Reformation Four Nine-Nine

John 8:31–36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Sermon

So confirmands, today you are lucky enough to share this day with the 499th anniversary of the reformation. Now don’t worry if you aren’t entirely sure what “The Reformation” is all about, your parents and families probably aren’t entirely sure either. But today, as you affirm your faith in front the congregation you are standing on the shoulders of a community of people that have gone before you for almost 500 years – The Lutheran community (and Anglican one for some). And Lutherans and Anglicans are just one part of a larger Christian family that has been around for 200 years.

Now the words and promises that you will hear today have already been spoken and made to you in your baptism. But you probably don’t remember your baptism, so we remind you of those promises again today, when you are at an age when you will remember. So you can hear and remember the promises that God has made just to you.

And those promises are the same ones that the reformation was all about.

Reform. Change. Reformation. Change for the better.

Our world talks about change and reform a lot. Political reform, economic reform, environmental reform, social reform – you name it, we are talking about changing it. When we listen to the message around us and to what we as individuals want, change and reform are common themes.

The call for reform and change is not just for change’s sake. The desire for reform comes from a deep need within ourselves. A need to make things better, to make things right. We desire a better life, better circumstances. And at the same time the scariest thing about reform and change, is the fear of loss.

As Lutherans we stand on change, we try to embrace ongoing reform. There are 87 million of us in the world, nearly 3 times the population of Canada. And today, the Lutherans around the world remember that big Reformation from where we began and started.

Four hundred and ninety-nine years ago on October 31st, 1517. A young monk, priest and university lecturer, published 95 theses about change, about religious reform. Martin Luther hoped that his ideas could be discussed by friends and colleagues in a civil manner. Instead, Luther’s writing expressed the growing dissent among the people and pushed into the light issues that had been simmering for decades, which hit Christianity in Europe like a hurricane.

For you see, Luther hit a chord. He connected to that deep desire for change. He identified the issues of oppression in the church and of abuse by the clergy. People were tired of being exploited by the church who made them fear death, hell and purgatory nor did they not want to be continually controlled by the nobility who made them fear soldiers and prisons. As Luther identified these issues, he diagnosed the illness that existed in medieval church.

Figuring out he problem is the easy part though. We are good at diagnosing our problems and knowing that we need and want something different. Luther looked around and saw the suffering of the people and he saw the need for reform.

When we look around at ourselves, we see problems too. We long for change. Here we see a shrinking church membership and at the same time an aging membership. We have heard about financial short comings. And many of us are tired as we give more of ourselves to the church, of our time our money, and of our energy.

And so while Identifying the problem is the easy part, actual Reformation is hard.

When the followers of the Jesus are faced with the prospect of freedom, they balk at the idea. They know their problems too. They struggle under the government of the Romans. And they struggle under the religious rule by the temple priests. But when change and freedom stares them in the face, they would rather stick to what they know. They would rather be oppressed by the Romans and the Jerusalem Temple.

When Luther began proposing reforms to the Church of his day, they were rejected. Even though the Vatican was in debt because of never ending wars and had been bankrupted by the enormous building project of St. Peter’s Basilica, they wanted to stay on the same path rather than actually change.

And the difficulties that christianity faces today in North America are so frightening to some, that congregations are deciding simply to slowly die. To make sure all the surviving members are cared for in the last years of their lives. It is easier and safer to stay the same, even when we can clearly see the problems around us.

And so here we stand. On this Reformation Sunday, on this Sunday of change, we know that we have a problem, we know that we need to reform too.

As Jesus talks to his followers today he reminds them of two simple realities. The truth will make you free. The Son will make you free.

It is the same truth that Luther discovered, the truth that prompted him to begin writing about change in the church.

And it is the same truth that will carry our congregation and our larger Christian family through our problems.

Jesus will set us free.

The reality of our need for change, our desire for reform, is that we cannot do it on our own and and we cannot get it right. As St. Paul writes in Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  We know that things could be different, we know that life could be better, but we also know that no matter how hard we try, we cannot keep from hurting others or being hurt, or from causing others to suffer or suffering ourselves, from causing grief or being grieved, or from killing or dying.

