I can vividly remember my worst Thanksgiving ever. It was not the sort of day one would likely forget. Two days before, my mother had been fitted with a pair of braces and I had been fitted with a retainer, and both of us were still on a diet mostly suited for old people with no teeth whatsoever. Our family had been invited to a large pot luck Thanksgiving at the home of a fellow member of my congregation who lived only a few miles away in the rural areas just outside of Plant City, and there was a lot of food, more than I have ever seen for a Thanksgiving. There were about forty people there, though, so that would tend to mean a lot of food. What made it the worst Thanksgiving ever was that I was surrounded by all those people but it was hard to talk because my mouth was in such pain, and because I was surrounded by so much food that I could not eat. All I could eat was the pumpkin pie filling and mashed potatoes, and even that was a bit dodgy. As someone who dearly loves tearing into biscuits or cornbread muffins and pies and especially the dark meat of turkey, this was a major disappointment, and something I have never forgotten and am never likely to forget. To be surrounded by that which one wants to partake in but which one is denied is a great torment, and a somewhat symbolic one.
There is a bit of ambiguity in the phrase just desserts. After all, someone who did not like turkey and who was indifferent to the goodness of tasty pie crust may not have minded the opportunity to eat so much pie filling. A life of eating just desserts would be appealing, at least in theory, to someone. I have certainly indulged in my own sweet tooth to a degree that is probably at least somewhat unhealthy given a family history that includes diabetes and teeth problems, given my love for sweet tea, pumpkin and apple pies, cheesecakes, oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookies, Reese’s cups, and the like. Yet the other side of just desserts is one that few people relish, given that most of us do not want to be treated as we truly deserve, but rather we want to be treated with mercy and understanding. Of course, we want those who hurt us and bother us and make our life tedious or complicated or heavily burdened with stresses and pressures to get what they deserve, but we want nothing of the kind for ourselves. Worse, we may call for mercy and understanding for ourselves even as we give others what we think they deserve, leading to cycles of vengeance and enmity that can go on year after year, generation after generation.
To what extent does justice enter into our lives ? Have we lived lives where we are basically content with the sort of justice we have received or do we struggle mightily to see God as being full of mercy and justice towards us? Do we see authorities as operating in ways that are more or less competent or do we see them as abusive or lazy and incompetent or selfish and cruel? Are we just in our own dealings with others? Can others rely on us to be fair and kind if we are given authority in a particular matter? We who burn with righteous indignation over the abuses we have suffered, do we haunt the nightmares and heap burdens on other little ones? We who have felt the lash of cruelty and meanness from others, are we cruel and mean to others in turn? Do we mete out and give to others out of the stock of bitterness that we have been given, or out of the goodness that we have been given? It is easy to ask these questions of others; it is hard to answer them as far as it involves ourselves.
Nearly four hundred years ago slightly more than 100 citizens of England landed on the shores of this fair land and established their own government and their own institutions in an alien and unfamiliar place, seeking a better life or religious freedom. Many of those people would not long survive the harsh winters of their new home. Slightly more than 150 years ago, the harvest festival they celebrated became a national holiday as our nation’s greatest president  struggled with the possibility that the Civil War that resulted from his electoral victory and the threat that posed to corrupt elites was divinely ordained because of the injustice of our republic. In our own times, we face a crisis of legitimacy where the divine ordination of leaders is continually questioned and where there is little inclination on the part of our society at large to weep and mourn in sackcloth and ashes to petition God for forgiveness and pardon for our sins, of which we all have a share. This Thanksgiving, do we we look forward to just desserts, or our just desserts? The difference between those two is a yawning gap nearly impossible to bridge.
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