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November 21, 2010: “I’m Thankful The Pilgrim Church Became Unitarian, Thanksgiving Service”

My favorite Thanksgiving joke? A lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store, but couldn’t find one big enough for her family. She asked the stock boy, “Do these turkeys get any bigger?” The stock boy answered, “No ma’am, they’re dead.”

        I love Thanksgiving, yea, I especially love the leftovers and am thankful for them. I am also, as the sermon sign says outside, 'thankful that the Pilgrim church became Unitarian Universalist,' not so we can brag that we came over on the Mayflower, but that we might be reminded that we came from a long tradition of people who took their religion serious enough to question tradition, to think for ourselves, but also to travel together as pilgrims, that is with a small p, meaning, travelers journeying on religious pilgrimage or destination, a kind of spiritual, 'where's Waldo', meaning, of course, RALPH WALDO Emerson!

        "Apparently, Pilgrim Edward Winslow wrote the only eyewitness description of the first Thanksgiving," writes my colleague, Rev. Jane Rzepka, who grew up in this church and went to Sunday school here, who's parents helped found this church. She wrote a wonderful UUA meditation manual called A Small Heaven; "...In his brief letter to a friend in England, Winslow described the joy, the celebration, and the carousing that followed the harvest of 1621. That first to-do seems to have been like 'Harvest Home'  back in England: 'cakes and ale and hang the cost. 'Pilgrim Winslow makes no mention of thanks!  Uh-oh. We find out that the religious component of Thanksgiving, and even the act of giving thanks, are later additions.  Isn't that the way?

At any given time, we’re busy with our cakes and ale and turkey feathers. It’s only later, looking back, that we understand the gravity of our harsh winters, the fragility of daily life, the preciousness of hopes for years to come. We get through it, we celebrate, and then, finally, the thanksgiving comes.”

        That's right, the first year was tough for the Pilgrims. Life is often trying, and it's often hard to think of what we are thankful for. For many of us, it is also difficult to think about to what kind of God we believe in and whether we should be thankful if things haven't been going well!

“Thank God I’m an Atheist!” George Bernard Shaw is rumored to have said, expressing the quandary of how to celebrate Thanksgiving beyond traditional Christianity especially for most of us Unitarian Universalists who may choose other terms to describe the divine for which we search, which we may even experience; or perhaps might have given up on, or just feel like we’ve had a lover’s quarrel with and know we’ll eventually make up, but right know we aren’t on speaking terms.

I’m convinced that there is a deep-seated human need to express gratitude for our lives and loves, to live out thankfulness for being alive even in the midst of pain or suffering. We all want to feel appreciated, loved, wanted; indeed is it not why we teach our children the “magic words” of ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’? If we know how good it feels to be thanked, to be appreciated and loved, will we not remember to return the favor, to live the golden rule and treat people like we want to be treated? Aren’t we willing to give, to sacrifice for our children, our family, our lovers, our friends? Especially when they say “thank you”? Who shall we thank this Thanksgiving?

“A Thanksgiving Day editorial in a newspaper told of a school teacher who asked her class of first graders to draw a picture of something they were thankful for. She thought of how little these children from poor neighborhoods actually had to be thankful for, but she knew that most of them would draw pictures of turkeys or tables with food. The teacher was taken aback with the picture Douglas handed in. It was a simple childishly drawn hand. But whose hand? The class was captivated by the abstract image. “I think it must be the hand of God that brings us food,” said one child. “A farmer,” said another, “because he grows the turkeys.”

Finally, when the others were at work, the teacher bent over Douglas’s desk and asked whose hand it was. “It’s your hand, Teacher,” he mumbled. She recalled that frequently at recess she had taken Douglas, a scrubby forlorn child, by the hand. She often did that with the children, but it meant so much to Douglas.”

        Yes, sometimes it is something as simple as extending a loving hand to someone who is reaching out for human touch that is not getting enough of it at home and maybe only gets it from the teacher at school or maybe someone in church, maybe this church or Sunday school.

         "Be grateful for yourself," writes novelist William Saroyan; "Yes, for yourself. Be thankful. Understand what a person is is something we can be grateful for, and ought to be grateful for." That's right be thankful as well for who YOU are, for YOUR talents, for what YOU can do. YOU are unique, and YOU can do anything you set your mind to, my mother told me!

        Indeed in our spirit, our personality, our divine spark within, whatever we call it, there is a sense that as individuals we have had to make choices, we learned to respond and to love. We are more than a sum total of people who have influenced us. In an unselfish way, it is good to love ourselves, to appreciate ourselves, and to be thankful that we are who we are, and to learn to work with who we are as well as any physical limitation life may have placed upon us.

        You know what else I'm thankful for? I have realized that I am even thankful for mistakes I have made (which would make me thankful indeed if we counted them all up!), because I have learned from many of them, and others I look back to see that my life would have been profoundly different because of what happened after those mistakes were made. Sometimes, though, it may be hard for us to be thankful because of problems we are facing, mistakes we have made, but they may turn out to be the luckiest mistakes or problems if we could see ahead to see how it all turns out, fast-forwarding our lives, especially through the commercials! A speaker on creativity in education said that students lose their creativity if they are not allowed or if they become afraid of making mistakes, because mistakes are part of the creative process! Just ask Thomas Edison, the greatest mistake maker in history, but that's not what we know him for, is it? Yet he always talks about how much he learned from the experiments that didn't work that led to his incredible discoveries that literally illuminate our lives in countless ways today. Be thankful for your mistakes and learn from them.

        But most of all, I believe, I have always been most thankful for relationships that have fed my soul of people I have loved and who have loved me; if we develop and nurture a deep love of people, life and love (which when added up some say might equal what or who some call God) we will have our life filled with joy.

        This Thanksgiving, the most important thing is to let the people you love know how much you mean to them and how grateful you are that they are in your life.

My dear friend and colleague, Robert Doss, wrote:

‘When giving thanks comes hard for you
and things are running grim,
And hope runs thin,
Despair’s a door to pass on through,
And not a home for living in.
When thanksgiving fills your cup,
And those you love are all about,
Look at your blessings, count them up,
and give back something to the world without.
Go in peace.
Go for peace.
For all who seek God,
May God be with you.

For all who embrace life,
May life return your affection.
For all who seek the right path,
May a way be found…
And the courage to take it
Step by step.’ -Robert Mabry Doss

So let me say simply, Thank you all, I love you. Go in peace and love one another..