And while most people would give up in the face of this news. Luther heard something different. Luther heard the promise that Jesus makes:

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed

We are all sinners, and we all fall short. Yet, God’s promise is in Christ. As Jesus comes  into our world, as Jesus joins us in falling short and being unable to make things better, Jesus offers freedom.

The Reformation started with this idea, that we cannot really change things, but instead, God is doing the changing. Even though we sin, and fall short, even though we cannot change our world to be the place we know it could be, God is there loving and caring for us. Christ is there, living with, dying and rising again with us.

And God’s grand plan for changing the world, began in the smallest way. A baby born in a stable. A baby like no other. A baby that was divine and human. But God wasn’t done there. God’s next reform was to the idea God loved some and not others, and that God’s love was for those who could earn it. As Jesus preached and taught, he told people, he tells us, that God’s love is for all people. And finally God’s biggest change was in the shape of the cross. On Good Friday, Jesus endured death, yet the surprise of Easter morning was God’s undoing of death’s power over life, God had made a new promise that new life will go on.

It is on these changes and reforms, these promises by God that the Reformation began. And it is on the shoulders of the Reformation that we stand. As Lutherans, we have been given a gift. A gift that came at great cost, a gift that came out of division, conflict and strife. A gift that reminds us that the most important thing the church can do is tell people of God’s love.

And by God’s love, we are set free. We are set free from sin and death. We are set free from our own failures and fears.

Reformation Sunday is about remembering what happened 499 years ago, about remembering and commemorating where we came from. But it also about the reformation that is happening now. The Reformation and transformation that God has been up to this whole time – God has been changing the world, changing us by setting us free.

Amen. 

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I am choosing religion for my children – they don’t get a say yet

Whether or not to raise your children with religion is a pretty controversial topic. Just google “choosing religion for your children” and you will find a host of articles explaining why choosing religion for children is a bad idea.

In spite of the prevailing opinion out there, I am going to make a bold claim:

The idea that you can defer choosing a religion for your children until they are old enough to choose for themselves is wrong.

As parents we are choosing for our children either way, whether we choose religion or not, we are making the choice for them. We are not putting off that choice, we are choosing something or we are choosing nothing for them. It is like saying I am not going to choose literacy for my children, they can decide to be readers on their own when they are older, if they want to. You aren’t delaying the choice, you are depriving them of a real opportunity to read.

And while, I get that every family and every child is unique, and that applying a universal rule is impossible… I am convinced that choosing religion for your children can be and is a very good thing.

Strangers in a Foreign Land

I do a lot of baptisms for families with babies or young children. And most of the baptisms I do are for families who have only the most nominal or tenuous connection to the church. Grandma has said that the new baby in the family needs to be baptized to protect him or her from hell.

And what usually results is that some sheepish and tentative new mother or father phones or emails the church, wondering about baptism for their new beloved child.

“I was baptized and confirmed at this church,” they say. “We are thinking of coming back.”

(I don’t know about you, but the idea of introducing a significant lifestyle change, like regular church attendance, shortly after having a baby is crazy-talk in my books).

So I set up a meeting to talk about what baptism means and we plan to have the baptism on a Sunday morning. I try to go into good depth about the meanings and symbols of baptism; and about what the church believes that it means and what we believe that God is doing in baptism. But no amount of casual, yet informative, conversation can prepare a family for standing in front of a congregation of regular church attenders with this weird guy in a dress praying prayers, asking questions and pouring water on the baby’s head.

I almost always feel bad for families that come for baptism, and the obvious awkward self-conciousness that they are experiencing while standing in front of a group of mostly strangers.

It takes years to live into and feel comfortable with the liturgy and ritual of the church. So for those for whom church is not really a part of their daily lives, parachuting in for a baptism can be a strange and alien experience. I imagine it to be something like if I were to be parachuted in as a contestant in a Miss Universe pageant. I only know the vaguest things about the pageant world from the movie Miss Congeniality… it is an understatement to say it would be super awkward!

I don’t question the motivations of those who come for baptism and I will baptize anyone who asks, but I do wonder why people subject themselves to a ritual and experience they have no connection to and little desire to pursue in any meaningful way.

