A Thanksgiving unlike any other…
How many times have we said that this year… about EVERYTHING?! Easter, July 4th, Halloween, and now Thanksgiving. It will seem strange to be without family around the table, but it’s for the best. With so many cases of the coronavirus coming from family gatherings and get-togethers with friends, it’s the smartest and safest option this year. At least we will still get to have the next best thing about the holiday – Thanksgiving food! Turkey, dressing, potatoes, warm rolls, soft butter, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce…mmmm! Makes me salivate just thinking about it. But Thanksgiving to me is not complete without pie. It is the pie holiday. I can’t think of another holiday that more easily lends itself to pie. Pecan, cherry, lemon, apple – anything but pumpkin. I know it seems like sacrilege for a guy who loves pie, but I just don’t go that way. Still it’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday. Thanksgiving just doesn’t seem to be complete without a good helping of pie. But while reflecting on the holiday, I was thinking there’s one slice of pie we should all have once in a while. Humble pie. We could all use a good slice of humble pie.
It’s so easy to forget all the people God put in our life to make us who we are.
There was an episode of Sports Night where it becomes clear one of the main characters, Casey, has no idea about the people who make Sports Night happen. So when he goes on a talk show and gets complimented for his wardrobe, he doesn’t give credit to the wardrobe designer for the show and instead he makes a joke and everyone laughs. But later on, one of the wardrobe assistants, Monica, comes to his office, carrying his clothes for that night’s show and says to him, “I think you hurt the feelings of the woman I work for. Maureen? She’s been working here since the day you started?” Monica holds up a tie and asks him, “Do you know what color this is?” And Casey responds, “It’s gray.” And Monica says, “It’s called gunmetal. Gray has more ivory, gunmetal has more blue. Do you know what shirt you should wear with it?… Mr. McCall, you get so much attention and so much praise for what you actually do and all of it’s deserved. When you go on a talk show and get complimented on something you didn’t, how hard would it be to say, ‘That’s not me. That’s a woman named Maureen who’s been working for us since the first day. It’s Maureen who dresses me every night. And without Maureen I wouldn’t know gunmetal from a hole in the ground. Do you have any idea what that would have meant to her? Do you have any idea how many times she would have played that tape for her husband and her kids?” Casey just got served a big helping of humble pie and it creates in him a humble heart. It makes him reflect on the people in his life and at the end of the episode he publicly gives thanks to the people behind the scenes who make Sports Night a reality.
When we give thanks, do we do it from a humble heart?
Do we reflect on all the ways in which we are blessed? Do we think of the people in our lives who make it possible and feel gratitude? Or when we say thanks, is it simply reflexive; a societal norm instead of coming from the heart? Most of us don’t think about all the work behind our blessings. How hard would it have been for you to grow the cotton, spin it and weave it together to make your clothes? Would you have wanted to take the time to grow the vegetables or raise the animals for each and every meal you eat? Or dig the pipelines and put in a sewage plant to clean the water coming into your house? Perhaps. But then you could not pursue anything else. As independent and self-sustaining as we like to believe we are, it really does take a community of people to provide for the life we have. None of us can really do it on our own. None of us is truly a self-made person. But it takes a humble heart to realize that. Someone once wrote, “If you want to live in a state of perpetual thanksgiving, you must abide in humility. Humility is the state of mind wherein pride, ego and haughty self-sufficiency have been crucified with Christ.” The culture we live in encourages a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality, but that mentality denies the state of the world we live in. We owe our success and our blessings to those around us, to our community, and ultimately to God. That’s the lesson King David tried to teach the people of Israel in our passage. Prior to this, David had addressed all of Israel about his desire to build a temple to the Lord. He told them of how the Lord had chosen Solomon to succeed him as King and that it would be Solomon who would build the temple, but David wanted to make it as easy as possible for Solomon to accomplish this task so before he died, David wanted to amass everything that would be needed for building it. He not only acquired all the necessary material, but he donated his personal fortune into building the temple and David asked all the leaders of the nation of Israel to do the same. By the time they were done, the people of Israel had donated more than 8 billion dollars worth of gold and more than 243 million dollars in silver not to mention precious stones, bronze and iron that was also given. And that’s on top of what David gave. And so after all the wealth had been collected, David lifted up this prayer of thanksgiving to God.
