Skip to content
In-person Sunday morning services are temporarily postponed. We hope for a return in February.

“What I Gave, I Have…:” Harvest Thanksgiving

Sunday, October 10, 2021:
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Matthew 6:25-33

There’s a quote from Henry Ward Beecher: “What I spent, I had; What I kept, I lost; What I gave, I have.” He was a 19th century American minister, and brother of the abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe. [Again:] “What I spent, I had; What I kept, I lost; What I gave, I have.”

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (That’s Jesus.) There’s something important and fundamentally Christian about that — let’s call it “Easter principle” — of losing and then finding… giving, and then actually having. And this is more than a principle, but the experience of the early Christian community. And it connects with Thanksgiving, because “on the night he was handed over to suffering and death…” Jesus gave thanks. And the early Church, sometimes persecuted, and with the fresh memory of the state’s execution of Jesus, advocates for civic leaders to be prayed for. A generosity of spirit that I would never expect in our own day… And I don’t think this link between Thanksgiving and Easter is just incidental; it seems to me that Jesus’s act of thanksgiving and subsequent self-giving is a direct confrontation with the powers of this world (and the powers so often at work within us): the jealousy of the religious leaders; the selfish competitiveness amongst the disciples; the violent mob justice of the crowds; the false peace of the empire; and the greed of many of the powerful and comfortable. These are still happening in one or more shapes or forms in our own day.

And I wonder, how much is worry connected to these oppressive tendencies? Our gospel today warns against the unhealthiness of worrying. Is it possible that worry — worry that we will run out, worry about ‘the other,’ worry about death — is what leads human beings and principalities to invade, hoard, and over-consume?

With worry as our guide we look to the future with trepidation. But an alternative to this — as taught and demonstrated by Jesus — is to operate from a perspective of thanksgiving. As a Jew, Jesus preserved the memory of God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt, in the Passover meal. And we, as Christians, in our ritual meal, preserve the memory of Jesus’s saving of the world, from all the powers of death (which, again, include but aren’t limited to the greed, violence, selfishness, and jealousy I mentioned earlier). Where worry looks to the future in fear, our tradition calls us to look to the past in thanksgiving. And to see in the grand narratives of our faith, and in the more intimate narratives of our lives, glimpses (sometimes powerful and obvious, other times more subtle) of an active, caring God who brings order to our chaos. And if we recognize God in that past, then we might well expect God to show up in our present, giving us hope, rather than fear, for the future.

There may not be a discipline more formative and subversive than thanksgiving. We practice it each time we celebrate communion. And this weekend thanksgiving is a focus, on one level or another, with most people. Might there be something we can each do to make this Thanksgiving really count, where in thanksgiving for Jesus’s subversive thankfulness and self-giving, we do something to counteract the greed, wastefulness, and violent competitiveness of the world? Is there something you can do to make your thankfulness concrete? It will likely involve some form of giving, or sacrifice. That might be a focus for us during communion, and in the silence before the Prayer after Communion is voiced. “What I spent, I had; What I kept, I lost; What I gave, I have.”

© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter