It is Thanksgiving Day. It is a couple of weeks after a bitter national election. I have been thinking about both of these things. I can't avoid the sight of the red caps which read, "Make America Great Again." It may be an occupational hazard, but it can't help thinking about them, and wondering about it. What makes us great? How do we define it? how do we know when we get there? Is it a place we stay or do we just catch a glimpse of it? What makes us great?
For my former congregation, formed just after World War II, one of the things that made us great was winning World War II. After that, America was a undisputed superpower. We also had nuclear weapons, with all of the power and responsibility that they carried. We had prosperity (we also had very, very high taxes, because we had to pay for the war, but that is beside the point). We had new, labor-saving devices. We had all of these women who had gone to work during the war, leaving the work force. We had all of these soldiers, coming back to their families.
But I learned another narrative of greatness from some of my World War II parish members; I learned about the Marshall Plan, and how the United States and the allies had helped restore their enemies' countries, after the war. I don't know why we did that. After World War I, the world had punished the losers, rather than helping them rebuild. But after World War II, we bound up wounds. I don't know why. Maybe the Depression made people more aware of suffering. Bread lines. Hunger.
What makes us great?
When I think of my own work as a pastor, and the work of my congregation, I ask the same question: What makes us great? I want something that I can point to, perhaps a point of pride. What makes us great?
Since the election, I have been spending more time than usual visiting people. It is not because of the election. It has just happened that way. One woman and her daughter have returned to our congregation after being away for awhile. We are planning a congregational celebration of her daughter's 15th birthday, and also beginning confirmation instruction. A new member of the congregation wants to start a mens' group. Another new member is passionate about prayer.
I have also been visiting with communion, more than usual, or so it seems. One to one, with people in the hospital, at home, who come to church. I open the Bible, the communion kit, search around for the right words. Yesterday, I took my communion kit again to a woman who had just returned from the hospital. After the service, she said that the only thing missing was a song. I promised we would sing, next time.
There is something about sitting down with a Bible, bread and wine, and words of prayer that brings ministry down to its most basic level. This is who I am: a servant, sharing bread, reminding people or their common hunger.
What makes us great?
Bread and wine, the words of promise. Water poured, the water of life. A song at the right time. Acts of compassion, even for enemies.
On this Thanksgiving Day: I am thankful for bread, and the hands that receive it. I am thankful for prayer, given and received. I am thankful for people who listen, who serve, and who are ready for the greatness God is calling us to, which is love.