Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Obligations of Thankfulness: Reflections for Canada Day Weekend (3 July 2016)

The Obligations of Thankfulness
Reflections on Canada Day Weekend

3 July 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

 Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist.

        When I was seven years old, my father was transferred from Colorado Springs to Wiesbaden in what was then known as ‘West’ Germany.  Because there was not enough housing for families in Wiesbaden, my mother, sister and I spent the school year living with my grandparents in England.  I went to a near-by elementary school for US military families.

         It was a momentous year for me and for the United States.  In November of that year John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected President and became the first president to be born in the twentieth century, the first Roman Catholic president and the youngest president in US history.  I do not remember what my parents thought of the election, but I do know how excited everyone seemed to be.

         In January of 1961 Kennedy was inaugurated as President, taking the reins from the only president I had ever known, Dwight Eisenhower.  What Kennedy said on that January day, however, shaped many of my generation.  Although a short address, it was filled with hope, with determination and with a vision of a world free from poverty, war and oppression.  But certainly its most memorable phrase was this:  And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you --- ask what you can do for your country.”

         Behind Kennedy’s exhortation was a simple belief many of us will know from Luke’s gospel:  “[Jesus said,] “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12.48b)

         It is rare these days to hear anyone speak about obligations.  If they do speak about obligations, they usually are referring to financial commitments we have made or some of the less pleasant responsibilities that may attach themselves to our work or to family life.  To hear the word, ‘obligation’, is more likely to conjure up feelings of resignation, even resentment, than feelings of thankfulness.

         Yet, for those who follow the way of Jesus of Nazareth, thankfulness is precisely the source of one’s obligations.  There is a popular grace at meals that captures this relationship succinctly:

For food in a world where many walk in hunger,
for friends in a world where many walk alone,
for faith in a world where many walk in fear,
we give you thanks, O God.

What we do not often say after this prayer is this:

Open our hands to feed the hungry.
Open our hearts to embrace the lonely.
Open our minds to share our faith.
Grant us courage.  Grant us wisdom.
Grant us strength, so that we and all your children shall be free.

To be thankful for food, for friendship, for faith requires a response and imposes upon us an obligation to be agents of God in whatever situation we find ourselves.

         It is tempting on Canada Day weekend to be so lost in gratitude for the freedoms and privileges we enjoy that we forget our responsibility to work, in whatever way we can, to ensure that all God’s children enjoy these freedoms and these privileges.  We might well paraphrase Kennedy’s exhortation and say, ‘Ask not what God can do for us --- ask what we can do for God.’

         So let us enjoy this weekend.  Let us give thanks for our country.  Let us remember all those throughout the generations who have worked and sacrificed to ‘keep our land glorious and free’.  And then, let us fulfill the obligations of thankfulness as we work to widen the circle, so that, from sea to sea to sea, our land will be filled with the glory of God.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and living-kindness
to us and all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts
we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up ourselves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,

be honour and glory throughout all ages.  Amen.

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