Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Monday, November 29, 2021
Thursday, November 25, 2021
Thanksgiving! When we take a day off to celebrate with families reunited and get stuffed fuller than the Thanksgiving turkey! It is a day we remember what we are thankful for. What are you thankful for? Shortly, we will have a time for everyone who wishes to share what they are thankful for. But I can explain that right now:
I am thankful for - the fork!
As table utensils go, the fork is a recent invention. The knife
was first, of course, dating to prehistory. The spoon also dates to the Stone
Age, literally. But forks date only to ancient Greece, and then they were large
cooking utensils, not for the dining table. In the 600s, table forks were
invented but used only in the Middle East. Table forks did not appear in Europe
until a thousand years ago, and then only in Italy. The Italians were very slow
to adopt them, not using them widely until five hundred more years passed.
Forks did not reach France until 1533, but the French thought using them was an
affectation and their adoption was very slow. The first table fork reached
England in 1608, where they were promptly ridiculed as effeminate and
unnecessary. Over many years, forks came to be adopted by the wealthy, who had
them made from expensive materials intended to impress guests.
The first Thanksgiving celebration in Plymouth Colony was in 1621.
There were no forks. The pilgrims and their guests used knives, spoons, their fingers,
and cloth napkins to manipulate their food. So, I am thankful to have a fork to
make eating Thanksgiving dinner easier.
The connection between food and giving thanks that reaches back thousands of years. As the children of Israel prepared to cross into the Promised Land, Moses told them,
When you have come into the land
that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you
possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the
fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is
giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD
your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. … 8 “The LORD brought us out
of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display
of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and
gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the
first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall
set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.
11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you,
shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and
to your house (Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 8‑11).
Giving thanks to God has a connection with food about three millennia old. The ancient Jews knew of course that life depends on food. But they emphasized that their lives were sustained by the presence of God. After all, not only had God brought them out of slavery in Egypt, he had sustained them with manna as they wandered in the Sinai. They understood that filling the soul was as important as filling the plate.
There was once a man who was struck by a city bus and was
critically injured. He was rushed unconscious to a hospital and went
immediately into emergency surgery. The surgeon barely saved the man’s life
after several hours on the operating table. The victim regained alertness five
days later. The day after that, the surgeon stopped in to see him. Incredibly,
the injured man launched into a litany of complaints about the care he had
received in the last 24 hours – the food was cold, the nurses were slow when
summoned, the TV was too small and too far away, the room was either too hot or
too cold, and so on.
The surgeon interrupted, “Look, you were almost dead when you got
here! I worked on you for five hours! I repaired both your shattered legs, set
your broken arm and three ribs. One lung was punctured, and I saved you from
suffocating. You were gashed across your head and I sewed it up. Your heartbeat
was irregular, and I got it stabilized. A little gratitude might be in order!”
“Okay, doc, thanks,” the patient answered, “but what have you done
for me today?”
Probably everyone here has had a moment like that doctor, being informed
of perceived failure to meet someone’s else’s demand. One day in Galilee Jesus
miraculously fed more than five thousand people, starting with just five small
loaves of bread and two fish. That night Jesus left the area. The next day the
crowd tracked Jesus down.
25 When they
found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did
you come here?"
answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not
because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not
work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal
life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father
has set his seal."
28 Then they
said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?"
answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he
30 So they
said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see
it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the
manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to
32 Then Jesus
said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the
bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from
heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives
life to the world."
34 They said
to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
35 Jesus said
to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be
hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus said the only reason the people followed him was because
they saw him as a sort of walking grocery store. It was time, Jesus said, for
the people to work for the food that endures for eternal life. The people asked
what they needed to do to perform the works of God. Jesus answered they needed
to start with believing in him because God had sent him.
They asked what sign, or miracle, Jesus would perform so that they
may see it and believe in him. Now, just the day before the people had
miraculously eaten their fill because of Jesus’ power, but now they said to
him, what have you done for us today? It seems a strong sense of entitlement
people often have is no new phenomenon.
Baby boomers like me were raised by the generation that grew up
during the Great Depression and came of age during World War Two. Much of what
my parents’ generation went through is out of place with how my age group knows
life. Pulitzer Prize winning author William Manchester wrote of how his mother
would cut and re-sew bed sheets to make them last longer. My grandfather, born
in 1900, told me of young men he knew in the 1930s who worked ten-hour days on
a farm to earn a dollar a day, and were glad to do it.
Yet my age group saw none of this. Robert J. Samuelson wrote of us baby boomers, “We didn't merely expect things to get better. We expected all social problems to be solved. In our new society most workers would have rising incomes and stable jobs. … Poverty, racism and crime would disappear. … We expected almost limitless personal freedom and self-fulfillment. After a while we thought we were entitled to them as a matter of right.”
Yet, as author Mike Bellah points out, when our parents told us
how things were, they failed to tell us how things usually really are.
In telling the stories of the Great Depression and the Great War, the
generation who lived them wanted to create in their children a sense of
gratefulness that those tribulations were over, but what they often created in
us instead was a sense of entitlement. Why? Says Bellah, “Because of what they didn't say. What our parents failed to
tell us is that conflict and want are part of humankind’s future as well as its
past. There have been no utopias in history, and as long as the human condition
remains the same (imperfect people living in an imperfect world), there will be
no utopian tomorrows either.”
Since Jesus's day the human condition has remained the same –
imperfect people living in an imperfect world. This new millennium is only twenty-one
years old, and we are already shocked by its events. It seems depressingly much
like the last one – and the one before that.
So, we may say to Jesus, what have you done for us today? And what
sign will you give us so that we may believe in you?
In John, Jesus does not perform miracles on demand; in fact,
John's Gospel doesn’t even use the word miracle. Jesus does signs that attest
to his identity as the one sent by God, on whom God has set his seal, the mark
of authenticity. The constant theme in John is that those who believe without
seeing miracles or appearances are blessed. When we say, however sophisticated
our words may be, what has Jesus done for us today, what sign can he give us so
that we may believe, Jesus’ answer is always the same: “I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes will never be
Christ has nothing to offer us except himself. And that is more plentiful than we imagine. Perhaps we should be thankful this Thanksgiving not for things; I doubt that this year mere stuff is what we are thankful for, anyway. Despite the violence, despite the threats, despite the uncertainty, despite the Covid, despite our politics, we may be thankful that we can rejoice in the Lord always and that the Lord is near. The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Thanksgiving, then, is not really a once-a-year celebration, except in a secular sense where it handily marks the day before Christmas shopping frenzy. Thanksgiving is for Christian people a continuous state of praise that acknowledges to God what God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thankfulness enables us to face the future with hope, for it is by thanking that we remember. To thank someone is to remember what he or she did for you. To remember what God has done is to be filled with hope, because God isn’t finished with the world or with us. As God has done, so God will do, and as God has given, so God will give. Thanksgiving is a joyful noise, a glad worship. Despite outwards circumstances, our hearts in faith do heed what the psalmist announced: The Lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness lasts to all generations.
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