So much material! So little time!
This year we had the unusual convergence of Thanksgiving and Christ the King Sunday in a period of 3 days. So, a couple of history lessons on these events for you!
The lesson about Thanksgiving comes from “222 Words”, a series that aims to give brief, 222-word explanations into the types of questions that would normally get lost in a day’s news cycle. These are intended to be read while you’re bored at work.
On Oct. 3, 1789, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 26 of that year to be a day of Thanksgiving honoring the new Constitution. But that wasn’t yet theThanksgiving, it was just a Thanksgiving. For about as long as there were settlers in America, there were days set aside for “Thanksgiving.” Of course, the Plymouth settlers did so, probably sometime in the 1621 autumn, although the exact date is unknown. Colonial governments had numerous Thanksgivings, especially during the Revolution to honor victories.
The first known “national” observance of the tradition was Dec. 18, 1777. Washington declared a few Thanksgivings in his time, with varying dates, as did subsequent presidents. The practice finally became standardized in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln made the last Thursday of every November a national Thanksgiving. This initial celebration largely came from celebrating the Union’s Gettysburg victory.
That practice stuck until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving to the second-to-last Thursday, giving businesses a larger Christmas shopping window amid the end of the Great Depression. That year there were five Thursdays in the month. An uproar ensued that this commercialized the holiday, and so many states stuck to celebrating on the last Thursday.
Then in 1941, Roosevelt and Congress made another, more final update, calling for Thanksgiving to be observed on the fourth Thursday of November.
The lesson for the Feast of Christ the King is paraphrased and shortened from Wikipedia. “It is a relatively recent addition to the Western liturgical calendar, having been instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI for the Roman Catholic Church. In 1970 its Roman Catholic observance was moved to the final Sunday of Pentecost. Therefore, the earliest date on which it can occur is 20 November and the latest is 26 November. (And this year we are doing it on November 26!) Traditional Catholics observe it on its original date, the last Sunday of October.
The Anglican, Lutheran, and many other Protestant churches adopted it along with the Revised Common Lectionary. The feast has an eschatological dimension--pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth. It also leads into Advent, when the Church commemorates the arrival of the newborn king.
Pope Pius XI wanted this Feast to impact the lay people in the church, too. He said "If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth...it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds…in our wills…in our hearts…, and in our bodies and in our members…to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God."”
Ok, that covers the history lesson for this sermon!
So, how was your Thanksgiving time this year, or maybe it is still continuing? Bonnie and I actually had two Thanksgiving meals—one with our daughter Anne and her family on Thursday, and another with our son-in-law Jeff’s brother Wes and his family on Saturday. (Some of you might remember last Sunday after church I asked if anyone had ever heard of Turkey Bingo, and that Wes’ family had won 3 turkeys that weekend doing the local Turkey bingo events in Raymond. That was some of the turkey we had at that meal.)
Our Thanksgiving day at Anne’s and Jeff’s was truly wonderful. The only other guest was Jeff’s dad Walt, so we had a small group enjoying about 6 hours of food bliss, fun games and remembering Thanksgivings of the past. Fried oysters, salmon dip, chips, and crackers for snacking…then ham, mashes potatoes, dressing and gravy, yams, rolls, and deviled eggs for dinner…along with beer, wine, and plenty of soft drinks. And of course—pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and some unbelievable homemade cream puffs (filled with either chocolate or vanilla whipped cream). Our oldest grandson Caleb gave the first toast (with his soft drink!) for their 1st Thanksgiving in their house down on the Nemah River. We even had a large elk herd walk across the yard while we were there. And I almost forgot, their two Labrador-mix dogs, Snoopy and Crackers, running around the whole time, snuggling, getting petted, playing, and begging (and getting!) plenty of food.
I hope all of your Thanksgiving experiences were as great, or even better!
We all know some peoples’ Thanksgiving times were not so great. In Egypt several hundred were killed or injured in an ISIS backed attack on a Muslim mosque. In several islands in the Atlantic we still have many people who have almost nothing after the recent hurricanes, and help is coming way more slowly than it should be. Locally, we have had several days of winds and very heavy rains to totally soak everyone living outside many times over, and to make conditions for those in barely livable housing even worse.
All across the US we have a growing gap in income and wealth, leading to more people being unable to afford good housing, transportation, food, health care, and so on. The once majority middle class America has shrunk a bunch over the past 40 years or so, leaving it now as part of a much larger poorer class looking up to an elitist upper class who have more and more of everything.
Dorothy Day, who was a long time advocate for the poor and in need, and actually died in 1980--was already speaking about the inequities of our economic system at that time, before it has even gotten so much worse. She said: “I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor. The class structure is of our making and our consent, not God’s. It is the way we have arranged it, and it is up to us to change it.”
Our Gospel today from Matthew 25 provides Jesus clearly explaining who does his ministry in the world and who is heir to his kingdom: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’...‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ These were Jesus’ final words to the Pharisees and scribes before heading to his ultimate Last Supper and death on the cross at their hands.
What do you think about our own St. Mark’s community and its ministry for Christ in our world? I know we write a lot of checks, even more so this year, for more money to help the poor and needy around us than many churches do. We should be—as we have minimal operating expenses here that allows a major portion of our revenues to be available for outreach. We also are doing some hands on type work in our communities—help with the weekly Sunday meals at St. Andrews, going out under the bridge in Aberdeen to hand out lunches, jail visits, etc. And we can think about what else we can do going forward.
This being Christ the King Sunday, the title implies there is a special kingdom somewhere. I contend that kingdom is right here, wherever the family of Christ is, where we are, and it is up to us all to increase that kingdom by our daily efforts to make it better.