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Thanksgiving Eve Covenant Community Service

On the evening of November 23, 2016, more than 300 members of the Crossroads Covenant Community and the greater Eastside community came together for the 30th year to give thanks for our continued partnerships and shared mission.  Each year we rotate the hosts and leaders of this service; this year was Pastor Dave’s turn to provide some thoughts on the significance of the community the members of this covenant group have worked so hard to nurture and grow.  A portion of his remarks is below.

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United we stand as people of faith.

For 30 years now, we and our faith forerunners have gathered on Thanksgiving Eve, unified by gratitude to God.  Being people of overt gratitude is something of a faith statement in itself.  It says that we believe there is something or someone beyond ourselves to which thanks is owed.  It says that we do not believe that the blessings and benefits for which we are thankful are entirely of our own doing, but in some way or another we acknowledge they come from beyond us.  It says that we long to be people of gratitude and not of greed, people of thanks-GIVING and not people bent on taking and accumulating and hording these blessings only for ourselves and our self-centered uses.  United we stand as Thanksgiving people.

United we stand in particular in our gratitude for the right and privilege we have in this country to worship openly and freely, in diverse ways, as people from distinct faith systems.  This is a great gift, one that is not universal to all nations.  For this we give thanks tonight.

And yet, this right is not always universally affirmed even in this nation.  There are those who hold different values and speak a different language when it comes to this freedom.  So united we must stand when anyone’s religious rights and freedoms come under threat, especially in our own communities of Crossroads and Lake Hills and greater Bellevue.

United we stand when anyone would hurl insults or epitaphs or – heaven forbid – even rocks at someone because of their faith, or at their houses of faith, as so sadly we have seen recently right here on the Eastside. United we stand for love against hate – hate that has been expressed in our own community towards those who are targeted because of the religious beliefs they have, or the religious services they attend, or even the religious clothing they are wearing.

United we stand as well when hate signs or symbols are spray painted on our park walls. People were shocked – many of us were shocked – at the news reports of a swastika painted at Bellevue Downtown Park.  Here in this majority-minority city – one where nearly one-third of our residents were born outside of the United States, where adherents of Judaism and Islam and Native beliefs and Buddhism and Christianity and Mormonism as well as the majority of folks not associated with any faith system or community live side by side as neighbors – have we been lulled into believing we do not need to be on guard against signs and symbols of hatefulness, prejudice, racism and religious intolerance?

United we must stand – all of us who are people of faith – anytime faith is used as an excuse to insult or assault, to judge or to justify hurtful words or attitudes or actions.  And we must take these stands side by side, both privately and publicly, praying for one another in our worship services, showing up in peaceful public protests offering public prayers, responding to hate with love and unity.  Heaven forbid we have more opportunities to do so.  But heaven forbid even more if – when such tragic opportunities arise – we fail to be ready to stand united.

United we must stand in respect and thankfulness of one another – of the common ground we share and of the diversity and differences we also have.  We do have much in common.  And this is unifying.  But we also have important differences.  I very strongly believe we can and must stand united not IN SPITE OF these difference but BECAUSE of and in GRATITUDE for them.  I believe we should seek to move merely tolerating to appreciating the diversity, variety, range, and spectrum of our various faith expression and experiences.

A covenant based on ignoring such difference, pretending they don’t exist or sugar coating them, would be shallow indeed. But relationships forged through listening to one another – not in an effort to confront or convert but to understand and value – will not only strengthen our bonds, but testify to a rapidly fracturing and fractious society that people can be friends and collaborators with others with whom they may hold significant differences.

Tonight our service began with a united handbell choir from three of our congregations.  Soon a united vocal choir of made up of members of several of our communities will sing a song of Thanksgiving.  And together we are one big choir, uniting our voices in song.  This is one of the things I’ve already grown to appreciate the most about our Thanksgiving Eve gatherings.

But imagine if we were forced to sing in monotone – so that there was no distinction or differences in our voices. The music we would make would be far less pleasing, interesting, and reflective of who we are.  Even if we only sang in unison, our songs would lack depth and interest and complexity.  But when the choir – or some of you in the big choir with musical gifts – sing in multi-part harmony, how much richer is our combined voice!

I’m only marginally musically talented and trained, but I have sung in church and community choirs for some while, through which I’ve been introduced to composers who use music dissonance and harmonic tensions at times to enrich and invigorate their works.  Using such devices, voices or instruments often seems to clash at points in such compositions.  But this, too, adds to the intricacy of the music.

I see our covenant as something like a choir of richly varied voices, singing one song of faith, but sometimes with different melodies and tones and range.  Sometimes we are in dissonance. And yet – if we continue to sing together – we will come to appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities. And when we strike a common chord, when and where we sing in perfect harmony, there let us also continue to stand united.

United we stand in our commitment to serve our neighbors in needs.  In particular we’ve been a community who has stood with the homeless both as advocates and humble hosts of Congregations for the Homeless and Tent City and other homeless ministries.  In these days when our city and our county are in conversations about when and where and how to serve the homeless – while we may again not always agree on the particulars of politics and policies – let us stand united should the question of “if” ever be raised.  All of our faith traditions have prophets and teachers and scriptures and histories that call us to care for our neighbor as a holy responsibility and privilege.  Let us stay united in ongoing commitment to the homeless.

And let us continue to stand united in serving our neighbors together in other ways, including our annual Hearts and Hammers home repair work, about which you’ll hear more soon, and to which our offerings tonight as every Thanksgiving Eve are designated.  This year I’m so pleased that we are extending the opportunity to participate to all our covenant members and others by scheduling work on both Saturday AND Sunday, recognizing that doing so honors our varied days of worship and rest, so that all are welcome to be Hearts and Hammers participants.

Finally, on this historic Thanksgiving Eve, the 30th anniversary of members of our community gathering together in gratitude to God, it is my hope and prayer that we will build on this strong foundation ongoing and future expanded relationships and covenants that are rich and complex. That together we will be counter-cultural in both seeking common causes AND celebrating diversity.  That in our self-interested culture, we will continue to be a blessing to covenant partners AND to our greater communities and city.

And I hope and pray that especially in this time in our nation when a divisive election and a divided reaction to its results have the potential to add fuel to the fires that seems to have at least some in our country and in our community hell-bent on defining and dividing people by what separates and excludes and degrades and cultivates fear and mistrust into groups of us and them, that we will stand as a witness to that which we believe truly unites us – all of us and each one of us.  That we are ALL beloved children of God.  This is what I believe unites us.  For this I give thanks.