Happenings

Nevertheless, let us give thanks

Mar 2009    

R E F L E C T I O N S BY REV GABRIEL LIEW

IMAGINE. It was Thanksgiving and the preacher was ready to begin. He stepped up to the pulpit, cleared his throat, “Ahem” and began.

He said, “Let us give thanks, for our marvellous bodies, for legs that walk and
run, for ears that hear the song of the bird and for eyes that see the beauty of the flower.”

And sadly, without a word, Rose who was blind, Charles who was deaf, and Richard who walked with crutches, left their seats and made their way out of the church.

The preacher continued, “Let us give thanks for our comfortable homes and for the countless pleasures of family and friends.”

A homeless migrant worker in Little India bit his lips. He had come to church to escape the exposure to the elements. There was a 10-yearold boy whose mother had died, and several people who lived by themselves in loneliness. They got up and left.

And the preacher said, “Let us give thanks for the wonderful food that we enjoy, for the good tastes and smells of all the food that fill our tables.”

Three small children who had not had a good meal since their father lost his job slipped out the door.

The preacher went on, “Let us give thanks for beauty, for the gracefulness of the human form.”

Plain Jane clinched. And Miss Chan had always been selfconscious because her hips were too big. They got up and left the church.

Still the preacher spoke. “Let us give thanks for our wonderful minds through which we can appreciate art and science and literature and history and probe the mysteries of the universe.”

Joe the plumber and several students of average intelligence blushed. And two not-so-sophisticated Ah Long and Ah Hui looked bewildered. They all rose and walked to the door.

But the preacher continued. “Let us give thanks for the virtues that we enjoy:for love and faithfulness, for kindness and understanding.”

Tim, whose wife had left him for someone else, felt uncomfortable.

Sophie had longed for love but never found it. Zac, who was attending angermanagement class, could hardly pay attention. They left their seats and went
outside.

And the preacher spoke on, saying, “Let us give thanks for the blessings of justice and peace.”

One of the 180 hungry Bangladeshi workers who were abandoned by their agent reached for his wallet. It was empty. An undocumented worker from China who had just been released from prison mumbled with an accent. They got up and left quietly.

The preacher said, “Let us give thanks for the victory and success of our great Institutional church.”

Dr Wesley smiled. He was a scholar who reached out to marginalised people such as the abused maids. But the irony was that he found himself marginalised by the established church. He shook his head and walked away.

The preacher had been so intent on his manuscript that he had not looked up to see what was happening. Finally he looked up from his manuscript.

He could not believe his eyes! There were just a few people left! And he cried out, “My Lord, where have they all gone?”

And then there came a still small voice: “You have exalted what I have not promised. You have given thanks for things they all do not have. When have I promised wholeness of body or earthly comfort? When have I promised unbroken ties with family or friends? When have I promised beauty or intelligence? When have I told you that you would know perfect justice and peace in this world?

Remember my servant Job? Remember my son Jesus? When have I promised an easy lot for my children?”

The preacher cried out, “O Lord, then what will you give us?”

And the voice replied, “Myself. I will never leave you or forsake you. I will be
with you till the end of the world.”

The preacher ran down the aisle and he found the people lingering in the social hall. They were standing in silence with downcast eyes. The preacher cried out, “O my friends, I have been mistaken. We may or may not have health. We may or may not have friends. We may or may not have justice. But all we can be sure of is God.

Emmanuel, God is with us and this is all that matters.”

The blind woman wept, and the friendless man grasped his neighbour’s hand. The vulnerable outcast and the social prophet knew that their struggles were not in vain. The activists and reformers knew that their effort was worthwhile. The average Joe, the plain Jane, the foreigners, the parents of children with special
needs, people suffering from bipolar disorder, the mentally, vertically and horizontally challenged, they all went back into the church.

The preacher went back to his pulpit and the people in the congregation looked up and waited for him to speak.

And the preacher said, “Let us give thanks that God is with us.” And the congregation cried out, “Amen!” – Adapted and retold from an essay entitled A Thanksgiving by Richard Hunter, Together (November 1966).

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