Thank-full (not -less)

These thoughts were offered at The First Universalist Society of Franklin on Sunday, November 18, 2018. This discussion was part of the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service organized by the Franklin Interfaith Council.

Good evening.

It is such a pleasure to be here and to share a few remarks and thoughts on Thanksgiving.  But, before I do that, I thought, being new to this gathering, I ought to introduce myself.

My name is Jacob.  Depending on where we meet you might hear people call me Pastor Jacob or Rev. Juncker, but you can call me Jacob.  Yes, the J in my last name really is pronounced like a Y.  It’s a German thing.

Some things you ought to know about me:

First, I’m married.  My partner, Chandra, and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary right before moving to Franklin in June of this year.  We have four children: Avery who is five months, Beatrice and Teresa who are soon to be four, and Stella who is six.

In two weeks, I will be celebrating 10 years of full-time vocational ministry.  I am pursuing my professional doctorate at Boston University School of Theology; and, this time next year, I hope to be writing my thesis.

I love to cook. I play the piano to help relieve stress, center myself and pray.  I enjoy watching Star Trek when I have a free moment which, honestly isn’t very often at this point in my life.

Perhaps the most important thing you need to know about me is that I’m a Christian; specifically, I am a Christian who was baptized, raised and chooses to live out his faith in The United Methodist Church.

This evening, I want to be very clear that I speak to you from my tradition, not to sway you or proselytize you, but because I know no other place from which to speak.  I am a Christian: and, I speak tonight from that tradition because that faith is an integral part of who I am and who I strive to be.  And, it is my prayer that you’ll accept me as I am—faith and all.

The social teachings of the United Methodist Church argue that when we are “truly open to persons of other faith communities about each other’s convictions on life, truth, salvation and witness”[1] that we can learn from and receive each other’s wisdom, making each of our varied faiths stronger.

So this evening I speak from that tradition and look to start a dialogue, a discussion about what it means to be thank-full and not less.

It is my prayer that what little wisdom I might have to offer you might be multiplied by the vast amount of wisdom each of you bring, from your own unique traditions, to this conversation.  For this is meant to be a discussion not a lecture.

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A story is told in the gospel of Luke (17:11-19) about 10 lepers who went out to meet Jesus.

Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him… 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 19 Then he said to [the man], “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12b-19, New Revised Standard Version)

This story points to an important truth that I think we each could learn from and should wrestle with this holiday season: there were, so the story goes, 10 men who were healed; but only the one who gave thanks was healed and made well.

10 were healed: a miracle was worked in their life, a miracle that they’d pleaded with Jesus to perform, and when it occurred, nine did not give thanks.  Why? I wonder.  Why were those nine so thank-less?

A re- reading of the story in Luke’s gospel (17:11-19) will reveal that they didn’t give thanks to Jesus because they were busy doing exactly what Jesus told them to do.  Jesus had told them to go show themselves to the priests so that the priests could verify the miracle that had been done: that the lepers had, in fact, been made clean, healed.  These thankless nine were being completely faithful to what Jesus had told them to do.

They were so focused on the task that they failed to take a moment to experience the joy of the present moment.  And, in failing to recognize the miracle and joy of the moment, they were healed, but did not experience the fullness of being made well.  They accomplished their task but did not experience wellness.  It was, no doubt, on to the next thing, the next task for them.

I’m not sure about you, but I find that the Thanksgiving/holiday season can be one filled with a bunch of tasks.  There are countless jobs that have to be done—invitations to be sent, phone calls to be made, groceries to buy, “honey-do” tasks to complete, floors to be vacuumed and tables to be set.  We can get so caught up in the tasks that we have to accomplish that we fail to experience the joy and the miracle of the moment as family and friends gather to share a meal and be present with one another.

In what ways do you try to slow down this time of year so that you can experience the miracle and joy of the season—the gathering of friends and family—and give thanks?

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When you do make time to slow down, do you ever feel anxious about it? or guilty for not doing what you feel you were supposed to do?

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It’s not a Thanksgiving movie, but one of my favorite movies to watch around this time of year is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  It cracks me up to watch Clark Griswold busy himself with the task of creating the perfect family Christmas.  The problem, and the comedy of the movie is centered around the fact that Clark, no matter how hard he tries, cannot make that perfect family Christmas happen.  And, just as it all falls apart, after the turkey’s been burnt, the Christmas tree has gone up in flames, and the cops have literally stormed his house, he realizes that in the midst of all he’s tried to do, the tasks he’s tried to accomplish, the thing he was looking for most was the joy of being with his family.

Friends, in the days to come, as we move through Thanksgiving into our various religious holidays, I hope and I pray that you will take a moment to savor the joy and the miracle of the moment and give thanks for it.  Don’t busy yourselves or get so caught up in the doing of the holidays that you fail to be present in the moment and give thanks for it.

Give thanks
     
for the miracle of having democrats and republicans sitting at the same    table
     for children
     for the presence of elders
Give thanks
     
for a warm place, even if it is a bit too small, to gather with friends
     for pets
     for food
     for family even if you don’t agree or understand all their life choices.
Give thanks
     for health
     for healing you cannot account for
     for having made it through the trials you’ve been through.
Give thanks
     for your faith.
     for the miracle of the moment you’re in right now.
Give thanks
     and as you do, may you be made well.

Amen? and amen.


[1] “Called to Be Neighbors and Witnesses: Guidelines for Interreligious Relationships,” The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/called-to-be-neighbors-and-witnesses-guidelines-for-interreligious-relation, accessed November 17, 2018.

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