What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander (?)

Text: Jeremiah 29:1-7

Rev. David Tiessen, St. George’s Anglican Church, London

20th Sunday after Pentecost (10 October 2010, Thanksgiving Day)

Last week we gathered together to celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving – a Sunday dedicated specifically to God as the one who creates and sustains our lives. We gathered in thanksgiving for the abundance that springs forth from creation as a reflection of God’s own abundance, of God’s own gift-giving to us. Fr. Tim spoke from the prophet Joel of even the dirt hearing the good word from God, which is a word of joy.

This week we worship after Harvest Thanksgiving, now on a day of national Thanksgiving – a day of thanksgiving which was officially established by an act of parliament in 1957 as a “day of general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” As it is now practiced, today provides occasion to gather together and give thanks for and with family and friends in light of all the good things that may have come to us in the past year. The church’s Harvest Thanksgiving and today’s National Thanksgiving are both good things, things to be celebrated and enjoyed. Yet there is also an important difference between them.

Today we have read from the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. . . . Multiply there, and do not decrease.” As you settle down and settle in, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

I find this an interesting text: the people are in exile, scattered among the nations, away from Jerusalem; in short, they are not at home. And yet they have a prophet – the prophet Jeremiah – who continually reminds them of who they are, and whose they are. The people belong to God, and are to listen to God, and obey the commands of God, even when they are in exile, scattered and away from home.

This tells us something very important: in our terms, Harvest Thanksgiving comes before National Thanksgiving. Harvest Thanksgiving is about the primary meaning upon which our lives rest – because to give thanks on Harvest Thanksgiving is to give thanks to the One to whom we owe our very lives, and upon whom the creation and all its fruits depends. Harvest Thanksgiving transcends all national boundaries, all national flags. Harvest Thanksgiving is about what is shared worldwide, and as Fr. Tim said last week, on Harvest Thanksgiving we are pushed to recognize our interconnectedness across all these secondary boundaries, and to live in ways that reflect the gift of God in the bounty of creation, and to share it.

Jeremiah’s logic reflects this. The people Israel are a people whose home rests with God, and yet God has scattered them in exile. And so in exile they are to live with the Good God constantly in mind, they are to live in the continued hope that they will yet be restored once again to their homeland, to the land of God’s gift, flowing with milk and honey. But in the meantime, they live in a strange land, a foreign land. And here Jeremiah tells the people to settle in for the long haul, and to seek its good, because at some level they are joined to it: its good is also their good; their good is also the city’s good.

The word for ‘welfare’ in the text we’ve read is shalom. Shalom is a term that invokes the deepest well-being possible; it is the wholistic peace that comes when all is properly ordered, when things are as they should be, when life proceeds as it should, when no one suffers, no one hurts. Shalom is a peace that depends upon God – and so the word shalom (well-being, welfare) is a reminder that wherever you are, in whatever land you find yourself, the shalom of God is to be your guide for action.

So what are they to do? They are to pray for whatever city they find themselves in, and they are to foster the welfare of the city in how they live. In other words, they are to be a blessing to the city, both spiritually – in their prayers to the Lord of the Harvest, the Creator of all – and materially – in their work, as they build houses and live in them, plant gardens and harvest them and enjoy eating the harvest.

As you know, we are on the verge of a civic election on October 25. Biblical passages like these remind us of what it is perhaps easy to forget: that our lives of prayer, our spiritual lives of worship and praise, are not separate from what goes on around us in our city. We are, like the people Israel in exile in this text, people who are scattered about this city, living and working and playing and praying. We have an interest in this city of London and its life; we have an interest in the well-being – the shalom – of this city – not just for ourselves but for all its inhabitants.

This works out in a couple of practical ways:

  1. Harvest Thanksgiving comes before National Thanksgiving. What I mean by that is very simple: It is God’s shalom that matters first and foremost. The Peace that God gives is a Peace and a Joy that is to be shared with all, for it is a Good that is intended for all creatures, great and small, strong and weak. Harvest Thanksgiving reminds us that we are firstly defined by God’s promise of a home that exceeds our own nation and city and whatever place we find ourselves; it reminds us that God’s definition of the Good must govern our own definition of the Good. As people who have tasted God’s shalom, our definition of what is considered ‘good’ must be a reflection of the Good of who God is and what God intends for all nations – Peace: a putting things to rights, a justice, a righteousness that is good for everyone and everything.
  2. Thanksgiving Day – today – is a thanksgiving for all those things that we appreciate around us, in our nation, our city, in our families, in our friends. Today is a day of general thanksgiving, to be shared and celebrated joyfully. And this general thanks is to be offered in the light of the God who sends rain upon both the ‘just’ and the ‘unjust’, as the scriptures have it.

Jeremiah helps us connect these things properly. The shalom of God determines the well-being of the city. That means that today as we give thanks we might ask ourselves: “What is the good for the city in which we live and for which we are thankful?” “What is the good for the nation?” “What is the good for those closest to us – friends, neighbours, enemies?” And “how does what the city or the nation assumes to be good fit with the good of God, the shalom that is intended for all, that shared good that belongs to the Creator of all, that Creator who is also, in Christ, the healer of the nations?”

Harvest Thanksgiving reminds us on this day of national Thanksgiving that gratitude knows no national bounds. As we confess our faith each week, we acknowledge that we belong to a new kind of family, a family that is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, a family that is marked out by its acknowledgement of Christ as Lord.

This specific family helps us see our general family more clearly. From the perspective of Harvest Thanksgiving, any nation, no matter when and where, is in need of the Good – that Good which transcends all of us, and which critiques us, like the prophet Jeremiah, calling us to pray and to seek this Good – and indeed give thanks on Thanksgiving, both Harvest and National , because to acknowledge the good on these days should be to acknowledge the God who defines the Good.

So here we are this morning, having been identified with Christ in the waters of baptism, and fed each week by the life of Christ given to us in bread and wine at the Eucharist; here we are, in worship on a day of national thanksgiving. We are not here to praise the nation, but to praise God. And so in all our thanksgiving, we seek the good of God; we are thankful for our nation, and we seek its good. We seek the good of the city of London, and we pray for it and act within it on behalf of the good – for as the scriptures remind us we know our lives to be bound up with the larger good of the city, just as our well-being is bound up with the well-being of the whole of creation – all of which belongs to God. Amen.