True thanksgiving

Oxtongue Lake, Algonquin Highlands, 24 Sept 2021, photo by Martin Malina
“True Thanksgiving” audio sermon by Martin Malina

“Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? … Look at the birds of the air …

Are you not of more value than they?” 

(Jesus, Matthew 6:25-26) 

This text is the Gospel assigned for Thanksgiving Day.[1] What I find curious is that on Thanksgiving we give thanks, normally, for the material things we have – shelter, food, and the abundance of physical blessings …

And I don’t hear Jesus saying that food and clothing are unimportant to people of faith. Jesus isn’t downplaying our material world. Jesus isn’t saying we should not pay attention to the ‘stuff’ of this world. 

Yet, Jesus seems to be saying more, here. That true thanksgiving goes beyond being grateful for what we have; that true thanksgiving is celebrating who we are: Look at the birds of the air … Are you not of more value than they?” 

In this text, Jesus draws attention to our hearts and seeks to build us up as beloved children of God, created in God’s very own image. We have, if anything, value in who we are and the faith we express “genuinely”; who we are is “more precious than gold.”[2]

I was reading about one of the quietest rooms on earth at Orfield Labs in Minneapolis. Originally these ‘dead rooms’ were built in the Second World War to test communications systems. Basically, you step into one of these rooms and it’s much more, or less literally, than getting a bit of peace and quiet away from a hectic, noisy day in the city.

A typical room you sleep in at night that is quiet measures about 30 decibels. Even when we perceive it to be quiet, there is still sound bouncing off walls and surfaces around us. But the ‘dead room’ in Minneapolis measures at negative (-) 9 decibels. In this room there is absolutely no echo as the walls of the chamber absorb any and all sound. The effect on a human being is startling, to say the least.

The longest anyone has ever lasted in this room is 45 minutes. All you will hear inside this room are your organs—your heart beating, air and blood rushing through your system. After about 30 minutes of only hearing your body normally functioning and nothing else, you will begin to hallucinate. The negative silence can drive you, literally, crazy.

When you remove any external source of sound, and only hear what’s coming from within you, it’s too much for us to handle. It’s like we cannot bear for long facing, confronting and dealing with what comes from inside of us when there is nothing coming at us from without.

It’s like at best we feel uncomfortable facing ourselves; at worst, we only see bad things inside of us—our sin. At worst, we would do harm by the negative and judgemental words we tell ourselves, and the habits we fall into that are often unhealthy. If it’s only about what’s inside of us would God take delight in us?

Living in a world where so much of who we are is defined and determined by our external circumstances presents a real challenge to our faith. Jesus knows this. If there is anything in the New Testament about which Jesus speaks harshly, or dualistically (either-or), it’s about money. “You cannot serve both God and wealth; you cannot serve two masters,” Jesus says in the verse immediately preceding the Gospel text for today. 

Jesus speaks absolutely about money because he knows what we are going to do. He already knows our natural inclination to place most of our worth and value on those external things. He already knows that we are primarily motivated by counting, weighing, measuring and deserving – these are activities whose motivation comes from outside of us. And he already knows that as long as we ally ourselves with this world of earning and losing, we’ll always be comparing, competing, envying, or climbing.[3] We will continue to be driven from without. And be continually restless and discontented. 

So, he says: 

“Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? … Look at the birds of the air …Are you not of more value than they?”

Our value, our worth, is based not on what we have, but who we are. Not on bank accounts, investments, clothes and financial portfolios. And Jesus says this not only that we would love ourselves first, but so that we would confer the same value on others. So, our love and care for others is not based on what they have earned but on who they are in God’s eyes.

So, Jesus is about re-calibrating the engine of our hearts. Contrary to the lure of material wealth, success and meritocracy, the generating motor that keeps us going in this life is inside of us, where God’s Spirit indwells. The primary engine is neither a lure or a threat from outside us. Rather, we are drawn from within, where the Spirit nudges us and strengthens us.

We are of more value than the birds of the air. God does take delight in us, as we are. We are of more value without needing to store up riches on earth. Because we know we have an inherent dignity within, a dignity shared with all human beings.

“Deep calls to deep”, the Psalmist sings.[4] Our inner source is not to be feared nor tolerated nor ignored in our externally over-stimulated lives. And if ever you find yourself twisting in the winds of material concerns and worries, just stop to listen to your heart beat. Do you hear it now? Stop to listen to the involuntary rush of air, breathing into your lungs and breathing out. Do you feel it?

Our hearts continue to beat and pump blood, faithfully, even when we don’t notice. Our lungs continue to draw air, faithfully. We don’t need quiet rooms to appreciate that. Our inner source is beloved. And it is a gift. It is at this deeper level where we find our place and our true connection with others in this world.

A cause for humble and true thanksgiving.


[1] Matthew 6:24,25-34

[2] 1 Peter 1:7

[3] Richard Rohr, “We Cannot Serve Two Masters” in What Do We Do With Money? (Daily Meditations, www.cac.org, 20 September 2021)

[4] Psalm 42:7

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