Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thanksgiving and Service

The Messenger
Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
November 2007

Thanksgiving and Service

Some of my most vivid childhood memories revolve around Thanksgiving. Each year my parents, my sister and I would drive across Jersey City to my grandparents’ house. Like any family we had our own little rituals. We would always notice that somehow the White Castle fast-food restaurant the passed on the way was doing a brisk business – on Thanksgiving! And then when we arrived at the house my sister and I would race into the kitchen to see if we could help ourselves to a sneak preview of my grandmother’s turkey stuffing. The crispiest parts were always in high demand. The whole time my grandmother would pretend not to notice, unless of course, our scavenging got out of hand; then we would be shooed away.

Over the years my aunts and uncles built their own families, which made for a pretty tight squeeze in the kitchen and the living room that was transformed into a dining room for the occasion. Plus, there were always assorted others who were invited by my grandmother – relatives whose relation to us was a bit convoluted, friends and neighbors, and even occasionally her boss from the shade store where she worked. Like many families we would ooh and gasp as the food arrived on the tables. And then we ate and ate. We ate sweet fruit cup, we ate mashed potatoes, we ate gelatinous can-shaped cranberry sauce, we ate vegetables, and of course we ate turkey and we ate that delicious stuffing.

I would give a lot to taste my grandmother’s stuffing just one more time. Yet, as I think back to those happy, crowded Thanksgivings I know that there was something very important missing. It seems strange to me, but the truth is we never really gave thanks. Oh, we thanked and complimented my grandmother, and the aunt who brought the broccoli and cheese casserole, and the cousin who baked the fantastic desserts. But, although most of my relatives were faithful churchgoers, we still somehow never gave thanks to God that we were sitting at this table instead of a table at White Castle.

For whatever reason, I think many of us are a little shaky when it comes to giving thanks. In many churches I have noticed that during the Prayers of the People we are much more vocal praying for our needs and the needs of others than we are when we offer thanks to God for the gifts we have been given. We all have our struggles and challenges, for sure. And yet we have been given so much!

In my own life I have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. Moving to Madison and being part of the Grace Church community these past few months has been wonderful gift. I give thanks to God (and to Mother Lauren!) for the opportunity to pray and work with all of you. Having talked with many of you, I know that you also are very grateful to be part of this church. To invoke Ignatius of Loyola one more time, he believed that once we became aware of God’s great generosity and mercy to us we must respond with loving service to others. And that’s precisely what I see so many doing week after week at Grace Church. Maybe since I’m still new I can see that loving service a little more clearly than those of you who have been around for a while.

Let me give you just one example. Many of you know that one Sunday a month a group from Grace Church heads over to the King James nursing home for a service of Noonday Prayer. Nursing homes can be difficult places, churning up all sorts of fears and anxieties within us. Yet, the two services that I have attended have been joyful, not frightening. I have been so moved by people from our church giving up a good bit of their Sunday afternoon to wheel people into the dining room, to lead prayers, to preach and most especially to sing. For the October service Petra Schemmann had volunteered to play the piano and at the last minute her daughter Julie bravely volunteered to come along and play the flute. I wish all of you could have been there to hear and see loving service in action. It was as good as my grandmother’s stuffing!

As we prepare for Thanksgiving let’s all give thanks to God for the many gifts we have been given. And let’s all open our hearts to offer loving service to God and one another.