There’s a scene in last year’s animated film The Croods – have you seen it?
It’s a cute, funny film about a prehistoric family trying to survive in a long-ago, dangerous world of earthquakes, volcanoes, and climate change.
But there’s this one scene, right in the middle of a volcanic eruption, as the family is racing through cloud, lava and ash toward safer ground, when the sun finally breaks through all the grey steam, cloud and ash, and the light of the sun’s rays falls on the face of Grug, the father of the family.
And at that moment, as the light illuminates his face, Grug has a transforming moment.
You can see it happening on his face.
From one that’s wrinkled up in tension and severity … to a gradual softening, a relaxing of the facial muscles, to an opening up of the eyes, and a warm, pleasant, almost happy look.
In this long pause, in that silent moment, his anxiety seems to just wash away, replaced by a look of renewed courage and hope.
And almost as if for the first time, he sees a way out, a way forward, a new world of possibility.
He says, “Let’s follow the light.”
And Grug and his family run toward the light, and not only do they survive, but eventually find a new place to live where they can enjoy the world and each other.
The light of God’s love in Jesus shines on us and the world, and we on Thanksgiving Sunday, pause to remember this: That we have a good God, who gives generously to us everything we need, and more, and who wants the best for us.
And on Thanksgiving Sunday, we stay and linger a while with that realization, allowing the warm rays of God’s light to soften and warm our hearts, and hopefully, to give us new courage to “follow the light”, to follow the way of Jesus.
Interestingly, today we have scripture readings, from Exodus and the Gospel of Matthew, which present to us surprising stories of people who consciously and willfully turn away from, and reject the light of God’s goodness and generosity.
In the parable that Jesus tells, the invited guests to an extravagant wedding banquet with the most sumptuous and delectable foods do not come.
Who wouldn’t want to attend such a party?
But these people do. They completely reject this free invitation to a big party.
And what about the so-called “unwelcomed guest”?
Even though the host of the party offers this guest a completely new garment, a new wedding rob to wear – utterly free and no strings attached – he rejects it, and refuses to wear it!
Why do they reject a free gift?
Why do we turn away from the good and generous gifts of God?
That’s because, human nature being what it is, what may be good for us may also be… unfamiliar … unpredictable … new … outside our comfort zones.
A good thing from God may place us in a drastically new and different set of circumstances … and we human beings don’t typically like “new and different” — anything that’s unfamiliar, unpredictable.
The invited guests were too preoccupied with their same-old “ruts and routines” to be able to notice, and appreciate the good new thing happening before them.
And the guest to the wedding banquet just couldn’t let go of his familiar, same-old clothing, couldn’t bring himself to exchange it with the fresh, new, free garment offered to him by the King.
The Israelites wandering in the wilderness were having real trouble trusting in God, and receiving God’s free gift of liberation from slavery in Egypt.
Their constant complaining, and their fashioning of this golden calf as a substitute for God, all of it reveals a desire for a return to their same-old, familiar and predictable lives in Egypt …even though back in Egypt they were powerless and abused slaves, held in captivity.
The forces of sameness are potent and strong.
Even a prison may seem preferable to freedom, if only because a prison may be known and familiar.
How about us?
Do we notice the good, new thing God may be presenting before us?
And, do we turn toward it with courage and resolve to take advantage of new opportunities to love, to serve, to do justice, and to act heroically for the wellbeing of others?
Jesus never calls us to “ruts and routines.”
Jesus does call us to see with new eyes and a new heart the world around us brimming with the goodness and beauty of God, God who gives to us generously everything we need, and who calls us to follow the way of Jesus, the way of compassionate generous love, the way of truth-telling and peace-making.
Author Rachel Joyce tells the story of a retiree, Harold Fry in her book “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.”
Up to the point of his retirement, Harold led an extremely predictable, familiar, seemingly unchanging life.
There’s a lot to his story, but there’s passage in the book which so well describes Harold seeing as if for the first time, with fresh new eyes, the familiar countryside around his south-England home.
Harold’s been walking now more often in his retirement.
Listen to how the author Rachel Joyce describes what goes through Harold’s mind as he walks along a familiar stretch of highway:
“He must’ve driven this way countless times, and yet he had no memory of the scenery. He must’ve been so caught up in the day’s agenda, and arriving punctually at [his] destination, that the land beyond the car had been no more than a wash of one green, and a backdrop of one hill.
“Life was very different when you walked through it. Between gaps in the banks, the land rolled up and down, carved into checkered fields, and lined with ridges of hedging and trees.
He had to stop to look. There were so many shades of green, Harold was humbled. Some were almost a deep velvety black, others so light they verged on yellow.
Far away the sun caught a passing car, maybe a window, and the light trembled across the hills like a fallen star…
…Pale flowers, the name of which he didn’t know, pooled the foot of the hedgerows, along with primroses and violets…
How was it he had never noticed all this before?”
Maybe, like Harold, we too need to slow down more, and walk more, and notice the goodness and grace of God in Jesus right before our eyes, to whom all glory, praise and thanks be given.