“Now that my belly is full and my pipe is lit, let me be as Socrates and Aristotle . . . now that I am content . . . I am a philosopher.”
The voice of Zorba the Greek is one of the most memorable in modern literature; Nikos Kazantzakis. Zorba represents a kind of “everyman,” both in things great and small. He works hard, loves his friends and family, and he plays hard. And when his belly is full, his pipe lit, he is the great philosopher.
I know there will be many great philosophers made this afternoon – especially with the second piece of pumpkin, pecan, or chess pie; great thoughts will arise to the heavens.
It is natural. Our capacity for gratitude grows in the midst of satisfaction; we are most thankful, expansive, and philosophical or theological, when we have a good meal settling down in our bellies
Yet we gather this morning to remember something very important – that the First Thanksgiving did not begin with having the feast first; followed by so many Zorba’s philosophizing, theologizing, and making of great opinions on the couch.
The First Thanksgiving began the other way around. A small group of people who had done their theologizing, made their hard decisions, prior to having their feast.
Our pilgrim forebears set a standard in Thanksgiving gratitude that is sometimes hard for us to fathom. Theirs was a gratitude scratched out of scarcity and risk.
Probably not what we think of as a “farm to table” dinner party. Theirs was a Thanksgiving which comes from having survived an ordeal.
William Bradford was on the first boat, Mayflower, and was perhaps the first to call his brothers and sisters Pilgrims. He draws imagery from the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, “So they lefte [that] goodly & pleasante citie, which had been ther resting place, nere 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, & looked not much on these things; but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.”
On that first Thanksgiving, the Plymouth brethren celebrated and gave thanks that they too had been delivered from their own Egypt on the European continent. God’s grace was raining down manna upon a new Israel, upon a new promised land. The golden chord of salvation had not been broken.
Their thanks was not purely abstract or hypothetical, having dug the graves and buried 45 of the 102 of their brothers and sisters during their first winter together. Look to your left and right, one you would not have lived to see the first Thanksgiving.
And so like THEIR forebears, the wandering Jews of the Egyptian desert, these Pilgrims paused in the midst of their dirt floors, log cabins, hand-tended gardens, row boats, to say thank you. To say thank you that they were not toiling on large estates and saying “Yes Mi Lord; Yes Mi Lady” at every turn.
Saying thank you that they could do what we do today, gather with the benefit of freedom of conscience, and speak to God in their own voices, rather than have someone read from a King’s official book of prayers.
It was an extension of salvation’s golden chord; same God, same grace, same deliverance, same Thanksgiving, yet very different deserts.
If we dare take our blinders off for just a moment, for just a moment, we can see all over this world that there are far more human beings scratching gratitude out of far less than all we take for granted.
If we take our blinders off, for just a moment, we can see that it is sometimes those who HAVE LESS, who have more gratitude in their hearts – they know abundance and plenty when they see it – because they often live without “plenty.”
Gratitude, gratefulness, bubbles up in the strangest places – in the jails. In the trailer parks. In the truck stop; and for some today, in the shelter or safe house. In the miraculous chemistry of the human soul, even those with little find themselves saying, “thank you Lord.
That is how God’s grace abounds, beyond our control, so that in those places where we imagine folks would have no reason to give thanks – often that is precisely where God’s light is burning with white, hot intensity.
This contrast always rests at the heart of Thanksgiving – between “how much” some of us have, verses “how little” others have. We don’t note this contrast, so that we might conjure up a sentimental and superficial feeling of guilt, creating a kind of “aw-shucks” gratitude – “I am just blessed . . . luck of the draw.”
That is too easy. It is apathetic. It is a case of spiritual amnesia. It is actually another form of self-indulgence.
The abundance that God gives us in this life is not meant to produce a sort of religious and moral mayonnaise that we spread over our lives, becoming well fed and contented arm-chair philosophers and theologians.
Thanksgiving, for a biblical people, for a faithful people, is sitting down to give thanks – once the hard work has been accomplished, once the hard pull has been made, once we have laid our hands on this golden chord.
The table of a Christian Thanksgiving is always growing, gratefulness rising up in all of the forgotten corners of our cities and towns and lives. It means extending the Lord’s table to the ones our Lord was always able to see and remember, the ones who might get lost in the shuffle: the poor, the outcasts, the ones struggling to take hold of the golden chord that we sometimes take for granted.
My friends let us be brave, let us be great-hearted, generous, extending our Thanksgiving tables throughout this season, so that our prayers on this day might not fall as the empty day-dreams of a full belly; so that we might like our Father in heaven who has blessed our lives, and become a blessing to someone, someone, who is in need.
Reminded of the words of that compassionate saint, Vincent de Paul, “We should spend as much time in thanking God for His benefits as we do in asking Him for them.”
Perhaps for a moment on the couch this afternoon we can be like Bradford and the first pilgrims and thank God that the Gold chord of salvation has not been broken. Perhaps like other saints through the ages we might spend a portion of tomorrow, and other tomorrows, sharing the abundance of the Table that God has provided us, with those who may not have a Table at which to sit in this life, at this time.
We give You thanks Lord, that although we often forget You and one another in our lives, that you never, never forget us.