Sermon for the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service at Joy Lutheran Church, Prescott, WI – Sunday, November 18th, 2018

Text: John 6:25-35Revised Standard Version (RSV)

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father 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, “Lord, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.


In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen


In his book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, the 18th-Century cleric William Law made the following statement:

“Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it. Could you therefore work miracles, you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit, for it turns all that it touches into happiness.”[1]

Law is definitely onto something there. Seeing the hand of God in our lives and responding to his will with thankfulness instead of resistance is a key that unlocks many of the other virtues he describes.

And it starts with Jesus. O let us give thanks for Jesus, the Bread of Life.


It’s no accident that Jesus equates himself with bread in this passage, nor that the Lord’s Prayer specifically asks God to “give us this day our daily bread.” Throughout human history, up to the present day, having a daily ration of bread can mean the difference between life and death. Bread is an essential for life.  As the great chef James Beard once said, “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods.”


Bread=Life. Jesus=bread. Jesus=Life.


Both the Gospel lesson and our celebrations on Thursday focus on food. The one major difference is that the crowd Jesus is talking to in the lesson have just eaten their fill of loaves and fishes, and we will be having our feasts of whatever foods they will be a few days from now.


And we will be thankful for all of it. It’s our sense of thanks that brings us together tonight.


One of my favorite quotes is from the medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart, who once wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Pastor Ray Pritchard writes that nowadays we treat Thanksgiving as almost a “pre-game show” for the main event, which is Christmas. It’s mostly a day to eat lots of food, relax, and charge our batteries so we can rush into the preparations for Christmas, and we don’t stop rushing from one event to another until January rolls around. He says: “That’s a shame because the art of giving thanks is one thing that separates man from the animals. To receive a gift and say, ‘Thank you,’ is one of the noblest things a [person] can do. There is nothing small or trivial about it. To say ‘Thank you’ is to acknowledge that we have been given something we did not earn and do not deserve. Happy is the man who understands that all of life is a gift of God and that life itself is the ultimate gift. Which is why the Bible says, ‘In everything give thanks.’ (I Thessalonians 5:18) When we can’t do anything else, we can always be grateful. As someone has said, ‘If you can’t be thankful for what you have received, be thankful for what you have escaped.’”[2]


“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”


We focus on the food, but the food, as magnificent as it will be, is just one element of our holiday. The day is, after all, called “Thanksgiving Day,” and was set aside to do exactly what William Law and Meister Eckhart said – to say “thank you” to God. We give thanks also to those who stand guard for us on the battlements in the far places of the world, or keep their watch on the trackless sea, or fly their missions high above hostile territory, or patrol our neighborhoods in the dead of night to keep us safe while we slumber – all so that we might be able to gather together in places like this tonight and in our peaceful homes on Thursday.


We give thanks for those many, many people in our lives whose example has made us the people we are today. We give thanks for those we love who will not be sitting at the Thanksgiving table with us this year, because they now dwell with the saints in light; we give thanks for those who surround us, who support us, who love us, who have been there for us throughout our lives and are there still. I’m thankful for family, and friends. I’m thankful for the work God has given me to do.


What are you thankful for? I’ll bet you can all agree with everything I’ve just said, but there are so many, many more things to be thankful for tonight.


Being thankful, as it turns out, is much than just saying the words “thank you” to be polite. The Rev. Michael Brown writes, “It seems that human beings know intuitively, at least to some extent, that the privileges and good things they enjoy in life are, to some measure, given to them and that they are to be grateful for what they have. Some thank God, or some sort of deity. Others thank their lucky stars, good fortune, karma, or some nebulous cosmic force at work in the universe. Among all sorts of people the question is asked, ‘What are you thankful for?’ even if it is not entirely clear who it is that is being thanked. No matter; just celebrate the feeling of being thankful. And people generally seem to understand that being thankful is good for you. One doesn’t even have to be a Christian to say things like, ‘Count your blessings,’ or ‘Look on the bright side’ to know that gratitude in general brings some peace and consolation to the mind. Scientific research proves that gratitude is an essential part of our physical and mental health and well-being. Some studies even suggest that thankfulness and ‘counting your blessings’ is linked to better sleep, increased desire to exercise, fewer physical complaints, and even the tendency to have healthier heart rhythms. So, the question, ‘What are you thankful for?’ seems to be therapeutic.”[3]


Of course, no list of things to be thankful for would be complete without hope and faith. For us gathered here tonight, the reasons for our thankfulness are rooted in the hope God instills in us and the faith in God’s abundant goodness.


Bread=Life. Jesus=Bread. Jesus=Life. To put it another way, Jesus is the One in Whom we have our being, who sustains us, feeds us, and supports us, day by day. And that is certainly grounds for thankfulness!


So when we gather around the table with family and friends this Thursday, let the bread we break strengthen us, not just physically, but also spiritually to be passionate about our faith – that we might in humble thankfulness walk in ways that are a credit to his saving grace!


In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.