On Sunday evening we hosted the Community Thanksgiving Service for the first time since I have been with this congregation. I was also tapped to give the message, something we normally don’t do, but it worked out that way this year. The normal protocol is one church hosts and all the other clergy contribute to the service. Hopefully next year we will be back on that rotation. At any rate, it did go over fine and the service was really augmented by the addition of the Madrigal Choir from the local high school. We gave them a round of applause for their contribution.
The scriptures used were: Philippians 4:4-9 and John 6:25-35 with the focus being the opening of the first one listed and the final verse of the second one, except for the fact that the whole thing was about the title: “Jesus is the Bread of Life.” So, hope you enjoy the printed version of the message.
A few years ago, I guess it is close to six years now; I stopped writing a weekly column in the Prairie Pioneer and took to blogging. It was a good outlet for me, but has almost run its course. One year at the height of my blogging life, I dedicated the month of November to writing each day about something that made me feel thankful. At first it was easy, family, home, pets, getting ready for Christmas activities, and pretty soon it was the end of the garden, canning, items to can, items to freeze, more produce. And before I knew it, I was starting to feel a little less than thankful for all that produce like beets and tomatoes and pumpkins and apples still “hanging out” and cluttering up my house.
Mostly I was getting fed up with the fruit flies that developed. We finally got rid of those when I realized they were living in the rotten onions under the microwave. I thought of that November this week when we finally put up the last of the apples. As I handed off the bowl of peelings for James to dump in the compost, I thought of how good it felt to be rid of that task, and I was so very thankful that my hand could have a break from peeling. The next morning when I took the sealed jars to the basement and tried to figure out where to fit them in the shelves that were already over flowing, I realized that I will be thankful for those filled jars for many days to come, and most especially when the grandchildren come to visit.
Living where we do, there is much to be thankful for at this time of year! As much as we might feel thankful that we have connection to the land, to a garden, to any sort of local produce to the bounty of hunting there is much to our area. Just having the ability to step outside of our homes and walk across the street or around the block, to move about freely without worry about whom or what we might encounter is really a blessing we should never take for granted. It should always be something for which we are thankful!
I can’t say how blessed I feel to be able to live inside of town and yet have a large garden just outside my back door and wildlife just across the field. Well, ok I am thankful except for the days when they stop by to chew a tip off my chokecherry tree or the entire trunk off my newly planted pear tree, but that is another story. We in our area are fortunate to have the opportunity to be fed from the fruits of the land and the work of our own hands. God has truly been good to us here. We who live in what is part of the breadbasket of the world can be so grateful that we live right here in the region that in some ways feeds the world, and I mean that even when it is really cold outside.
Tonight in our scripture focus we turn to a different sort of feeding, a different sort of bread. A couple of verses we didn’t read, but which are related and they perhaps explain some of the verses we are meditating on. The first verse is the one which includes the words which Jesus spoke in his rebuke of Satan as recorded in
Matthew 4:4. Jesus said, “It is written, one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The second is the command Jesus gave to Peter on that morning when he appeared to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection. We find it in John 21:15-18, Jesus kept asking Peter (3 times) if he loved him and then he told him to feed his lambs to feed his sheep.
In the gospel lesson that we have for this evening, the final verse that we read was Jesus’ reply to the masses that followed him the day after the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus kept trying to explain what they were looking for was perishable food and signs of miracles for their time; they were looking for a Messiah who would become their political leader to fight the Romans. What Jesus was trying to explain to them was that he was there to feed them spiritually. Just as his words are here in these passages to feed us spiritually.
In the last verse of the gospel that we read for this evening, Jesus tells them, and us, that it is our spiritual life, our soul that we need to be thinking of as he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
But even after the entire conversation that the people had with Jesus, they did not understand the meaning of what he was saying. They didn’t get what he was trying to teach them. Even when he called them out for only following him because of how they were fed the loaves and the fishes while listening to his teaching the day before, they couldn’t get it. As he told them not to work for the food that perishes, they confused what he was speaking of with the manna that the Israelites ate while wandering in the desert. And when Jesus told them it wasn’t the same, they eventually just asked him to give them what he was talking about because they didn’t understand how to receive it.
Sadly there are times when we don’t understand it either. And even sadder still, there are times we start to grasp the meaning of it all, but we turn the other way because well, because it is just easier. Accepting the facts of Christ’s life and death and the lives we are asked to live doesn’t always seem fun or cool or what fits into our times. Christianity teaches us that God’s grace is here for us not because we deserve it, not because we earned it, but because Christ loves us so much that he was willing to come to earth and die to make it possible for us to have that Bread of Life.
In all actuality Jesus wasn’t able to give the life giving bread to the people of his day until he was crucified. It wasn’t until his death and resurrection when his body was broken that it possible for the human race, for us to feast on that Bread of Life. Because Jesus was willing to come to earth and take the form of a human being and die on the cross, a painful—humiliating death, and overcome the powers of evil through the resurrection, because of that, we have the opportunity to live with Christ in the hereafter.
But like all things with great rewards comes great responsibility. Though the grace of God is not something we can earn, Jesus in verse 27 said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Christ expects us to do more than just accept his grace and sit in our homes waiting for the day when we pass on into eternity. Christ expects that we should witness and share and do what we can for others so that they too can know about His love. James and I have a friend, actually one, of his classmates, who was a groomsman in our wedding. The last time he was visiting he left us a saying: “Your here after depends on what you are here after.” It is sort of an interesting concept. I had to mull that over a few times. “Your here after depends on what you are here after.”
This week we are all likely to gather with family members or friends for Thanksgiving dinner, if it is anything like ours there will be too much food, too many deserts and lots of conversation, maybe even some football, though not for us, our middle daughter is part of the belief of “no cable.” Though as we go through all those discussions that come up at such a table, let’s not forget to be thankful for the real bread of life, for Christ who came to earth in order that we will someday be able to break bread with Him in paradise.
But as we remember that, we also need to remember that because Christ died for us, we have a responsibility. The food we eat this thanksgiving is not the only food we need to consume. We need the nourishment that we get from the word of God not just on occasions like this and not just at weekly services, and just as Jesus asked Peter to feed his sheep, so we need to share about Christ with more than just our family, more than just the people who share our views or our ways of worship. Christ came for each of us, but Christ also came for all of us. Let’s go this night filled with the rejoicing that Paul wrote of to the Philippians, and let’s share it with the world. Amen!