A Thanksgiving Sermon

Hallock Community Thanksgiving Service

Nov 21, 2010

Asking the Right Questions

John 6:24-35

It was a chilly Thanksgiving that year, right after the first snow.  Shelly always thought cold without snow made the old-timers uncomfortable — if it had to be cold, they figured, it might as well snow.  So it was timely that the weekend before Thanksgiving brought a nice dusting, maybe six inches or so.  The snowcats were out, the plows were clearing the streets, snow shovels that had been dorment for months were dusted off and put to work.  Neighborhood kids organized snow ball fights all over town.

Shelly always loved going to her grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.  It was a tradition, after all, and though she had moved away to the big city for school and a job, she looked forward, every year, for the Thanksgiving trip home.  And her parents loved the homecoming as well — though in recent years Shelly could tell her parents really seemed more interested in their grandkids than Shelly herself.

On Thanksgiving day, Shelly slept in as much as she could, and when she finally ventured downstairs for coffee she heard her children playing in the basement with the old toys.  It amused Shelly that she had played for hours with many of those same toys when she was growing up, riding off into the imaginary sunset on miniature wooden horses, and slaying wild beasts with toy swords and, sometimes, pixy dust.

After a few hours, the smells from the kitchen wafted all over the house and the rest of the company arrived.  The turkey was perfect as usual — how did her mom always manage that?  Corn, buns, hot dishes, and fresh hummus and vegetables (brought by the hippie cousin), adorned the Thanksgiving table.  Steam rose up from the mashed potatoes and the lefse was just about to be passed around when, as was the tradition, Shelly’s grandfather asked the annual question.  It came around every year at this time — the food was ready, their stomachs were growling and they were about to pass the food…. but he asked, he always asked.  And, since you did was Shelly’s dad told you to do, everyone stopped and went around the table, one by one, and answered his annual question, “What are you thankful for?”

To be honest, many of the same answers came up every year.  People were thankful for the food, for family and friends, for health or for employment.  But this year, something about her grandfather’s question just didn’t sit right with Shelly.  It took a few minutes to work out.  It wasn’t the tradition itself — she loved saying what she was thankful for, but something else was bothering her.  Something from the deep recesses of her mind, connected to the Bible story she heard in church last Sunday, something about her grandfather’s question gave her pause.

+ + +

As we heard a few minutes ago from John’s gospel.  The passage picks up near the sea.  Jesus does the whole feeding the five thousand thing on one side of the shore, and then the disciples and Jesus take off.  Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, and the disciples get into a boat to cross the sea to Capernaum.

So there are the disciples, rowing a boat minding their own business when they see a guy walking on water.  As you might imagine, this scares the bejesus out them, but the walking-on-water guy says, “It’s me, don’t be afraid” and it turns out it’s just Jesus pulling one of his tricks again.  Next the disciples and Jesus decide to bed down for the night near the sea — Jesus walking on water to the far side of the shore and the disciples taking the boat.

The next morning, the crowds are confused because Jesus isn’t around on the other side of the sea.  The crowds saw the disciples take off in a boat without Jesus, but the crowds couldn’t find Jesus on their side of the shore.  So they got in boats, and went to find the disciples to ask where Jesus was.  But, when the crowds got to the other side, they found Jesus there with the disciples after all, even though nobody saw him board the boat with the disciples.  And so they ask, and this is key: “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

When?  When?  Jesus feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish, then miraculously walks across water, and the crowd ask him when he got here?  Not how he preformed the miracle.  Not what the point of it was.  Not who was this guy who walked on water (God’s son, the Messiah?).  It’s like if you were out working in the field and came back to the house dirty, tired, and hungry, and you open the door and Brett Farve is sitting at the kitchen table and you say, “Oh hi Brett, do you know what’s for supper?”

The crowd just doesn’t get it.  They ask “when,” but they should have asked who this Jesus guy was and what he was up to.  But it gets worse.

So Jesus answers the crowd’s random question saying, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for the wrong thing–you’re looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you were fed with the crowd yesterday.  Don’t work for food that perishes–bread and the like–but work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man can give you.  For, it’s on him, that God sets his seal.”

Then the crowd answers (and you can probably guess that’s it’s not a very good one) the crowd answers, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

Jesus sat there, just shaking his head.  “It’s not about you performing the works–that’s not the point.  Wrong question again!” Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who God has sent.”

Are you seeing a pattern yet?  The crowds just seem to be asking the wrong questions.  If not, don’t worry, we’ve got yet another example coming.

Next the crowds ask, “What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, can you hook us up with some of that?”

Jesus, poor Jesus answers, “It wasn’t about the bread silly, it wasn’t about Moses my friends, but about my Father.  It’s God 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.”

Then, once more they screw it up:  “Oh, goody, the crowd asks, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’”

“Uuuugggghhhh!” Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The crowds keep asking the wrong questions, and they don’t really seem to be hearing Jesus’ answers.  They are looking in the wrong place, for the wrong thing, for the wrong reasons.

Jesus is the bread of life.  Jesus is the one through whom they are saved.  God’s love incarnate in Jesus is the answer, if only the crowds could get the question right.  Jesus: the bread of life.  Grace alive.

+ + +

Shelly was hungry.  She could smell the turkey, and her mouth was watering for those mashed potatoes, and the corn looked sooooo good.  But she felt uneasy about something else that year.  Her dad’s question, however well-intentioned, struck her as not quite the right one.

But the answers popped up around the table.  Aunt Sue was thankful for her new job.  Joey, who had just married into the family and was enjoying his first Thanksgiving with them, said he was thankful for the welcome he felt from the family.  One of the kids said she was thankful for her doll, and another mentioned the new Xbox game.

Finally, when it came to be Shelly’s turn, it struck her.  And her uneasy feeling immediately melted away.  She cleared her through and said: “I’m thankful for all of you, and for this food, and for our home.  And I’m very thankful for this Thanksgiving tradition.  But, this year, I wanted to add one more thing.  I don’t mean to imply it’s not a fantastic question.  It is.  But, but there’s another one that’s even more important.

“Who are we thankful for?  To whom do we give our thanks?  With this bountiful table before us, with these loving people around us, sitting in this beautiful home with so many memories, I want to name it clearly.  I’m thankful to God.

I’m thankful to God, who came in Jesus Christ, who ate bread like this, who showed us how to live, and who was crucified because the world couldn’t stand his generous love.

I’m grateful to God, who came in Jesus Christ, the bread of life.

And I’m grateful to God, who through the power of the Holy Spirit, continues to care for us even now.

That’s what, and that’s who, I’m thankful for.”

The eyes of the whole family went from Shelly to her dad.  What would he do for this disruption of the Thanksgiving tradition?  How would he respond to Shelly’s speech?

And her dad, a smile running across his face said and his eyes alight with love, said, “Praise be to God.  Let’s eat.”  Amen.

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