By the Rev.
And by the Rev. Ron
on whose sermon and service it is based
See the Rev. Ron Brugler's original service and sermon
Massachusetts, November 22, 1998
Thanksgiving Sunday--Invite A Friend Service
Words of Welcome
everyone! Welcome to our Thanksgiving Invite A Friend service. It
is wonderful to see all of you here today--both our faithful
regulars and the newcomers and visitors who are with us today. I
hope you will find today's service meaningful and enjoyable, and
that you will join us again next week as we begin our series of
special Advent services.
is special in many ways. It is special because a number of you are
joining us for the first time, or rejoining us after being away
for a while. It is special because in order to make this Invite A
Friend Sunday possible, almost all of the churches in Bridgewater
have joined together and worked with each other across
denominational lines in a way that would not have happened ten or
twenty years ago. It is special because the construction is almost
complete on our new steeple. It is special because today's service
was originally written by the Rev. Ron Brugler, President of the
Swedenborgian Church of North America. And for those of you who
don't usually go to church--and who almost didn't come today
because you just knew you'd have to listen to a sermon--it
is special because today there is no sermon! Instead, we'll
have a series of brief talks spread throughout the service.
But most of
all, today's service is special because we have gathered together
to give thanks to God for all the blessings God has given to us,
both material and spiritual. Whatever struggles and setbacks we
may have faced in this life, we also have much to be thankful for.
Today, as we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday, we have an opportunity
to step back and notice the good things in our lives, and
give thanks to our Creator for them.
has become a largely secular holiday--one centered around food and
feasting. Grocery stores really like Thanksgiving! And many of us
appreciate a day when we can fill our stomachs a little too much
without feeling guilty about it. But Thanksgiving also has strong
religious roots. From those roots, we will discover today how
Thanksgiving can fill our souls as well as our stomachs.
with the Israelites--the people of the Old Testament who later
became the Jews. The Israelites went on a long journey to reach
their Promised Land. This morning we will commemorate a point at
which they were instructed to observe the festival of Sukkot,
which Jews throughout the world still observe today. We will learn
about this early Thanksgiving observance as a way to gain a
clearer understanding of what this day means spiritually.
journey, the Israelites received the Ten Commandments at Mt.
Sinai. These were not a mere listing of acceptable behaviors. They
were also a promise that the people could become what God
intended, and that God would give them what they needed in order
to do so. Today, in our first Bible Reading, we recall the time
when Moses taught the people more about what this promise meant.
Reading: Deuteronomy 8:7-18
The Lord your
God is bringing you into a fertile land--a land that has rivers
and springs, and underground streams gushing out into the valleys
and hills; a land that produces wheat and barley, grapes, figs,
pomegranates, olives, and honey. There, you will never go hungry
or ever be in need. Its rocks have iron in them, and from its
hills you can mine copper. You will have all you want to eat, and
you will give thanks to the Lord your God for the fertile land
that he has given you.
that you do not forget the Lord your God; do not fail to obey any
of his laws that I am giving you today. When you have all you want
to eat and have built good houses to live in and when your cattle
and sheep, your silver and gold, and all your other possessions
have increased, make sure that you do not become proud and forget
the Lord your God who rescued you out of Egypt, where you were
slaves. He led you through that vast and terrifying desert where
there were poisonous snakes and scorpions. In that dry and
waterless land he made water flow out of solid rock for you. It
the desert he gave you manna to eat, food that your ancestors had
never eaten. He sent hardships on you to test you, so that in the
end he could bless you with good things. So then, you must never
think that you have made yourselves wealthy by your own power and
strength. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the
power to become rich. He does this because he is still faithful
today to the covenant that he made with your ancestors.
the Israelites Remembered
were taught to remember all that God had done for them. One way
this was accomplished is explained in the Book of Leviticus, where
Moses gave the people instructions concerning the five festivals
that they were to observe. These festivals were in addition to the
weekly observance of the Sabbath.