10 David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. 11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 12 Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. 13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
14 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. 15 We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. 16 Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. 17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. 18 Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. 19 And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.”
20 Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king.
David’s model of thanksgiving is one that comes from humility.
He praises God as Creator and Father of all. He attributes all good things to God. And then he adds this line, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? EVERYTHING comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. David wants to make sure everyone understands all the wealth and power and blessings they have been given are only because of God’s grace. It would have been easy for them to take pride in what they accomplished. Think about how much they were able to give! When you include David’s personal contribution it was over $12-13 BILLION DOLLARS worth of gold alone. It would have been easy for them to say, “See what we’ve done? Look at we were able to accomplish! All for God of course, but look at what WE did!” And David reminds them in his prayer that this is nothing. This is nothing because they were only returning to God what he allowed them to use. As huge of a sacrifice as this seemed to be, it was really no sacrifice at all because it didn’t belong to them in the first place.
This was an important lesson to Israel and to us.
To remember all we have accomplished comes on the backs of the many people around us. That as talented as we are, it is only because we are utilizing the gifts God has given and the people God has created. And that our worth cannot ever be measured in dollars and cents but in the love we show to others. Because the richer we are, the more we seem to forget these lessons. We don’t even have to go back to ancient Israel to see that it’s true. Patricia Greenfield from UCLA studied the linguistic frequency of key words in our writings over a period from 1800 to 2000 and as the country became more wealthy “the frequency of the word ‘get’ went up, and the frequency of the word ‘give’ went down.” Americans also became more individualistic and less community-oriented. Words like “individual,” “self,” and “unique” were more common while words like “give,” “obliged,” and “belong” were seen less. This might seem to be a small thing, but when you couple that with giving statistics that show that poorer people give about 50% more of their income to charity than the wealthy, it’s not that big of a leap to say that as we become more affluent, we tend to forget our humility and instead become more sure of our own ability to succeed. The wealthier we are the more we cut ourselves off from our communities and from those around us. We cut them off and assume people are only in it to take from us what is “rightfully ours” forgetting again that it doesn’t really belong to us in the first place and won’t go with us when we die. We forget these wise words from Ecclesiastes which says in chapter 9, verse 11, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” We forget that our good fortune is as unlikely to happen to us as it is to anyone else, but when we stay grounded in humility, we become rooted in reality and realize how truly grateful we need to be. Because thankfulness without humility is like pie without the filling. Thankfulness without humility is like pie without the filling – it’s empty. It has no real meaning.
When Rev. Akiko and I worked together at UJCC, she used to say these great prayers for blessing the food.
She would always give thanks for the land, for the animals, for the people who cultivated the land…I mean she would do more than ask for a blessing. She would give thanks for the chain of life that made it possible to have this food on our table and it made me think how much more interconnected we are than we often think about. Too often we take things for granted that we shouldn’t. Things like water and the sun and the plants, let alone the people and the resources that it takes to make the world go round. This week as we celebrate thanksgiving let us remember that no matter how great our accomplishments we never do it in a vacuum. Let us find within ourselves the humility to admit that we need others more than we think we do. In that vein, let us challenge ourselves this week to give thanks to at least one person every day for what they do in our lives. Give thanks to them for helping you in ways big and small that maybe you’ve never noticed before or given voice to. And give thanks for the invisible ways in which your life is made better because of the efforts of those who labor around you. Pray daily to God for no other reason than to give thanks. Not just for the food we eat or the clothes we wear, but for being the one who gives life. For being the one who loves us enough to send his son into the world for us. And for being the very model of humility to us that we should strive to emulate. Let’s face it. We can all stand to eat some humble pie once in a while. Make it your thanksgiving treat this year.