Oct. 7, 2018 Reflection (Thanksgiving Sunday)
Matthew 6:25-34/ Joel 2:21-27
Yet, I Will Rejoice in the Lord
When I was young and my father came back from work or from being out of town for his work, I would earnestly wait for him to come back, not so much because I missed him but to see what he brought home. My favorite days were when he brought ice-cream home. So, when he came home from work, I would run out to greet him with an enthusiastic “Daddy!” and if he had nothing in his hands, I would just go back to my room disappointed while borderline ignoring his presence. I was a child, had an impression that he was going to be around forever, and was more interested in his gifts than in him. Then later on in life, one of the people I consider as my spiritual mentors wrote a wonderful book about prayer through which I learned that the primary purpose of prayer is our relationship and fellowship with God. In this book, he gives an analogy of a father coming back home with a gift; children are only interested in his gifts, while the wife is content and happy with or without any gift because her husband came home safely. He wrote that faith is quite similar; those who are still young and immature in their faith focus on the gifts and blessings from God, while those with mature faith feel content and happy just having a relationship with God, no matter what God gives them (or doesn’t give them).
Every Thanksgiving, we think about what we are grateful for. We may be thankful for our family, friends, houses, jobs, enough food to eat, or disposable income that allows us to enjoy life. But what if we didn’t have those things? Could we still be thankful? Or are we thankful only because we have them? In today’s gospel text, Jesus tells us not to worry about what to eat or what to wear, which is about the necessities of life. Jesus tells his followers that God clothes mere flowers more beautifully than the richest king Solomon and feeds small birds, which are not more valuable than us. If God takes care of little creatures like birds and flowers, shouldn’t we trust that God will take care of our needs too? Jesus teaches us that instead of worrying about mundane things, we should pursue God’s kingdom and its lifestyle of compassion, humility, and justice. Focus on the big things such as living as the kingdom citizens and disciples of Jesus, and God will take care of the little things like what to eat or what to wear.
We give thanks to God and rejoice because we trust that God will take care of our needs. The Prophet Joel told his people to be glad and rejoice because God promised liberation and restoration, but there is something that we can notice in his exhortation to “be glad and rejoice”; he uses both past tense and future tense. In verse 21, he says, “Be glad and rejoice for the Lord HAS DONE great things,” but from verse 22, he switches to God’s promises in the future tense; “the autumn rains WILL fall”, “I WILL give you back what you lost”, and “you WILL have all the food you want.” We don’t only give thanks and rejoice because God has given us blessings and gifts, but also for the gifts we have not yet received; because we trust that God WILL take care of us.
During my trip to Ghana and my 2 years working for the Methodist Church in Kenya, I witnessed something extraordinary. Most of the people I met were poor and had all sorts of problems and hardships in their lives; yet, they praised God with such joy and enthusiasm. They rejoice and give thanks for the little things they have in life. Even in their poverty, they would feed you as if they have abundance; even if all they can serve you is bread and margarine. They rejoice and give thanks even if they have practically nothing. They taught me that thanksgiving is not about isolated occasions where you give thanks because you received something; rather, it is a lifestyle, way of life, and attitude in life. We are not only thankful because we have something; we are also thankful because we trust God. Thanksgiving is a state of mind. Just like the wife who can rejoice because her husband came home safely even if he didn’t bring her anything, while the children’s happiness is based on whether he brought any gifts or not, as our faith grows and matures, we can rejoice in God not because we have been blessed with a lot of gifts but because of the mere fact that we are God’s children and God wants an intimate and meaningful relationship with us.
In the Book of Habakkuk, the prophet Habakkuk wrote a song of praise in the midst of desolation; “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.” He praised God after his people lost everything from foreign invasion. He praised God like the Kenyan and Ghanaian Christians rejoice and praise God in their poverty and traumas. Thanksgiving is a lifestyle because our focus is on our relationship with God, and we recognize that this relationship is the biggest blessing. Our relationship is the good stuff, and gifts come as a bonus; they’re the small stuff. We can rejoice and praise God IF we can recognize that having God in our life is the biggest gift we can get. The primary goal of our faith should be rejoicing at the fact that God the Creator of heaven and earth made us, chose us, and loves us. And if the primary goal of prayer is our relationship and fellowship with God, we will not treat God like the Genie in the bottle and expect to get everything we ask for; we will be happy and content just being God’s beloved children no matter what we receive.
At this point, I feel that I have to add a footnote to Jesus’ teaching about not worrying. It may be easy for us to receive this teaching because none of us is destitute. But there are people around the world who really have nothing; they starve because they have no food, they freeze because they have neither clothes nor homes. Some people cry out, “What is God doing? Why does God let people starve, freeze, or be without homes?” I’ve heard a lot of people blame God for human suffering. So, while I preach about “Don’t worry; God will take care of you,” I would like to point out that God taught us to be the agents of God’s kingdom values; we are taught to take care of each other and bring God’s reign of love and justice to our world. If our brothers and sisters are starving, what are we doing to change it? God didn’t fail them; we did. If we believe that God will take care of our needs, as God’s children and disciples of Jesus, we should make sure our brothers and sisters are cared for. It’s our job because God works through us. That was my footnote for today’s gospel text.
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, I am reminding you that God, who takes care of flowers and birds promises to take care of us, in the knowledge that God works through us (so, we have to do God’s work). Let us meditate on different ways in which God has blessed us but focus on the biggest blessing of them all; that we are God’s beloved children. Let us strengthen our relationship with God so that we can praise God like Habakkuk, who said; “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and the fields yield no food; yet I will rejoice in the Lord.” Today is not only Thanksgiving Sunday but also World Communion Sunday, and we will have the Holy Communion. With your thankful hearts, come to the Lord’s table and share with your brothers and sisters around the world the abundance of God’s love.
Rev. Sunny Kim