Thanksgiving Day Sermon: Gratitude is greater than Control

Rev. Richard Hogue Jr.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
11/25/2021

Gratitude is greater than Control

Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving!

I cannot imagine a more ironic opening to a gospel on Thanksgiving Day than this one: “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Nearly everyone in the United States, including us in this service, are thinking about the food we’ll serve and eat later today! Whether we’re truly thankful for that food is a different matter, regardless of that food occupies so much of our bandwidth at this time of year.

If I’m being honest, food is one of the things I probably think most about. I really enjoy food. I also really like a good beer or bottle of wine. When Jesus says not to worry about “what you will eat or what you will drink” I get what he means on a larger scale, but on my most personal one, that seems challenging. Before I was a teenager, I was a picky eater, but once puberty was in full swing, I became a vacuum. Mushrooms were no longer gross, I came to love their texture and compatibility in so many things. Roasted Brussel sprouts, particularly with bacon, were beloved. I love food so much that I usually don’t pray audibly before eating it, because I enjoy and gratified by it as I gnaw away.

Even the simplest meals can give me immense pleasure. Where I worked in South Africa day-to-day was in a place called “Itipini,” which literally means “the dump” in IsiXhosa. Three thousand or so people lived in slum conditions. The community center our medical clinic was part of had a preschool attached, and the teachers and attendants would share their food with me. Often it was just rice with gravy, or mielie meal with gravy and some potatoes. My favorite was when they’d boil chicken feet in salt water, I came to love the texture and the briny flavor. Yes, these were not grand meals, but the love with which they were made and offered was flavor enough itself.

These days, you can find me making kimchi fried rice and various Thai noodle dishes regularly, though I could live solely on tacos for the rest of my life if I had to. But both Maura and I like to have a meal plan, most of the time at least. Of course, we are to rely on God for all things, but I love a trip to the grocery store too! But that’s just it, isn’t it. It’s not about my control, it is about the blessing that God gives us in the form of biodiversity that gives us so many varieties of food. It’s when we begin to insert the illusion of control in place of gratitude that we begin to lose touch with the truth of God’s love.

And too often, we humans insert control into the place of gratitude, from which grows the harmful need for domination. When we think we have dominion, then we begin to make ever more harmful choices. Thanksgiving Day itself is now a reminder of that to so many. We can reject the myths we’ve been fed as a nation about this day’s origins, acknowledge and make amends for the multiple broken treaties with Native Americans, the multiple genocides, and ongoing suppression. We can also celebrate the fact that the perceived need to dominate never actually accomplishes the task. Native American tribal communities were not erased, and many are thriving despite structural racism. We can celebrate the fact that God isn’t done with anything, and that even the painful past of our nation can be turned into learning, growth, and opportunity if we live with the truth.

That truth is that all is from and of God, and that we will never have true control or total domination, no matter how hard we try. We need to feed ourselves with the bread of life, the bread of love, the bread of gratitude for the blessings of this life. “Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?’ or `What will we drink?’ or `What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Happy Thanksgiving. Amen.

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