I have a simple question to ask you this morning: What’s in your basket? I know the results of this election have left some people feeling worried and fearful. I know others are praying this topic does not come up at the Thanksgiving dinner table. It would be nice to have a day of giving thanks and spending time with loved ones that doesn’t turn into a family feud.
I know some are struggling with illnesses and financial difficulties that can be quite soul-draining at times. I know that others are mourning the loss of loved ones which makes the holiday season less joyful than it should be. I know we’re all worried about the forest fires that have set our beloved mountains ablaze. We wonder how much damage will be done before these fires are contained.
I have the sneaking suspicion that some of you are facing challenges I have not mentioned this morning, You may have been hesitant to share them with others. This makes you feel isolated and alone.
So, taking all of this into consideration, I ask the question again: What’s in your basket? What gives you joy? What makes you feel blessed? What provides you with a sense of comfort and security? Who are the people in your life that you know you can depend on? The ones who love you unconditionally? The ones who give you hope for the future? What’s in your basket?
This coming Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving. While the historical origins of this holiday are sometimes debated and criticized, the idea is still a good one. Thanksgiving is simply a day set aside to practice the art of gratitude. It’s a day for us to remember what’s in our basket. As we gather with loved ones and eat way too much food, the hope is that we will also pause to cherish those very people who are gathered around our tables. The hope is that we will thank God for blessings both great and small that appear in our lives even in the most difficult of times. No matter what challenges we are facing at this current moment, there is always, always a reason to give thanks. There is always a reason to be grateful, even if our hearts are filled with anger, fear, disappointment or sadness.
I don’t often preach from Deuteronomy, because its mostly a book of rules and regulations, many of which are no longer relevant to us. However today’s passage leapt off the page when I first read it. It’s the perfect text for the theme of what’s in our basket. The historical context for these verses is that Israel has finally settled into the promised land. If you know your Old Testament history it was a difficult journey getting there. In fact, the text itself names some of the hardships Israel had faced in the past including, facing starvation in Israel and becoming immigrants in Egypt where they were treated poorly and forced into slavery. While it was not mentioned in this text, the implied hardship includes struggling to survive in the desert after they were set free from slavery.
I’m certain that when they reached the Promise Land, those first couple of years were difficult as they began planting crops as well as fruit bearing trees. They also had to build houses and establish commerce and trade. Any one of these things in and of itself would may us feel like we had an empty basket. Put them altogether and we have quite a tale of misery and woe. And yet, here we have a people who begin to offer the first fruits of their land, which they presented to the Temple as an offering of thanksgiving. I would assume that some of this offering when to feed the poor.
The text concludes with a beautiful word of advice that speaks to us as much as it spoke to the Israelites: “Set the produce before the Lord your God, (i.e. your full basket, your offering of thanksgiving) bowing down before the Lord your God. Then celebrate all the good things the Lord your God has done for you and your family.” That’s a pretty solid definition for what it means to give thanks, to practice the art of gratitude. That’s a pretty effective way for us to remember what’s in our basket.
What I hear Deuteronomy calling us to do, is to set aside our thoughts of all the hardships we have faced over the years. It’s O.K. to remember them, but we’re not supposed to let them consume us, rehashing over and over again every hurt and transgression that has been inflicted on us. Instead we are to give an offering of thanks to the church. It’s the first fruits of our harvest, meaning the best we have to offer. Then, when we have done this, we are called to celebrate all the good things the Lord our God has done for us and our family.
That is our task for this week. And so I’l ask the question, once again: What’s in your basket? Is it filled with tales of misery and woe? Is it overflowing with worry, sadness and regret? Or, over the course of this year, have we been putting into our baskets every blessing that has come our way? Do we focus on what’s going right in our lives instead of what’s going wrong? Do we have eyes to see beauty and abundance, even in the midst of ugliness and scarcity? This is what it means to give thanks and practice the art of gratitude. I believe our lives will be much richer for it. In spite of all the awful things that may be happening in our lives and in our nation, possessing a full basket means that we are people of hope, because we worship a God who is a God of hope.
So, what’s in your basket? Is it empty or is it filled to overflowing? Ultimately, I believe the choice is yours regardless of the difficulties you may be facing. If you’re not sure how to pull off a full basket, I offer the words of St. Paul who tells us “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
If you know anything about St. Paul situation when he wrote these words, they are all the more remarkable. Paul was in prison when we wrote this letter to the church in Philippi. He wasn’t sure he was ever going to be released. This new, young church he had founded had it’s share of problems and challenges as well. Yet, the remarkable thing about Philippians is that the words “joy” and “rejoice” occur in some form sixteen times in four small chapters. Paul was able to see a full basket in his life, and in the life of the church in Philipi, even though he had plenty of reasons to see that basket as empty and hopeless.
My hope is that we will be able to do this same. My hope is that we will choose to focus on those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. If we can pull this off, if we can all fill our baskets with these things, Paul tells us that the God of peace will be with us. This is not some kind of ignorant bliss nor rose closed glasses we wear. Paul tells us that it’s the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.
If you’re not sure what kind of peace this is, The Message paraphrases it beautifully, “Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.” I don’t know how you’re feeling today, but sign me up for that! I need to feel a sense of God’s wholeness. I need to believe in everything coming together for good. I need to be settled down in times of anxiety, fear and hopelessness. I suspect you feel the same way.
So, Friends in Christ, we have spiritual homework to do this week. In the midst of our turkey coma and eating way too much pie, lets work on filling our baskets. Let’s focus on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. May the God of peace be with us this Thanksgiving and always. Amen.
Copyright ©2016 by David Eck