given on Sunday, November 8, 2009
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The Annual Turkey Dinner is over, and all that is on my mind is turkey—well and pie. I guess in a way, the month of November just might as well be called the month of Turkey. Now that may seem a bit silly, but think about it. Fundraisers often become turkey dinners. Fundraisers try to get as much money together as possible to purchase turkeys for the local food pantries. Turkey is economical. Turkey is healthy. Not to mention the fact that turkey has become equated to our Thanksgiving holiday. Why turkey? Why not ham? Why not Belgian waffles?
I suppose we could research the topic, but I see something else in turkey. I see comfort. The season may indicate a reason that turkeys are available, much like deer season brings venison. Turkeys can be seen in the recently harvested cornfield picking up the grain for their meals. Turkey can be roasted and feed a full family, maybe several generations at once. Turkey leftovers can provide a number of other meals, too, such as soup, turkey tetrazzinni, and turkey pot pie. This is one staple of our American diets that seems to offer so many options. Turkey is one of our classic comfort foods.
Certainly the title of the sermon seemed a bit perplexing, but the idea that has gelled all week with me is that we often need comfort and how do we meet that need? We certainly look for comfort foods, comfortable clothes, comfortable chairs, comfortable people, and comfortable routines. I am sure the list of comfort items or situations continues each with our own twist, but I think we may be overlooking the key to finding comfort—God.
In our hymnal there are 33 listings alone under the category “comfort.” As you can see by the bulletin, several are our favorites. Even the 23rd Psalm is listed twice among those titles—one in King James Version. In the index of my Life Application Bible, there are 12 readings listed of which four are from the New Testament and eight are from the Old Testament. In the concordance 19 are listed under the title “comfort (ed) (s)” which is followed by “comforter(s)” under which there are an additional four listings.
Why do we not say, “Oh, I turned to the Bible because I was having such a bad day that I needed some comfort.” Instead, we think that we had such a bad day that all we need is chocolate. Why do we call up our closest friend to talk through all the troubles that are raging through our mind, and we need the comfort of their ear, their advice, or their shoulder? Why don’t we call up God in prayer and talk it out with him?
Those questions bring us right back to November and turkey. For some reason, November has traditionally been a mentally low month for me, and I am guilty of complaining about the loss of the colorful world we live in during the spring, summer and fall. I dread the dreary skies, the grey trees, the brown grass, and the harvested fields turning to that dried, aged, old refuse rather than the bright yellow straw or the fuzzy soybean stalks or the light airy corn shucks. I seem to remember all the negatives that have built up in the past few weeks and months and fail to see the glories for this time of year.
I seek the comfort that typically gets wrapped up in a turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy topped off with pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Those meals taste good on my tongue and fill me up from the inside out. The cold breezes and the grey skies disappear behind sleepy eyelids as the comfort food heals from the inside out.
The need for comfort and the different sources of comfort has filled my thoughts all week. I tried and tried to tie the concept of thanks to comfort and to God in a catchy little phrase I could use as a title, but all that failed. The final connecting thought and title came down to “Turkey, Comfort and God.” A bit disconnected at first sight, but the connections are there.
Obviously turkey is connected to comfort through our tummies. Of course, turkey is not the only comfort food—hot homemade yeast rolls, chocolate in almost any form, a good cup of tea—or coffee, I suppose—hot baked potatoes or mashed, sweet green peas—frozen, not canned–chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin pie, banana bread right out of the oven. The list goes on and each one of us has our particular additions and/or deletions from the list of comfort foods.
The needed connection to comfort is also painfully obvious for each of us. Each one of us has a list of irritations, trying circumstances, health issues, or disappointments. Each one of us seeks ways to feel better or at least handle the situation without a temper display or making a grievous mistake. And despite all we know about our faith, about God and his teachings, we seldom jump up and go right to God in prayer. We seldom sit down in our recliners and kick back with the Bible in our hands to read and to hear God guide us through the situation.
On the bulletin’s cover, you can see the image of comfort food. You know, the well-roasted turkey, the mashed potatoes, the cranberries, the green beans and the list grows. But we need to remember that comfort really comes from within ourselves. In our scripture today, we pulled out the verses which focus on the word ‘comfort’ yet the entire psalm reminds us of the value, the comfort we find in God’s words.
