October 9, 2016 – Thanksgiving Sunday – Year C
Don’t you love the smell of fresh baked bread? There is nothing like that wonderful yeasty aroma. Just the suggestion of new baked bread and we can smell it. That is what I hope will stay with you throughout the rest of this time of worship.
I invite you to imagine that you have just attended a concert of your favorite performer. The crowds are in the thousands. In fact, the group numbers into the 5,000’s. In the midst of the crowd is Jesus. He offers to feed the hungry throng. Talk about a leader who could satisfy real needs. You have long let go of the glow from the concert you attended. Jesus makes his way through the crowd and escapes by boat, accompanied by his disciples. Across Lake Okanagan they go. Reaching Kelowna, Jesus and his friends build a fire and sit back. “Whoa! I know you are here for food. We had a good time last night. Let me tell you about the bread of life. Let me tell you about a bread that feeds your spiritual self, says Jesus.”
Or – to tell the story another way, the day after Jesus feed 5,000 people with a handful of bread and fish the crowd comes after him wondering what it all means. It is a little like a contemporary rock concert or after a World Cup soccer match. The crowd is so excited! Here is a leader who could satisfy real needs! But Jesus chides them for not understanding that the miracle included not only feeding the hungry, but also addressing the spiritual ills that give rise to hunger, poverty and a whole range of social and economic ills. The people had come to him for all the wrong reasons. Jesus knew that physical hunger returns the next day unless we eliminate the spiritual hunger that gives rise to such evils. Jesus encouraged people to seek a real and lasting cure for sin and suffering. Jesus wants the people to work for the bread that truly satisfies, that doesn’t go mouldy or stale, and that nurtures all into eternal life.
In this passage Jesus describes this cure as being like manna from heaven, the bread which fell daily to feed the Israelites when they wandered in the wilderness between the Exodus and entering the promised land. Jesus takes us back in our memory to the time of Moses. What an assurance that God has not abandoned us. God has sent Jesus as living bread – a fresh sign that God is with us!
Jesus tried to explain that the gathered group had come to him for the wrong reasons. Sure, he had lots to give them, but what they needed was a different kind of food. He told them to work for the bread that truly satisfies. Jesus reminded the folk that they were to seek the bread of life – a sustaining food that doesn’t go mouldy or stale. The bread that Jesus offered nurtures all into “eternal life.”
A friend in Saskatchewan told me the other day that she is finding this weekend difficult because her friends are commenting how thankful they are that their families are doing so well. My friend, on the other hand, has a daughter who was recently fired from her job – a granddaughter who has turned to prostitution to earn money – and a daughter whose marriage has ended. Although my friend is a devout Christian, her faith is certainly being tested. A few days ago, she said, “at least I have plenty to eat, a strong faith, and many good friends.”
Many of us today hunger for love, acceptance, life and truth. Often we try to satisfy those hungers by getting the things that money will buy. And we come to Thanksgiving services ready to give thanks for these things. The writer of the gospel of John reminds us our thanksgiving is for living bread – God with us.
In the yoga class I go to on Wednesday evenings we are encouraged to do a gratitude practice. What is a gratitude practice you ask? It is simply taking time each day to reflect on 3 things you are grateful for. Sometimes I have a rich and varied list of incidents, people, and spiritual awakenings that I acknowledge in my gratitude practice. Other times I struggle to come up with 3. I do this daily. It has me thinking though. Why is it that I have to go to yoga to be reminded of the value of being grateful? Why is it that I have to go to yoga to learn about a gratitude practice? Shouldn’t this be something that we encourage in church! And so – I encourage you to take so time every day to stop and reflect. In your quiet time, I invite you to name 3 things for which you are grateful. Do this every day for this upcoming week.
There was a name in the 1850’s Asia for persons who came to church because they were hungry for material food. They converted, were baptized, joined the church, and remained active members as long as their physical needs were met through the generosity of the congregation. But once their prospects improved and they and their families no longer needed rice, they drifted away from the church. Hence missionaries called them “rice Christians.”
We know something about folk who are dependent on our church for their daily bread. From January 1st to September 30th we handed out 318 meagre bags of food to people asking for assistance. These are young men and women, middle aged men and women, single parents, aged people, some who slept in doorways, and all who are hungry. Dolores and Marianne, and to a limited extent Shannon, give out what has been donated to our food drawer. Usually the bag of food consists of a couple of granola bars, a couple of tins of beans or stew and a pudding or two. This, plus the lunch at the soupateria must last them for a week, for each person can only get one food hamper a week from us. Generally, we are thanked and encouraged to have a nice day. We can’t help but think of these friends of ours on this Thanksgiving weekend. I pray for them that they might know Jesus as the bread of life and that their lives might be turned around.
A number of years ago the Roman Catholic church produced a lovely calendar featuring an Ojibway artist from Sandy Lake Ontario. In it the artist makes a profound statement. He says he used to paint just to get enough money to go to town on the weekend and get drunk. Then, someone took him aside and prayed with him and something happened. Now, he still uses his paintings to earn money, but the content of the painting is radically different, and the context of his life is different also. Someone came and offered him the bread of life. What a gift he received!
May we, this thanksgiving weekend give thanks that Jesus Christ is the bread of life. Rest assured that whoever comes to Jesus will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Jesus will never be thirsty. Amen.