31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 19, 2023
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
If Halloween focuses on costumes and candy and Christmas is full of presents and lights, then the centerpiece of Thanksgiving is food. My tastes when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner are pretty simple. Give me a little turkey, a lot of mashed potatoes, some carrot bread and then pumpkin pie, and I am pretty happy.
Other people’s Thanksgiving dinners have a bit more going on: homemade cranberry sauce, stuffing or dressing – depending on what you call it, green bean casserole, apple pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie. Years ago, I learned about a family that had lots of appetizers before Thanksgiving dinner – including nachos.
In A Thanksgiving Wish, Amanda’s grandmother Bubbe takes the entire month of November to prepare for and cook the family Thanksgiving dinner. Every year, the meal was the same and included dishes that might be on your table this week and some dishes that might not be as familiar to you: “a tom turkey so heavy that Bubbe recruited the neighbor’s son to lift it in and out of the oven; a stuffing made from her own braided challah [a traditional Jewish bread]; the tzimmes (stews) of prunes and apricots that stewed all day with lemons and both kinds of potatoes; the chicken soup with matzo balls so light they floated; snowflake rolls; gelatin molds with ten different layers that took days to make; a trout-shaped cranberry mold; honey cakes; and of course enough pumpkin pies for each family to take one home.” (A Thanksgiving Wish, Michael Rosen, pg 2)
And if that was not enough work, Bubbe also collected wishbones from every sort of bird she cooked throughout the year so that each of her grandchildren could make a wish with her on Thanksgiving night.
Now, while Bubbe’s thanksgiving dinner was quite complicated, her wish for each of her grandchildren was quite simple. Each year Bubbe wished that her grandchildren would break off the bigger part of the wishbone and that their wish would come true.
God’s wish for us is also quite simple. As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church in Thessalonica, God’s will, God’s wish for us is that we might rejoice always; pray continually; and give thanks in all circumstances.
Three simple things to connect with God and others. Three simple things to be happy: rejoice always; pray continually; and give thanks in all circumstances.
Sometimes, though, we fall into the trap of thinking that faith and life need to be more complicated.
Last week, God brought someone into my life who shared that she did not think of herself as very faithful. Clearly, she wanted to be faithful, but she was comparing herself to someone else who not only regularly attended one church, the someone else attended two churches. In the course of the conversation, this woman went on to share that as she traveled this journey of life, she would often pray for others she encountered; she would make sure to thank those who were caring for her on this journey; and she gave thanks for God’s light and hope in her life. It all sounded deeply faithful to me.
I think that to the woman her faith sounded too simple. She seemed to have the perception that her walk with Jesus Christ needed to be more complicated, more this or more that.
She is not alone. Many of us feel like to be deeply faithful to God we need to be subscribed to all of these online devotionals; we need to be constantly listening to Christian music; we need to pray in flowery language; we need to have the Bible memorized; we need to be devoting all of our free time to serving our neighbor.
Those are all really wonderful things. I am not in the least going to discourage you from growing in faith by deepening your understanding of God’s Word or through acts of service or by finding ways to know God, trust God, love God more.
I’m just going to remind you that our walk with Jesus Christ does not have to be complicated or full of busyness. God’s wish, God’s will, for us is simple: to rejoice always, to pray continually; to give thanks in all circumstances.
That is not to say though that those things are easy. It is not easy to rejoice always. It is not easy to pray continually. It is absolutely not easy to give thanks in all circumstances.
To have these simple things become our way of faith, our way of life, we need to make them a habit. We need to repeat them daily until they become as natural to us as getting up in the morning. And a helpful way to make joy, prayer, and gratitude a core part of our lives is to tie them to another habit.
As you make your breakfast in the morning, think about three things that bring you joy. Serious or silly. It doesn’t matter – just be specific. I rejoice that I got up this morning. I rejoice in the sound of the birds chittering away in the trees. I rejoice that there are pop tarts to eat for breakfast. In order to ‘rejoice always’, connect it to something else that you do always or almost always – like eat breakfast.
Pray continually – whenever you are at a stoplight. Pray continually – whenever your Fitbit or Apple watch reminds you to get up and walk. Pray continually – whenever you are checking your phone for text messages. And if you would like to join the prayer chain, some of those text messages might indeed be prayers. Don’t wish you prayed more. Make it a habit. Start slow and begin to pray and talk to God whenever you are doing one other thing in your day to day life.
The same is true of giving thanks. Start slow and connect it with one other thing in your life. St. Ignatius of Loyala, who founded the Jesuits about five hundred years ago, developed an examen to do at the end of each day. You can look it up. Even though it only has five questions, it feels a little complicated. I can never remember all of the steps so I don’t do the examen regularly; however one step is easy “give thanks for your day”. Think back over your day and give thanks for the blessings.
Giving thanks at the end of the day can be easy. Maybe you make an actual list of five blessings from your day. Maybe you share them with someone else – in person or by text or email – as you eat dinner. Maybe as you are putting your child to bed at night, after the bedtime story, you each take an opportunity to give thanks for all circumstances so you can nurture a heart that gives thanks in all circumstances.
One helpful way to make joy, prayer, and gratitude a core part of our lives is to tie them to another habit. Another way is to have an accountability partner, which is really what Christian community is – we nurture one another to love God and love our neighbors; we encourage one another to keep walking the Way of Jesus even and especially when it is hard. We remind each other to rejoice, pray, and give thanks.
Tie these three simple things to another habit. Find someone to help you rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Find lots of someones, inside and outside of this Christian community, and then do it for 30 days – which will take us to just about Christmas so this would be a really good Advent spiritual practice, to nurture more rejoicing, more prayer, and/or more gratitude in your life.
What God wants from us, what God wants for us is very simple. God wants us to live lives full of joy. God wants us to delight in this world. God wants us to pray constantly, to continually be reaching out to God, talking to God, depending on God, listening to God. And God wants us to give thanks. God wants us to be aware every single day, in every single moment of how loved we are, how blessed we are.
This simple way of life, this simple way of faith is God’s will for our lives, God’s wish for our lives so that we might live every day in joy, peace, and love, deeply connected to one another and deeply connected to the God of love we know through Jesus Christ.