A Message delivered by Young-Mee Park,
Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Oak Park,
Hearing that I was going to deliver the Thanksgiving Reflection in today’s service, one of my friends blurted out: “What are you going to say? It must be a very short reflection, since you have known only five Thanksgivings.”
She is right. I have been in the United States for only five and a half years now. I lived in Europe for almost double the time I spent here, but there, they do not celebrate Thanksgiving as you do here. I was born and raised in Korea, but there they do not celebrate Thanksgiving as you do here, either.
I don’t know if the executive board of the community of congregations made a wise choice designating me as preacher today, but I firmly believe that, if we gathered here today, bringing different traditions of faith, different cultural and spiritual backgrounds, it is because whoever we are and wherever we are from, we, the people of faith, share the common spirit, the spirit of Thanksgiving.
Even if we belong to the same culture or to the same tradition of faith, I do not think that, any one here came to this place, carrying with her or him the same stories or the same memories. For some, Thanksgiving is a day of warm memories of feast and lavish sharing, not only of great food but also of joy and love and care. But for others, Thanksgiving is rather a time of sore memories of pain, anger and frustration of a family at odds.
However, we all came here today, from different traditions and from different walks of life, to affirm and to claim and proclaim the spirit of Thanksgiving we share as people of faith.
Here, I’d like to share with you a couple of surprises that I had as a new comer in the U.S. society. The very first one was the stores that are open 24 hours a day, but that’s not the surprise I want to talk about today. As I was trying to adjust to the life of this new world, I was surprised by so many volunteers in the society, so many good individuals willing to make a difference in people’s lives. The first volunteers that I met were the coaches of my two boys’ baseball teams. And since, I never stopped being surprised and impressed by so many dedicated volunteers involved in different social programs, such as PADS, Food Pantry, Holiday Gift Basket, and the Walk-In Ministry which will open its doors in a week from tomorrow. I have no doubt that it is the spirit of Thanksgiving that you share that makes you step forward, volunteer, and give, so generously and so faithfully.
But I also had a quite different surprise, another image of the United States, which, in my opinion, reflects the opposite of the spirit of Thanksgiving and which, in my opinion, is no less strongly present in the society. I know I don’t have much time left, so I’ll be straightforward. We live in fear: the fear of terrorist attack, the fear of chemical warfare, the fear of nuclear weapons, the fear of pandemic, the fear of strangers.…. We are a nation consumed by fears of a different kind.
But the fear I want to talk about today is still another kind, different from those fears that became stark since September 2001. It is about a fear that pervades our culture and society, one of the most implicit motives that rule in people’s lives: the fear of scarcity.
Yes, my sisters and brothers, I do think that on the opposite side of the spirit of Thanksgiving is the fear of scarcity, the fear that there is not enough to go around, that we are going to run short of oil, gas, jobs, time, life, love. We are taught to seize and hoard and store up anything we can, time, money, resources, goods, even the goods of our neighbors……. and what do you think the outcome is?
If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to come and visit one of the homeless shelters in the community. You will be surprised to see so many people, young or old, singles or households, in need of your help, your care and your attention. And you will wonder: “How do they end up here?”
We live in a world stricken with hunger, poverty and conflicts, here in the United States as well as in other parts of the world. You don’t have to fully agree with me, but I think that these are our choices, the choices of our government and our society consumed by the fear of imagined scarcity, for poverty does not come from nowhere, conflict does not emerge from nothing.
It is in face of this reality, that we, the people of faith gathered today, proclaiming God’s goodness and abundance. The texts and prayers we shared today are all from different traditions, but they all affirm with one voice: God is good; in the world where God rules, there is abundance; God has endowed the world with extravagant wealth; there is more than enough to go around.
We are not to let fear creep in where faith should live. Fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear destroys, faith builds up; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes us useless, faith makes us serviceable.
Thanksgiving is a reminder and an invitation to step out of the fear of presumed scarcity and practice, actively, diligently, and creatively, the truth of abundance. There is enough to go around. Thanks be to God.