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Gratitude for the Harvest

Voices United Choir Sisi Ni Moja

Bell Choir Come You Thankful People Come

Gratitude for the Harvest – Matthew 13:18-23

Parkminster United Church – Thanksgiving Sunday – October 11, 2020

Rev. Heather Power

I received a rather surprising and sweet email this past week. It was from a couple who were looking to connect with my late mother. You see she was the minister who was supposed to marry them 45 years ago last weekend. Supposed to – but didn’t – because I decided to be born three weeks early. Upon learning of her death, they tracked me down. They thought it was rather neat that I followed in my mother’s footsteps – but also said this: the church where you are currently looks like a wonderfully open and caring community – a real church for all people.  And indeed Parkminster is just that.

It’s Thanksgiving Sunday in a different way for us this morning—and even though it looks and feels so unlike those past, Joe and I are so grateful for all of you – grateful for the commitment of so many lives—including those who have gone before us and those who are here today—for sowing the incredible harvest of our ministry here at Parkminster. 

So we begin this morning, celebrating our thankfulness. For in every instance, even in the most difficult and tender of times, we can always discover and open ourselves to the spirit of gratitude. It’s at the heart of faith and I believe it is a central spiritual emotion. In contrast to the practice of gratitude, some of us grew up with a sense of guilt and obligation as part of the demands of a religion more focused on piety. How grateful I am today to be released into gratitude from a lifetime of experiencing at every turn, no matter the circumstance, grace—without condition and sometimes, undeserved.

This morning Kathleen shared the parable of the sower sowing seeds from Matthew’s gospel. Instead of thinking it is about a bunch of different seeds, I’d like to say, it is about you and me as the seed itself. Sometimes, I’m like a seed falling on gravel—I get excited about something and respond enthusiastically, but I go only so deep into thanksgiving. Before I know it, I’m up and at it and on to something else. I only go so deep. When we get stuck in a shallow thank you—a sense of ingratitude or entitlement can spring up and nab us.

At other times, we are like a seed cast into the weeds—and we get caught in the weeds of mundane worry: Will the turkey be dry?  What if we run out of gravy? What if there’s only jellied salad! What if Thanksgiving this year is ruined because well, 2020? 

I told this story a few years ago but let me once again share my family’s most infamous Thanksgiving story.  Every year growing up, my extended family took turns hosting Thanksgiving dinner.  One year, when it was our turn, my mum (the UC minister), left my dad at home as she and I went off to church and left him in charge of the turkey.

At home with my dad was our dog, Cindy.  Now Cindy was a beautiful Samoyed. Picture a giant fluffy cotton ball with legs and that was Cindy. As beautiful as she was, she also had a penchant for getting into mischief.  

My dad left the turkey in the kitchen sink with a dish rack over top of it and headed upstairs for a quick shower before it was time to put it in the oven.

When he returned, he found the dish rack flung across the kitchen and the turkey on the floor as Cindy enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast of her own.  Frantically, he picked up the turkey threw it back in the sink and did the only thing he could do in that moment: he called the church.

My mother, not about to let this phase her right before the service gave my father the following instructions: it’s too late to get a new one.  Wash it off and cook it.  JUST COOK THE TURKEY.

So he did. But my parents were beside themselves with stress and worry about what to do. Would we have enough food to feed everyone? Should we cook more vegetables? Make extra stuffing? What if Thanksgiving wasn’t going to live up to the others now?! You’ll be happy to know that Cindy was just fine from this escapade and was pretty pleased with herself.

But the one half of the bird that had not met Cindy’s mouth, once cooked, was carved in the kitchen and dramatically presented on a platter to the oohs and aahs of the extended family.  Might I also add that some claimed at the time that it was the “best turkey to date!”

My parents eventually came clean on the turkey fiasco as it is now known.  And all that worrying? Well it turns out, it wasn’t really worth it. 

And perhaps we should take this to heart especially in 2020, when it feels really easy to dwell on all of the changes to our usual Thanksgiving plans and only focus on that. A focus that, if we’re not careful, ends up choking any real sense of joy and gratitude. Just like the seed is strangled in worries and false illusions of happiness and nothing comes of it.

But the seeds of a grateful life, if we open to the deep goodness all around us, if we learn to listen and take it all in, might produce a harvest beyond our wildest dreams.

