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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thoughts on the Lectionary Passages for Thanksgiving Day (November 27, 2014) and the First Sunday of Advent (November 30, 2014)

By Jim Ogden

Lectionary Scriptures:
Thanksgiving Day:  Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Psalm 65:1-13, II Corinthians 9:6-15, Luke 17:11-19
First Sunday of Advent:
  Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

We come to the beginning of a new liturgical year as we enter the Advent Season.  It begins pretty much as the old year ending, with a call to stay awake as we await a day when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  Those are words attributed to Jesus in Mark 13:24-25 and the “stay awake” part comes in verses 35-37.  Not exactly images that fit the mood we encounter in the mall ringing with Christmas music and the belly laughs of Santa Claus.

The coming Sunday also caps the celebratory Thanksgiving weekend.  The lectionary scriptures for Thanksgiving seem much more compatible with the joyful spirit many associate with Advent.

Instead, let me suggest entering into the season with a spirit of dependence.  Many of us don’t much like to acknowledge our dependence upon anyone or anything.  We’re also aware that dependence can take an unhealthy turn so that we talk about co-dependence in relationships.  We can hardly stand the thought of being separated from one another.  We are addicted.  We couldn’t or wouldn’t survive on our own.  Addiction or dependency also brings to mind drugs, substance abuse, etc.

We live in a culture where there is often a macho spirit in which we like to think of ourselves as “self-made.”  Don’t tread on me.  Don’t mess with me.  Don’t invade my space or interfere with my life and its choices.

When I worked with the national staff of the American Baptist Churches in the USA, one of the values that guided our work was that of interdependence.  We all depend upon one another, and upon natural environment (and ultimately the cosmos/God) around us.  It’s not an unhealthy co-dependence.  It’s a statement of fact.

When I utter a prayer before I eat, I am often keenly aware of the growers and shippers and marketers who made that meal possible, even of the living things (whether plant or animal) which are consumed in my eating and the earth and plant substances which season everything.  This week, however, I invite us to allow ourselves to become overcome by a sense of our dependence upon God.

In one sense, that’s where all scripture, all religion, begins and ends.  God is the source of all that is.  It’s there in the Thanksgiving reading from Deuteronomy.  Moses reminds the Hebrew people that they are being brought  into a good land “with flowing streams, with springs and undergound waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.  (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)  There “you shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God . . . Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God . . . do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God . . . Do not day to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . . (vss. 10-11, 14, 17-18).

Psalm 65 speaks in a similar tone.  “You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain . . . You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.  You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.  The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.”  (Psalm 65:9-13)

It would be easy to read into these words a somewhat magical process with no human participation.  We might object to the overemphasis upon wealth and the abundance of nature.  Many go through life barely able to eke out an existence on land with limited productivity.  For whatever time we are able, though, let’s muster the will to read these poetic words as a call to acknowledge that life ultimately emanates from some source beyond us, even beyond our understanding and control---and give thanks.

While the reading from II Corinthians is about being generous and sharing what we have with others, it is clear that God is part of the cycle, God who “is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance . . . He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”  (II Corinthians 9:8 & 10)

The Advent reading from Isaiah is another scene of mountains quaking, of God’s anger, of lives shaking like a leaf.  (Isaiah 64:1, 4, 5-6)  It also speaks of God’s power to deliver and declares, “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  (vss. 7-8)

The Gospel reading for Thanksgiving Day begins with the healing of ten lepers.  (Luke 17:11-14)  Most of us have been dependent at one time or another upon someone with the power of healing.  Most of you have visited a doctor’s office, I imagine.  I have, sometimes more often than I wanted.  The Advent Psalm also assumes a power of restoration.  “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”  (Psalm 80:7 & 19)

The first Sunday of Advent gives us a reading from I Corinthians in which the gifts of life are seen as coming from “the grace of God,” of our being “enriched” through Christ Jesus, “in speech and knowledge of every kind . . . so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift. . .  He will also strengthen you to the end.”  (I Corinthians 1:4-5, 7-8)

The story of the lepers emphasizes, on Thanksgiving Day, giving thanks for life-restoring power.  Only one of the lepers, a Samaritan at that, remembers to do it, prostrating himself before Jesus. (Luke 17:16-18)

We are dependent.  Maybe instead of fighting it, we should prostrate ourselves before the mysterious power of Love and Life all around us, and give thanks.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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