Choosing Religion vs. Choosing Faith

My parents chose religion for me. Sunday morning worship was a weekly event, in addition to playing music, youth group, confirmation, bible studies, fellowship events throughout the week. Church was a big part of the life of our family, and it was clear that as children we didn’t have a choice about participating.

Sure there were some annoying parts, like missing all the medal games of weekend sports tournaments because they would be scheduled during Sunday morning worship. Or knowing that Saturday night was essentially like a school night because I had somewhere to be in the morning.

But looking back, there was nothing else in my world that gave me the experiences that church did. There was no other intergenerational community full of adults (not related to me) who knew my name, asked about my life, and just cared about me. There was no other place where the deep questions of meaning – life and death – could be talked about without hushed, anxious voices. There was no other place where I was exposed to the rituals, symbols, metaphors, music and history that comprise so much of our western world.

As I grew up going to church, what became clear to me is the more religion I was exposed to, the less my parents were making the choice for me. Faith was my choice and my experience at church allowed me to be informed about what I was getting into.

  • A caveat: I am aware that not every church or faith community is a safe and healthy place. In fact many are centred around fear, judgement and shame. Many do not encourage questions and conversation, nor are places that allow members to search for deeper meaning. Sometimes churches can be places of abuse. These churches are not religious experiences that I would advocate for, and I am sorry for those for whom this is their experience of religion.

Liturgy and ritual in our DNA

Recently, our 3-month-old daughter was baptized. Standing on the other side of the font, so to speak, as a parent rather than the pastor, I was struck by the experience. I have presided at more baptisms than I can remember, but only been a parent for two.

fullsizeoutput_434eWhile the Bishop (presiding at the baptism), godparents, my wife and I stood around the font, our two-year-old son stepped up and placed his water cup and container of goldfish on the font. He must have thought it was a natural spot to stash his stuff. And then he proceeded to do laps around the font as the Bishop led us through the liturgy for baptism. None of us were worried or anxious, all 5 of the adults standing there were seminary trained (who else do pastors ask to be godparents but friends from seminary!). We even laughed when our son started dipping his hands in the font in order to bring some water to his own head (re-baptizing himself?).

I was struck at how comfortable my son was in the moment. He wasn’t in a strange place. The font and altar rail and nearby pews were not foreign pieces of furniture. Being in worship with us and in front of the congregation was not unusual.

My son was at home.

I wasn’t just struck by his comfort, I was moved by it. I could see that even at the age of 2, he was beginning to be shaped and formed by the experience of worship, by the experience of religion and community. Liturgy and ritual is being imprinted on his DNA, his daily life is connected to the practice of re-telling the story of Jesus.

When it comes time for him to chose faith for himself, I know that he will know intimately what he is choosing. He will know what practicing religion feels like, he will know what it means to be a loved member of a community. He will have a sense of what it might feel like and be like to practice other religions.

My wife and I are choosing religion for our children, because we are choosing to give them an experience that will allow them to choose faith later on in life. We are choosing religion, because there are few, if any, other places in our lives where we can be a part of diverse, intergenerational communities that help us make sense of and bring meaning to our lives. And choosing “not to choose religion” for our children, would actually be almost certainly be choosing “nothing” for them.


Are you choosing religion for your kids? If so, why? If not, why not?Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

The parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector – It’s a Trap

Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: proud, haughty, self-righteous, or even like that on-fire-for-Jesus Christian. I bow my head when I pray silently, and I cover the amount on my envelope with my thumb when I slip it into the offering plate”.

Have you ever prayed that prayer? Or had those thoughts?

“God, how could you love someone like me. I am not like those other people who have it all together, who give more than I do, who volunteer more than I do, who are better people than I am. Have mercy on me, because that’s all I have”

What about this prayer and these thoughts?

It is easy to hear this parable and think that it is a lesson about the value of humility. There is the Pharisee, incorrectly dividing the world into categories. Thankfully we are not like him. And there is the tax collector. He knows what this is about, he is a good Lutheran. All sin. The only hope he has is for God’s mercy.

