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To the Saints that are in Los Osos, November 2020
Thanksgiving in the time of COVID
In his letter to the church at Philippi Paul exhorts Christians, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. “Phil 4:6 November a month for giving thanks. On November 1 we give thanks and remember the mentors and examples that God has given us as we celebrate
All Saints. On November 11 we remember with thanks all the veterans who have defended our country. And of course, on the fourth Thursday of November we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Every year all over America those lucky enough to have the means gather to overeat, reconnect with family and watch football. In most years for most people it is easy to find things for which to give thanks. It may not seem that easy this year.
Everyone faces challenges to thankfulness at some time, but we are dealing with great challenges together this year. This year, in the midst of the COVID pandemic some may question whether there is much to give thanks for. At least two people I know have passed away from the disease. Many have lost jobs and livelihoods. All of us are on edge and tired of the restrictions imposed upon us by this disease. Add to this the fear and uncertainty, we are feeling politically and we are collectively in a very uncomfortable place. This begs the question of how and why do we give thanks in such times.
The Rev. W. Lee Truman, in a newspaper article written for November 27, 1974, told a parable of a preacher with a congregation of 100 souls. This self-absorbed preacher greets the flock, “smiling the smile of those who see but do not understand, [and] he said, “Let us give thanks,’ And one hundred voices murmured, ‘Amen,’ but there was no joy in that ‘Amen.’” He proceeds to preach in honeyed tones calling upon the people to give thanks for the ‘wholeness of our bodies,” whereupon ten persons who are blind, deaf or lame quietly leave. Then he gives thanks, “for the health of our bodies,” and ten more who are sick quietly leave the church. Next, he leads the people to give thanks for earthly benefits and comforts and another ten leave, “but the preacher, his eyes raised in riveted contemplation of comfortable thoughts, saw none of this.”
In the same way he gives thanks for family, for friends, thanks for our beauty, our minds, our virtues, for justice, and for peace and each time ten for whom those things are not a reality quietly leave the church. When he had finished his enraptured exhortations, he looked out to see the empty church, his honeyed voice cracks and he cries out to God asking where the people have gone. He is answered by a still, small voice that admonishes him that he has exalted what God has never promised. The preacher then cries out, “then what will you give us? And the voice replied, ‘Myself.’”
The preacher then goes to the door and finds all the people sitting among the pillars and “cried with a cracked but human cry, ‘O, my friends, I have deceived you. We may have health, we may have friends, we may have justice, but all we are sure of is God... God gives to us Himself, and that is all that counts.’” And to this word the entire congregation responds with a loud and joyful, “AMEN.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice... The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.... And the God of peace will be with you.”
When Paul wrote these words, his circumstances were not pleasant – he was in prison under sentence of death. The first Thanksgiving was set against the backdrop of the previous winter when nearly half of the colonists had died. If thankfulness is only about external circumstances none of this would make sense. If thankfulness is about the presence of the One to whom we give thanks, it is available in all circumstances. Let us give thanks to God in spite of, and in defiance of, COVID-19 and any other challenges we may face. In the words of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, “Best of all, God is with us.”
See you in (virtual) church - and Zoom fellowship,