Corona Sabbath 36 GIVE THANKS! Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath.  This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19.    We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to a scripture lesson from I Thessalonians 5:13b-19.  This is teaching offered to a new faith community community that is under attack.  The writer of Thessalonians is trying to keep the community grounded in something greater than their current troubles.  

I Thessalonians 5:13b-19 (from the NRSV) 

Be at peace among yourselves.  And we urge you, brothers and sisters, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.  See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the spirit.  Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

Reflection from Kim

Many years ago, there was an older couple in the church and one of them had dementia.  They were living independently in their own home.  Numerous times when things went awry, I was called to come over and try to straighten things out, calm things down.  Out of love and compassion, I willingly went though I did not feel that I was of much practical help.  Maybe just knowing there is someone who will come over and who cares is some consolation. 

Some years later, my father developed dementia, and then my mother.  I looked back on those experiences with the older couple and I was filled with gratitude.  Those experiences and encounters had helped me to become more familiar with this disease.  They helped me to know what to expect.  I had some background to help prepare me for what I faced with my parents. 

In dealing with the older couple, I had felt largely ineffectual.  But later I saw it wasn’t about what I could do for them.  It was about what I was receiving from the experience that I had no idea I would need.  I was being given a gift but I couldn’t see it until much later. 

When we think about the ministry of Paul, who is credited with writing the letter to the Thessalonians, we are told that he faced many challenges in his life. He was repeatedly imprisoned.  Driven out of town.  Threatened.  He endured the hardships of hunger and being exposed to the elements and the stormy seas.   Finally, it is thought that he was martyred.  Spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ was by no means a bed of roses for Paul!

Just as an aside, I wonder how many people would be preachers today if they faced the same kinds of obstacles and attacks! 

So, given the many perils faced by Paul, we hear with greater poignancy the words,  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”  And in this season of Thanksgiving season, we focus on “give thanks in all circumstances.”

In all circumstances.  In this long and dismal year, 2020, we are in some circumstances, aren’t we?  Would we ever have believed, just a year ago, that it would not be safe to eat Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends?  Would we ever have thought that people the world over and next door would be dying from a new virus?   Would we have imagined quarantine, lock down, masks, physical distancing?  A disruption to our every day activities like going to the movies or eating in a restaurant?   What about the deep economic impact of this virus – where the choice sometimes literally comes down to your money or your life?  And what about the extreme stress to the healthcare community?   To the doctors and nurses and staff who are caring for all of the people with covid as well as the people with everything else that needs medical attention.  ICU wards packed to capacity in city after city.  And what about the stress to essential workers of all kinds?   

And that is before you get to the contentious, stressful election season.  And the much needed anti racism uprising in our land.  And the storms and weather events and fires that remind us of the cataclysm taking place on the planet due to human-induced global warming.  We are in the midst of upheaval on many fronts.  And then there are all the personal things that are ever present – relationship problems, addiction, mental illness, accidents, death, tragedy, and all of the rest.  Oh my!

So, ahead is this holiday that we celebrate by traveling far and wide to come together to eat a huge meal and watch a parade and football on TV.  And we can’t do that this year.  And then there is thinking about who would not be there because they have been taken by covid?  And who would not be there because they have transitioned from this life?  But there will be no such dinner.  So, can we still give thanks?  Can we give thanks in all circumstances?  In THESE circumstances?

Maybe in years to come, we will see all the gifts we are being given in this covid time.  Maybe we will see that this election was a turning point toward healing and wholeness in our country.  Maybe we will see that during this time we finally decided as a country to remediate the legacy of racism and its debilitating negative effects.  

But we don’t know about those things yet.  

So, can we give thanks now, in this year, in this season?   Can we give thanks in ALL circumstances?  To me, this teaching is about more than being grateful for food, a roof, and a family, say.  It is about an awareness of being that is not contingent upon outward circumstances.  To me the idea of  giving thanks in all circumstances is about gratitude for the gift of life.  For every breath.  For the cosmos that sustains it all.  It is about a larger view of our lives, this world, and the miracle of it all.  And the force or power that is holding it all together.    If the history of the planet Earth up until now was seen as one day, humanity has been here for 3 seconds of that day.  So far.  Just three seconds.  A wisp.  A blush.  A grain of sand on the beach.  And yet what a glorious life this is!   What a web, a drama set in motion millions of years ago, that will proceed apace for millions of years with or, more likely, without humans!  So it is a miracle that we are even here.  For this precious season.  How can we not give thanks?

The culture around us may bemoan the restrictions we are facing and the negative impacts.  We may be enticed to shop and buy, delivered to our door, to sooth our sorrowing souls. But thanksgiving, gratitude, in all circumstances, provides spiritual uplift and grounding with or without the turkey and the TV.

Our faith calls us to see a more compelling reality.  To celebrate our giftedness.  To see the awe and wonder and abundance of life.  All simply given – not earned or purchased.  Present in every moment of our time here on Earth.  And that can’t be taken away or ruined – not even by a pandemic!

Give thanks in all circumstances?  Absolutely!


(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

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