To modern listeners, the details of this parable go by so quickly. We don’t know what it was like to stand in the temple of Jerusalem. The term Pharisee is derogatory today. It can seem easy to identify the villain here because we have not heard the standard prayers of the Hebrew faith.

But understanding the context, as always, is very important. The temple of Jerusalem would have been grand sight to behold. It was big and it had rules. The people believed that it was where God lived – in the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. The temple was the place where you had to earn every inch of God’s favour. Whether you were a Pharisee or tax collector, you knew where you stood in the eyes of God when you were inside the temple.

The Pharisee knows that he is righteous. He prays a Benediction that every Jewish man was to pray each day. Thank you God that I am not a Gentile, a sinner, or a woman. The Pharisee modifies the prayer, but the point is still the same. He is genuinely thankful for who he is. The pharisees see those around him and looks down on them.

The tax collector, on the other hand, knows that he cannot expect anything from God. His job requires him to break the rules of Judaism. To charge interest, to handle money with graven images on it, even to steal or assault. He is not righteous and his only hope is God’s mercy. The tax collector is so wrapped up in himself, that he doesn’t see the world around him.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector are both quick to divide people into categories and be judge on God’s behalf. The Pharisees judges himself righteous, the tax collector judges himself unrighteous. And we are often guilty of the same.

Whether we are thanking God for not being thieves, rogues, adulterers or tax collectors, or whether we are thanking God because we are not arrogant, self-righteous, or prideful, the issue is the same. We divide humanity into categories, justified or unjustified, saved or unsaved, loved or unloved.

Human beings are constantly looking for the ways that we can identify who is in and who is out. We might not be standing on the street corner, boldly thanking God in prayer for our certain salvation. But have we looked down on others, the homeless, those in financial trouble, those who struggle with addiction, those who come from broken families, even those who are sick, and we thank God that we are not them. “Therefore by the grace of God, go I”. Or how often have we been the ones thinking that we are worthless compared to those around us. That we unworthy, while everyone else seems so perfect. Whether we are intentional about it, or whether we do not know that we are doing it, we too place ourselves in the same categories that the Pharisees and the Tax Collector do.

Now, here is the thing about that kind of thinking. It is a trap.

And so it the parable today.

The parable that Jesus tells today is a trap that makes us identify ourselves with either the Pharisee or the tax collector. But this parable is not about pride or humility, and it is just as much not about pharisees or tax collectors.

The parable is about the storyteller.

The parable is about Jesus.

While we are busy trying to make things about us, God is reminding us that it is God alone who justifies. God alone decides who is good enough for the Kingdom.

According to the law, the Pharisee came into the temple righteous, and left the temple righteous. But Jesus says something about the tax collector that should grab our attention,

“I… tell… you,  this man went down to his home justified”.

There is nothing that the tax collector did, rather it is Jesus who says that the man is justified. It is Jesus who decides.

In the world of the Jerusalem temple, there were those were in and those were out. But everything changes with Jesus.

Through birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus comes to tear down the categories we try to build. Whenever we try to make categories, God will stand on the other side, because God wants all to be included, all to receive grace, all to be loved. God has only one category for all of us. We belong to God and God alone.

Now, to the confirmands who shared their faith statements. If there was one thing I hope you take away from the past two years, it this. That we are not good enough to save ourselves, and nor are we too bad to be loved by God. God is the one who decides who is in and who is out, and God says, you are in.

The parable that Jesus tells is not a parable on how to act, or who to be like or how to pray. This is a parable about God. A parable that shows us God’s motives and shows us the way that God chooses to act in the world. That shows us that God wants to be with and care for the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone. God wants to care for us… because  we are the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone.

Neither the Pharisee, nor the tax collector, nor us, want to see or admit, that being justified, that being saved is something that God does for us. Yet, that is what is told to us today.  The trap is laid that we try to divide humanity into saved and not saved. And it is God who alone who knows the way out. Through love and mercy God chooses humanity. God who chooses those who truly cannot be righteous on our own, God comes to us as Christ who lives and dies, with us, with imperfect and flawed human beings, God sends us the Holy Spirit to bring us into the resurrection and into new life.

