. They were transformed by their observations of the lives of the impoverished indigenous people. They were exposed to people and a life style they would never have encountered in their hometown. At the end of the trip they spend time as volunteers in a Leper colony.

Guevara was shot dead by the CIA for his revolutionary actions in Columbia and Ernest raised money to build and run a hospital for lepers in Cuba. He still lives there. The movie asks the question: What creates a revolutionary, or a person who gives up everything for their vocation? What allows us to give up our lives for others and what is it that will allow us to give up some of what we have for the sake of those who have less than we do? Those are one in the same reality.

I don’t know the answer, I can only reflect - but I think it has to do with how we live - it has to do with our willingness to go on the road trip, both physically and metaphorically, because at the end we will look at the big picture differently. When we mature spiritually, or when the road trip is over, we have a different perspective. But how do we keep a grasp of what we learned or how do we remember the faith journey as it unfolds?

I am reminded of a group that I took to Haida Gwaii. We were a group of ten women. One evening we went out for a Haida meal at the Olsen home. When it was time to leave we found that our van was stuck in the loose gravel/mud/clay/ sand like substance. Everyone piled out of the van and I tried to drive the van out of this mess. When I realised I couldn’t get out I stopped and it was at this point that two of the women said, “Lets push the van, come on, it’s worth a try.” So these two women pushed the van while the rest of them stood off to the side and shouted orders. I drove, and we were still stuck. But later, for me, the question that came to mind was this: What motivates people to step up to the plate and try the impossible? What is it that creates the revolutionary? What is it that keeps the other group off to the side shouting orders? Perhaps we answer that question for ourselves, as individuals involved in our spiritual journey.

Here is another experience: when I thought I might not get off the mountain in Tibet I was way more willing to beg and plead with God and say, just let me be safe and I will be faithful forever. I will believe, I’ll do whatever is reasonable - just let the avalanche noise stop, just let there be a space with no rocks.

I have been back a few years now and the memory of the promise to be so faithful is fading. But I want to hang on to some small piece, some small memory of what it felt like to be so truly thankful for the small things - to keep in mind that I don’t need everything I think I need - and I could share more of what I have with others. I was more humble on the mountain; I was more understanding as to what it meant to be vulnerable. Back here I don’t have those qualities in quite the same way. And it wouldn’t be a good thing if I did feel like I did on the mountain all of the time. Very quickly you would get tired of me in that state of mind. That attitude that I might be the most faithful wears pretty thin, pretty quick. But to find a way to hold on to a small piece of that will keep me honest. Hang on to the piece where I am not worried about what I have so much as how I will give what I am able, and to do that with a sense of generosity.

Giving and being an activist is an ongoing part of being the church. There are many of us involved in all aspects of the church’s life. I find it easier to talk about activism than to talk about money. Talking about money always makes me nervous or uncomfortable, whereas it is sort of a “feel good” experience to talk about outreach, or activism, or mission and service. In the next two years we will have to talk about both if we want to continue to be the church.

When I was in seminary and taking an advanced course in preaching we had to preach at a church of our choice and have it critiqued. I chose to preach in the church I attended regularly and of course I brought some friends with me. After my sermon, a woman leaned over to one of my friends and said, “Do you think she is a communist?” My friend said, “No I think she just wants people to have the same.” I am better at pushing for the revolution than I am at asking for money and I do believe they are interconnected - we have to do and be both. We need money to be the church because the church can, if it chooses, create change in the community through outreach/activism.

One more story: On Haida Gwaii there was a United Church camp and when it had outgrown its usefulness the church gave it back to the Haida People. When I went to Vernon to do a two year interim, they had a camp which they could no longer afford to operate or maintain. It was a lovely spot on Okanagan Lake, and I suggested they give it back to the First Nations people that lived nearby because, really, it was their land. Of course that didn’t happen. What stops us from being truly generous? What stops us from being revolutionaries?

Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving, an opportunity to be together and to celebrate, and to be thankful for who we are as community, as family, as friends. Certainly and perhaps most importantly, Thanksgiving centres around the celebration feast. The feast is an important element for the day. Shannon Jung wrote a book called, Food for Life, and we studied it at a study group a few years back.

There is a thread that runs through the entire Old Testament of the created goodness of food and the blessings that God bestows with food and drink. Jung says that by the time Jesus appeared on the scene, food was already the main focus in religious ritual. It is not surprising then that Christians celebrate Communion with bread and wine. If you read the gospels and in particular the gospel of Matthew, the idea of getting together and sharing food and drink is a religious act, that is meant to sustain us daily in many different ways. In the New Testament stories, they gathered at night around the table and drank and ate and shared their lives while giving thanks. We all need to celebrate in the midst of whatever else life offers us. The celebration at the table then, marks at the least, a deepening of the everyday grace of God. Could it be then that all eating is sacramental?

In biblical times most people spent 90% 0f their time growing and preparing food, and the rest of the time they offered hospitality and shared that food together. The two obligations of hospitality are to feed and protect the stranger or guest. The practice of hospitality is a sacred duty that comes from the awareness that God is the generous host of all. Hospitality is the expression of the covenant relationship with God and human beings. That is the piece I want to hang on to from the mountain. The piece that makes me humble and stays with me so that I can be more human - I want to keep on feeling that I can trust God to provide manna in the desert. That is not easy. At the same time I want to be able to give what I can with grace and dignity and not feel put upon.

I believe that our deepest hunger, our greatest need, is “to be called forth into the fullness of being,” so I invite you to go forth, and create the revolution, give generously, and celebrate together, the great Thanksgiving feast.

Sharon Ferguson-Hood