Thanksgiving Sunday – 2021b
Old Testament – Psalm 104:1-24
New Testament – Ephesians 4:1-6, 17-19, 29-32
INTRODUCTION: So it’s probably one of the only reasons we still even have a DVD player at our house.
You see, while we have a bookshelf upstairs on our landing stuffed with DVDs that haven’t been touched in forever, every year around this time that Peanuts Holiday Collection DVD set inevitably makes its way downstairs for viewing.
And while It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, doesn’t get played nearly as much, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas are given regular viewings.
Yep, as strange as it sounds, even though both shows could probably be easily found for streaming online, we just can’t let go of the DVDs. I suppose it’s because the process of popping the DVDs into the player, like watching the shows themselves, has its own degree of nostalgia to it.
And surely that is why our Christmas DVD Collection also makes it downstairs around the same time. For Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, and The Grinch are also all required viewing, right? And again, even though they could all probably be streamed online, there’s just something about the DVDs that makes watching them even more special.
ONE: Now as you might recall, in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Charlie suddenly finds himself trying to throw together a Thanksgiving feast at the last minute for some of his friends.
The need for the impromptu Thanksgiving dinner, of course, is due to the ever indelicate Peppermint Patty, who invites herself and two other friends over to Charlie’s house for dinner - despite the fact Charlie and his family have plans to go to his grandmother’s that very afternoon.
But with the aid of Snoopy, Woodstock, and Linus, Charlie Brown sets out to make a last minute Thanksgiving feast for his friends. However, with only buttered toast, pretzel sticks, popcorn, and a few jelly beans to offer on such short notice, Peppermint Patty lets it be known she is quite unhappy over not having any of the traditional foods like turkey, mash potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. And so Charlie, sufficiently shamed, retreats into his house for solace and relief.
In the midst of Peppermint Patty’s rant, however, Marcie steps in to remind her outraged friend that she had actually invited herself over to Charlie’s house for dinner, so perhaps she should be a bit more gracious. Realizing how rude she has been, Peppermint Patty then pleads with Marcie to go and apologize to Charlie Brown on her behalf.
And at one point, while trying to console Charlie who feels like his meal of bread, popcorn, jelly beans, and pretzel sticks has ruined Thanksgiving for everyone, Marcie says to Charlie, “But Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck…Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s what they mean by Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.”
Well, Peppermint Patty soon makes amends herself and everything is okay once again in due time. And while everyone else heads off to Grandma's house for still more food, Snoopy and Woodstock make their own Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey and the other traditional fixings.
TWO: Of course, Marcie’s assessment that Thanksgiving Day is really more about “being together” than anything else is almost a prophetic remark these days, right?
After all, we currently seem to be a people more interested and vested in being divided than actually “being together.” Why, there’s so much rancor and discord in our society today, even people who grew up in the 60s are quick to tell me they don’t recall things ever being so bad - even in the 60s!?
And all that despite the fact that many of us still claim to be members of a religious faith tradition which actually spends a great deal of its time stressing the importance of community and, yes, being together.
When writing to believers in Philippi, Paul famously counsels them to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” To which he then also adds believers need to look not to their own interests, but to the interest of others.
And then there is that famous bit in 1 Corinthians where Paul compares a community of faith to a body that is composed of various parts that all work together to make a whole. To a congregation split open with divisions and full of acrimony, Paul declares in part, “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.”
And last but not least, there are Paul’s remarks from Ephesians: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
But given the way some people speak and even act these days, it’s hard to fathom they’re actually spending much time reading their Bibles. Or if they are, they're reading a translation with which I am wholly unfamiliar.
THREE: You see, here is the thing. As more than a few folks have noted, Christianity from the very beginning wasn’t so much a new religion as it was a new kind of community - a community of concern and compassion for all of God’s creatures.
Sure, early Christians made assorted theological claims about Jesus Christ and declared him (to the displeasure of the Roman Emperor!) Lord of all. But what really set early believers apart was their insistence that in Jesus Christ a new kind of human family had been created.
In the highly stratified world of the Roman Empire, where most people were considered disposable, especially those on the lower end of the social pecking order, Jesus’ earliest followers were adamant that all people, regardless of their social status, were of equal value and concern in the eyes of God.
So in a world where the corpses of the poor were either dumped into mass graves or left to the elements, Christians, to the surprise of nearly everyone else, took to providing them with proper burials - even if the dead hadn’t been Christians themselves.
Likewise, early Christians also took to providing shelter, food, and even medical care to the elderly, widows, orphans, prisoners, and even those who might have been victims of shipwrecks.
Indeed, according to one estimate, by the fourth century the churches in Rome alone were feeding right around 20,000 people a week causing even the Roman Emperor Julian to take note. Or as he wrote about our early fore-bearers, “[They] feed not only their own poor, but ours as well.”
No wonder many consider the rise of things like public schools, shelters, and hospitals in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection to be anything but an accident. Nope. Instead, many consider the spread of such public institutions to be a direct result of the rise and spread of Christianity.
Because our forebears? Well, they got it. They got that what really mattered in light of Jesus’ life and resurrection was being together.
FOUR: This year, for the sixth time in a row, Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton will get together for Thanksgiving.
And while that hardly seems to be a big deal, other people have been getting together for decades after all, it’s the story behind why they are getting together again that is really great.
You see, six years ago Wanda Dench thought she was texting her grandson to invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner. Her grandson, though, had failed to tell her he had recently gotten a new number. So Wanda, it turns out, was actually texting Jamal Hinton, the new owner of what she thought was her grandson’s number.
Well, after some queries about who was texting him from a number he didn’t recognize and inviting him for Thanksgiving dinner, Wanda and Jamal eventually shared photos of each other. So when Jamal, who is black, got a picture of an older white woman on his phone he humorously replied, “You’re not my Grandma. Can I still get a plate though?” To which Wanda replied back without missing a beat, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do...feed every one.”
And so in 2016, after declaring she was serious about the offer, Jamal Hinton and his girlfriend Mikaela actually joined Wanda Dench and her husband for a Thanksgiving dinner. And now six years later, along with getting together for Thanksgiving, Wanda (her husband died in 2020), Jamal, and Mikaela actually get together at other points during the year - all because Wanda accidentally sent a text message to the wrong person.
And while it is sheer speculation, I like to think the friendship between Wanda and Jamal got started because, well, they both understood that all of us, in the end, need each other, and that just being together is perhaps the most important thing of all.
CONCLUSION: Well, every age in history seems to think it is unique, doesn’t it?
But our age does seem to be especially plagued right now - plagued by so much acrimony and division and anger. Which is actually kind of strange given what our Bible has to say about such matters.
For if what our Bible has to tell us is true, in Jesus Christ we’ve been made into a new kind of human family. A family of grace and compassion for all people.
And now blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.