Today we continue to celebrate our season of Thanksgiving – the ritual of pausing and remembering where we’ve come from, settling in to where we are and envisioning where we are going, all while expressing our gratitude to God for the twists and turns along those life-journeys.
Our religious understanding of Thanksgiving comes from the Jewish holiday called Succoth: after the planting and growing, after the production of fruit, after tending to the fields and then gathering the bounty together – the people of Israel gave thanks to God for the rain and the sunshine, for the good soil, for the health and strength of the workers and for good fortune.
This is an opportunity for us to express our gratitude to God. We all have so much to be grateful for and even if we cannot bring in our sheaves from the fields, or fill our baskets with the bountiful harvest, we can still thank God for the bounty we have received! We can, like the Psalmist in Psalm 126, express our joy with mouths filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy because the Lord has done great things for us!
But for those of us going through a hard time, facing difficult challenges, feeling inadequate to deal with the big problems of the world… it is not always easy to see the abundance we have. It is easier for us to feel like we are not equipped to deal with what is placed before us. It is hard to see our abundance and easier to see all we lack.
And that is why sometimes we need to take stock of what do have – what resources do we have to address the challenges of life. (What are we grateful for?)
Yes, we could always use more money, more time, more friends…. but when we look at what we DO have, we see the bounty we’ve been given. As the old saying goes, “Seeing is believing.” When we can SEE something – it is real.
This is the challenge of FAITH – how do we believe in a God we cannot see, smell or touch – a God beyond our senses. The ancient Israelites had a problem with just this aspect of faith – the challenge of worshipping an “invisible” God. Last week, our scripture lesson told the story of our ancestors who, after Moses had delivered the Ten Commandments and returned to Mt. Sinai to commune with God, were left alone. They became worried and without a leader they turned to Aaron, who made them an idol – a golden calf. They wanted a god they could see and believe in. They wanted a God who was visible, one who was real.
We want a faith that’s real, too. We want a god we can feel and smell and touch. We want to trust in God and God’s promises. For those of us seeking to be truer, more passionate disciples of Christ, we seek a PERSONAL relationship with God.
A relationship like Moses had. Let’s look at the scripture….
In this dialogue, we see the intimate personal relationship between Moses and God – God has spoken to Moses, appeared to him in the burning bush, given him instruction and commands, and Moses has obeyed the commitments he made to God. But now, Moses wants assurance on who will accompany the people on their journey.
12 Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.” 13Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’
Moses is getting demanding with God, isn’t he?! “Show me your ways,” he says, demanding God reveal HOW he is going to fulfill the promises He has made. “Show me your ways! Show me how you’ll do this and who you will send to help me out!!”
And God says, 14 ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’
“I will be with you, Moses.” Says God. “I am going to help you.”
15And Moses said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. (That’s not even in question, God… )16For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’
Moses is certain. God must be with them to demonstrate that Moses is God’s chosen leader and they are the chosen people. (Perhaps to demonstrate their “chosen-ness” to others, and maybe to prove it to themselves.) God’s presence provides an identity that can be observed by outsiders; an identity that makes a Christian community apparent to the world around them. (As the hymn says, ‘They will know we are Christians by our love….’)
In verse 14, the Lord assures and reassures Moses of his continual presence, but Moses continues as though the Lord had never spoken. So, again, 17 The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.’
But that doesn’t satisfy Moses.
18Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ 19And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ 21And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’
Even though the relationship between Moses and God is one of mutual respect, intimate partnership, Moses doesn’t get all he wanted. Yes, God will go with them, but they will not look upon his face, they will only see his back…. But I think even God’s BACK is amazing!!!!
Think about it. God is with us, traveling our journey with us. God knows us by name and has been with us through good times and bad times, through times of scarcity and times of abundance, leading us into our future. If only we open our eyes to His presence, we will see God’s BACK as he leads us toward the future!
What a gift! God is an amazing leader! And as in any relationship, the foundation of our partnership is built on a foundation of trust. Do we trust God? Do we believe he will do as He says? We need to stop our worrying and TRUST in God. Jesus says, in John 10:10: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Do we believe Jesus words? If so, we can open our eyes to the abundant resources God has given us! We can thank God for all we have within us – within our communities, within ourselves – to accomplish our goals: We can look inside our cupboards and thank God for the food we DO have, not focus on the food we don’t. We can look at our bank balances and thank God for all we do have, and not notice that which we don’t. We can thank God for our skills, gifts and abilities and concentrate on all that we’re capable of… and not focus on all we lack.
In this change of attitude we see what we DO have, not that which is missing; we see the glass not only half-full, but overflowing with blessings.
There is an old saying of the Ancient Rabbis:
“He who has a loaf in his basket and who says, ‘What will I eat tomorrow’ is a man of little faith.”
As we count our blessings today, as we let go of our worries and embrace our bounty, Let us give thanks to God: the giver of life.