You can’t have “Thanks” without “Giving!” so went the saying that appeared on a full page ad in the New York Times some years ago. The advertisement was a call by religious leaders throughout our land to realize that the blessings that are ours in this land of plenty, challenge each of us to reflect on how we can be gift for others in the human family.
My brothers and sisters, so often we tragically underestimate the difference each of us can make in helping to build a better world. Maybe that’s because we think that the contribution that will make a difference has to be some monumental act of heroic virtue or colossal contribution of time, energy and money. While the philanthropic endeavors of the Bill Gates and Michael Bloombergs of our world do indeed help to advance the endeavors of the human family, each of us is called to give in proportion to what has been given to us.
Some years ago, I was unexpectedly moved when I heard Celine Dione being interviewed on the Today Show. At the time, she announced that she was taking a two year sabbatical from her phenomenally successful career as a singer and entertainer to devote her time, presence and attention to her husband who was to undergo chemotherapy treatment for cancer. In one particularly moving moment in the interview, she shared the moment when she realized that this was what she needed to do. After a particularly difficult round of chemo treatments, her husband lovingly took Celine’s face in his hands and looking at her said, “I love you and I need you now more than ever!” While the best of medical attention that money could by was being provided, what her husband needed most was what only Celine could give, her love, time and attention as wife, friend and faithful companion on the journey of life.
We can’t have Thanks without Giving. Once again, as a nation we gather to remember that first Thanksgiving in 1621 and to acknowledge and give thanks for the providential care of our all loving God. The first thanksgiving was an “inclusive” celebration where native Americans who reverenced this land as their ancestors did, came together with the newly arrived immigrant pilgrims to share a common meal at a Table of Bounty and Blessing. The pilgrims survived that first harsh winter because of the aid given by a Pawtuxet Indian named Squanto, who showed them how to plant corn and other native crops. Because of this, they had a bountiful harvest. Inviting their Native American saviors to join them, they prepared turkeys and other wild game, seafood, corn, dried berries and vegetables. Their harvest festival lasted three days. In 1789, President George Washington proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving recognizing our historical roots to the pilgrims. However, it was Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed that this celebration be marked nationally each year on the fourth Thursday of November.
Just as the Table that first thanksgiving was an inclusive symbol of solidarity between all God’s children so it is for us as Christians. Many today rightfully begin this national holiday around the bountiful Table of God’s Word and Sacrament. It is our hope that all will be found welcomed at this table. The Lord extends his loving hands to each of us and reminds us that we are his beloved people. My friends, see and taste his goodness, know his divine favor lavished upon us in his beloved Son, Jesus.
The gift and call that we have received from the Lord in this blessed land of freedom and plenty is unworthy of the self-serving nativism, isolationism, misguided narcissistic nationalism and prejudice that at times have marred our history and brought shame to the noble calling that is ours as a people and a Nation. Our true greatness will never be rooted in walling out the ‘wretched refuse of our teeming shore,’ but rather, in the embrace of welcome we give to all who see the beacon of light on that shining hill of hope and promise.
Our moments of greatness have invariably come when the arms of a beleaguered world have turned to us and have said, “We need you - we need your courage - we need your sense of justice and fairness - we need your material help now more than ever.” Whether that help came through the selfless gift of our service men and women in War, the gift of our technology and science, the gift of the dedication of our youth wanting to help build a better world through such outreach endeavors like the Peace Corps. Together with countless other efforts on the part of people of this land we can indeed realize our highest aspirations, blessing others with the blessings that we have received.
We cannot have Thanks without Giving. While much has been accomplished in this land of bounty and blessing, the work of building a new world transformed by the love and grace of the author of all life never ends. In this land of abundance, too many still hunger. In this land of opportunity, too many remain without dignified work and just compensation. In this land of inclusion, too many are marginalized because of the color of their skin or the language they may speak.
My brothers and sisters, may our Thanksgiving festivities and feasting this wondrous day be a time for us all to rededicate ourselves in whatever small or seemingly insignificant way to be a gift and blessing for others. May we see in the faces of our children a future generation who will take up the continuing challenge of shaping a great nation by helping us be a good nation. May that goodness be rooted in a generous heart and a humble acknowledgment that we cannot have Thanks without Giving.