Welcome to the Knox Talks blog. Here you can find recent and past sermons relating scripture to a wide variety of topics. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
The Bread of Life
Scriptures: Deuteronomy 26:1-11John 6:25-35
Thanksgiving is a holiday that the church has adopted from the secular world. Americans have a whole mythology built up about the first Thanksgiving, with starving pilgrim settlers unprepared for a North American winter and the generous indigenous people sharing their bounty with them to save their lives.
There are a lot of religious overtones in the secular story. After all, these were pilgrims: they left England seeking freedom from the state religion and they couldn’t help but notice the parallels with the settlement of the promised land and the first fruits of a harvest that they had never planted to be offered to God in thanks for this new land. So, secular culture was informed by this deeply rooted religious story.
Nevertheless, Thanksgiving as a festival has been borrowed from our experience of settling North America. It was not a celebration that was much encouraged in the Old World, where both Heathen and Pagan fertility festivals are still remembered today. Indeed, a big harvest thanksgiving was discouraged because it seemed awfully close to Paganism.
The average person over here isn’t aware of this, but church leaders have long memories and we have to consider these things.
One way I am affected by this kind of reflecting is how this festival resonates with what we did last Sunday as we considered Truth and Reconciliation and as we reflected on the effects of European settlement on the first peoples of this land. After all, the mythology of America starts with the generous natives of the Thanksgiving story, and moves on to consider the indigenous people to be basically extinct now. Indigenous people have been romanticized as safely contained in the past, although recently that way of thinking is being thoroughly challenged today.
I have to confess that there’s a part of me that feels uncomfortable with a traditional Thanksgiving celebration. If all this bounty we feast on has come at the cost of another culture, of other people, shouldn’t I be feeling guilty instead of thankful?
Let’s start with a quick and easy answer to that question: it is always appropriate to be thankful. Giving thanks for the wonderful life we enjoy is a way of acknowledging that it is a gift. It is not something we can claim because we deserve it. Giving thanks is a recognition of a higher power, of our creator who has made all this life and bounty possible. It puts our egos aside and declares that what we have isn’t our right. It is a blessing, a gift.
That kind of perspective is an important place to start. If we remember that there is a higher power above us who blesses us with food and other gifts of life, then we can move out of the centre of our own thoughts and go beyond focusing on our own needs. We can remember to be as generous as our creator is.
We can bring that attitude to all our reflections so that when we consider this land and our place in it beside the first peoples, we can go beyond guilt into a healthy relationship of respect and reconciliation; of finding new ways to live and work together. And maybe we can bring an attitude of thanksgiving to the people whose ancestors were willing to help total strangers even though it cost them so much in the end.
Notice that our Gospel lesson for today is one that puts the whole question of thanksgiving into the spiritual realm. Jesus shifts the natural human desire to have daily bread to a consideration of spiritual food. It’s not enough just to take care of the food on our plates, we have to feed our spirits every day.
Before COVID, we reminded ourselves of this during communion with that sung reminder as the elements were being served:
Eat this Bread, Drink this Cup
Come to me and never be hungry
Eat this Bread, Drink this Cup
Trust in me and you will not thirst
It’s a direct reference to this gospel lesson and the spiritual food provided in Christ and in communion.
That reminder should bring us an even deeper perspective because in communion we celebrate the way that people are brought together across all divisions of time and space, divisions of race and culture, language and status, even divisions between friend and enemy.
The main point of World Communion Sunday is to remind us that in this meal that Jesus created for us, we can still be connected despite all the ways we find to stand apart and become “other”.
So on this Thanksgiving Sunday as we celebrate communion and remember that God provides both physical and spiritual food in our lives, let us truly be thankful for all the blessings we have and let our spiritual connection with others, exemplified in this meal Jesus prepares for us, move us to the kind of sharing that God intends.
That kind of sharing is a question of faith, not just a question of thankfulness.
A farmer who offers first-fruits is showing trust that they will be able to harvest second fruits, and whatever future harvest remains. This kind of giving thanks is a statement of faith that we believe that God will provide for our needs.
Most of us don’t live on farms or have literal harvests to bring in so let’s transfer that idea to sharing: when we share what we have generously, we are trusting God to provide for our needs. That can be scary. It’s a real step of faith, but it is the kind of sharing Jesus taught his followers and the kind of approach to life that is still part of our calling.
May we never stop feeling thankful: thankful to God, and to all the people to have helped us. May we always have the courage to bring a spirit of thankfulness and generosity to all our dealings as we re-imagine where we belong in this land and in these times that are changing so much.