Date: November 20, 2022
Scripture Lesson: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Sermon: A Brimming Basket
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
On our last day of walking the Camino de Santiago, we found ourselves among crowds of other people who were also completing the pilgrimage. At the end of the Camino, several routes converge, so you make your way to the cathedral as part of a steady stream. Along the way that last day, I over heard a man, a white American who looked to be in his 50’s, say to his companions, a younger man and a younger woman, “Just think, you’ll never have to walk 15 miles a day ever again in your life.” Evidently, he was offering needed motivation.
I can hear the relief in those words having walked 15 miles a day many times on the Camino. Yup, you are tired. Yes, things ache that you didn’t know you had. You bet the day was long. And while my feet never hurt, I did lose three toe nails. And I made a significant contribution to the Spanish economy with my consumption of ibuprofen and acetaminophen. And their over the counter ibuprofen comes in 400 mg tabs so you only have to take two each morning and each night! We walked through the wet, including a nasty squall during which Jeff lost his glasses and had to go back to look for them only to find they had been driven over by a car. And when there was no room at the inn, the albergue, the hostel, sometimes you had to go more than 15 miles to find a vacant bed for the night. “Just think, you’ll never have to walk 15 miles a day ever again in your life.”
Despite all the inconvenience and discomfort of long distance walking, I must tell you that I never, not once, not for an instant, desired to be relieved of the challenge at hand while we were on the Camino.
Why? Gratitude. Every day, every moment, I was filled with gratitude. And that gratitude centered around three things:
One. Having the long stretch of time needed to do the Camino. Being blessed with a job that advises taking three months off every five years for renewal and re-creation. Having the time. How amazing is that?!
Two. Having the money. I remember Jeff’s Uncle Brad telling me many years ago, Well, usually you have the time or the money but not both. We had both. The time. AND the money. We had the money to spend two months in Europe. Sure, the albergues often cost only 10 euros a night, but still. And at the end, we had the money to fly home direct from Frankfurt to Tampa. Not stopping in Paris and Pittsburg, or Las Vegas and Denver, with long layovers, on the way back. Yes, we are the beneficiaries of ancestral wealth, so we don’t take credit for the fact that we have the money, but we are so, so grateful!
Three. We have the physical capability to walk over 500 miles, even 15 miles in a day. We have the strength and health and capacity to do it, with a little help from our friends at the famacia.
And I’ll tell you, after my heel surgery that ended in infection requiring another heel surgery to prevent amputation, being able to walk 15 miles a day was a gift beyond measure. I can’t begin to describe how happy I was.
Every day, 10 miles, 15 miles, 6 hours, 12 hours, whatever the walking, the conditions, the upping and downing, rain or shine, with or without the pack, I wanted to pinch myself. Was I dreaming? Could life really be this good? We felt like we were the luckiest people in the world. “Just think, you’ll never have to walk 15 miles a day ever again in your life.” I get it. But I can’t think of anything better than being able to tramp 15 miles a day through the highways and byways of Spain. Bring it on!
Deuteronomy talks about bringing a basket full of produce to the altar. There is no basket big enough to contain my gratitude for the blessings I enjoy. And we are told this ritual is to be observed on a regular basis building thanksgiving into the natural cycle of faith expression. This is to help people cultivate a continual attitude of gratitude for all they are given.
This is important because Thanksgiving moves us beyond our self-absorption. It frees us from the tyranny of the self and self obsession. Gratitude lessens our pride and our prejudice. Thanksgiving fosters a perspective of abundance rather than fearful scarcity. And gratitude promotes generosity. Rituals of Thanksgiving help us to realize we are part of a larger reality, God’s reality, the reality of Divine Love.
Deuteronomy also talks about Thanksgiving, the first fruits offering, as a ritual for the faith community. This was not an individual observance. This is something that everyone was part of. And the recitation of the ways that God had blessed the community was a sign of that. These people were showing gratitude not for what Adonai, Our God, did for me. But for what Adonai, our God, has done for us. Us. Our community. Our people. So the whole community is formed and shaped by gratitude. This creates a culture of gratitude.
And as we remember our Thanksgiving narrative as a nation, it is also a communal observance. The Europeans and the indigenous people, feasting together after the native people helped the Europeans to survive in this foreign land. It was a community celebration in recognition of what God had done for the community.
Part of the role of the faith community is to help us to cultivate gratitude. Thanksgiving. It may or may not come naturally. But the church is here to encourage us to see the good in our lives, to count our blessings, and to give thanks, to God, beyond ourselves, realizing that we are the beneficiaries of so much more than we can take credit for, so much more that we can earn, and far more than we deserve. It takes a communal formation to help us to see beyond ourselves and to give thanks for the ways we benefit from being part of a community, and for those who have gone before us, and for all that is simply given to us. The church helps us to be aware of this and to realize our giftedness. The church offers us a context in which to share our gratitude and to know our interdependence.
Now, the gentleman who made that memorable statement, “Just think, you’ll never have to walk 15 miles a day ever again in your life.” Now I don’t know, but I suspect that he does not go to church or participate regularly in a faith community. And maybe, if he did, he would be filled with praise that he had the opportunity and the ability to walk 15 miles a day in the beautiful countryside of Spain.
I recently read a brand new translation of the spiritual classic, Practice of the Presence by Brother Lawrence. It is a compilation of writings that originate in the 1600’s. Brother Lawrence lived through three bubonic plagues, the Little Ice Age, an additional 2 ‘without a summer’ years of chill through the summer which produced hunger and starvation, and the Thirty Years War in which 8 million lives were lost and he was injured in the leg, an injury which plagued him for over thirty years with severe pain, a limp, and several years of immobility at the end of his life. And yet and still, he writes this in a letter to a nun: [Oh, and keep in mind that the translator refers to God in the plural to reflect the Trinitarian nature of God.] So Brother Lawrence encourages his friend, a nun, “Join me in thanking them, [God], please, for their great kindness to me. I can never thank God enough for the great number of graces they have give me, such a miserable sinner. May God be blessed by all. Amen.” [Practice of the Presence, Nicolas Herman, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher.]
If the only thing we learn at church is gratitude, that will be enough. 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.