Sermon: Thanksgiving

I read on a ministers’ internet blog this week that Thanksgiving is one of the hardest days to preach.  The reason is because everyone knows what you’re going to say.

Come on, admit it, what do you think will be preached at Thanksgiving?  Yep, “Be grateful for all that you have.”  And the ministerial-like add-on is “because it all comes from God.”

And there you have it.

So what’s new?

If you consult one of my favourite sources – the internet – a search of “Gratitude and Happiness” uncovers many studies that link the two.  It turns out that people who had a grateful disposition had better health, exercised more, felt that life was better and had more optimism than the group without grateful dispositions.

Intuitively, we might put it the other way around.  You might think that, once you are happy, then you can be grateful, but that’s not how it works.

So how do you go about being grateful?  The authors of one study had people journaling.  Those who were instructed to journal things for which they were grateful were happier than those who were journaling their beefs and hassles.

So it’s not just about the actual beefs and hassles.  It’s not just about all the great things that happen to you and so therefore you are grateful.

I think it’s about noticing things.

In this morning’s scripture we heard two pieces – one was an ancient ritual of thanksgiving for the good that God has done and the bounty of the land.  The other is a story of Jesus.

We read just a snippet of a rather larger interchange.  What I think is important to note is that this bit comes after a couple of striking narratives.  Right before this is the story of the feeding of the five thousand, and then right after is a short mention of Jesus walking on water. And yet, the people want more.  They are following him and clamouring for more.

More, more, the people want more – there is a gaping maw of need.  Now that sounds familiar.  A little like today.

You ever notice that when you eat something sweet, it already tastes like more?

Have you noticed, in this society, that the more people have, the more people tend to want?  Including ourselves…

Jesus calls them on it.  “You’re following me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill.”

Then he bursts into this bit about bread of life.  In John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”

Now there’s something that I think is important about the Gospel of John, and sometimes it gets lost in translation.  Jesus says “I am” a lot.  “I am the true vine.  I am the way, the truth and the life…”  When we hear those words, it’s not because Jesus is bragging.  The author put those words in Jesus’ mouth because we are meant to hear an echo of another “I am.”  Back in the book of Genesis, when Moses hears the voice of God from the burning bush, he asks whom he should say has spoken to him, and God says, “I am.  Tell them that I Am sent you.”

The whole point of all of this “I am” talk in John’s gospel is to make a point – that Jesus is an echo of the great I Am.  There is holiness right in their midst.

But already, people are starting to make a mistake.  They are already harkening back to the miracle on the hill and telling what a miracle that was.  Maybe they’re telling the story of the walking on water.  And they want more – more food, more miracles.

…not knowing that right in front of them…right in their midst is an echo of the Holy One.  God’s blessing sits right there, right under their noses.  His presence is the miracle.

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”

I am that which gives you life.  I am that which nourishes you.  I am that which reveals God’s dream for the world.  Not in the afterlife – in the here and now.

The whole point of Jesus is that his presence as human on earth notifies us that The Holy is with us and among us.

This passage screams for us to notice.

Notice the blessings of The Divine all around.

In the past few weeks I have been noticing some things.

Oh, yes, some things that you might expect to be noticed – the beautiful Fall colours, the warmth of family gatherings.

But over the past weeks and months maybe you’ve noticed something, too.  A couple of days ago I went out to High River and saw my friend David at High River United Church.  I’ve also spoken to other friends who were greatly affected by the floods in June, in both High River and Calgary.

I heard what you might expect – the tales of escape, the tales of devastation.  Grief for the loss of family heirlooms and homes and whole ways of life.  Anger.  Frustration for how long it is taking to rebuild.  Fear of it happening again.

But overwhelmingly, there was a feeling of gratitude.

Gratitude for the waves of volunteers that came to help.  Gratitude for gifts and food and support.  Gratitude for first-responders and good leadership and a rock-star mayor.

Gratitude for donations to emergency and recovery funds.  Gratitude for community.

And in that gratitude there is healing, and there is deep joy.

God was there, and continues to be there.

The blessings of the Divine were- and are all around.

So today we gather with gratitude and thanksgiving.

And I want to say to you two final things.

First, it’s what you came here knowing what the sermon would be about: Remember that God’s blessings are everywhere – God’s presence is everywhere, maybe even especially in the chaos.  Let us take the time to notice, and to be grateful for that.

Second, when you are partnering with the Divine – when you are participating in the volunteering or the praying or the donating or the set-up or the clean-up or the phoning or the cooking or the playing or the singing or the helping or the coffee, making or the art work or the creation of beautiful community – whenever you are reaching out – I hope you know that you are being noticed.  I hope you realize that you are a part of God’s blessing.  And so I want to say to you, “Thank you”.

May God bless you with eyes that see, ears that hear and hearts that are warmed by God’s many gifts.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Amen

– Reverend Lee Spice

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