Thanksgiving Day

Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Luke 17:11-19

Bryan Cones

Last Sunday as I was leaving church, I got a text from my partner, David—three exclamation points. When I opened the text there was a picture, of this, a small brown egg. But not just any brown egg: It was the first egg from our most recent flock of hens, and with it comes the promise of going outside every day, and finding two or three or four or even five eggs from the hens who live in our backyard. And the wonder of finding yet another egg never gets old.

I could say that about our whole backyard “farm” as we like to call it: Four raised vegetable beds, a berry patch, and an extra bit of dirt where David, hilariously, grows a patch of corn. And from it we get every year hundreds of onions and carrots, piles of peas and green beans, and so many raspberries and blueberries that our freezer is full and we haven’t bought a jar of jam in two years. Even now the last greens of fall are still alive under a plastic tunnel. And did I mention tomatoes and butternut squash?

The harvest is so ridiculously abundant that we end up giving tons away. When we went on our camping trip this summer, I asked my neighbor, a former coworker and now parishioner, to please come and take anything she wanted, because so much would go to waste. And she did—loads of beans and tomatoes. And because it was even too much for her family, she pickled green beans and tomatoes, which she then gave back us to enjoy—what earth had given deliciously transformed by the work of her human hands and human mind.

That little postage stamp of a city backyard has become for me an image of what we are celebrating today on Thanksgiving: the ridiculous abundance of creation that has the capacity not only to feed us, all of us, but also preaches a better sermon about the capacity of God to give than the one you are hearing right now. And what a marvelous image of God’s self-giving, what we call “grace” in the Christian tradition. A Franciscan friend once preached about God’s relentless giving in the image of a fruit tree, of a God so eager to give us good things that creation is constantly pushing it out toward us, starting in the roots of an apple tree to squeeze out an apple on the other end, and not just one apple, but bushels and bushels on a single tree.

And then there is energy that powers it all, the light from the sun, which a spiritual director I once heard likened to the grace of God: a relentless engine of light and energy going in every direction. And just a small portion of that solar power falls on our planet moves the air into wind and weather, the heat of which draws up water to create rain, and the light of which is the foundation of the life that feeds us. God’s hunger to give is all around us, and above us, underneath us, in my case, in my back yard, even coming out the back end of a chicken. And lest we think that all of this is just for our benefit, the psalmist reminds us that God’s generosity is meant for every created thing.

So what is our response? What acts of thanksgiving might we take part in today? Obviously we could begin by acknowledging this great gift with our heartfelt thanks, like Leper No. 10 in today’s gospel, apparently the only one who recognized the source of his healing. Perhaps he could be our patron saint today, opening our eyes to the many riches God is pouring out upon us, right in front of us.

Perhaps we might also see God’s generosity as an invitation to partner with God in magnifying and transforming the gift. As our first reader Bill Doughty pointed out to me yesterday, and as he proclaimed today in that first reading, living in the Promised Land required human effort too, copper to mine, and crops to plant and harvest, grapes to ferment into wine—it wasn’t all just lying there. I would be a bad partner indeed if I didn’t acknowledge that the abundance of my backyard farm has a great deal to do with the gardener, David, who sees his work in the dirt as part of his partnership with the Holy One who planted that first garden in Eden. And those pickled green beans didn’t come that way on the plant: No, that was the result of Meghan’s partnership with what earth has given, now remade by human hands.

And then there is the “giving” part of Thanksgiving: While it may be obvious that the blessings of God flow without measure on all the earth, like the sunshine itself, it is equally obvious that these gifts aren’t shared in such measure. Our partnership with God is not just in magnifying the good things of creation, but in seeing that these gifts make their way in just measure to all for whom God intends them. And I’d propose that’s not just for the sake of justice, though that would be reason enough, but also that we may share with God the joy and pleasure of seeing how these gifts are transformed by those who receive them. In that way, perhaps, we may participate in the givingness that is the very nature of God, and so enjoy with God the wonder of beholding the full flourishing of all that God has made.