I speak to you this Thanksgiving Day in the name of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning, and a happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day to y’all! I am so excited to be here with you this morning in church. In this way, coming together to worship today, we recognize that everything that we do and will give thanks for today ultimately has its ultimate source and sustenance in God. It’s that very ultimacy of God that we are instructed to give thanks for in the Scriptures this morning, but not just one kind of ultimacy. The word ‘ultimate’ has two separate meanings that are important for us to reflect on if we are to give thanks well today.
First, and most familiar to us, I think, the word ‘ultimate’ means ‘best,’ ‘peak,’ ‘optimum.’ When we hear the visions from the Book of the Prophet Joel of a renewed creation, where trees are heavy with fruit and clouds are thick with rain, where animals have endless pasture, and we will never run out of grain or wine or oil, where we will never again be put to shame, that… that’s the best vision of the future that I can think of. It sounds awesome, doesn’t it? But the very fact that that glorious vision is just that—a vision, OF THE FUTURE, points us to the second meaning of the word ultimate. “Ultimate” means “final,” it means “at the end.” This best vision, this glorious future reality, is a vision of the end times, when God’s reign of love will be fully realized and established on earth, which of course means that it is not NOW currently fully realized.
See, it’s this second meaning of the word ‘ultimate’ that helps our thanksgiving today not be willful delusion or obliviousness, because, in recognizing that things are not currently as they should be, we are allowed, welcomed even, to find some necessary mourning and sadness in today’s joy. When Joel gives us a vision of restoration, and our Psalm talks about the Lord restoring the fortunes of Zion, things that we are called to be thankful for, we realize that there’s a reason fortunes needed to be restored in the first place, a world that, unlike Joel’s vision, is sometimes without rain, where trees are sometimes empty, where people are often put to shame. When Jesus tells us in Matthew not to worry, it is of course because he knows that we do.
But when we give thanks, when we show gratitude to an ultimate God, we are doing something that is marvelous, wonderful, and profoundly countercultural. In a culture of self-reliance we recognize, in our thanks, that we have need, that we humans worry, that we fail, that we struggle, but that, ultimately, those things are all taken up, remembered, and redeemed by a God in Christ who has lived a life like us, and who hears us, the people of God, when we call out, and responds in love with knowledge, with provision for today, our daily bread, and with a glorious vision of the future that pushes us hopefully forward and that keeps us ultimately thankful.
So, I pray that today your Thanksgiving is sad if and when it needs to be, is rapturously joyful as often as it can be, is as delicious as I know that it will be, and that, ultimately, it does for you what the giving of thanks is meant to do, which is, to make you worry less, and to love more, to be, as Jesus says to us, more like the lilies of the field. Amen.
The Rev. Dillon Green
November 25, 2021
St. James Episcopal Church, Wichita, KS