Thanksgiving – Eucharist

 

Thanksgiving Post

 

“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. 

 

The Old Stuffed Shirt

Richard Chartres 2

My recent immersion into the retired Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, has awoken the slumbering interest of some of our parish members.  Someone stopped into today after watching the previous video, and simply said, “Yes – where has this voice been for us?”  Very interesting for me because this member is one of our most giving and sacrificial Christians – a teacher, a mother of three, a seeker, and a servant.  I hope that you will draw some blessings from the message Bishop Richard shared at the Royal wedding of William and Kate in 2011.  Bishop Richard has called himself the old stuffed shirt – however I find there is something real, vibrant, and living in the traditions he espouses.

Blessings and Godspeed,

Alston

 

The Bishop of London – Merlin in Miter

 

Richard Chartres

Since hearing of the retirement of Richard Chartres, The Bishop of London, I have been gobbling up whatever bits of video and cyber encounters with him.  I find his reasoning and temperament very compelling; and notice that he captures the attention and respect of the persons across generations and cultures.  Throughout his work and life, Bishop Chartres sought to keep an eye on the ancient and medieval sources of Christian life, as well as making the Gospel alive and vibrant to the “post-Christian” West.  I find his conversation and discourse elevating and illuminating; hope that you enjoy.

Blessings and Godspeed,

Alston

Fourth Down and Goal Line

Billy Graham

 

This weekend I will be interring the ashes of two friends from some years ago.  They were a lovely couple from a previous parish who died within months of one another; we are having a joint memorial for them tomorrow at the cathedral.  In the obituary of the husband I saw that he wished memorials be made to the Billy Graham Ministry Foundation.  I found this touching because I recall watching the crusades as a child, channel surfing between the wide world of Disney and the Osmonds and Fat Albert and all of the 70’s shows of three channel television in a small town.

Later in life I read the biography of Billy Graham, and with the advent of You Tube I have watched all of the messages that I can find.  I find that Billy Graham is a gifted communicator – earnest, funny, at ease, and deeply passionate about the Gospel.  Something, or someone, made thousands and thousands of people run across all of those football fields; watching Graham I wonder if I would have been one of them.

Sometimes I feel like the person who has to run the full 100 yards to the goal line; sometimes I feel there are only inches to the goal line, but the defense is raining chaos down upon me.  Most days are simply filled with checking the sidelines for directions, listening in the huddle, and then struggling to hear the quarter-back.  The goal is simply to fall forward – every day to fall forward toward the goal line.

I also discovered that Graham held a long friendship with John Stott, the Anglican minister from All Soul’s Langham in London, who some called the Protestant pope for a season.  Both Stott’s and Graham’s ministries shaped the souls that I serve, and I am profoundly grateful to them.  Do yourself a favor and look up Stott and Graham during your cyber-devotionals and hear the words of grace.

One of the great moments in 20th Century pop culture:

 

 

 

 

Finding Our Answer

hewish photo

 

We have begun a Sunday morning class at St Marks centered on Christian Apologetics – the ancient task of believers giving an answer for their faith within both the marketplace of ideas, as well as the marketplace of commerce and power.  Our short course was put together by the Oxford Center for Apologetics in Oxford, England; there are some wonderful speakers.  These speakers seek to give Christians a basis for giving an answer for their faith in the modern world.

I find the lives of early Christians almost impossible to imagine; especially those who lived in Rome and the larger cities.  For over one hundred years their lives were haunted with the possibility of arrest and torture, and yet their numbers continued to grow and grow.  During some air travel this past summer I found myself watching the recent movie about the Apostle Paul over and over.

 

Given what I know of early Christianity, and the Judaism of that era, I found the film very convincing.  I was also struck with how well the early struggles of believers were portrayed; what it must have felt like to be a young man, or a young mother, or a grandfather, sister, or husband and wife, living through the dangers of being an early believer in Christ.  Their courage and sense of certainty regarding the life of Christ must have been truly remarkable.

Perhaps this is an urban legend – I do not know.  I was told the story of a Catholic Bishop living in South America who once said to his colleagues – “My good friends, our predecessors lived as princes in palaces, we live comfortably in the suburbs . . . those who follow us will live in the barrios, and those who follow them will live in the prisons, and those who follow even further will walk with Paul and Peter to the Cross.”

Whether or not this is true, the reality of the observation cannot be missed; and that is why I believe it is important that we help one another give an answer for the faith that we carry.  It is important that we help one another in “Finding Our Answer.”  We never know when another human being might be searching for the love and truth of God, and it might become our good fortune to share that message with them.  We also cannot know when we might need to give an answer for the faith that is within us, so that we might honor and shower praise upon Christ with our own voice in our own day.

Join us in the Ministry Center at St Marks this Sunday at 9.30 – Room 101 – if you would like to join us.

1 Peter 3:14-15

14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear,* and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you;

Christian Apologetics – Why Christ?

cslewis apologetics course

Have you ever found yourself in a group, attending a gathering, or visiting with a friend who has questioned your faith in Christ and you have not known what to say?

Have you ever left a conversation with a loved one and wished that you had been able to explain more of the Christian faith to them?  Perhaps a child, grandchild, or friend?

A formative experience I recall from college is being given the opportunity to answer for my Christian faith in the midst of classrooms where faith of any sort was regarded as weakness.  There was no anger, no overt hostility, simply a mild and cloying disgust with those interrupting the program of progressive materialism and politics.  I have never been one to shrink from giving an answer . . . even a wrong one . . . when being pressed or made to think I am a fool for believing in God.  These college trials lead me to read in the classical Christian discipline of apologetics.  They also strengthened my sense that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.

Over the next few months at St. Mark’s I will be leading a class with discussion about Christian Apologetics in the modern world.  It is based on the work of Ravi Zacharias, and the Oxford Center for Apologetics – which I was able to visit this past summer during our choir trip to England.  The class will be video, lecture, and conversation.

Join a group of people who will be looking into the Why? of Jesus Christ in the modern world.

We will meet in room 101 of the Ministry Center at 9.30 am, following Sunday Coffee in the parlor.  Please contact me if you have any questions

Blessings and Godspeed, Alston