Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy Thanksgiving!

A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Delray Beach, Florida

Last Sunday after Pentecost – Christ the King – Proper 29 -  November 19/20,
Ephesians 1:15 – 23; Psalm 100; Matthew 25:31 – 46
Preacher:  The Rev. Canon William H. Stokes, Rector

Occupy Thanksgiving!
Come, you that are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…Matthew 25:34

            Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s Sears, Toys – R – Us, Best Buy, Old Navy and a host of other retailers are now opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day to get an early start on “Black Friday.” Some are opening as early as 9 P.M.  Sears and Old Navy are open all Thanksgiving Day.  Personally, I think it’s shameful.  I’m not alone.  I’m not against retail, but come on! Enough’s enough! 
            In a couple of video reports on-line, Wall Street Journal reporter Gwendolyn Bounds, host of the Journal’s podcast, Lunch Break, stated her opinion that “panic” is the primary reason for this as big “brick and mortar” retailers, who find themselves losing out more and more to on-line shopping, try to gain an advantage by creating frenzy around Thanksgiving.[1] 
            In an interview with retail analyst and Journal reporter Ann Zimmerman, Bounds said, “I’m upset about this; I always thought Thanksgiving was sort of sacrosanct….We at least had that night before the Black Friday rush…”[2]  
            Speaking about his dilemma in a different article in The Journal, Best Buy Chief Executive Brian Dunn, said he felt forced to "make a very difficult decision" and open at midnight because rival retailers were doing so, though the decision was controversial inside the company   "I feel terrible," said Mr. Dunn, who was once a store manager, speaking during a conference in San Francisco. "It will change some Thanksgiving plans for our employees. It certainly changes mine."[3]
            Lunch Break’s Bounds, describing the whole phenomenon of retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day as “a travesty,” closed one of her reports saying, “I wish them the best of luck, but I myself am going to start my own Occupy Thanksgiving Movement and stay home.”[4]   Good for her!
            The undermining of the sabbath quality of Thanksgiving Day, which truly is a day to stop and pause and reflect on the things for which we are thankful, is most disturbing.  Across the nation, retail employees will have no choice in the matter, but will be forced to go into work; for what?  So others can get an early jump on purchasing an item that could just was easily be purchased the following day?  It’s insanity.   Is nothing sacred any more? 
            Today, the feast of Christ the King is a good day to reflect on our priorities.  Who or what holds ultimate sway in our lives?    Is it Christ and the values of his kingdom – values made clear in today’s Gospel reading? Or do other claims make their assertions and take hold of our hearts?  Do these latter values ennoble, or degrade us?   In case you can’t tell, I think they degrade us.
            In 1922, the Fascist Black Shirts of Benito Mussolini marched on Rome.  Italy’s economy had been suffering...The government had been a mess.  Mussolini, it was said, “made the trains run on time.”  Just a year earlier, Adolph Hitler’s famous Beer House Putsch had failed.  After serving time in prison and taking time to write Mein Kamph, he would return to the political scene and, with his Nazi party, rise to power.  Following the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Joseph Stalin quickly began to consolidate his power and would soon control Russia.
            It was within this historical context, a context that was witnessing the rise of Fascism, Nazism and Marxism, with the concurrent rise of brutal ideological dictators - all anti-religious, all anti-clerical - that Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King...It was established with the publication of his encyclical Quas Primas, signed December 11, 1925.[5]
            The Encyclical was intended to help the Church refocus itself on what ought to be primary:  Christ and his kingdom.  It is, perhaps, difficult for us as Americans to grasp this feast of Christ the King; after all, we have little experience with kings and kingship and I suspect little desire to find out what they are about. 
            We are a nation forged on democratic values and the freedom of the individual and this is a vitally important contribution we have made to the world.   Still, even our commitment to democratic life is being compromised. Freedom is being sold out.  Forces, market forces, not only vie for our allegiance; they insinuate themselves into our lives and politics, becoming increasingly more daring, corrupting, until they accomplish their ends. 
            There is not a single holiday in this country that has not been co-opted by the marketplace – Labor Day; Presidents’ Day; Independence Day; Memorial Day; Veterans' Day, Christmas and EasterIn each and every instance, the core meanings of these days have been lost; offered on the sacrificial altar of the marketplace.  What effect does this have on us?  What impact does it have on our narrative and our values as Americans?  I can tell you; it corrodes and erodes them; and it corrodes and erodes us.
            When Pius XI issued Quas Primas he was greatly concerned about anti-clericalism and the declining prestige of the church and its ministers in the face of the rise of secular totalitarian rulers.  The document establishing the feast is not, for me, a compelling read.  I have little concern about these things.  Nonetheless, I appreciate the feast and the need for it, even in our pluralistic society, where it would seem politically incorrect, on many levels, to assert the kingship of Christ.  After all, doesn’t this seem like religious triumphalism?
