November 24, 2022, Homily by Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year C; Thanksgiving DayFB; 11.24.2022

First Nations Version Lord’s Prayer; Deuteronomy 26:1-11

            The Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy designated for Thanksgiving Day reminds us of the lushness of the land. It reminds us of God’s saving power to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. It reminds us that the land in its lushness, belongs to God as well as does freedom. And for that we give thanks.

            The story from the book of Deuteronomy tells us that “The Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt with a mighty hand at the end of an eternal outstretched arm reaching and connecting to God’s people day in and day out.” And it does so to this day. God’s mighty hand at the end of an eternal outstretched arm reaches particularly to those who are displaced, dispossessed, deported and destitute. God’s hand first reaches to the oppressed with a terrifying display of power and with signs and wonders.

God brings us all into God’s land and gives it to us to share and care for. God creates a land of lushness, a “land flowing with milk and honey.” Today, we give thanks for God who is the sign of endless provision, security and health.

            The land is God’s to give. The provision God gives is to be looked after, treated with care, and shared liberally. It is not to be hoarded or conquered or squandered or made into “scorched earth,” as we see in photos from so many war-torn countries.

So often Thanksgiving Day, our national holiday, makes many of us think of early English settlements trying to make a homestead on their “new-found” land in the “New World.” However, we now understand that those claims were on land that belonged to local indigenous peoples who didn’t have a concept of land ownership or land claims.

We have images from our history books and from art, of stoic-looking pilgrims standing in a dusting of snow facing a group of indigenous people who are dressed in large blankets donned with feathers on that cold “first Thanksgiving Day.” My childhood friend’s grandparents were from Virginia. In their living room hung a large framed etching of “Thanksgiving.” I always wondered about the two groups of people standing in the cold snow. The “pilgrims” seemed to be the dominant images. The indigenous people were rendered as the less dominant “helpers.” They seemed to be helping the settlers become acclimated to the land and serving them the meal. It never seemed that they were equals. I never questioned it.

            But our indigenous friends know that this history is wrong and a lie. What we now know is claimed in the acknowledgment of the land statement given to us by the Diocese of Maine Social Justice Commission and ratified in 2021 by the convention of the diocese of Maine.

            “We acknowledge that we stand on territory that was taken from the people of the Wabanaki Confederacy. May we always remember that the Earth does not belong to us, that we belong to the Earth, and that we are all relatives in life. May we learn from our past sins and be instruments of justice and peace for all people in today’s world.”

Recently, I learned of the First Nations Version of the New Testament. A parishioner gave me a sample copy of some of the English that is more reflective of their oral tradition. The Lord’s Prayer from Matthew’s Gospel in this version is an example of the reverence First Nations peoples have of the earth and God’s creation.

It’s a version that could even be said before a Thanksgiving meal today.

            “O Great Spirit, our Father from above, we honor your name as sacred and holy. Bring your good road to us, where the beauty of your ways in the spirit world above is reflected in the earth below. Provide for us day by day – the elk, the buffalo, and the salmon. The corn, the squash, and the wild rice. All the things we need for each day. Release us from the things we have done wrong, in the same way, we release others for the things done wrong to us.”

            In its front cover, the First Nations Version of the New Testament tells of its purpose. It is and I quote, “…a retelling of Creator’s Story – the Scriptures – following the tradition of the storytellers of these oral cultures. Many First Nations tribes communicate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonates in the hearts of First Nations people…[this is] our gift to all English-speaking First Nations people and to the entire sacred family, which is the body of the Chosen One.”

            Before I came to Maine, I had never heard of the Wabanaki Confederacy. The Late St. Paul’s member ethnographer, Nick Smith schooled me in his work with all the tribes of the Passamaquoddy, Maliseet (he even wrote a “Maliseet Christmas” article), the Mi’kmaq tribes. I had never heard the term that properly identifies the indigenous peoples’ claim on the territory, First Nations People. Nick Smith was the one who patiently taught me these names and to revere the First Nations peoples.

            Today, this National Holiday of Thanksgiving, I invite us all to honor the land and those who dwelled here first. And I draw our attention to the General Thanksgiving in the Prayer Book that challenges us to be better Christians, those who follow Jesus, or as the First Nations Versions call him, “Creator Sets Free.” Creator Sets Free is Jesus.

Great Creator, “We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.”

This day of Thanksgiving, those failures include national ignorance of the truth of history and the oppression of indigenous peoples. We give thanks for our First Nations neighbors who teach us to care for the earth, sea and sky.