A Psalm of thanksgiving.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
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What an obvious choice of scripture for a Thanksgiving service, right? This Psalm is literally subtitled “A Psalm of thanksgiving.” Yeah, it might be an obvious choice for a Thanksgiving service, but it’s not really an obvious choice for this current moment, at least not to me. Thanksgiving is my favorite family holiday. My parents host it, and every year the whole family looks forward to not only the food, but also our annual Thanksgiving Day touch-football game. My dad is almost 70-years-old, and he goes infamously hard every year, and almost always winds up with a bloody hand or a very skinned knee which he shows off with competitive and gleeful pride. He calls plays that are often much too complicated for some of us, but always enthusiastically applauds our efforts. But there will be no dropped passes or touchdowns or interceptions this year. No big family gatherings, no poking fun at the only two people at the Thanksgiving table who actually like peas, no extra pies coming from Aunt Mary Jane. This year looks different, it looks a little sad, it doesn’t look like we wanted it to. I won’t look like what we expected.
And in the past few weeks, to add to that very personal grief, we’ve seen example after example of how tenuous and fragile this country’s institutions are—how divided we are as a country. And this Psalm we just heard—this is an enthronement psalm, a culmination, a finale of a group of royal psalms. A psalm praying for wisdom of the leaders of nations, a psalm imploring us to thank God and love God for all the Godly work, but I don’t see a lot of evidence of that Godly work these days. I’m exhausted, I’m sad, I’m sometimes frightened. This moment in time would be much better represented by a psalm of lament than this psalm of Thanksgiving and praise.
Now something some of you may know about me, and many of you may not, is that before I came up here to Vermont a couple months ago, I had lived in Philadelphia for about 6 years. Philly is a great city, but I’m very happy to be back in New England. If I’m being honest, I haven’t missed Philly all that much… but I did a couple weeks ago, in the immediate aftermath of the election. Videos of Philly residents dancing in long voter lines when viral. Demonstrations turned into celebrations, people were dressed as the beloved cult Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty, dancing in the streets. In the days after the election, Philadelphia was truly a joyful place.
Later on, reading about the dance parties, the fireworks, I found out, this was not by accident. Local Philly organizers made sure this joy occurred. Local Philly organizers knew what people were expecting from Philly—a city with a reputation tough as nails, a city that throughout its history has had no shortage of political and racial strife and violence. This is a city that very recently, less than a month ago, saw another horrible and shamefully unnecessary death of a mentally ill black man, Walter Wallace Jr., and saw the demonstrations against and protests of police brutality that followed. This is a city that everyone expected to be angry. A city that everyone expected to erupt in unrest while the country—no, the world—waited for Pennsylvania to announce the winner of the presidential election. The world, I think, was expecting Philly to erupt in anger and unrest and violence regardless of the results.
But Philly proved them wrong. Local community organizers planned this joy. One of those organizers, a Philly pastor, Nicolas O’Rourke, was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer saying, “When there’s so much hate and so much resistance to truth and justice, joy is itself an act of resistance.” Joy is itself an act of resistance. How perfect.
It’s expected, I think that many of us will feel disappointed this year—that many of us will be grieving the loss of a family tradition, that many of us will feel a little lonely. And that’s okay.
But as we move forward, as we get through this strange and quiet Thanksgiving, I’m wondering how we can follow in Philly’s example. I’m not suggesting we just pretend everything is okay and plaster on some fake smiles over this strange and solitary holiday season. But I am suggesting that we start to think of ways we can bring joy to this world. Ways that we can subvert expectations, ways we can joyfully surprise people… ways in which we can remind people that God’s “steadfast love endures forever.”
In Philly, in the face of fear and pessimism, they danced. What can we do in the face of disappointment and isolation? This Thanksgiving isn’t looking like we want it to. Over here, Advent and Christmas certainly won’t be the same. But we must maintain contact in some capacity. We will continue to show love to one another. We will be creative and show love and joy in the face of uncertainty. I think we’re doing it right now—we’re having a traditional combined service in a new and different way, and you all showed up. You all signed on. And the annual community Thanksgiving meal is still going on! It just looks a little different. And maybe we can’t come to God singing in person. But we can make our own alters and find a togetherness in experiencing this service, this music together now. We can persevere in the face of whatever forces are fighting tooth and nail to break us down.
We can act with love in a world full of hate. We can speak truth in a world of disinformation and lies. We can work for justice in a world riddled with inequality.
This world is broken. But we can work to fix it. And it will take work. Those dance parties in Philly came about with love and passion and work from tireless organizers. They proved the haters wrong but it took work. It takes work to be joyful in the face of oppression and pessimistic and cynical expectations. It takes work to make a joyful noise, to have faith in God’s faithfulness.
God is faithful to all generations—God is faithful to all, period. In a world in which the fires of division are constantly being fanned, it is an act of loving resistance, I believe, to believe, to know, that God is faithful to all. Together today, as we two congregations, two different belief systems, coming together to worship and to make joyful noise in this place, in different places, we are letting the world know that we will not give in to its cynicism. We will not give into the divisiveness and the anger in this world that is telling us to hate those who are different. We will resist that hate by being together by being apart. We will resist this hate by persevering and being the church in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of grief, in the midst of isolation. We are a tight-knit community even on screens—we are family even when we are separated walls, by miles, by borders.
By being apart, we are showing love and togetherness and gratitude. By worshipping together but in so many different spaces, we are showing love and gladness. There are those who say we can’t make a joyful noise to the Lord if we don’t gather together in churches. There are those who don’t feel people can’t feel or express gratitude outside a crowded Thanksgiving table. There are those who expect us to give up and give in during these dark times. I’m asking us all today, to take a page from Philly’s playbook. Let’s prove the haters wrong. Let’s make a joyful noise to the Lord from our living room couches. Let’s enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and praise over zoom with our loved ones this Thursday. Let’s keep working and loving through these heartbreaking times.
Let’s prove the haters wrong with love, with work, with Thanksgiving.