The first was
the Passover festival, which commemorated the deliverance from
Egyptian slavery. The second was the Feast of Firstfruits, which
took place in the spring when the wheat was harvested. The Feast
of Trumpets, or New Moon, was celebrated at the dawn of the new
year. The Day of Atonement was a time for national penitence and
mourning. And last was the Festival of Sukkot, which commemorated
the many ways God had been with the Israelites during their
wilderness journey as they camped in simple shelters on their way
toward the prosperity of the Promised Land.
Let's listen to
what Moses taught the people about this festival:
Reading: Leviticus 23:33, 34, 39-43
The Festival of
Shelters begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and
continues for seven days. . . .
When you have
harvested your fields, celebrate this festival for seven days,
beginning on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The first day
shall be a special day of rest. On that day take some of the best
fruit from your trees, take palm branches and limbs from leafy
trees, and begin a religious festival to honor the Lord your God.
Celebrate it for seven days. This regulation is to be kept by your
descendants for all time to come. All the people of Israel shall
live in shelters for seven days, so that your descendants may know
that the Lord made the people of Israel live in simple shelters
when he led them out of Egypt. He is the Lord your God.
As the years
passed, the Sukkot Festival came to be called by two other names:
the Festival of Tabernacles and the Festival of Shelters. Many
Jews traveled to Jerusalem to observe this festival. There, in the
Temple courtyard, they would build simple huts (represented today
by the shelter on our Ingathering table) made out of branches,
leaves, and straw. They would live in these huts for seven days.
For those who could not travel to Jerusalem, the huts would be
erected in the fields, as the work of the harvest continued.
served as a reminder of two things: First, of the hardships their
ancestors had faced while traveling in the wilderness, where for
forty years they lived in tents and simple huts. Second, the
shelters reminded them that they did not need to live that way any
longer, since they had been given the Promised Land. The Festival
of Shelters reminded them that God was with them in both the hard
times and the good times of life--just as God is still with us
today in both the hard times and the good times of our lives.
In Jesus' time
the religious authorities commanded that there be a strict
observance of the Festival of Shelters. But this was not because
of its spiritual meaning--there was another reason. The temple
treasury relied heavily on the offerings the people were required
to make during these seven days. And the priests did all that they
could to make the people believe that their continued success
depended upon their making these offerings.
Each morning of
the seven day festival, a procession of barefoot priests clad in
white linen robes descended the temple steps carrying golden
pitchers. They went to a nearby spring, where they filled the
pitchers as the people sang, "With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation." The people carried branches of
myrtle and willow tied together in their right hands, and lemons
in their left hands. These were symbols of the harvest.
procession headed back to the temple, where the priests sang,
"Save us, we beseech thee, O Lord. We beseech thee, give us
success!" And to these words the water would be mixed with
wine and poured on the altar fires as the offerings were brought
Each night of
the festival, the entire temple area was lit by huge candelabras.
And by this light, the people would dance and sing, accompanied by
the music of flutes. And as the sun rose in the east, all would
turn westward and face the temple sanctuary, chanting, "Our
fathers turned their faces toward the east, and they worshipped
the sun toward the east, but as for us, our eyes are turned
westward toward the Lord."
In the Gospel
of John we learn of a time when Jesus himself traveled to
Jerusalem to observe this festival. He used it as an opportunity
to remind the people of its true meaning: that it was not a
celebration of success, but a reminder of God's presence with all
people. He criticized the modern observance of the festival,
reminding the people that its purpose was to "make sure that
you do not become proud and forget the Lord your God who rescued
you from Egypt, . . . so that you may never think that you have
made yourselves wealthy. . . . For God is the one who gives you
that power" (Deuteronomy 8:14, 17, 18).
