"Thanksgiving Eve 2003"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Julie Murdoch - November 27, 2003

Oh, God, to whom we give thanks for all things, open our hearts and minds to hear your word, open our eyes to see your face in the faces of those around us.  Amen. 


The reading we just heard on the American commitment was part of a sermon preached by A. Powell Davies.  Davies was a Methodist minister from Wales who immigrated to the United States as a young man in 1928.  He later became a Unitarian and was one of the great preachers of his day.  

I have to admit…I hadn’t heard of Davies until we were working on this service, and that, I now realize, is my loss because A. Powell Davies was a remarkable man.  He was a man who believed fervently in the good that America was and did.  But he was also a realist about what was lacking.  While Davies deplored the actions of Hitler, he was a pacifist.  He saw the devastation that war wreaked on the world, and the arrogance that all too frequently made that devastation worse.  

As a minister in Washington, DC, Davies saw the promise in a democratic society, but wept over the evils of segregation in this great country.  He fought against all the social and political structures that divide people, and prayed for a day when the promise of America would be fulfilled.  And he died much too young, stricken by a blood clot at the age of fifty-five. 

Powell Davies was a man committed to the love of God.  He was committed to the beliefs that all of our great religions hold in common -- beliefs in justice, concern for others, and the dignity of each human.  He would, I’m sure, have whole-heartedly endorsed the words of the Muslim cleric which we heard earlier:  “All peoples are members of the same body, created from one essence.  If fate brings suffering to one member the others cannot stay at rest.” 

Davies was man who refused to accept the lines that were drawn by those around him:  lines between black people and white people, between rich and poor, between one religion and another--any line that divided “them” from “us” with unreasoning force.  Davies preached and he practiced what the founders of our nation had proclaimed:  that all people are created equal and all have inalienable rights.

Of course, as we well know, Davies ideal of America remains far from fulfilled.  Davies dreamed of, hoped for an America that opposed the barriers of exclusiveness.  This is, after all, a country that was in part founded by those who had suffered religious or economic oppression in their native lands.   

But history shows us that Davies dream for America has, in fact, never been fulfilled.  The first colonists came to this land because of the lines drawn against them in England and Europe…and in many cases the first thing they did was draw lines of their own.   

The colonists built forts to separate them from the Native Americans.  They drew up lists and requirements for members of their colony.  The Protestants of the Pilgrim group rejected the Puritan Protestants…and vice versa.  Two early colonies, Rhode Island and Connecticut, were founded by members of the Puritans who were driven out of their community when they could not live within the lines that had been drawn for them. 

And all too often, we still draw lines, we still divide “us” from “them.”  Those lines still divide us…by race, socio-economic class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political party…even by what type of car we drive.  (I don’t drive an SUV…do you??)  And the lines are drawn, the barriers are erected, by people on both sides of each divide.   

Even within churches (including unfortunately, my own), lines are being drawn and turf staked out, with each side claiming to know the true will of God…and neither side seeming to be able to listen to what their fellow worshippers have to say. 

As a country, we have seen riots and marches, finger-pointing and mud-slinging.  Talk radio shows that epitomize the rhĂëoric of divisiveness and haëĂ get ever higher ratings.   

Too often when I turn on the news, I see stories of exclusion and animosity and I despair of the state of this country. 

And yet…and yet…somehow America continues to grow, to change, and to flourish.  Somehow, despite all the lines we draw, we manage to live, to work, to go to school, and to worship alongside each other.  While other countries around the world see their governments falter, or dissolve in a frenzy of warfare and hatred, America manages to continue on its course.  Oh, not without the occasional detour or setback…or attempted impeachment…but somehow, we the people continue day by day to continue our walk together toward the future. 

As the Russian comedian Yakoff Smirnoff would say, “is this a great country, or what?” 

It was this ability to carry on, to move forward despite the worst of situations, that prompted Abraham Lincoln to proclaim a Thanksgiving holiday in 1863.  As he said in his proclamation,  

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.

 Even today, under threat of war and terrorism, in the face of economic and other crises, we manage.  We gather for worship, do our jobs, care for our children, pursue our daily lives.  We manage, and we move forward.   

But how?  How do we do it? 

I believe our nation moves on toward its future, we overcome all the things that could tear us apart, because of the very fact that God has graced us with differences.  We succeed because we are different, not in spite of it.  

In America, no one voice speaks for every voice.  No one face reflects every face.  No one belief states every belief.  We cannot draw such fixed lines or such high walls that all other voices are stilled, all other faces hidden, all other beliefs crushed.  We are too stubborn, and too different.

Our legal structures recognize the value of our differences.  In their wisdom, the drafters of the Constitution established a system that protects the rights of the minority from the desires of the majority.  Our freedoms -- of assembly, religion, and the press -- are the guarantors of our right to be different.  Each time a majority attempts to enforce its will, there will be a voice that will rise up in challenge.  This voice might be a prophetic voice, like that of A. Powell Davies or Martin Luther King, Jr.  Or the voice might be a cartoon on the editorial page of a newspaper.   

In America, we have a chance to hear the voices that challenge us and call us to remember and value those who are different. 

Our social structures, too, remind us of the value of those who are different, especially those who are on the margins of society.  As individuals, and through organizations like the Bowie Food Pantry, we strive to hear the cries of the needy.  This is the call of Isaiah, to loose the bonds of injustice, to share bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless.  For Christians, it is the call to serve Christ in the least of these, our brothers and sisters.  

This service, this gathering together of people and prayer from different faith traditions, is a sign of how our diversity can enrich us.  A gathering of this kind would be unthinkable in many nations; in America, an interfaith service is wonderfully commonplace. 

In our differences, God has blessed us.  Because we are not uniform, we can remain united.  As long as we remember that those who are different from us are no less part of us, America will continue to move forward. 

We have seen the dangers that enforced uniformity can bring.  We have seen the Final Solution of the Nazis, the Rwandan massacres of the Hutus and Tutsis, the slaughter of the Shiites in Iraq.  Each time in modern history that a nation has succumbed to the temptation to enforce uniformity on its people, war and bloodshed have been the result. 

But we have also seen the gifts that living with differences can bring.  After the terrorist attacks of 2001, some Muslims and Sikhs in America were targeted for reprisals.  Immediately, the great majority of Americans rose up and rejected such actions.  We recognized that different didn’t mean bad; a head covering didn’t mean a terrorist. 

We showed our strength in our reactions to these hate crimes.  Community members kept watch on mosques in their neighborhoods, and those who committed hate crimes were caught and prosecuted.  We refused to draw lines against those who were different, even in the face of great temptation. 

Now, on this Thanksgiving Eve of 2003, our nation is again at war, and we are faced again with the temptation to draw lines…lines between those who support the war and those who oppose it, lines between the “us” of America and the “them” of Iraq.   

I pray that we will once more struggle through…that for every line that is drawn in fear, there will be someone who will cross over it, holding out the hand of friendship.  I pray that the God who has graced each person with differences will help all people to overcome prejudice.  I pray that every place there is war, peace will break through. 

On this Thanksgiving Eve, may we all pray together, giving thanks to God in celebration of our differences, and in the gift that is each one of us.