Community Thanksgiving service Lissie, Tx.
Gospel: John 6:22-35
The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. This old, and maybe true, adage shows us how important food is in our lives. The food that we set on the table at its most basic level is only nutrients; the nutrients we need to maintain life. But we all know that food is so much more than that. The food we set on the table can transport us to another place. The smells of Thanksgiving may bring us to the memory of our parents’ or grandparents’ house. We may taste a favorite dish and remember where we were, or whose house we were at, when we first were delighted by it. You may have a relative, like an aunt, who always brings a specific dish such as a sweet potato pie. And if this pie wasn’t on the table that year, everyone would comment on how it is missed and everyone would tell her “next year you must bring the pie.”
Food is clearly more than nutrition. Food is hospitality and family. Food is memory and hope for the future. As much as we recognize that food is a central part of our lives, our friendships, and family; back in the days of Jesus, this was even more true. Just think how many stories we have of Jesus eating with others. Sometimes he eats with the disciples; his closest friends. Sometimes he eats with the people that society looks down upon; the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners. For Jesus, food bridges the boundaries of social expectation; building relationships with not only friends and family but with strangers.
Our story today picks up right after the feeding of the five thousand. In John’s Gospel account Jesus fed the multitudes and the people immediately recognize him as “the prophet who is to come into the world.” The people recognize him by the sign, the miracle that Jesus manifests and they want to take him by force and make him king. Jesus, not wanting anything to do with that, escapes to the mountain. A short time later in the evening, Jesus sees the disciples in a boat that is being tossed about by the rough sea. Jesus walks to them, on water, calms the sea and together they continue on to Capernaum.
What we find is that in a period of about twelve hours the crowd of people goes from one extreme to the other; from wanting to drag Jesus off and make him king, to no longer being so impressed by what had just happened. In just twelve short hours their perspective changes and according to Jesus, all they can actually think about is their stomachs, to food that filled their bellies. This comment by Jesus was probably a snarky comment, meant to mock the people who clearly want another sign. They want to be impressed by another miracle or even be taught how to do one themselves. They were not satisfied by the food, they were not satisfied by the miracle, they wanted more.
It’s kind of funny to think about this miracle of multiplying food. We say that such grand miracles don’t’ happen anymore. But when I think about it, each and every year this miracle happens across our nation. It’s true. Believe it or not this is the truth at least from my perspective. Let me illustrate what I mean.
At Thanksgiving, we prepare a meal of ten different dishes. Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, stuffing, and so on. We give thanks to God for the bounty on our table. We have at least fifteen friends and family eating until they can eat no more. People loosen their belts, groan that they have eaten too much and after some time of conversation and relaxation people start to leave. As the host, you offer all your guests to take some food home, which many do. And then a funny thing happens, I tell you no lie; even after all the eating and giving away I am left putting 15 dishes of food in the fridge. Five more than we started with.
Through this miracle of abundance, the family will continue to eat for another week. Turkey with all the trimming, turkey sandwiches, turkey spaghetti, turkey and dressing again and it keeps going and going for a week or more. We may not have had five loves and two fish, but we had one bird and five pounds of potatoes. And we fed 15 people for a week. If that isn’t a miracle, I’m not sure what is.
Now some of you may be skeptical that the miracle I’m talking about is not on the same level as the feeding of the five thousand and that’s OK. It’s OK because neither of these miracles are really important, neither the one we perform each year nor the one Jesus did. Just look at how nonchalant Jesus is about feeding the 5000. Look at what he says about the whole episode. He actual complains that the only thing the people remember is the food. He complains because this miracle and the food is not the most important part of what happened.
The important aspects of this story are those things that are easily overlooked. First, Jesus gives thanks to his Father. All good things come from God and without God, we would not have anything. Yet we work hard to purchase the food. We work hard to prepare the food. Someone else worked hard to plant and harvest the food. But all this food comes from God’s generosity and bounty. God sustains life on our planet and God sustains our very being. We do none of this on our own; just as Moses did not provide manna in the wilderness. Our sustenance comes from God and our eternal sustenance comes from God through Christ who is the bread of life.
Secondly, Jesus fed everyone. Anyone who wanted to eat was invited to the feast and 5,000 were fed. There were no prerequisites, no qualifications, no discrimination, or selection. It didn’t matter if they were from the neighborhood or not. If you held out your hand you were fed. As I mentioned earlier food was very important in Jesus’s ministry. Food brought people together from many different backgrounds. And I believe that Jesus asks the same of us.
From its inception, Thanksgiving was a harvest festival; a time to celebrate God’s abundance with our families, friends, and neighbors. Just look at the images we have in our heads of the first Thanksgiving celebration. Native Americans and Puritans sitting together, side by side, feasting on God’s bounty.
Through food, community was built and through food we can build community. We can invite others to our table especially during this time of Thanksgiving. Each of us knows of someone who lives alone, who lives across the street, who we really don’t know very well at all, and we can invite them to our table.
Not everyone has food to put on the table. And if you do not have a table to go to; or a bounty for your family, just ask me or let any one of these pastors know, and we will find you a place at a table. And likewise, if you know of someone who needs help, invite them to your table. What’s one, two, or three more at a table when you know God will provide.
Thanksgiving isn’t a family celebration it a community celebration of abundance much like the feeding of the 5,000. It’s just a meal; a meal in which we always have plenty; an abundance meal that allows us to eat for a week. When we look back on our Thanksgiving celebrations past, I’m sure we remember the food on the table but I’m even more certain that we remember the people we were with, the relationships that we are a part of. Food brings us together and Christ, the bread of life, is no different. So, may Christ be at the center of our tables this Thanksgiving where we welcome and build relationships with family, friends, and strangers.