Perhaps our prayer today should be:

“God, we thank you that we ARE like other people: Pharisees and tax collectors, sinners and saints.  We are justified by your righteousness; we are saved by your love.”

Amen. 

God is not the judge: The persistent widow and the persistent God

Luke 18:1-8

“And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.” (Read the whole passage)

We are not that far from the end of the church year, in about a month we will wrap up Luke’s gospel for a couple years and begin the story of Jesus, starting with his birth all over again in Advent, this time using Matthew as our primary text.

Yet before that, we will take time to turn to questions of the end, questions about what are God’s big plans for us and for all creation. So we have a little bit of time to spend in Luke’s gospel yet.

And today we turn to another parable, a less familiar one than what we have been hearing so far – the parable of the Unjust Judge and Persistent Widow. Compared to the stories we have heard about lost sheep and lost coins, shrewd managers, dinner party advice, lazarus and the rich man… this parable might seem a little forced or contrived. Jesus seems to be making a point about what God is not like, but it may feel like the comparison doesn’t exactly work as it should.

Jesus tells his disciples about the need to be persistent in prayer. He starts with an an unjust judge. A man in a position of authority who neither fears God nor has respect for the people he is in authority over. Then a widow, a woman without much authority or power continually comes to him, asking for justice. And finally, because of her persistence, the harsh judge relents and gives the widow what she is asking for, if only to get her out of his hair.

And Jesus’ point seems to be that we if we persistent in prayer, imagine how a loving God will be much quicker to respond.

Except there is problem with the message that Christians have generally pulled from this parable. Sure it is good to be encouraged in our prayer, to come to God with our needs and concerns. But what is the message to those who are not granted justice? Have they not prayed enough? Have they not persisted?

As usual, the parable asks us to dig deeper.

When Jesus begins this parable it wouldn’t have sounded like a straightforward comparison as it does to us. It would have sounded more like the set up to a joke.

The disciples would have known judges like this. Men in positions of authority and power who lorded it over the people. And a judge, by the way, would not be the one we imagine in a courtroom with a wooden gavel. The Judges of Israel were like rulers or kings, warlords and protectors. The judge in this parable would have been found in a throne room, not a court room. And this judge is the epitome of human power and its misuse. He has no fear of God – who was the one who appointed judges, as we recall in the old testament. And this judge has no respect for people – despite the job description of a judge being looking after and caring for the people!

Still, the disciples would recognized this extreme judge in many of the ones who ruled over them. They would have known what the abuse of power looked like.

The joke part comes in when we get to the widow. Widows were at the bottom of society. They were property without owners. The best a widow could hope for was to beg on the streets or to collect the left-over grain in the fields that wasn’t good enough to harvest. Widows had no power or place in the world. Widows wouldn’t even be allowed to speak to a judge in public.  Yet, the widow in this parable comes to this judge so much that she wears him down. But not just wears him down by bothering him. The greek would be more accurate to say that she gives the judge a black eye with her persistence. A black eye both physically and in reputation. This lowly widow sullies this powerful judge’s resolve and reputation.

The funny part is that this would never, ever, ever happen in Jesus’ world. It is an absurd idea. Its like a 6-year-old Tim-Bit hockey player being put on the ice in the Stanley cup final, and scoring a hat trick. So absurd, it is laughable.

And yet, here is the widow wearing down this judge in this parable.

And Jesus point seems to be that God is not like this judge at all…

But let’s take a moment to think about this. If God is so opposite to the unjust judge, isn’t a “Just Judge” nearly the same in every way to the unjust judge except for a few key differences. Don’t both occupy positions of power and privilege? Aren’t both authorities in their community? Are not both asked to the arbitrators of justice? Isn’t the only difference between an unjust judge and a just one the length of time in how long each takes to respond to injustice. Hardly opposites.

So who is the opposite of unjust judge? Well, the parable gives us some clues.

There is one character who is the opposite in every way to unjust judge. There is one character who is powerless, who has no authority, who is deeply concerned with justice and who is quick to act.

The widow.

