Give Yourself- A Sermon for Thanksgiving

Several years ago I rented a movie called “Pieces of April” and I re-watched it recently as it is one of my favorite holiday movies. The movie is about a young woman name April, played by a young Katie Holmes, who lives in New York City, and it takes place entirely on Thanksgiving Day. April’s family is coming down from Connecticut and she is cooking the meal.  There are, however a number of complications to the story, the two most important are that April’s mother is dying of cancer and their relationship has been bad for years. The other problem is that April cannot cook and has never tried to make a Thanksgiving meal. She wants to make it special, so she plans to cook a turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, Waldorf salad, green bean casserole and cranberry sauce, from a can of course.

As she opens her small oven that day, she realize that it has stopped working. It being Thanksgiving Day the building superintendent is out and the wait is too long for an outside repairman. So April is forced to go door to door in her building looking for an oven to borrow. The first couple she finds are Eugene and Eyvette in 2B. They let her have their oven for 2 hours until they have to start their own meal. Eugene scoffs at April’s use of stuffing from a box, until Evette reminds him of his first Turkey, the “half cooked affair that no one could eat”, and his second turkey that was burned to a crisp. Wayne in 5D helps her until she hurts his feelings and finally a nice Chinese family finishes the cooking.

The movie is made so that you are watching two stories at the same time, one is that of April, the other is of her family driving to the city. Her mother has had a double mastectomy and wears a wig from the effects of chemo. Her mother, Father, sister, brother and grandmother all take the trip together, most of which is spent dreading the trip and reliving painful memories of April growing up. At one point her mother demands that the car be stopped and she jumps out screaming about how she cannot handle one more bad memory.

Pieces of April deals with one subject from two points of view, what happens if this day doesn’t turn out right, what happens if it is a disaster? The anxiety builds over the turkey not being cooked and Thanksgiving not turning out the way it is supposed, to because it may be her mother’s last.

This family lives into something we all have a tendency towards, maybe we could call it the mythology of Thanksgiving. You all know what I am talking about, we almost all hold ourselves to an ideal that no one could possibly meet on Thanksgiving. We constantly think that next door everyone is happy and sitting down to the most perfect Martha Stewart meal. That their family doesn’t fight, that and everyone is on time. That when they sit down the turkey is moist and the dressing has just the right amount of every spice, those people next door or down the street don’t have to worry about burning the rolls or the meringue. But I want to let you in on something, there is no place down the street, every family is just like yours and nothing like yours, each unique but at the same time similar.

Jesus tells us today from our reading Matthew 6:25-34, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. …So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.” This instruction, from our savior, is meant to remind us of one thing we forget, especially around the holidays, each of you is a beloved child of God, and that, in and of itself deserves thanksgiving.

I say it is meant to remind us because we forget all the time who we are, we try to become something else, someone else, we set our expectations so high that there is no way we could ever meet them. Let me give you an example, I’m not going to ask for a show of hands but I’ll bet some of you will spend you entire Thanksgiving meal listening to the cook tell everyone what is wrong with each dish. “Well,” they will say, “this sweet potato casserole doesn’t taste at all like my mothers, I bet I had bad brown sugar,” “Oh these this stuffing has too much sage.”, “…does this banana pudding taste right”? On and on, to the point that all anyone can remember from year to year is that things were messed up. We miss the present moment for worrying about what it’s not. This is not like last year, or when we were five, or how it will be next year, and you’re right it’s not like that and it’s not supposed to be. There will never be another year like this, nor another month, week, day or hour. This is the only day we have.

Just so it’s not a surprise I want to tell you that, later today someone in this room will cut into a turkey that will be too dry to eat. Now here’s how I know you all have expectations of Thanksgiving, I’ll bet most of you said to yourself, “well that won’t be me”, those of you who didn’t say that will probably spend the few hours worrying about it. The question is, what will you do if it is your Turkey? Will you forget who you are and curse the recipe you got from Rachel Ray or Bobby Flay and spend the rest of your meal sulking. Will it break you? You wanted the same reaction those people on TV always get. You know what I’m talking about, that look of bliss that crosses the face of someone who just tasted Martha Stewart’s white truffle dessert. How with their mouth full they say “Oh my God this is so good”.

Your expectations about how things are supposed to be keeps you blind to the way things actually are. Jesus makes the point that we are to strive first for the kingdom of God, and I can’t tell you exactly what it looks like, but the end of Pieces of April may give us a glimpse. After a day of anxiety and worry, her family and new boyfriend sit down at a table with the Chinese family that helped her cook her turkey and the black couple who taught her how to fix real cranberry sauce. Her small apartment is full of people eating together who don’t know each other, sharing what they had. Just by being present to one another they made the experience real. When we spend our time worrying about what might have been or what could be, we rob those around us of the only thing we have to give, our self.

About fatherjeremy

I am a priest in the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Oregon. I am currently the rector of Christ Church, Lake Oswego, OR
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