Thanksgiving 2014

October 12, 2014

Bible Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, John 6:25-35, Ephesians 5:20 |

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

John 6:25-35

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

.....giving thanks to God at all times for everything in the name

of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:20

Is this a realistic expectation? Who can live up to the experience of giving thanks to God at all times for everything? What is the author of Ephesians really trying to say? Can you give thanks in the midst of tragedy or difficult circumstances. One of the headlines in yesterday’s Toronto Star was entitled “A prayer of thanks.” The story line concerned a 2 year old who fell into a pool and it took 27 minutes to revive him. Five months later he is slowly coming back. The parents stated: We give a prayer of thanks every day that he’s still here.

However, the mysterious question that has haunted humanity throughout the ages remains: Why do the innocent suffer? Several years ago we were given a lesson for the whole world to see as to how we are to conduct ourselves in a Christian way. Far more than any television evangelist; far more than any high tech mega church; the profound central truth of Christianity was broadcast throughout the world from a tiny town called Nickle Mine, Pennsylvania. Deep within the Amish community of Lancaster County came the message of reconciliation and forgiveness. If ever you wanted to ask the question of why the innocent suffer, here it is in spades. Defenseless young girls were simply gunned down execution style sending their community reeling under the catastrophe. Rather than give way to hatred and bitterness, yes there will be moments of bitterness I am sure, the community realized that to have hate would only destroy themselves. The better way is to find it in their hearts to forgive and attempt to reconcile. Can you imagine what it meant to the wife of the killer to be invited to one of the funerals. For her, that will be the beginning of healing and overcoming her own sense of guilt.

Yet forgiveness can be offered in a cheap way. Reconciliation demands restitution, but instead of the perpetrators wife thinking of ways to compensate the victims, the Amish community set up a fund for the wife and her three children. That truly is Christianity in action. Surely it challenges each one of us to see how we measure up.

Can one be thankful in such dire circumstances. Am I thankful for bladder cancer. Am I thankful that my daughter suffers from post concussion syndrome. Of course not! But what is my attitude in the midst of these unfortunate circumstances?

From another article from the Star, a grade four teacher in the Jane /Wilson area of Toronto [not rich by any stretch of the imagination] encourages his students to journal about what they are grateful for. It starts the students off feeling positive about something. The article continues: Feeling positive is only one of the upsides of gratitude. A growing body of scientific research is highlighting the social, physical and psychological benefits....If you can make gratitude a daily practice, it’s transformative. A psychology prof, U of Cal, Davis, “gratitude works. It heals, energizes and transforms lives. When life is going well, it allows us to celebrate and magnify the goodness. When life is going badly. it provides a perspective by which we can view life in its entirety.”

From Toronto Star Life section p. L4

Thus we see that the verse from Ephesians is not so unrealistic after all. Gratitude enables us to view life in its entirety as a good thing in spite of the times when things go desperately wrong.

So how do we become grateful? Briefly, we need to discuss first fruits. You will remember that the book of Deuteronomy has a basic theme of “Lest we forget.” Understanding how easily humans take things for granted, the author worries that people once they are in the land of ‘milk and honey’ will forget their history and what brought them to this place in the first place.

First there is a creedal confession: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

That is followed by a response: So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

The first fruit is a reminder of the harvest to come. It is not what is left over; rather it is upfront and expresses a confidence that God will provide for the remainder of the harvest. In a rural setting it is so exciting to see the crops progress toward harvest, but when the ear of grain is full with the farmer anticipating a bumper harvest - subject to being knocked down by wind or hail. First fruits express gratitude and faith and hope for a future harvest.

What is done with the first fruit offering? You have a party. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. God’s abundance is celebrated.

When we turn to the Gospel lesson, we can pick up on the celebration theme. Jesus has fed the multitudes and has escaped the crowds to the other side of the lake. The central theme of that feeding of five thousand was again a God of abundance. After a meagre start, more baskets of food remained. However the crowds follow.

What ensues is a question and answer segment. Yet, “the questions and answers provide a pattern of incongruity. The crowd wants to know something, and Jesus answers with a different kind of information. They are trying to sort out who Jesus is in light of what they just experienced. Their questions don't seem to be leading them in that direction so Jesus provides different answers than the questions demand.” - Ginger Barfield in Working preacher.org

Jesus observes: Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. David Lose observes: according to John's Jesus, it all comes down to this -- do you believe Jesus is the One who reveals God uniquely and fully?

Jesus asserts that ‘the work of God, [is] that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? A discussion about manna ensues. When the crowd suggests Moses gave them manna to eat, Jesus corrects them: it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’

In a response like the woman at the well story, they say: Sir, give us this bread always.’ This prompts the Gospel writer to insert one of the great ‘I am” passages: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Ginger Barfield notes: The only food that can last for all time is the bread that Jesus himself is, the true gift from God, Jesus' own Father.

As often in John, we find the passage serves a single purpose: to point to Jesus as the way to God. That can lead to a myopic view which is rather sectarian: loyalty to the leader is what matters; his is the only way, independent of issues of substance. Everyone else must be wrong - or damned. It need not do so. It can lead to a rich and open spirituality in which the ultimate focus falls on finding the light and life, the water and bread, in God and recognising it wherever we find it and then understanding that life as something to be shared, something to be lived out in love for the world which ‘God so loved’ (3:16) and loves. Then the Christ-centredness is released from a narrow exclusive focus, from the cult of the leader, to become the focus of something much more dynamic. - William Loader

On this Thanksgiving Sunday we need to pause and take time to count our blessings. But because we are such a consumer society, the emphasis is always upon what we do not have, never gratitude for what you do have. In fact the underpinnings of our capitalist system depends upon you going out and buying. Acquiring stuff you do not need to keep the economy growing. I am a Neanderthal because I have not changed my Iphone 4 to the latest version.... and so on.

Remember these words from Jesus according to John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life.” Enjoy your thanksgiving meal, and remember the one who gives the gift of life eternal. Thanks be to God!

Comments are closed.