Could it be that when Jesus tell the disciples that God is unlike, even opposite to the unjust judge, that God is more like the widow?

If we can only imagine God in human terms, that God must be powerful and authoritative, in control and ruling over us… than we would never predict a widow-like God.

But consider who it is that is telling the parable.

The One who is conceived with an un-wed teenage mother. The One who is born in a manger, who is raised by unremarkable peasant parents. The One who becomes a wandering and homeless rabbi. The One who only has 12 ne’er-do-well followers. The One who is arrested, tried and executed as a common criminal on a cross.

Is not Christ more like the widow than like the unjust judge?

In Christ, God is a widow-like character. God chooses to give up power and authority and might, in order to persist with the lowly. God meets the systems and structures of human power with weakness. And God gives that power a black eye with God’s persistent demand for justice. God stands up to the powers of the world and exposes their dark ushering in reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

God is not the judge who will only hear our cries if we ask loudly enough.

God is not the uncaring judge afraid of no-one and without respect for life.

God in Christ is the widow who comes to us from the bottom.

God is the widow who cries to us for justice,

who calls us to respect and love and care for people, for those around us in need.

God is the One who shows us an absurd world

where the first shall be last and the last shall be first,

where forgiveness and mercy is considered shrew management,

where sitting at the lowest spot at the table is the place of honour,

where the down trodden and forgotten like poor Lazarus are welcomed into the bosom of Abraham.

Jesus has been pointing us to this reality this whole time. The reality that in God’s world, everything that we think is turned on its head and God comes to us from the bottom, using weakness and powerless to bring about the Kingdom.

God is not just the one granting justice, but also the one seeking justice. God is not one just listening to our cries, but who is crying out to us, calling us to see the Kingdom of God right here and right now. God is the one who meets us in the lowly Christ, yet who turns injustice to justice, brokennnes into healing, sin into forgivenss and death into life.

Today, unexpectedly, God comes to us in a way would we never imagine. God comes in the Christ-like widow, from the bottom, to turn our world upside down.

 

It was not Moses who gave us Thanksgiving

John 6:25-35

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. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (read the whole passage)

Earlier this week, a New York Times food columnist wrote about “Canadian Thanksgiving.” His article was about the surprising but little known holiday of Canadian Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. He wrote about  the quieter nature of Canadian Thanksgiving that sadly and unimaginatively mirrors the American one in menu and traditions. He thought that there could be something uniquely Canadian that would make Canadian Thanksgiving our own.

The Canadian Thanksgiving for most of us sounds funny, because for us there is just Thanksgiving, and then American Thanksgiving, which seems to be an excuse to have a shopping holiday on Black Friday.

And so this weekend, as we gather with family and friends around mashed potatoes, turkey and football to celebrate “Canadian Thanksgiving,” it may be worth considering where this holiday came from.

While the legends are that the roots of Thanksgiving takes its roots from the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock and sharing a feast with the indigenous people that they met in the new world… the reality is that people have been giving thanks around the time of harvest for hundreds of years before the discovery of the new world.

And so for us in Canada, Thanksgiving has been a time to give thanks for all the things that we have been blessed with. To give thanks for the harvest after a long summer of plowing, planting, growing and harvesting.

But let’s be honest, most of us aren’t celebrating thanksgiving for those reasons. Its not like this is the one time of year when we have enough extra food to have a feast. We could probably afford a turkey dinner most days if we really wanted one.

Thanksgiving for us is much more about the time spent with loved ones. We might be able to have turkey whenever we want, but finding the time to be with family and friends… well, that is something we are often desperate for. In fact, unlike the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, or the extended families working on prairie farms 100 years ago who lived, worked and spent most time together, family time and rest time is very scarce for us. And thanksgiving might one of 2 or 3 times a year when families get to spend quality time together.

We might even get desperate to make this weekend special, with stressing over food and decorations, fighting and bickering because we already sad to say goodbye to loved ones before they arrive, trying to bring back the memories and feelings of the past that we forget to let new memories be made in the now.

