Minister: Rev. Lee Spice
Theme: Thanksgiving Sunday
Special Guest: The Honourable Kent Hehr, MP
Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate
Minister of National Defence
To listen to Kent Hehr’s and Rev. Lee Spice’s messages, click here.
October 9, 2016 – Thanksgiving (John 6: 25 – 35)
There’s a note tacked up on the bulletin board in my office. It says, “Thank you, Lee. Love you, Just as Jeses (sic) does.”
It is from our dear friend Gordon, who died a year ago this September 4, on a cold and rainy day, just across the road from here, in the park.
Gordon had struggled through the years – on and off the street, wrestling with the demon of addiction and getting by on a wing and a prayer.
We loved him. And, after his death, we met his more of his friends and got to know his family, who confirmed what we knew all along – that Gordon was funny and kind and generous and beloved.
We spent many a day with Gordon, as he dropped in to collect bottles and have coffee and maybe a muffin. As the years went by, his life got more difficult.
One day, as I sat with him in an emergency department, he turned to me and said, “You don’t have to do this.”
And I knew, right then, that he didn’t think he deserved it.
He was baffled when people cared for him in the state that he was in, particularly when his difficulties started to overwhelm him. Remember that day when he sat right back there, and Marion asked how he was? His reply was, “Well, I’ve had a little too much of the blood of Jesus.”
But he was unabashedly grateful – not just to me, but to the community that offered him a place to be, and to be himself.
I was thinking about Gordon when it came down to put down the Thanksgiving sermon. You know that sermon – you probably hear a version of it every year – It goes something like, “God has given us all of this cool stuff – beets and potatoes and beautiful Fall leaves and a turkey to roast – so we should give thanks. Amen. Shall we pray.”
I find it hard to shake myself loose from, not just that sermon, but from all the clichés and the colourful paper leaves that we cut out in school and I even remembering colouring the odd pilgrim – a pilgrim!- across from the page with the turkey in our colouring books. Not that my six-year-old self in the Yukon knew anything about the American stories of the pilgrims, and not that the colourful birds in the books resembled anything like the pale creatures that found their way to our ovens.
And I found myself thinking about the people here and everywhere who are finding life hard, right now, and maybe they’ve heard that we should count our blessings but they can’t think of a huge list of blessings to count.
I’m thinking of those of us who are unemployed or underemployed. I’m thinking of those of us who are struggling with addiction or mental illness and those of us in this very room who are quietly living with cancer or the diagnosis of a progressive illness.
I’m thinking of those of us here and everywhere who are grieving the loss of someone dear, or are working through relationship issues, and those of us who are baffled to find ourselves in the same hurtful patterns.
That Thanksgiving sermon – the one about God giving us all of this cool stuff, so we should give thanks, la, la, la, Amen. Shall we pray. – well, I’ve heard it wielded about in its various forms in the most unhelpful ways that you can think of. Probably the most unhelpful is the one that goes, “Just think of all the people who are worse off than you. There, now be grateful you are not in that state.” Does that make you feel better?
In our Bible reading, we heard a story about Jesus conversing with his disciples. As usual, the disciples are confused. This conversation happens a little while after the one about the feeding of the five thousand. That’s the story where Jesus feeds a crowd with five barley loaves and two fish, and then has twelve baskets left over.
Essentially, in the passage that we heard, Jesus accuses them of being mercenary.
“You are all just following me around because you got fed!”
Jesus tells them that having a full belly is temporary. What is more valuable is the bread of heaven.
No wonder the disciples are confused. I think, like the people in the story, we might be lulled into believing that following Jesus around is a guarantee that everything is going to go perfectly – that there will always be full bellies and everything that a person needs.
But that’s not how the world works.
We live in a complicated, broken world. For many, life is hard. There is unemployment or underemployment. There is loss and grief. There is illness and broken relationships.
And our world is mean.
Our world tells us that, if we’re in that kind of a situation, it must be our fault.
Our world tells us that, if we have stuff, it’s because we deserve it, and I guess if we don’t have stuff, we don’t.
The world is wrong.
But Jesus doesn’t promise everything was going to be perfect.
What he did, was to walk the path of despair to the cross.
Jesus broke the bread as he broke open his life for the sake of the kin-dom. He was murdered for the sake of the kin-dom. And he was raised to new life, where his spirit dwells among us for the sake of the kin-dom.
That path – the one that goes through the depths of night into the sunlight – that’s the path we’re on, and if we’re on that path, we’re going to need sustenance. We’re going to need the bread of life.
Jesus taught us that the bread of life is for everyone, whether we feel we deserve it or not, whether we feel we have earned it or not. God’s life is for everyone.
It’s not the bread in our bellies that he was talking about. He was talking about that internal life – the bread that nourishes you for the journey, whether it be through times of despair or times of joy.
It’s that thing inside of you that recognizes God and jumps for joy. It’s the nourishment that gives you strength for the life which you are leading, wherever you find yourself.
Interestingly, it seems that many of those who have the least are the most grateful – it’s like they have a direct line to the bread of life, and they know what that means.
They know that there is more to life than the difficulties we are in right now.
They know that when Jesus says, I am the bread of life, he is promising to be present in our lives every day – that we, who follow Jesus, see the light of the Holy One in this journey, and we are sustained through our journeys through the depths of despair and through into the sunlight.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am remembering Gordon and this community and friends and family, and giving thanks for the spark of the Holy that was inside him, and he maybe didn’t even know it. That spark that is inside of all of us – the bread of life.
I am giving thanks for all of the times that any of us have met together, and felt nourishment from the Holy One in the community that gathered, and I give thanks for this community – the bread of life.
I am giving thanks for a journey that is not about how much cool stuff we get, or even about how well things are going, but about the presence of the Holy One. – the bread of life – that which sustains.
And, yes, I’ll give thanks for the Fall leaves and the turkey and the people around the table, because in that beauty and love of family I’ll be receiving the bread of life.
And I’m giving thanks that this bread of life – offered to everyone by the wounded hands of Christ – comes without strings attached, for the good of the kin-dom, and for the nourishment of all.