Just as today
we all too often forget the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving,
observing it only as a time to see our extended families and to
fill our stomachs, Jesus condemned the religious authorities of
his day for ignoring the true meaning of Sukkot and making the
festival a time for profit instead. And he did the job that the
priests were supposed to be doing by reminding the people that
harvest was not merely a time of material plenty, but a time to
count our spiritual blessings, and to share those blessings
On the final
day of the festival, as the people sang, "With joy you shall
draw water from the wells of salvation," Jesus stood up and
proclaimed, "Whoever is thirsty come to me, and let anyone
who believes in me drink. As the scripture says, 'Out of the
believer's heart will flow rivers of living water.'" Let's
hear the story from the Gospel of John.
Reading: John 7:10-18, 37, 38
brothers had gone to the festival, Jesus also went; however, he
did not go openly, but secretly. The Jewish authorities were
looking for him at the festival. "Where is he?" they
There was much
whispering about him in the crowd. "He is a good man,"
some people said. "No," others said, "he fools the
people." But no one talked about him openly, because they
were afraid of the Jewish authorities.
was nearly half over when Jesus went to the Temple and began
teaching. The Jewish authorities were greatly surprised and said,
"How does this man know so much when he has never been to
"What I teach is not my own teaching; it comes from God, who
sent me. Whoever is willing to do what God wants will know whether
what I teach comes from God or whether I speak on my own
authority. Those who speak on their own authority seek their own
glory. But the person who seeks glory for the one who sent him is
honest, and there is nothing false in him." . . .
On the last and
most important day of the festival Jesus stood up and said in a
loud voice, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let
anyone who believes in me drink. As the scripture says, 'Out of
the believer's heart will flow rivers of living water.'"
do We Respond?
Just as the
Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land, we have also traveled
on a special journey. God has led us. God has given us strength
and direction. God has quenched our thirst and satisfied our
hunger. In a very real way, the same command that came to the
Israelites is coming to each of us: "When you have all you
want to eat and have built good houses to live in, and when your
cattle and sheep, your silver and gold, and all your other
possessions have increased, make sure that you do not become proud
and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you out of Egypt."
we take the time to remember that God is with us. And we remember
by responding. We have responded today by bringing forward food
offerings for those who are less fortunate than we are. And we
will respond by offering some of our livelihood to the work of the
church. As we make these offerings, let us be mindful of God's
many blessings to us--blessings of food, shelter, families,
friends, country. And let us commit ourselves to sharing these
blessings with others.
As we gather
here today, giving thanks for the good things God has given us,
there are people in our communities who are living in
shelters--whether they are cardboard boxes, underneath bridges, or
in public accommodations such as homeless shelters. Today, let's
remember that the word "Thanksgiving" is made up of two
smaller words. We are not just to offer thanks. We are to give
of our blessings.
As we make our
food offerings, and our financial offerings to the work of the
church, may we also renew our willingness to support the work of
homeless shelters, food banks, and soup kitchens. There are
several food programs right here in Bridgewater that are always
looking for donations--such as the St. Vincent DePaul society at
the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. If we can remember to
support those who are less fortunate during the rest of the year,
we will be doing our part to help eliminate hunger in our
In addition to
these material ways of giving to others from the blessings God has
given us, there are spiritual ways we can observe
Thanksgiving. We have all had difficult times in our lives when we
were strengthened and pulled through by the love and support of a
friend or family member, or when we turned to God in prayer and
felt God's love strengthening us from within. Thanksgiving is a
time to appreciate the love, understanding, and support that we
have received from other people and from the Lord.
Each of us here
today also knows of people who are struggling with their life
right now, and who need a helping hand. We can turn our thanks
into giving by making the decision to be the helping hand that
someone else needs so much. Or, if there is someone we are in
conflict with--someone whom we know is feeling pain because of the
conflict--we can make the decision to move beyond our own feelings
of anger and pain, and extend to the other person a hand of
forgiveness, renewed friendship, and love.
Thanksgiving, as we give thanks for the many material and
spiritual blessings God has given to us, let's remember to observe
the other half of Thanks-Giving by giving to others the
same blessings that God has given to us. Amen.
Music: Give Thanks