As much as Thanksgiving is a chance to be with family and have that moment to pause and relax and just be… it can just as much be that painful reminder of the deep void that we all carry within us. The emptiness that never seems to be filled. The pain of loss and suffering that is never quite healed. The longing for something more than ourselves that we try to fill with things and stuff. That need for meaning in our lives that we push aside with mindless tv or endless internet surfing. That search for happiness that too often ends in substance abuse and addiction, that the next hit never fulfills.

Thanksgiving, like any holiday or time that we try to fill with nostalgia and sentimentalism, can all too often be a reminder of the great void at centre of beings, that we just don’t know how to fill.

Wow… This is a depressing thanksgiving sermon.

Maybe the bible can help? or that Jesus fellow we like talking about in church?

Well, today, when the crowds are following Jesus around the lake, they are clearly looking for something. While they pretend to be surprised to have come upon Jesus, he knows that they are out searching for something to fill their voids. They are doing the same thing that we are often trying to do on Thanksgiving weekend and Jesus calls them on it. These crowds have just experienced the miracles of the feeding of the 5000.  Jesus turned 5 barley loaves and two small fish into enough to feed thousands. And the crowds having experienced this miracles from heaven want more.

More food that is.

The crowds that are following Jesus are probably serial messiah followers. You see, in Jesus’ day, messiahs were a dime a dozen. There were leaders of small religious groups around every corner. Charismatic people who convinced people that they had the solutions to all their problems. The Messiahs promised that they would show people the path to righteousness, or that they would raise an army to oust the Roman occupiers, of that they would make their followers rich… or that they would make the nation great again. And the crowds would follow each would be messiah like the flavour of the week. The messiah they were following last week would different than the one followed now, and the one they would be following next.

And Jesus knows this. “You just want more bread” he scolds the crowds with.

“So show us a sign, that you are real deal” they respond.

The crowds don’t realize they are just following a cycle of disappointment, going from one messiah to the next. They are desperate people, looking for hope anywhere. And each time, they want this messiah to be the one who will fill their voids, who will give them something to hold on to.

But Jesus doesn’t give them a sign. All the other messiahs had signs and miracles too.

Instead, Jesus reminds them of the truths that they have been taught for generations. The manna, the bread from heaven that their ancestors were given did not come from Moses. Or in other words, Jesus reminds the desperate crowds that falling just another messiah in the hopes that this will be the one is not who they are.

Jesus reminds them that is is not Messiahs with big promises, it is not Thanksgiving dinners, it is not seeking after the next hit, is not trying to fill our empty voids with junk that satisfies.

Jesus reminds the crowds that is was God who provided the manna, the bread from heaven.

And then the crowds see.

It wasn’t signs that they needed. It wasn’t more bread. It wasn’t more stuff. It wasn’t more distraction. It wasn’t more escape. It wasn’t more of what they once had.

Jesus reminds them WHO it is that gives true bread from heaven.

Jesus reminds us WHO it is that can fill that void centre of our being, WHO it is that will give us that bread of life. Only God can relieve the our hungry void. Only God can fill our thirsty emptiness.

This weekend, as we sit at Thanksgiving tables desperate for the thing that will fill our empty voids, to satisfy the longing that we carry for something or someone to finally give us what we need… it won’t be the turkey, or the memories, or the stuff in our lives, or the escapes we seek out that will fill us. It will be those moments when we reach out across the table with open and empty hands and say, “pass the potatoes.”

It will be when we look into the eyes of those that we love, and recognize that we are loved, that we will be filled.

Because, those moments of recognizing love in others begins here first. It begins with the open hands and open hearts that we bring to God’s table.

As we come with our voids held out and open, God says to us “the Body of Christ given for you. You are now a part of me and I am a part of you.”

As we come with the emptiness deep inside of us ready to be filled, God says to us, “the Blood of Christ, shed for you. I will fill you with my love, and you will not thirst”

Here, in this Body that is the church, in this family of Christ, we are reminded of what we have been taught for generations. That true bread from heaven, bread that leaves us full inside, that fills our voids and our longing… that God gives us this bread.

That here, at the Lord’s table of Thanksgiving,  God gives us the true Thanksgiving meal.

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.”