Pastor Robert Eckert
United Methodist Church
10295 Myers Lake Ave., Rockford
“My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 (Common English Bible)
Is there anyone out there who still remembers the hymn “We Gather Together”? In my years of growing up it was a Thanksgiving staple. Given the proximity to the holiday, when a piano player from my church and I led a short, informal time of worship at Bishop Hills last week, we chose that as a closing song. But, immediately after singing the first phrase of the song, jamais vu! All of a sudden the familiar felt totally unfamiliar.
“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” yup, that’s how Thanksgiving dinner begins. “He chastens and hastens his will to make known,” hmm, now that I know what “chastens” means, I’m feeling a bit less thankful. “The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,” what’s going on? When do we start singing about bountiful harvests? Maybe that comes up in the next verse. “From the beginning the fight we were winning,” nope, how about the last verse? “We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,” “let thy congregation escape tribulation.” This song has nothing to do with plentiful prosperity and isn’t that what Thanksgiving Day is all about?
Without even realizing it, I fear I’ve been seduced into a mindset of which a colleague spoke, as he led a district meeting a couple days after my visit to Bishop Hills. Thanksgiving, he said, has become a celebration of abundance rather than of God’s presence. Oh yeah, God’s presence, I’d forgotten all about that. Perhaps years of hearing voices dispute whether or not the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving is true has succeeded in clouding its truth.
As the story goes, in 1620 a band of religious dissenters from Europe founded Plymouth Colony in modern-day Massachusetts. They battled harsh conditions and struggled to survive their first year on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Thanks, in no small part, to the generosity of local natives, the darkness turned to dawning for the intrepid settlers. They gave God the credit for their ultimate good fortune, invited the indigenous Patuxet people to their table as guests, and celebrated the promise of a bright future with a great feast.
Did it happen exactly like that? Probably not. Does that undermine the truth in the story? Absolutely not. We don’t always have the luxury of fully stocked cupboards and sumptious banquets, but we do always have hope in the presence of God’s grace. God is always with us and that means that God is always at work transforming our worries and fears and aches and pains, restoring confidence and imparting healing. “Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly,” as the Alcholics Anonymous “Big Book” says, God’s promises are being fulfilled among us.
“Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining. Ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine.” Happy holidays!