This psalm reflects 22 sets of images to help God’s people learn the value of the Bible’s words. I know that the young people who went to school at the temple must have dreaded trying to memorize all the words of the Bible. The students then did not have printed words available and depended on the memory of their teachers, of their parents, and of themselves. The method of using the alphabet to help them reminds me of the early primers used by our own ancestors. Today’s students have so many distractions and so many different stimuli that memorization is challenging, not to mention how difficult it is for students with long term memory issues.
Using the Hebrew alphabet was one mnemonic device that worked. Think of how these students committed the value of God’s word to memory. They had a mental book of rules, verses, hymns, and stories to fall back on when they needed comfort. I have very few verses committed to memory. I have trouble keeping long pieces of information memorized and available at the tip of my mind to pull up for my comfort on those long days where everything seems to have gone wrong.
We do need some skills to help us when we want comfort. I suppose the optimum would be to have a chocolate chip cookie, a cup of cold milk, and a few Bible verses to fill the comfort need. I do have one, and in our household we call it Mom’s Verse. I learned over those last months of her life Mom did have a favorite verse, Isaiah 40:31:
…but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. [NIV]
Interestingly enough, my kids and I now use that verse, too. There are times when we miss her so much that we find comfort in knowing her verse. Another generation now hears those words and finds comfort, not only from a long absent grandmother, but from God, too.
Comfort comes in so many forms. Look at the second picture on the bulletin: two very comfortable dogs, stretched out nose to nose on the couch. They are not worried about a thing. They do not have any sheep to tend, no squirrels to chase, and no ducks to retrieve. They are settled comfortably on a sofa (in the original picture it is on denim upholstery) and apparently have not a worry.
Granted, we have our own pictures of comfort. I like to think our pets could tell us so much. They depend on us, the owners, to meet their needs whether it is food, companionship, health care, or shelter. We, too, look to God for those same qualities in life. What we have not done is turn over our needs to God’s care. We have probably all told someone who is unhappy or dealing with a difficult problem to say a prayer and turn it over to God.
Letting go, once we do share our worries with God, is one of the hardest skills a Christian has to develop. The dogs in the picture certainly do not have trouble with letting go, do they? Looking at the verses in Psalm 119, we can see the reminders of how to let go and let God:
Remember your word to your servant,
For you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
The arrogant mock me without restraint,
But I do not turn from your law.
I remember your ancient laws, O Lord,
And I find comfort in them. …
The words remind us and provide the key to keeping faith in God: learning the scriptures and applying the advice to our own situations. We must develop a routine, a system to read scriptures and/or devotionals. If we fail to read these verses, these chapters and these books, we are not equipping ourselves with the knowledge to find comfort.
Thank goodness, though, for comfort food, for best friends who listen through the night as we share our bad days. Thank goodness we have God’s words and listen for him to talk with us as we try to help others find comfort. The final picture of Jesus holding a young child on his shoulder demonstrates the value of human contact. We find human contact a tremendous comfort when we struggle with the trials of our earthly life. We find the comfort in parents, cousins, aunts and uncles. We find friends we can depend on when the demands on our health or our lives just seems too much.
Our role as Christians is to serve as God’s eyes, hands, and legs. We are to see this world, the circumstances and the people, through his eyes so that we may find those who need comfort. Knowing who needs comfort then calls us to action to serve. Each one of us has our own skills, our own talents to use in service.
I rely on my family, true, but I also have friends and co-workers who help me handle the demands of this life. The three friends from college, the ones I refer to as the Jewels, each is so uniquely different, yet we all have a deep-seeded faith. We know that God is our source of comfort and strength, but we also know that God wants us to help others, too. We know that should anything happen to one or another of the four of us, we have God, but we have each other, too.
Today, as we continue on towards Thanksgiving thank you for all that you provide: the words of the Bible, your people, your grace, and you love. We know that the days are not always easy and we will have trials to manage. Thank God for the truth, guidance and comfort found in your words. And, as we sit down to another turkey dinner, thank you God, for friends, family, and even our pets for the comfort they offer, too. We see them as your arms wrapping around us in comfort. May we, too, offer comfort to others, as you would have us do. –Amen