The gift of gratitude is more than remembering to mutter “thank you”, it is more than being polite; it is a worldview, a way of living and embracing life. It is a witness to beauty even in life’s messiest moments. Gratitude is a way of being in the world that encompasses every moment of your life and therefore has the power to change your whole life and life’s harvest.

In this season, I can’t help but think of my friend Dave. I met him many years ago when I was in my first pastoral charge outside of Barrie. Dave was the local funeral director’s son, set one day to take over the family business. Dave had a gregarious, engaging personality. Everyone knew and liked Dave – in fact he was nicknamed “Mr. Cookstown” for all of the ways he was connected to his community. Being close in age, and often working together, we became friends.  When Dave was 26 years-old he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. It was an incredible shock to his tight-knit family.

I visited with him in the next weeks, and not once did I hear him complain. He spoke of his family, his friends, his community with love and compassion. He wept for the shortness of his life, but never about his life. After many days of prayer and conversation, he came to a place of deep peace and calm. Within weeks of first being diagnosed, Dave left this earth. I was not there when he died, but I was told that one of the last things he said was, “Thank you.”

The Gospel reminds us that those who receive the seed that fell on rich soil are those who hear the message and understand it, and that produces a harvest beyond their wildest dreams. Gratitude is a way of being. It is not dependent upon things for which we want to give our thanks, it may not even be dependent upon our human relationships or even the circumstances of life. The heart of gratefulness comes from being aware of the sacred gift that life is, even in the midst of trial, loss and suffering. Dave taught me this lesson.

It is that understanding of gratitude that I hold on to especially now in 2020 when so much of our world feels chaotic and uncertain. That even in the midst of this ambiguity there is a sacred mystery which lies at the very heart of reality offering the incredible gift of grace that is love. 

Perhaps you have heard of the Butterfly Effect? A cornerstone of Chaos Theory, it’s a term coined by MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz. Today, quantum physicists use the butterfly effect to describe what happens when a small change in one place in a system can result in a humongous difference in a later state. The mere flapping of a butterfly wing has a ripple effect which multiplies over time and changes weather patterns thousands of miles away.  Random – and yet there is more to it than that. As Robin Meyers says in his book Saving God from Religion:

[Chaos theory is] paradoxically named, because Lorenz believed that results that appear chaotic may, in fact, be “ordered” at the outer limits by some mysterious “boundary.”  You never get the same results twice, but there is also a kind of phenomenological “edge” beyond which those final results never go. Lorenz mapped this boundary and called it a “strange attractor.” When he looked at his graphs, he realized that although the weather patterns never repeated themselves, they all traced a pattern that was undeniable, a self-imposed elegance that kept what appeared to be chaotic from flying off the page. Some people have compared this boundary, this strange attractor, to God.

The sacred mystery of love which some of us call God is a strange attractor indeed, living and breathing in, with, through, and beyond us, sowing seeds of new life, ever-creating more and more glorious ways of being in the world.

Your life, my life, our lives are sown together with so many possibilities. Some random, perhaps, but equally amazing. Each of us can choose to perpetrate random acts of kindness, outpours of generosity, displays of hospitality, demonstrations of courage, along with extravagant acts of love framed by genuine gratitude.

What does gratitude look like in this strange and uncertain time?  Gratitude looks like you: you speaking out when you hear of injustice, you listening with a fierce passion to someone who desperately needs to be heard, you standing in solidarity with the oppressed, you marching in the streets for change, or you tenderly reaching out to someone who is lonely, or you feeding the hungry, or you welcoming a stranger, or you daring to move beyond your comfort zone. It is you speaking out in the face of ignorance, you wearing a mask, you holding someone you love, you refusing to give up, you daring to hope, you dreaming new dreams.

As the Gospel reminds us, sometimes the harvest can amaze us.

So come, all you who continually open your lives to gratitude,

For you who have been in this community for over fifty years and you who have come for the first time today, we give thanks!
For the little acts of kindness and the magnificent signs of hope and beauty among us, we give thanks.
For families, friends and whole communities of grace and generosity, we give thanks!
For the seeds we have planted and the seeds that fell on gravel and stone and the seeds that fell into this good earth, we give thanks!

May we choose to be seeds of kindness, generosity, hospitality, gratitude and courage so that God’s love can live, and move, and have being, in, with, through, and beyond us. Let us be love in the world. A sacred love that extends beyond all boundaries! For these gifts of love and grace, let us be grateful!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.  Amen.