Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Father Riley's homily for St. Joseph's Thanksgiving Community Service

[About 90 people from throughout Tensas Parish attended Saint Joseph's Community Thanksgiving Service this past Sunday at Christ Episcopal Church.  Everyone brought canned goods and non-perishables to be given to The Shepherd Center.  The offering was designated for The Shepherd Center.  Glorious music was provided by Cecil, Vickie, and Mary Nell. We joined our neighbors in the Parish Hall for food and fellowship following the service.  The ladies of CEC decorated the Hall and provided far more wonderful food than was needed.]
Everyone feels anxious now and then. It’s a normal emotion. Many feel nervous when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision.
Anxiety is so wide spread in our society today that doctors have diagnosed several different types of anxiety disorders. People who have feelings of terror, for example, that strike suddenly and repeatedly and without warning are said to have a panic disorder.
Others have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, or social phobia. These individuals overwhelmingly worry and are self-conscious about everyday social situations. Their worry centers on a fear of being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or lead to ridicule.
Then there are those who are plagued with specific phobias like for a specific object or situation, such as heights or flying. Finally there is a generalized anxiety, which is unrealistic and excessive worry, even if there is little or nothing to worry about. These people worry simply because they have nothing to worry about!
I guess that is why J.R. Williams, a cartoonist, created the “worrywart” character in 1956 in his “Out Our Way” cartoon series, referring to someone who worries all the time especially about unimportant things. My mother must have read his series, for she would often say to my brother and to me “don’t be a worrywart,” when we would make a comment about something that was troubling us and that we had no control over.
Tonight’s reading from Matthew is a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on Mount. Jesus is warning us against anxiety, not against thoughtful planning. Our physical well-being is directly dependent on God, and only indirectly on food, drink, and clothing.
The Israelites discovered this the hard way while wandering in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. When they were hungry they complained and God fed them with manna from heaven while they stood with their feet in the desert sand. When they got thirsty, and complained, God instructed his servant Moses to strike a certain rock and water gushed forth quenching their thirst. As far as their clothes were concerned, they did not wear out, nor did their shoes.
How much more would God have to do for them in order that they might believe in Him and learn to put their trust in His providence and give Thanks for their many blessings? We all know the answer to that question - forty years more. They were slow-learners at best. My mother would say, they were “worrywarts,” who worried all the time.
Anxiety over earthly things demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s care. In the gospel, Jesus calls us to be free from anxiety about earthly things. Instead he directs us to look to heaven, secure in the faith that God will provide needed earthly blessings, which is the very opposite of “men of little faith” who are unwilling to rest in the assurance that God cares about their lives.
Food, clothing, and shelter are basic needs. And to have them is a blessing. Sometimes I fear we overlook the many blessings we do have and so often take for granted. Like minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve.
Thanksgiving brings with it many traditions, not the least of which is the traditional family meal. As a young boy I learned to look forward to the Thanksgiving meal at our house. Cousins, aunts, and uncles not seen any other time of the year would come from far and near bringing with them their favorite dish to share.
Mother would cook the turkey, along with corn bread stuffing. We would have giblet gravy and cranberry sauce and lots of deserts. Before grace was said, we would go around the table and each member of the family would share one thing they were thankful for. I had this one aunt who always brought her aspic salad. I must confess I never gave thanks for that!
Thanksgiving was always a most scrumptious meal and a time of fellowship, sharing, and laughter, a time for the family to be together. Afterwards the youngest and the oldest present would pull the wishbone and plans were made for the next year.
We are here tonight as members of God’s family gathered from throughout this community. We have gathered together to give Thanks to God in song, prayer, and praise for the many blessings received, and to remember those within our community who are in need. We come from different religious traditions but we all have one thing in common, our Faith in Jesus Christ and our Trust in God’s providence.
We come acknowledging that the world we live in is indeed an anxious place. There are so many unknowns. So much to be worried about. But the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us not to be. Rather, Christ teaches us to place our Trust in Him, acknowledging our dependence on God alone. In Him we are freed from anxiety and fear which is the opposite of faith.
As God’s family we have many things to be Thankful for, not the least of which, is the freedom to worship the One True God and to live and witness to the new life to which we have been called in the name of Him who died and rose again, opening to us the way of everlasting life, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Redeemer, who said to his friends then, and to his friends now, “Therefore, do not worry, saying, “what shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’ Your heavenly father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” AMEN+    (11/20/16)

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