When The Lord Gave Thanks
WHEN THE LORD GAVE THANKS
I believe that the scriptures teach us that it is good to give thanks, that thanksgiving is powerful, that giving thanks is key to life. That is why before I preach I try to find something specific to give thanks for. And I think even in secular culture, we agree that is good to give thanks. Even in America we have a national holiday, Thanksgiving, where we give thanks by eating as much turkey and gravy as we can, watching football, and arguing with our in laws.
I actually googled “things people are thankful for” and I found an article about facebook meta data which breaks out what people are thankful for by state. Generally, the survey found that people are thankful for what you would expect them to be thankful for. Friends, family, health, family and friends, job, in that order. But things get more interesting when you look at being thankful by state. In Kentucky people are most thankful for, “their work family.” Apparently, there are a lot of magician’s in Ohio for they are most thankful for the laughter of children. People in Maryland are thankful for a sound mind. People in Illinois are thankful for their mother and father in law. People in Indiana, where my last church was are thankful for freedom of speech. People in Washington state are most thankful for Yoga. People in Virginia and in California are most thankful for youtube. Full disclosure, I do watch a lot of youtube. This isn’t a scientific survey but a facebook survey. So we can be thankful that we can take these results with a grain of salt. Also, we can be thankful for salt it adds flavor to food.
While there are some surprises state by state generally what people are thankful for is pretty easy to predict. Friends, family, health, a job, these are things that we are all thankful for. Yet in this passage there is a rather mind boggling phrase that the Holy Spirit drew me to. After Jesus walked on the water, the crowds noticed that he had gone, and they went to find out where Jesus went. To quote John, “ Other boast from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.”
Of course, John is referring to the feeding of the five thousand. Yet, that phrase, “after the Lord had given thanks,” struck me. I know what regular people give thanks for but what did Jesus give thanks for?
The Good News: When we give thanks for what the Lord gave thanks for the world shall be fed with the bread of life.
- The Lord gave thanks for feeding others
- The Lord gave thanks that his Father Heard Him
- The Lord gave thanks that his body was broken.
First, we see that the Lord gave thanks for feeding others. We see in all the Gospels, that before Jesus feeds the five thousand he give thanks that His Father was faithful to help him feed the masses with what resources he had. The Gospels tell us that after 40 days of fasting the Devil came to Jesus and tempted him to use his power to turn stones into bread to feed himself. Jesus refused (Matthew 4:1-11). And yet, to feed others, Jesus basically violated the laws of physics.
The book of Acts records that Jesus said it is better to give than it is to receive (Acts 20:35). But we have to wonder if we believe this to be true in our lives. One place in our culture that we practice the discipline of giving is around Christmas time. One Christmas tradition that I made up when I moved to Norfolk was making gift baskets for everyone in my apartment building. There are about eight apartments in my building so it is a decent chunk of change. But my view is I am a pastor, part of my duties is to reach out to others, so it is a good thing for me to do such things. Last Christmas, after I had given out the baskets, I came home to find that one of my neighbors had returned the favor and baked me a batch of brownies. I have to tell you I have a bit of a sweet tooth so I was really excited. And they were really good brownies. I hadn’t really gotten anything in return the first year I handed out gifts to my neighbors. It had started some conversations but people still mainly kept to themselves. But the second year I did it, I got brownies, and they were really good brownies, so I thought, “finally this is paying off.”
But writing this sermon I now realize that I far more enjoyed eating those brownies than I did buying my entire apartment building gift baskets. Buying strangers gifts was a chore for me it wasn’t a joy that I gave thanks for like a belly full of delicious brownies.
When I think about someone who gives thanks for giving I think about one of my missionary friends. Above my tithe, I support a friend who moved his family to Jordan to work in a tuberculosis hospital on the Syrian border. I saw him last summer before he moved. They have a young daughter who was around two at the time. I asked my friend what it was like being a new parent. He said to me, “Will it is a lot of joy but not a lot of fun.” I have mentioned this to several parents and they agree with the sentiment. A good parent doesn’t see feeding their children or buying them good things as a burden, they see it as a joy, even though kids can be more than a little expensive. You feed your children physically and somehow you are fed spiritually even when they are not cleaning their rooms.
