Thanksgivng Proclamation, by Rev. Fred Kinsey
“Jesus said: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations…”
The distress that was building up among the nations in 1st Century Palestine was central to the apocalyptic signs Jesus was naming – and everything that went wrong, seemed like a sign! But the point was, as Jesus said, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down” by all these stressors. And, so that, they don’t “catch you unexpectedly, like a trap,” and traumatize you. But, “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things, …and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Jesus believed, that defending Israel against the Roman Empire, militarily, was not only futile, but, an unsustainable tactic against any nation or empire. He counseled fleeing the war in 70AD. But also, more critically, to be ready to rebuild as communities of faith, congregations, spiritual cells of God’s kingdom, stronger, from the ground up, as an act of faithfulness, and as a reflection of the kingdom and realm of heaven, here on earth. This is what was meant by escaping all these things, and standing before the Son of Man.
In other words, faithfulness was in reading the signs, and creating a new world out the ashes, of the old one. And so the question for us is: ?What will we do in hard times as people of faith?
Which brings to mind, for me, the history and meaning of this holiday weekend of Thanksgiving! Most of us know that it was Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that established the Thanksgiving holiday for the whole nation. But not everyone knows it was Sarah Josepha (Buell) Hale, a widow, and working-mother of five, a prolific writer of children’s poems and stories, a co-founder of Vassar College, an influential editor in her own right – who is known as, the, “Mother of Thanksgiving.”
Sarah J. Hale began writing letters to Governors, Senators, and Presidents as early as the 1840’s, when tensions between north and south were increasing, to make the “occasional celebrations” of Thanksgiving, every since George Washington, into an annual, national holiday. And it was her persistence and prominence in American culture, that has credited her as the single most influential person to finally setup Lincoln, for his famous proclamation. Like Washington’s proclamation earlier, that asked Americans to give thanks for “the happy conclusion” to the Revolutionary War, Lincoln’s proclamation coincided with the turning tide in the midst of the Civil War, at the battle of Gettysburg, in PA.
But amidst the strife of 1863, two years before the Civil War’s ending, the signs of bloodied battlefields, the sign of Confederate states who had willfully broken away from the Union, in order to preserve human trafficking, and deny that “all, are created equal,” made it hard to give thanks as a united country. Preachers in the north, and preachers in the south, gave very different sermons on where God’s favor rested, during the war.
But Sarah Josepha Hale’s campaign for a National Day of Thanksgiving was all about finding a way to move forward, and to reunite, as one nation, no matter their past sins. “Thanksgiving is a festive[al] which will never become obsolete,” Sarah Hale predicted, “for it cherishes the best affections of the heart - the social, and domestic ties.”
And although, Mrs. Hale was partly, maybe even mostly right, in a certain way, my Truth-O-Meter tells me that she was also, partly wrong. United on paper, by the 13, 14, and 15 Amendments to the Constitution, just 5 years after the Civil War, we have never completely united around, “created equal.” Chattel slavery may have ended with the Civil War, but discrimination based on race has continued through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights, to this day. ?When will we sit down at the same Thanksgiving table, black, brown and white, LGBTQIA+ and cis-gender, and truly be sisters, brothers, and siblings, united in purpose and belief?
Our good intentions are just not enough. And now, the virus of 1619 is spreading like a Covid variant, once again, in our very own Day, and never more clearly than we see in the hearings in the House for the January 6th insurrection -the uprising for a new Confederacy- as the hearings, slowly but surely come to a head, before our very eyes. ?Will we have a country under the rule of law, wrestling honestly, albeit anemically at times, towards ‘equality for all?’ Or will we have a new White Supremacy form of government, as the Confederacy once conceived our nation in 1860?
“Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength…” Jesus said. Not to escape these things, but to “know that the kingdom of God is near.” That we are alert to the signs, and we will know to prepare ourselves, even amidst the “distress” of our own “nation.”
?What will we do in hard times as people of faith?
As a people of faith, it ought to be easy for us to “stand up” and proclaim our allegiance, to the God of love and justice. But too often we have remade God in our own image, worshiping at the altar of expediency and complacency, self-satisfied with the status quo and structures that continue to uphold our American Original sin.
Perhaps we need some sort of a Day of “Christian Thanksgiving,” especially for White Affinity, like a Truth & Reconciliation movement, as a first step, on the way to equity. ?Would this help us to know what season it is, that we are in, like a sprouting fig tree heralds the summer? St. Paul, a Zealot, in life-long recovery, ever since his experience on the Road to Damascus, for his sins of persecuting the Jesus movement, threw his new resurrected-life, 100%, into proclaiming the Christ who was alive for all.
And he joyously proclaimed thanksgivings for some of the smallest, but most telling signs, like the church he started at Thessalonica in Greece. As one of his first congregations, on his first missionary journey, Paul wasn’t even sure if they even survived, after he left. So, when he could, he sent his companion, Timothy to visit. And the news Timothy brought back was surprisingly positive. They were thriving, and supporting one another, in their new congregation, showing their neighbors what the love of God, looked like. So Paul immediately writes back to them: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” “…May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.” In the midst of an authoritarian Roman Empire, a small congregation thrived as a sign of God’s rule, and Paul gave thanks.
Sarah Cole and Abraham Lincoln, no doubt knew this: that our public Thanksgivings, soon enough, turn into love for one another, whenever, and wherever, it is a thanks, that is grounded in our Creator God.
Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians from the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, where he was having a very rough time keeping this much more secular church together, and for whom he wrote his poem on love – that “love is kind, love does not insist on its own way, love never ends.” The Corinthians, it seems, had yet to learn the lesson of Thanksgiving!
But in the midst of Paul’s struggle in Corinth, good things were beginning to happen just down the road in Thessalonica. Because, they were “alert at all times,” and seeing “the signs.”
Let our Thanksgiving celebrations, this week, also be an opportunity to see and acknowledge the signs of distress; and to be ready to respond, kneeling before the Son of Man, and acting according to the righteousness and justice of Christ.
?What will we do when times are hard and the signs are ominous? Let us be ready, our ‘hearts on guard.’ For the kingdom and realm of God has come near and we, congregation, are called to be the people of God.