Longing for More, Wanting What We Have

Dan here…sometimes just economics isn’t enough even on an economics blog. This sermon was lightly edited for readability.


by Rev. Nathan Detering  (First Parish Sherborn, MA)

Longing for More, Wanting What We Have

Have compassion for everyone you meet even if they don’t want it.

What seems conceit, bad manners or cynicism is always a sign

Of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.

You do not know what wars are going on down

Where the spirit meets the bone.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That is how the light gets in.”

NPR is button #1 in the car I drive most often. Kiss 108 is button #6. And even though the car is only a year old, those two buttons are already faded because they are caught in the battle between my kids and I when I drive them to school every morning now that it has turned cold.

A recent volley sounded like this:

From NPR: “33 million Americans will make Thanksgiving their holiday kick-off shopping day this year…” (wow, that’s almost 12% of the American population!)

From Kiss 108: “Here’s a classic from Beyonce: “All the single ladies…All the single ladies…all the single ladies…all the single ladies…if you want it, put a ring on it  (quick aside: my daughter says we should sing Beyonce in church to bring in the younger folks)

“Come on, leave the radio alone”, I say.” I’m listening for sermon material here!”

From NPR: “And ready to accommodate all those shoppers will be Kohl’s, Walmart, Macy’s, Target…”   Accommodation, really? Sounds more like more like entrapment to me.

“Ugh, your station is so depressing,” says kid #2.

Back to Kiss 108: “All the single ladies, all the single ladies…..”

And then the song fades out, and right on a cue comes a voice:

“Thanksgiving is only 6 days away. Before the giving happens,

Why not think of the getting! Come on, you deserve it!

And here to help you is Macy’s.

Come in before next Thursday and get something for yourself

before the family arrives.

Thanks-getting! It’s what happens before the giving!’

Should I just sit down now? Is hearing that, and feeling our reaction, and the music enough for our worship today?


But permit me a small rewind of history: We the people, we the country, who produced the music we are hearing today,

This music from a people descended from people willing to cross oceans And continents “to establish their own religious freedom,”

As President Taft (a Unitarian) said,  “but not anybody else’s!”

These people who longed for something more, for a ‘better place’ as our music notes described it, but in doing so were willing to displace the people they found here or enslave others to make their longing a reality.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Makes me wonder if we should heap a little penance to go alongside our pumpkin pie this year.

Can you permit me a note of preachy-ness?

What makes the commodification of our holidays, and this holiday called Thanksgiving in particular so destructive is that it allows us to forget that each of us, as Forrest Church has said, owes his or her existence to the kindness of strangers and not the width of our wallets. Meaning – before Macy’s thought it brilliant to invite us to get before we give, and before Thanksgiving became the gateway drug to Black Friday and Cyber-Monday,and before Dunkin Donuts decided to stay open 24hrs on Thanksgiving, because apparently America runs on Dunkin and not on grace…

And before the Macy’s Day parade and the bowl games, and before Lincoln commemorated in 1863 the last Thursday in November as a

National day of ‘praise and thanks when no businesses shall be open!’

To help a nation torn by the Civil War,

Before George Washington issued a similar Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789,

And before that proclamation fell on deaf ears,

Before any one of these songs we have heard today was written…

…They the true American people and we, let’s be honest, the true Immigrants (take note, Congress!), before the longing for freedom and a better life brought my ancestors here across oceans, and maybe some of yours, and before people with brown and black skin were brought unwillingly, giving rise to their spirituals like Elijah Rock! (which we just heard)

And before we walked and planted and clear-cut our way west, and yes, before even there were preachers sounding preachy,

We, the white immigrant people, relied on the company of strangers to get us through that first winter, showing us how to plant corn

And survive in the wilderness.

In mid October 1621, the Wampanoag chief and ninety members of his tribe celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the fifty Pilgrims who made it through the winter and thirty-five arrivals who had sailed in on the hopefully name ship “Fortune.” The Wampanoags brought venison, and the Pilgrims, drawing from their limited supplies and a recent hunt, brought turkey, and for three days these two peoples entertained and feasted in a tenuous state of what my colleague Forrest Church describes a ‘mutual distrust.’

An apt description back then, and one that might also fit how some of you will feel sitting with family this Thursday.

Our point is this: we needed each other then, and we need each other now,

And even though this holiday, just as this country, is based on impossibly high ideals that no one , NO ONE  is supposed to be excluded from the table,

We come together, you and I, living in the tension between two places at that table:

One on end, the awareness of how far we remain from the promised

Land our forbears imagined and MLK spoke of,

We the people who cannot say “I am so blessed’

Without also saying ‘but what of the black and brown people in Ferguson?’

We the people who live all too often segregated by color and creed and class

And can live a life almost believing that self-reliance is a virtue

Rather than a delusion (sorry, Mr. Emerson).

Such longing for the promised land at the end of the table.

And at the other end,

Never you mind Macy’s, the big eyes of my children,

The arms they wrap around my shoulders even after I’ve been a big pain,

And the unconditional love,

And the first freeze on the lake this week reflecting in reverse the

Bare arms of the beautiful trees,

And the freedom to take such a walk with those family members

To that lake without fear,

For this body that moves, this air that nourishes, this sky that transcends,

This sanctuary that holds, this prayer that asks, this spirit than answers,

This music that inspires…

For all this and more, we have such gratitude for the love we don’t have to earn,

the grace we don’t have to buy, the gifts we don’t have to get.

This is what that commercial I heard didn’t understand.

It is enough to want what we have.

Can we let this holiday coming speak of this tension we live in between

Our longing and our wanting what we have?

I pray so.

(And a prayer)

Say after me the words: We give thanks.

For the kindness of strangers without whom we would not live.

We give thanks.

For the longing of the promised land, and for the courage to stretch ourselves enough to be uncomfortable as we move toward it:

We give thanks.

For the tension at the table, speaking of discomfort, because only by learning

To love people we may not always like:

We give thanks.

For the food we did not make:

We give thanks.

For the love we did not create:

We give thanks.

For the life we do not have to earn:

We give thanks.

May we have a whole, healed and hallowed Thanksgiving.