This man had a twinkle in his eye when he described his love for his new daughter. And strangely, he had the same twinkle in his eye when he described the joy he had about moving his family to the middle east on the border of a war zone, to minister to people who most of us don’t give a second thought about. That is why I support his ministry because I saw his joy for giving and it compelled me to give. What would happen if were fed in our giving to the world as we are fed in our feeding of our children? I think the world would be a different place.
Second, we see that the Lord give thanks that his Father heard him. The book of Mark records that before he fed the five thousand he looked up to heaven and gave thanks (Mark 6:41). It occurred to me that this is the exact opposite way that people in Jesus’ time and in ours pray. Jews had a great reverence for God. As a sign of respect for God’s name they wouldn’t even say the name out loud. And as a sign of respect in our culture we bow our heads when we pray. I think in whatever religion you find yourself in, bowing your head before the deity, is what you are supposed to do. And yet here, as the host of a massive meal, Jesus doesn’t bow his head, he lifts it towards heaven. The only conclusion we can draw from this is he truly did see his relationship to God as one of Son to his Father.
Even in our own culture when a child goes to his or her Father or mother to ask for something, looking up at them, isn’t a sign of disrespect. They really have no other choice since their parents are so much taller than them. Instead, it is a sign of trust, that they know their parent will consider their request seriously, even if they do not grant it. Children only look down when they come to their parents if they are ashamed to ask for something because their parents are harsh.
We see Jesus’ trust that his Father hears him in his prayer before he raises his friend Lazarus from the dead. Before that miracle, Jesus again lifts his eyes to the heavens and declares, “ Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 6:41). We as Christians believe that through Jesus’ death and resurrection we become adopted by our Father in heaven for Jesus’ sake. We are heard by Jesus’ Father because he has adopted us for Jesus sake. It doesn’t matter whether we think we are worthy. Our standing before the Father isn’t based on our self image it is based on the image of the invisible God, it is based on Jesus Christ. And if we truly believed that our Father heard us would we not cry out for those who are bound to be unbound as Lazarus was unbound from his grave clothes when he came out of the tomb?
Finally, we see that the Lord gives thanks for his body being broken. Though John does not have an explicit account of the Lord’s supper, he seems to fold it into Jesus’ discussion about the bread of life. The other Gospel’s tell us that after the Supper he took the bread and he blessed it. Jesus conferred praise and blessing on it being broken, on the sacrifice he was about to give the whole world. Jesus found joy in being broken for others. He found joy in sacrifice.
As I think of Christ’s body broken for us I am reminded of the sacrifice my mother made for my sister and I. I like to joke that my mom’s heart isn’t in the right place, because while spiritually she is a loving person, biologically her heart is actually in the wrong place. It isn’t in her chest. Instead, it is closer to her back. As a teenager my mom grew up on a dairy farm and would bail hay everyday. Until she collapsed one day on the farm due to her heart condition. She also developed epilepsy and she still has to take medication to manage that. Yet, she still went to college and got married. The doctors warned her that if she had children it might make her an invalid. And yet she chose to have me and my sister anyway. As a child my mother was always sick and tired. For a long time I blamed myself. I knew she had been healthier before I was born. I felt like me being born had hurt my mother and if I hadn’t been born then my mother would be happier.
But then I went to a prayer meeting that my mother held after one of her leadership seminars that she does for work. She gave her testimony about all her health struggles through her life. She talked about how the doctors told her that it would be dangerous for her to have children, that if she did she might become an invalid. But still because she loved two people who didn’t even exist yet, she gave birth to me and my sister. And I saw for the first time as an adult how much joy my mother had in my life even though her body had been broken for me. I saw her joy in her sacrifice and their being no regret in how our births had affected her health. And all my guilt was washed away. And I recognize that today perhaps you don’t have the same relationship with your parents. Perhaps they have been a disappointment to you. But the beauty of our Faith is we have a Father in heaven who sent his Son to be broken for us, to show us that none of us are a mistake. All he asks is that we come to the table, acknowledge our brokenness, and discern the body, the needs of those around us. When we give thanks for what Jesus gave thanks for we the world will eat of the bread of life, they will taste and see that the Lord is good.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.