            Well it could, indeed, be misunderstood in this way and this is always a danger.  The key question to ask is:  What is the nature of the Christ we proclaim as king?  The nature of Christ and his kingship for me is Love…And I am willing to proclaim that Christ anytime, anywhere!
            The EFM (Education for Ministry) classes this past week at St. Paul’s had to wrestle with some of the questions of the early Christological debates of the Church, that is, questions concerning the nature of Jesus as the Christ?  Is he fully human?  Is he fully divine?  How do these natures interact?
            As the earliest church engaged in these debates it became increasingly complex.  Understanding the discussion depended upon understanding the intricacies and nuances of Greek philosophical terms which can be enormously frustrating, perhaps even irritating and also somewhat boring.  If you want to flavor the outcome of some of this debate you can take a look on page 864 of the Book of Common Prayer, in the section titled “Historical Documents of the Church.”  There you will find something titled “Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ,” also known as the “Chalcedonian Definition” because it was formulated at the historic Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D.
            For my part, I find it much easier and more compelling to derive my understanding of the nature of Christ and his kingship from reading the New Testament; reading it, marking it, inwardly digesting it, as the collect from last week said so well.[6]  There is great reward in discovering Christ in this way.
            In today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul, or a close associate of his, writes, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,  so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power”  (Ephesians 1:15 – 19)
            For the writer of this Epistle, the Gospel News is not only about Christ, it’s about all who follow him; who are his disciples….It’s about the early church in Ephesus…It’s about St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach today.  
            “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all”  (Ephesians 1:20 – 23).    
            We, the people of St. Paul’s Church are his body, called to be filled with him and in him; called to be  his eyes his ears his hands and feet, called to be Christ’s presence and Christ’s love in the world…What are the implications of this? 
            We are called to spread Christ’s love; the message of his kingdom; we are called to serve as his subjects and his subjects alone….Today’s Gospel about the separation of the sheep and the goats offers a clear picture of Christ’s reign, as Christ sits on his throne of judgment having gathered the peoples of the nations before him.
            “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you form the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:34 – 36). 
            It fills me with great joy to observe that in and through the ministries of St. Paul’s we do these things; each and everyone of them, all the time…These acts of love and service are characteristic marks of Christ and his kingship; they are characteristic of those who would have Christ as their king and sovereign. 
            Contrast this with those whose sovereign and highest values are not Christ and his love, the accursed – cast off to whom Christ says, “I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing; sick and in prison and you did not visit me….” (Matthew 25:41 – 43).
            Two ways of being; two sets of values:  those who have hearts and minds ruled by a Spirit of generosity; ruled by Christ and his love;  and those who are ruled by other values:  the values of selfishness and greed, for example, who are callous about the needs and wants of others. 
            We see these conflicting worlds portrayed on the news and lived out in our lives every day….Citizens of both worlds occupy our nation. And the forces competing for our allegiance are relentless.   Each and every day we must ask our selves:  to whom do we belong?    Who is our sovereign?  Who is our true king?  What do we hold most sacred and most dear?  These are the questions of this day, this feast of Christ the King.  
            They are questions that come into sharp relief at this time of year as we prepare for what?  Thanksgiving Day with family and friends a time of genuine thanksgiving to God for all the blessings we enjoy; a time of celebrating this with a feast of food and conversation?  Or will that elude us as yet another holiday, holy day, breaks down and concedes it’s identity and our values to the forces of the market?
            As for me, I intend to join Wendy Bounds and to Occupy Thanksgiving; to do so with a glad and grateful heart knowing to whom I am faithful, placing my faith in Christ Jesus and his love, who I pray will always be sovereign in my life.   I hope and pray you’ll join me.

[1]   See “Shoppers Forced to Rethink Black Friday Strategies”  The Wall Street Journal On-Line – Lunch Break – November 15, 2011 at

[2]  “More Retailers Attack ‘Black Midnight’”  The Wall Street Journal On-Line – November 7, 2011at
[3] Bustillo, Miguel and Zimmerman, Ann “More Retailers Attack at ‘Black Midnight’” – The Wall Street Journal On-Line – November 7, 2011 at

[4]   See “Shoppers Forced to Rethink Black Friday Strategies”  The Wall Street Journal On-Line – Lunch Break – November 15, 2011 at

[6]   See The Book of Common Prayer (1979) Collect for Proper 28, page 236.

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