“Give thanks in all circumstances.”
I Thessalonians 5:12-18
Our niece Laura and her husband Gideon have had a baby. They knew that the child would be a boy, but they were not forthcoming about what he would be called. So there was much speculation about his name in the weeks before he was born. Then we were given a clue. His name would be from the Old Testament just like his father's. Then another clue, it would have five letters, so Isobel and I immediately thought of David. Then came the day of his birth, and his name was Jadon. Not even his grandfather Ron, whose eyebrows were raised when he was told, and who had been a minister trained in the Bible, had ever heard the name before -- "where on earth is Jadon in the Bible?" -- he asked? So as the expert on such matters, I was brought into solve the mystery. I, too, was confounded for once. But after a search I found Jadon lurking in an obscure text in one of the lesser read known in the Old Testament, Nehemiah chapter 3 verse 7. The story is about the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem after the exile:
"Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodelah repaired the Old Gate, they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts and its bars. Next to them repairs were made by Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite -- the men of Gibeon and Mizpah -- who were under the jurisdiction pof the governor of the province beyond the River."
Well, they could have called him Joiada or Meshullam or Melatiah, Ron, so be grateful they decided on Jadon the Meronothite! But therein lies the clue. For Jadon in Hebrew means "gratitude" or "thanksgiving." Suddenly baby Jadon's name had rich meaning. He is not only a potential builder -- useful to know that these days when plumbers, electricians and builders are in such demand -- but above all, he is a sign of gratitude. And, in addition, these days when baby names have become an industry, it is different and in another league to Sugar-Pie. Jadon has class We can not only live with that; we can rejoice with Laura and Gideon in their giving thanks to God for the gift of a son, their first-born. Welcome Jadon into the family and the world. One day we might need your building skills on Volmoed!
Today, being the third Thursday in November, is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. More so than any religious festival whether it be Christmas or some other, this is the celebration nobody wants to miss. I know from experience that to catch a flight in America during Thanksgiving week, especially in weather like they are having at the moment, is to experience absolute chaos and bedlam at the airports as millions of people travel home for the celebration. Everybody wants to be home for Thanksgiving. It is a splendid family occasion. We have been to several over the years as we were last November in Atlanta, and will be going this evening to Thanksgiving in Pinelands! In Hebrew we will be celebrating the feast of Jadon!
St. Paul encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” When all is going well and Spring is in the air; when we wake to a fresh dawn anticipating all that the new day will bring, it is difficult not to be grateful. Or when you have given birth to a newborn baby and are looking for a name,, Jadon immediately comes to mind, at least if you have been reading Nehemiah in Hebrew! But there are times in our lives when being thankful is the last thing that spring to mind. When we are gripped by anxiety or fear, shaken by sorrow or struck down by illness and pain, plunged into bouts of depression and melancholy, or just downright angry, we don’t normally erupt into prayers or songs of thanksgiving. We would be a little peculiar if we oozed with gratitude when we crashed our car, or were the victim of fraud or robbery, or fell seriously ill. And we would be surprised if the victims of famine, fire, earthquake and drought gave thanks for what has happened to them.
Yet is it not true that people who have the most things in life are often the least grateful and the most greedy because they think they are all-sufficient. And, by contrast, people who have very little in terms of this world’s goods are often the most grateful because they know they are dependent on the love of God and the generosity of others. And that, of course, is what our gospel reading is about today. Unlike those religious legalists who sat at table with Jesus, it was the woman who knew she was so dearly loved and forgiven who showed gratitude in wiping Jesus feet with her tears and costly oil. Gratitude is a way in which we express our love.
The Christian way of life, we might say, is meant to be an expression of gratitude to God.
That is one reason why we gather here each Thursday to celebrate this meal of thanksgiving or Eucharist, for that is what the word means. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” we say, “… it is indeed our joy to give you thanks always and everywhere.” Celebrating the Eucharist each week together is a way of shaping our lives into a pattern of gratitude that should be expressed in love and compassion day by day. And saying grace or a prayer of thanksgiving at meal time is a daily reminder that this is so as we remember God's goodness but also pray for those who have far less than we have.
Thanksgiving also empowers us as we face life day by day, especially in difficult times when thanksgiving brings to mind good and helpful memories. Writing from prison as his own future grew increasingly dark, Dietrich Bonhoeffer told his friend Eberhard Bethge: “the power of memories returns again and again through the power of gratitude.” The power of gratitude! I find that a remarkable insight that takes us to the heart of the Christian gospel. Gratitude does not take away our pain or sorrow, but it helps us regain perspective and embark on the journey of healing and renewal. For how do we cope with the death of a loved one except by being grateful for precious memories and thankful for the support of friends? The awakening of a sense of gratitude likewise enables us to recognize that everything of real value is a gift from God whether life itself or the love and care we receive from others. So today as we give thanks in remembrance of Christ, we renew our commitment to live gratefully. Thanks Jadon for reminding us!
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 27 November 2014