October 11, 2015 | Matthew 6: 25-31, 33 | Rev. Nancy Talbot –
If you are responsible for hosting Thanksgiving dinner this weekend, I’m sure the last thing you want to hear is a scripture reading telling you not to worry about what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear. If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner, eating and drinking and dressing yourself and your table is probably all you have been thinking and worrying about for the last week or so. In fact half of you are probably sitting here right now fretting about how long this is going to take because you’ve got a turkey to get in and out of the oven.
For the first time in many years I am not worrying about any of those things. Friends of ours are bringing dinner over to our house tonight. They have informed us there will be no turkey and therefore no need for us to worry about anything. And although this might sound wonderful, it has caused a whole new level of stress in our home. Because if we aren’t paying attention to the turkey and the table and the trimmings on Thanksgiving weekend, what are we paying attention to? For the better part of this week that’s what we’ve been worrying about. Instead of paying attention to what is, our friends and our family who will be gathering we’ve been paying attention to what isn’t, namely the missing turkey.
This weekend is supposed to be all about gratitude but all too often what keeps us from being truly grateful for what is, is our preoccupation with what isn’t.
In her book Radical Gratitude, author Mary Jo Leddy devotes an entire chapter to what she calls our north American culture of perpetual dissatisfaction. “It is the ingratitude that blinds us” she says “our failure to see what we have on the way to getting more; our disregard for what we step over on the way to somewhere else; our lack of attention to the person by our side on the way to someone else; our dismissal of the good that we do on the way to something greater.”*
One night this week I was settling into bed with the latest edition of Canadian Living magazine, when my eyes fell upon an article entitled “Keeping up with the Instagrammers: Why your budget can take a hit with every awesome selfie your friends post” Here’s how the article began:
“For Sarah, it took a two-week social media hiatus to stop overspending. The 35 year old Toronto event manager had racked up a $7,000.00 credit card bill from online impulse shopping. The spending trigger? Her emotional response to the images posted on social media: the perfect kitchen reno, the fancy vacation or the latest handbag. The more time she spent on social media, the more inadequate she would feel and the more she would splurge.”
When Jesus sat on the hillside delivering the Sermon on the Mount from which this morning’s scripture reading comes, he could never have imagined the extravagance of a modern day thanksgiving feast let alone the countless photos of turkey with all the trimmings that will be posted on Facebook over the course of this weekend. What he did know about however, was human nature and how a culture of scarcity can drive a fault line between the haves and the have nots leaving us feeling like there is never enough even if we are among the haves. Food, drink and clothing is what demarcated social and economic status in Jesus day and it is no different today. While some of us buy our free range organic turkeys at Whole Foods others stand in line at Union Gospel Mission taking whatever they are given. And what the gospel writers caution is that when looks and things become the standard by which we judge one another, I don’t have enough money to buy food quickly becomes I don’t have enough money to buy the car I want to drive or the clothes I want to wear or the house I want to live in. Once when billionaire Howard Hughes was asked how much money it would take to make him happy, he reportedly replied “just a little bit more.”
And when I don’t have enough becomes our central preoccupation, whether what we are lacking is time, or money, or energy, or youth, it’s not long before just like Sarah and her $7,000.00 online shopping bill, I don’t have enough becomes I am not enough and even worse, I am not good enough.
But we are enough aren’t we? We are more than enough, just look at the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin and yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. They are beautiful and they do nothing to earn their beauty, just like you and me.
American painter Georgia O’Keefe who was known for her sensuous paintings of flowers once explained her success by saying, “In a way, nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small, we haven’t the time—and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
To counteract our propensity to worry about what we will eat and what we will drink and what we will wear, Jesus in Matthew’s gospel asks two things of us: to consider and to seek. Consider the lilies of the field, seek the kingdom of God. I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t the considering that leads to the seeking. The more we pay attention, the more aware we are of what we have been being gifted with in life, the more present we are to who we are and our own wellbeing, the more able we are to honour and seek after the wellbeing of others.
Near the beginning of her book Radical Gratitude, Mary Jo Leddy tells a wonderful story of her own wellbeing. It’s a story about her being in general. One day she was reading her father’s diary that had long been forgotten in the attic of her parent’s home. During the second world war Mary Jo’s mother, a young nursing supervisor and her father a surgeon who had been married in Canada just before the war began decided to go overseas to share their medical skills to help the wounded. When they arrived they were separated. For years, her mother worked in the south of England and in London while her father performed surgeries in France, Holland and Belgium. But toward the end of the war her father received a four day leave. He grabbed a motorcycle and raced across the roads of Belgium and Holland until he got to the port of Ostend on the southern coast of the English channel. As he arrived at the pier he could hear the ferry boat honking its departure. It was the last ferry leaving for England that night and her father caught the boat just in time. As darkness fell, the boat crossed the channel and he awoke to see the white cliffs of Dover. He boarded the train to London and as it pulled into Victoria Station he could hear the church bells pealing. The war was over. In the midst of the pandemonium, Mary Jo’s father found her mother and they were able to spend the day together. The next morning her father left London and didn’t see her mother for a year after the war was over. Nine months after VE Day, Mary Jo was born.
When Mary Jo discovered this story in her father’s diary she realised that if her father had missed that last ferry, it’s quite possible that Mary Jo might never have been conceived. But instead of focussing her attention on what might not have been, this awareness about her beginnings has made Mary Jo focus her life on what is. “I realized” she said “that there was all the difference in the world between being and not being. I could no longer take my life for granted.”
What we overlook in life is what we waste in life. If we take the earth for granted we will no longer have its precious resources. If we take our relationships for granted they deteriorate. If we take ourselves for granted we begin to neglect our health. What we take for granted is never recognized as amazing grace. We fool ourselves into thinking we have earned everything we have in life, instead of having an awareness of having been gifted with life itself and all of the power and possibility inherent in it.
On the way to getting more we fail to see what we have. On the way to somewhere else we disregard what we are stepping over. On the way to someone else we fail to notice the person by our side. On the way to something greater we dismiss the good that we do and the goodness that we are.
Thanksgiving is a day for considering what is, not what isn’t. It is a time to give thanks for the miracle of life itself, for the gracious gifts of the earth and the bounty of our relationships with one another. It is a time to put all our worries aside and to focus instead on God’s good and gracious provision for our lives and to know deep within ourselves that no matter what we eat or what we drink or what we wear, we are more than enough.
* Mary Jo Leddy, Radical Gratitude, Orbis Books, New York, 2002.