The other day when I was thinking about what I might preach on today, I kept getting distracted by memories from grade school when we learned about the first Thanksgiving. We would study the story about how the Indians showed the pilgrims how to plant corn and how the pilgrims when they had such a successful crop the following year, invited the Indians to a feast which became known as the first Thanksgiving. This study was usually accompanied by arts and crafts where we made Native American head dresses and pilgrims’ hats and put on a pageant about Thanksgiving for our families, complete with musical numbers and of course an occasional wave to grandma in the audience.
But before that first Thanksgiving feast ever took place there was a pilgrimage that these English people undertook (the word pilgrim meaning ‘one who travels in a foreign land’). They left England to escape religious persecution, traveling to Holland before actually sailing across the ocean and landing in a rough terrain here in the United States.
We Brothers were recently blessed by a visit from a group of homeless pilgrims from Boston who departed from the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral and walked over 60 miles in 4 days to Emery House. I got to walk the final 10 miles with them from Haverill to West Newbury. It wasn’t easy, as you can imagine….the shoulder of the road where we were walking would occasionally get very narrow, putting us dangerously close to speeding cars. We endured hecklers as well as some well wishers, but other than some sore feet and blisters, we all arrived safely. I was amazed to learn that the previous day they had walked twice the mileage that I walked with them on the last day.
I believe that the image of pilgrimage is an appropriate metaphor for the journey we are all on through this life. We’re all pilgrims coming from somewhere and hoping to find our way to a better place. Today’s scriptures certainly have something to offer us all, no matter where we may be on our journey. The prophet Joel says: “O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. The threshing-floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.” He continues, “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” It sounds to me like he is speaking to people who have been through a great ordeal and are about to find themselves on the other side. Maybe you can identify. If so, as you come later to receive the bread and wine, offer that to God with a thankful heart.
If you find yourself lost right now and in need of a GPS you might pray the prayer of the Psalmist today: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev. Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.” If you’re not quite sure which road to take, make that your prayer and offer it to God and know you’re not alone.
Maybe at this point in your journey you are filled with fear and are worrying about where you will wind up. Take comfort in the words of Jesus, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these . . . . Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ and ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If you have fear of the future, fear of being alone, or fear of failure, then make it your Thanksgiving offering to Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi once said “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents, and I lay them both at His feet.”
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