The following reflection comes from a sermon entitled, “Hungry for Blessing” based on Deuteronomy 8:7-18 first delivered on November 25, 1992 at Zion Presbyterian Church in Fosterburg, Illinois.
Thanksgiving begins with hunger.
We usually don’t think of it this way, but it’s true.
Usually, we think of Thanksgiving in terms of abundance. We celebrate on this special day the goodness of God for the bountiful earth that brings forth fruits and vegetables in their season. We count our blessings as the table is piled high with turkey and all the trimmings, family and friends; food and football mingle together like giblets and gravy. It is the abundance of life — the good harvest, the horn of plenty that we think of and celebrate at Thanksgiving.
And yet, Thanksgiving begins with hunger, not with blessings. This was true as the Pilgrims gathered at Plymouth. They had only planted three crops in the spring of 1621: English peas, barley, and maize. However, as one person recorded, “our peas were not worth gathering — the sun had parched them — and the barley was described as “indifferent”. Nothing much to it. The only crop that made it was the twenty acres of maize which the natives had taught them to plant using herring as fertilizer. This maize, or corn, was not like the Burris brand quality hybrids we’ve grown to know and love. Instead, this maize was probably about 2 or 3 inches long with kernels of varying quality. Imagine preparing for a feast with only corn about the size of those little Chinese corn thingies you get at salad bars and you’ve just about pictured how it was when the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans over for the Thanksgiving feast that first winter. Some feast, huh?
Still, they gathered together and gave thanks. The Pilgrims knew what it was like to face hunger — to be physically hungry. When I say, though, that Thanksgiving begins with hunger I mean more than physical hunger. I’m also talking about the kind of hunger Jesus mentions when he says, “Blessed are those who hunger…who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Thanksgiving begins as we become aware of the hunger within us, the restlessness that pushes us forward in faith and life. It is out of this hunger that we come together to worship, to serve God and creation. It is this hunger for righteousness, for right relationships with God, with each other, and with ourselves, that motivates us to give thanks for what we have even as we hunger for more.
Without this hunger, God’s blessing becomes irrelevant. If we are not aware of the hunger inside us, we are not likely to come to the table of God’s grace. Instead, we can become self-satisfied, complacent, like the man or woman stuffed for a huge Thanksgiving meal who plops down in an easy chair, turns on a football game and tunes out all that’s going on around them.
It is not abundance, but hunger moves us to experience God’s blessing in a life of thanksgiving.