Blessings After Loss

2020. What a year. It is this time of year where families and friends gather together to give thanks. I remember what that was like. I remember the Thanksgivings of years gone by.

These last years, we would gather with our daughter-in-law’s family in Pleasanton. We would catch up with everyone’s lives and, more importantly, be with our grandchildren and they with both sets of grandparents. Several years ago, our son cooked a turducken. A couple of years ago, we gathered at our daughter-in-law’s grandmother’s home in Escondido. There was always quite a feast in either place. We always brought home leftovers.

Ah, those were the days. This Thanksgiving the two of us are staying home and being socially distant, but not from each other. We are going to have Cornish Game Hens. Back in the day, I could eat one of those at one sitting. Those days are gone. So, there will be leftovers.

Isn’t the concept of leftovers a sign of abundance? There are places in the world that don’t observe a thanksgiving type of holiday. There are places in the world where leftovers are a foreign concept. There are people in our country and in El Dorado County who do not experience leftovers.

We have stories of Jesus being at feasts. Jesus refers to feasts in some of his parables. The miracles of the loaves are signs of plenty and of Eucharist. Eucharist literally means thanksgiving. When we celebrate the Eucharist, it is a ritual of thanksgiving. However, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has taken that away from us, as well as the gatherings of families and friends this time of year.

Still, Jesus points us to plenty and thanksgiving. With some exceptions, Jesus preached and taught to poor people. They were not familiar with leftovers. Each day began with a reckoning of where the day’s meals would come from. Jesus gave people hope. Scarcity is not part of God’s plan.

We are blessed to have our feasts with family and friends. Even those in this county who find it difficult to find enough to eat, can eat their fill this Thanksgiving and every Thanksgiving at St. Patrick’s in Placerville. And there will also be leftovers.

This virus has taken us to a desert land of isolation. Granted, we are not entirely isolated. Suzie and I go to the store, but not much of anything else. We hope to travel again next year after the vaccines are out. It is interesting that when Pfizer announced the successes of their vaccine, Zoom’s stock fell.

To be a leper in ancient times was to lead a life of isolation. People would run away from lepers. They depended on the generosity of people to leave them food and to make sure to not hang around to see who picked it up. When Jesus healed ten lepers, the only one to give thanks was the former leper who was not a Jew. The Samaritan was grateful for having his life returned to him. Today we have cures and vaccines.

Pfizer’s vaccine for this coronavirus and the other vaccines that will likely soon be out give us hope. There have been many pandemics throughout history and there were likely many others in prehistory. The human race persevered, though there were severe losses. Medical technology is much better now and it gets better every year.

We can see the light at the end of tunnel now. Next year will gradually see improvements in infection rates and the economy. We can give thanks for hope.

It is a message of hope that Moses gives the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. They traveled long through the Sinai desert and have finally reached their destination. This is mainly Moses’ fault. Being a male, he never stopped and asked for directions.

The Deuteronomy reading takes place as the long journey through the Sinai is ending and the Israelites are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. Moses is giving the Israelites their final instructions.

Moses knows these people. As he related to God on several occasions, these are a thick-headed people. No matter how faithless they may seem, Moses would remind God that they are God’s people, for better or worse. So during their journey, God would relent and help them out.

Knowing these stiff-necked people, Moses is reminding them that at the end of their journey, their exodus, is made possible through God’s grace. They are entering a good land, a land that will bless them with food, water, metals, and maybe even wealth.

They traveled through a wilderness where water was scarce into a land where water flows seemingly everywhere. Now Moses was saying this at the Jordan River. The lake to their left is dead. The river is meager, nothing anywhere near the grandeur of the Nile. The land around the river is only green near the water and everywhere else is desolate.

In spite of the meager surroundings, there are hills on the far side of the valley. It is in those hills that Moses’ promised glory of water, wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, olive trees, and honey are to be found. It kind of sounds like Moses is leading them into El Dorado County.

This is a land of bounty that made the trip from Egypt worth it. They will not hunger. They will eat their fill. With their full bellies, they will bless God for all that God gave them.

That vision reminds me of some past Thanksgivings when I finish the meal and sit in my chair and wonder how I am supposed to get up and move. Will my legs be strong enough to lift all the pounds I consumed? Obviously, this is a first world problem.

Yet way back then at the edge of a Charlie Brown river Moses describes a place of bounty. It is a Thanksgiving speech, except for the “thanks” part, though Moses implies who should be given thanks.

Moses reminds them that as they flourish in this land that it might be easy for them to take all the credit for their good fortune. They are to remember God and how God led them from slavery to freedom and to this good land. When their barns are full and their flocks have multiplied and their gold has multiplied, they are not to forget what God has done for them.

They are to remember that God gave them water when they were thirsty. God delivered them from poisonous snakes. God fed them with mana when they had no food to eat. I think Moses is saying that that their very lives were saved by God.

The way they are to remember God is by following God’s commandments and laws in a grateful response for all that God did for them. They are to give thanks for all that God did for them. Part of those commandments and big chunk of the laws are about worshipping God and how they are to do it.

Certainly, the Israelites can gain wealth through their own hard work in the fields and in the mines. They will not get rich by sitting around drinking wine all day. Though that doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but too much of anything is not good. It is God that will give them the resources to make their lives better through their own hard work.

As Paul mentions 2 Corinthians, the one who sows little will get little and the one who sows much will receive much. As God blesses the abundance, then it is incumbent to give abundantly. Our lives are enriched through our giving. (Paraphrasing 2 Corinthians 9:6-12)

Whether it is Paul’s message or Moses’ prediction of a future abundance, we are blessed to have more than many people in the world. Many of us will have leftovers this weekend. Some us will have somebody else’s leftovers.

After giving this great vision of a bountiful future in this new land, Moses gives the Israelites the bad news in the next chapter. You see, there other people already living those hills. They might not like strangers showing up and taking what they want. That is the theme of almost every western movie.

(Just as a side note, the violence that is depicted during the Israelite occupation as told in the Bible does not have archeological collaboration. In fact, Joshua and Judges contradict each other on several points of occupation. Archeologists and others are still trying to piece together the puzzle.)

Moses’ message is a reminder to the people to be grateful. Grateful for their freedom, for getting out of Sinai, and for the fruit of the land that they will occupy. No one person can take full credit for her or his achievements. It is out of gratitude that we share what we have and give thanks for the blessings we receive.

I assume that nearly everyone in the world has some kind of loss due to the pandemic. At the same time, we don’t get through life without loss. Yet, there is hope. Even Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof had hope in his poverty that he would be a rich man. He was blessed by a great wife and five daughters, all of whom challenged him. We even receive blessings in a pandemic. It is those blessings we acknowledge and give thanks for.

This Thanksgiving, let us give thanks that our lives not like, not like, a fiddler on the roof!

Text: Deuteronomy 8:7–18 (NRSV)

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