Happy Thanksgiving!  I am happy to be here with you today.  
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!  
I love todays readings, so upbeat and full of joy.  They are perfect for this day as we gather to give thanks to God for all he has given us.  We rejoice as we give thanks for our families, friends, neighbors and the food that will be on millions of tables later today.
We heard in the first reading in Deuteronomy that because God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, so they brought God the First Fruits in thanksgiving and then, only after thanks was given were they able to celebrate with the rest of the bounty given them by God.  I particularly love that they are told to include the aliens.  They practiced ecumenism.  Would the people of Israel have remembered to give thanks had they not been reminded? 
I know I can forget to be grateful at times so, for me at least, it’s a good thing that I’m reminded to be grateful each time I pray, each time I’m at worship, each time I go out to Church Without Walls or out in the van on Tuesday evenings and as I celebrate this day.
When Paul wrote the letter we just heard to the Philippians he was in jail-hardly a place one would think of giving thanks and rejoicing.  Yet, what does he tell us?  Rejoice in the Lord always.  We are not to worry about anything, and be gentle and pray. 
Yet, how can we do that in a world in which we see and hear about so much poverty, hatred and violence?  What signs can we see that point us in the direction of rejoicing and joy? Those signs are all around us-we just need to look.  
Jesus gave clear instructions for us to follow.  We are to love everyone.  In the gospel from John this morning we are told to ‘believe in Him whom (GOD) has sent.’  We look at Jesus and the way he treated people and we do that.  
Today is Thanksgiving and many of us will have a delicious meal and sit around a table with those we love.  
There are many around us that are not able to have such a meal.  There are countless numbers of people living in shelters and on the streets who do not have access to the bounty we have.  Thank you to all who contributed food to the families at Square One.  That is one way we respond to the needs of others.  
As we celebrate today, as we come to the table here and receive the supreme gift given us by Jesus let us be reminded that we are meant to love.  We are meant to live with gratitude in our hearts.  When we are grateful for all we have we are able to give more freely to others who have less.  We can respond with open hearts and hands.  
When we cultivate lives of gratitude we become joyful.  Joy is a gift from God and has little to do with what is happening around us.  Paul, writing to the Philippians felt joy.  Jailed, in shackles, he was able to feel joy.  He reminds us to think about all the things worthy of praise and, if we do that, we will feel God’s peace. Feeling God’s peace how can we not feel joy? 
So, how do we cultivate gratefulness that will then become joy?  Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, a gift given to us.  We but need to receive it.  We can’t feel the joy of God without turning to God and asking God to be our anchor.  
We can choose to be joyful or we can choose to be unhappy.  The choice is ours to make.  There are many things that can pull us away from God toward unhappiness yet, if we hold on to God as our anchor it’s much easier to be turned around again (and again!) toward the joy that is meant to be ours.  
We can make choices to stop watching the news every moment we are awake.  I find when I’m on my computer news just keeps coming.  Most of it isn’t good news so I put it aside for later.  We can choose to donate to charities either here or somewhere else.  We can choose to volunteer at the soup kitchen, at Friends of the Homeless, at Square One.  When we offer ourselves as Jesus hands and feet in the world we can’t help but feel joy.
Whatever we do we must begin our day with God.  If we turn to our inner self, develop the inner part of ourselves where God is, we will be able to fortify ourselves for the day ahead no matter where it takes us. 
As our response to God’s bounty, as our psalm says so beautifully “Worship the Lord in gladness…..We are His people…Give thanks to Him and bless His name.”  
And remember to rejoice in the Lord always.  Amen 

 

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