Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If The World Seems Cold, Kindle A Fire To Warm It

A couple of years ago I was eating Chinese food for lunch.
And I did something I almost never do.
I saved my fortune that came out of my fortune cookie.
I lost it in our move here to New Hampshire from Long Island, but I still remember what it said.
I remember it because unlike the usual fortune cookie this one seemed to offer some sage spiritual advice.
It read, “If the world seems cold, kindle a fire to warm it.”
This seems like good advice to keep in mind as we head into these cold days of the winter season.
But deeper then that it seemed important because too often in this world we become cold and cynical about our lives, and the world we live in.
Maybe especially now in these economic times when everyday we wake up to bad economic news, especially in these bad times we might be tempted to be cynical and disheartened.
Everyday we hear some combination of bad economic news, the dow is down, inflation is coming, deflation is coming, highest unemployment in fourteen years, home foreclosures, home prices dropping, our state faces difficult financial decision ahead.
You all know this already, and as we enter this Thanksgiving season it might be even harder for us to find reasons to be thankful.
But in all circumstances of our lives it is important that we are thankful for what God has provided no matter how small.
Because being thankful leads to something so much more important and that is living thankful lives.
Being thankful leads us to an attitude that says when the world seems cold; I will kindle a fire to warm it.
When things are at there worst I will be at my best.
When things are the scariest I will be fearless.

As people of faith who live together in Concord we must be the leaders in our community to insist that we live in thanksgiving, that we light the fire of hope, love, and joy.

Did you know that the Thanksgiving Day we celebrate was really due to the efforts of one woman?
Her name was Sarah Hale.
She was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s book, a very popular publication of her time.
And for 36 years through five different presidential administrations she wrote about our countries need for national day of Thanksgiving.
This is what she wrote, “There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing in which whole communities participate. They bring out, and together, as it were the best sympathies in our natures.”
Sarah Hale believed that having a day to sit and contemplate all the good things we have in this life would help us to not only be thankful, but to live thankful lives.
She believed we could not hate our neighbors, cause wars, and be intolerant of one another if we rejoiced together in the gifts God has given us.
She was finally able to convince Abraham Lincoln to create a national holiday of Thanksgiving.
Lincoln too was convinced that Thanksgiving could have a positive effect on a country that was divided and about to start a civil war.
In the darkest and coldest hour of our country Sarah Hale decided to light a fire.
And that fire lives on today, as we will gather later today in our homes with those we love and care about to celebrate and give thanks for all God has given us.

Thanksgiving is so much more then merely giving thanks because it is during this season that we are moved more then ever to give of ourselves.
We give food to the needy, clothes to the homeless, and shelter to the lost.
On Thanksgiving I am always overwhelmed with all the good things God has done in my life.
And that motivates me to pass those blessings on to others who are in need.
Thinking about what we are thankful for motivates us to live lives that are thankful.
What I wish for our community here in Concord is that we learn to live Thanksgiving everyday, and we act towards one another in a spirit of thankfulness.

This morning I would like us to contemplate together some of the ways that we might live Thanksgiving.
If we live in thankfulness, we can see in one another God.
As we heard from Psalm 65, everything in the world belongs to God.
“You crown the year with your bounty, the pastures overflow and the hills clothed with joy.”
Across our faith traditions we share a fundamental belief that God made the world, that God created us, and that every human life is sacred because it is created by God.
We should be Thankful for our lives, but we should also be thankful for the lives of others.
Because I can not succeed without you.
In Concord across race, religion, nation, and anything else we can think of that might divide us, we are one in our common humanity.
In each person God has placed something of value and of richness.
I happen to be a Christian, but for us Christians it is true that we are called to see the sacred beauty and wonder in each person.
Jesus tells us that when we help those in need, visit the sick or the imprisoned we do these things for Jesus himself.
Therefore everyone in this community must be given value and worth, and as people of faith we must seek the best for our neighbors.
In living Thanksgiving we live with idea that all of our lives are tied together.
Just as the pilgrims learned they could not succeed without the help and advice of their Native American neighbors, we can not live without the help and advice of one another.

Living Thanksgiving means that we take nothing for granted.
We give thanks not to ourselves, our own industry, our own abilities, but as people of faith we give thanks to God.
Our God makes all things possible, and gives us every good thing.
Therefore I think we are able to see the larger picture, and have a deeper compassion for those who are left out.
In our community we must continue to help those who are being left out.
The family whose home is being for closed, the immigrant who cuts our lawns, the refugee searching for safety and a new home, the day worker who builds our homes, the single mom struggling to make ends meet, the drug addict, the person dying of cancer.
All of these are God’s and their failure is not merely loss of fortitude, it is circumstances that conspire against people to ruin lives.
We can never lose our compassion for such people.
Across our faith traditions is the mandate to care for the least in our society.
And living thanksgiving means we understand that everything we might have is only given by the grace and mercy of God.
It is not given for us to horde, but to share with all in need.

We live thanksgiving when we put away cynicism.
If we see all things in our life as gifts from God, if we see our community as something to celebrate, if we see our neighbors as friends, then we can not feel cynical about the world.
I sometimes read in the comments section of the Concord Monitor online people describe our community and our world as if it is a lost cause.
As if we once lived in some utopian dream and now we live in a world of despair.
But remember this is the world that I now live in; it is the world I am bringing my children up in.
And it is the world that was past on to me.
Is not that world worth fighting for, worth struggling to make better.
Living Thanksgiving is about having hope that what God once created God will continue to make better.
Being thankful for our lives means we no longer live in cynicism but in hope.
We share in our faiths a hope that God will make everything right; hope that our fellow human beings are at their core good.
We as people of faith have to lead the way in this community in spreading hope.

There are lots of bad things happening in the world, but there is also lots of good.
Think of all the good that happens in our community every day.
The Friendly kitchen offers a warm meal in a welcoming environment, First and South Congregational give shelter to the homeless during the coldest months, Rise Again offers clothing and other necessities, Friends of Forgotten Children give so much, every year we have the CROP walk that helps hungry people all over the world.
I could go on and on…
We don’t hear the good stuff enough; because we are too busy complaining.
We are too busy concentrating on the few bad seeds that ruin it for the majority of people in our community who want to live in peace.
We should all be thankful that we live in this wonderful community.
This community with its diversity, its commitment to learning, its parks, it fine public servants, and its spiritual houses of worship.
How can we be cynical about such a community like Concord?
But even if you are cynical my advice to you is the same as the Fortune I received from that Fortune cookie, “If the world seems cold, kindle a fire to warm it.”

The great thing about our country is that all of us have an opportunity and a responsibility to not merely watch things happens to us, but to participate and act to change and right the wrongs.
We have the ability and freedom to not only be thankful, but to live out our thankfulness everyday.
When we live in Thanksgiving we light a fire to warm this cold world with love, hope, and joy.
May all of us this Thanksgiving be blessed, and ready to live each day thankful to God for everything we have.

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