OCTOBER 21, 2003
A friend of mine in New Haven once worked for a group that helped new immigrants from Russia. She and a translator took a middle-aged woman who had just arrived in this country to a local Stop and Shop so she could buy some initial groceries for her family. The entrance to the store put them in the produce section and my friend and the translator were pushing the grocery cart toward the fruit area when the Russian woman, turned around and practically ran out of the store.
They found her outside, weeping, terribly distraught. The Russian woman was so upset that it took several minutes before she could tell the translator what was wrong. Then the translator embraced the woman and tried to comfort her. The Russian kept crying, saying the same phrase over and over.
My friend kept asking, “What’s wrong? What is she saying?”
The translator shook her head and smiled a sad but knowing smile. “She is saying, ‘too much…too much…too much…,’ “ the translator said. “she has never seen so much food at one time….”
My friend told me this: “I’ll never look at a super market the same way again. What we take for granted is simply too much….”
Today we celebrate the Harvest Festival. There are at least two reasons for this celebration. The first is to remember how gracious God has been to us and how bountiful God’s good earth is. It is to remind us that all good gifts come from God and that we should be thankful and grateful in our hearts and lives. We have been given, as were the Hebrew Children in today’s lesson from Deuteronomy, a “good land”. And like them, we must “bless the Lord for the good land he has given” us.
But the second reason for this celebration is even more important than that. It is good and right that we acknowledge the gifts God has given us—but the more compelling reason for celebrating the Harvest is this: how are we to respond to God’s goodness?
Being “thankful” is a beginning—but it is only a beginning.
A story…that’s what we need…a fable to teach us what to do.
Two tramps named Aaron and Silas—poor men with no future—were sleeping in a field one night. Silas couldn’t get comfortable because there was something under him. He woke Aaron up and the two of them dug, with their hands, in the soft ground beneath Silas’ tattered blanket.
Lo and behold, they uncovered a treasure of diamonds and gold and fine pearls—a treasure worth a kingdom. They divided the treasure equally and then both of them fell on their faces and thanked God for such an astonishing blessing. The two tramps—now rich beyond imagining—embraced and told each other that they had been richly blessed by God.
Then they parted at the dawn, each carrying their blessings with them. In the years to come Aaron used his wealth to accumulate more wealth. He became richer—rich enough to buy power and influence and become a man of importance.
Silas lived out his life well, but simply, sharing his blessings with those he had known as a tramp and giving away most of his treasure, keeping only enough to be warm and safe and content.
As fate would have it, Aaron and Silas died in the same moment—Aaron in his mansion and Silas in his humble but comfortable home—and they appeared simultaneously before the Judgment Seat of God.
God spoke and said, “Aaron, you must go away from me into the Great Darkness. And Silas, you must come closer to me into the Light Eternal.”
Aaron was incensed and confused. “How can this be, O Holy One? Silas and I were blessed by you at the same time. Surely that blessing shows that we were equally righteous. And we both gave praise to you for your gracious gift to us. So why must I leave your presence now while Silas enters in nearer to your Glory? We were both blessed….”
And the Great God Almighty sighed in sadness. “Oh, Aaron,” God said, “I do love you as I love Silas and I did bless you as I blessed Silas. And I gloried in both of your thanksgivings to me. But there is this: my blessing wasn’t to reward you for what you had done to deserve it—my blessing was to reward you for what you would do with it....”
As we celebrate God’s goodness and blessings to us today our hearts are full of thanksgiving. The praise we give to God today for all God’s gifts to us will be treasured in the heart of God. And that is a beginning.
But it is only a beginning.
God hasn’t blessed us to “reward” us for what we have done to deserve it. God has blessed us to reward us for what we will do with the gifts we have received.
The blessing isn’t ours until we give it away. The only gift that matters is the gift we pass on.
This is not the way our world works. Our world works on accumulating and saving and “having” and keeping.
But this is the way God’s economy works. God’s economy works on distributing and sharing and giving away.
We are blessed, not because we deserve it.
We are blessed for what we will do with our blessings.
Symbolically, we will give away the richness of the Harvest on the altar today. The bounty of the harvest from the Sharon House Garden and from the food individuals have brought today will go to the Soup Kitchen and to Jubilee Harvest. We do that as a symbol. Symbols are powerful things because they are visible and point to and include something else that is not visible.
We can see what’s on the altar. All that “symbolizes” what we can’t see—the “blessings” God has given us, the “treasure” of our lives and resources and energy and talents and our time.
What’s on the altar today POINTS TO AND INCLUDES all that we are, all that we have, all that we can be.
What we “do” with all that is what really matters.
I want to give us a few minutes of silence so that we can reflect on and acknowledge and give thanks for the many blessings and gifts and treasures God has given to each of us.
Give thanks to God for all that God has given you.
Your thanksgiving is a beginning. But it only a beginning.
And then ponder, ponder for a moment, what you are going to do with those blessings and gifts and treasures.
Ponder and consider and reflect on what God would have you DO with all that you’ve been given….