Date: Nov. 21, 2021 Thanksgiving Sunday
Scripture Lesson: I Timothy 2:1-4
Sermon: Aspirational Gratitude
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Quiet, peaceful lives. Isn’t that what most of us want? To be able to go about our business; enjoy our friends and family, enjoy nature, enjoy the arts, go to school, go to work, go to church, walk the dog. Peaceful, quiet lives.
The writer of Timothy urges us to pray for our civic leaders so that they create a society in which we can live godly and reverent lives in peace and quiet. Intercessions and thanksgivings are to be offered for the quiet and peaceful life.
I love that. Doesn’t that sentiment resonate with you especially as the ‘noise’ has notched up in our society. The noise of lies, fake news, police violence, insurrection, social media, unjust verdicts, and the travails of the planet? Godly and reverent lives in peace and quiet. I like that image. Take a deep breath. Feel the relief.
But if you keep reading on just a few verses later in the first letter to Timothy, you find:
“I also want women to dress modestly and decently, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes. Their adornment should be the good works that are proper for women who profess to be religious. Women are to be quiet and completely submissive during religious instruction. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must remain silent. After all, Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived — it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through child-bearing — provided they continue in faith, love and holiness, with propriety.”
OK. How can you ever get a godly and reverent life in peace and quiet when you denigrate, degrade, and debase half of the population? And you ground the teaching in a false understanding of an ancient myth? Really? And are men going to be counseled in how to dress? Are they going to held to account for the actions of the male figures of the Hebrew scriptures? Of course not. Guess what, writer of Timothy, forcing women into submissive complacency is NEVER going to get you a life of peace and quiet and it shouldn’t.
You can’t have a society of peace and quiet when a segment of the population is being stepped on and held down for the benefit of another segment of population. That kind of arrangement does not get you peace and quiet. Godly and reverent peace and quiet can never be based on oppression, on injustice, on degradation, on abuse. Never.
Now I am thinking about the Thanksgiving holiday. We are given this image of the Pilgrims and the Native peoples feasting and celebrating together for days after the Natives saved the lives of the European colonizers. It’s an image of godly reverence that has led to peace and quiet among the groups. And we, in the UCC have perpetuated this image because the Pilgrims are our forbears in this denomination.
But that is not all there is to the story. The Pilgrims also paid cash for the dead bodies of indigenous people – men, women, and yes, children. The government, which, according to Timothy, is supposed to create conditions for godly and reverent lives lived in peace and quiet, set about to achieve this by putting a price on the heads of the people who had been living on that land for over 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived. In today’s dollars, they paid the equivalent of $12,000 for the scalp of a native man, $6,000 for the scalp of a woman, and less for a child. So, how is that going to lead to a peaceful and quiet life? It shouldn’t. How is that godly and reverent? It isn’t.
And the legacy of those government policies, enacted by the Pilgrims and others, continues to impact our society today, and so we still do not have peace and quiet. A recent article entitled “New England once hunted and killed humans for money” tells us:
“Of course, those deadly bounties were only one of the tools deployed by the European settlers to make this land theirs. The legacy of those wrongs manifest today in a range of forms: the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; the fact that Indigenous people have the highest rate of death at the hands of police, the highest suicide rate among veterans, a disproportionate rate of death from Covid-19, and the highest incarceration rates in the US; continued violations of Indigenous sovereignty by state and federal authorities and private extractive industries; the continued use of Indian mascots; and the celebration of national holidays, like Thanksgiving and Columbus Day, that dishonor Native peoples.” [“New England once hunted and killed humans for money. We’re descendants of the survivors,” Dawn Neptune Adams, Maulian Dana with Adam Mazo, The Guardian, 11:19 UTC Monday, 15 November 2021]
Just like the patriarchy promoted by the writer of Timothy is not going to result in peaceful quiet lives, so the racism perpetrated by those who came to these shores from Europe and its continued legacy is not going to lead to peaceful quiet lives. Nor should it.
And a great irony is that these Europeans who came to these shores did so to get away from tyranny and religious oppression and were seeking freedom. Then they imposed the very same conditions on those who were already living here.
So I am thinking about how we get to that godly and reverent life of peace and quiet. What drives the oppression that prevents peace and quiet? That promotes violence, ungodly disrespect and irreverence? Over inflated ego? Greed? Desire for power and control? Pride? Fear? A superiority complex? Insecurity? All of these things and many more influence the people of a society to behave in the ways they do. But oppression is always about benefiting someone. People don’t subdue others, degrade others, demean others unless they are getting something out of it. Someone is benefitting. Someone want or needs something and this kind of degradation is supplying it. The letter of Timothy advises the subjugation of women because the writer believes this has some advantage to men. The Pilgrims decimated the original peoples because it had an advantage for them. They could take the land and set up their society unimpeded. Injustice, oppression, degradation, is always about benefitting someone. Someone, a group, wants something and they will do what they have to do to get it.
This kind of approach is perpetuated by the economic culture that has been created in this country. We are embedded in an economy that works by creating desires in the consumer population – us. It is fueled by convincing us that there is something we need, we want, that we don’t have. We are always being messaged about what we don’t have and what we should want. And how are we going to get it? So we are put in a continuous state of dis-ease. Then there is political messaging from civic leaders that takes over to tell us why we don’t have it. Someone is preventing us from having it – someone is taking our job, getting our due, some is taking something away from us, and we need to fight to get it. And usually that someone doesn’t look like us – whoever ‘us’ may be. That’s not peace and quiet from the sphere of governmental leaders by any means. In fact, it is the inciting of hostility, division, and rancor.
Now, it’s Thanksgiving. And I am thinking that the spiritual discipline of gratitude may be something that could function as an antidote to this kind of abusive society that does not lead to peace and quiet but just the opposite. I am thinking that if people dedicate themselves to seeing what is good, to seeing the many gifts of life, to appreciating what they have, to being satisfied with enough, then maybe it could help stop this systemic abuse that is based on getting something at the expense of others; at having something even on the backs of someone else.
Maybe gratitude tempers greed. Maybe if we pinch ourselves each morning at the miracle of being alive, we won’t feel we have to get something even when it hurts someone else. Maybe if we can see all that we are being given, purely given, each and every day, we won’t feel the need to harm someone to get something. We won’t need someone beneath us.
Maybe we can cultivate gratitude for all the different kinds of people who now live on this continent. The richness of cultures and perspectives that make the society better. This can include the Original peoples, and the ancestors of slaves, and all of the immigrants who have come here. Maybe we see the good in this – in the foods and languages and customs and religions and knowledge that are making this country stronger and better. By cultivating gratitude, maybe we can take a step closer to the peace and quiet Timothy talks about.
With all we have to be grateful for, maybe we don’t have to take advantage of others and abuse the Earth. Maybe we can think about actually feasting and celebrating with the people who have lived on this land for thousands of years. Living in harmony and dignity and respect. Actually all living in peace and quiet — together. Maybe our image of thanksgiving should not be looking back at something that never really was but looking ahead to creating that kind of reality. Can we look back and see what really has taken place, see the truths of the past, and take responsibility for creating a different future? Maybe thanksgiving and the process of being grateful can help us to create a different future. A future in which people live godly and reverent lives in peace and quiet. Happy Thanksgiving! Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in
this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.