Alright, my brothers and sisters. I need to make confession to all of you. I hope that you will still find it in your hearts to love me after I admit what I am about to confess to all of you. I don’t do this lightly, nor do I do this without prayer. But, here it goes. I hate pecan pie. That’s right. The dish some of you are so looking forward to consuming tomorrow will not come anywhere near my lips. I know what you’re thinking “how is this possible, pastor? You seem like such a good person. How can you hate pecan pie when it’s like 99% sugar?” It’s easy. I don’t like pecans. They have always tasted dirty to me. So, I don’t like pecans. Therefor, I don’t like pecan pie. Can you believe I lived in Texas for 3 years without liking pecans? Chris and I even looked at buying a house with a pecan tree. We quickly nixed that idea.
I tried to think of another holiday that revolves around food as much as Thanksgiving does. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of another one. Christmas has food, but also presents (and Jesus). Easter has food (but again, egg hunts and Jesus). Valentine’s day has food, but in the form of chocolate. St. Patrick’s Day has drinks. There isn’t a lot that focuses on food as much as Thanksgiving does. And it’s interesting how many memories we have of family and events that center around food. I am sure a lot of you have that one certain food that it’s not Thanksgiving if it isn’t there. It’s not Thanksgiving without Aunt Mary’s oyster dressing. It’s not Thanksgiving without Uncle Mark’s deep fried turkey. For my family, it wasn’t as much the food as it was the activities surrounding the food. My family likes to gather around noon or so, snack off and on (while having a few drinks and playing games,) we eat around 3, nap, play more games, and then eat again (usually in the form of turkey sandwiches). But for so many families, it all comes back to food.
So it seems appropriate that today’s readings center around bread. As it is often in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as bread; as the only food that can truly really feed us. During a time when we gather to give thanks, to spend time with family and friends, and yes, to eat, we are reminded that everything we are, everything we have, everything we could ever need, is given to us by the bread of life: Jesus Christ. And Jesus tells the disciples, and us, to work for food that endures for eternal life, not the food that perishes. Just in case you’re already in a turkey hangover of some kind, Jesus isn’t speaking about actual food. We know that eventually all food will perish. But Jesus encourages us to receive the food of eternal life.
The wording that Jesus uses is, as always, crucially important. Jesus starts by telling his disciples “do not work for the food” but that the eternal food will given to them by the son of Man. Maybe there was a bit of confusion but the disciples still come back and ask “What must we do to perform the works of God?” And Jesus answers them “This is the work of God…” The focus keeps coming back to what God is doing through Jesus Christ. We cannot do anything to earn this bread. Just as a reminder, Jesus isn’t speaking about literal bread. He’s not talking about the rolls you have rising at home right now, the Wonder loaf you have in your cabinet, or the bagels you had for breakfast. Jesus is speaking about himself. We cannot do anything to earn Jesus.
Martin Luther was passionate about the Lord’s Supper and what happens at the table. Communion is one of 2 sacraments that we celebrate as the Lutheran church (the other is baptism). A sacrament is a tangible sign of God’s love and grace for us. This means that we receive something we can touch, taste, smell, feel, and hear as a outward sign of God’s love. With communion we receive all of that. Luther said “we go to the sacrament because there we receive a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because the words are there, and they impart it to us! For this reason he bids me eat and drink, that it may be mine and do me good as a sure pledge and sign–indeed, as the very gift he has provided for me against my sins, death, and all evils.” (Luther’s Large Catechism; 469:22)
Jesus reminds us this day and everyday that he is the one who sustains us. And Jesus promises that whoever comes to him will never be hungry and never be thirsty. Everything we have to be grateful for comes from this relationship. The people around our table are sustained through Jesus. The food on our table is provided by Jesus. The memories we share are a glimpse of the foretaste of the feast to come that we will have in the kingdom of God. Even when we have empty chairs at our tables because our loved ones are no longer with us, we are reminded of God’s love and the promises of the resurrection given to us in the life of Jesus.
My brothers and sisters, everything we have and everything we are is because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. When you are invited to this table, come. Come, not because you are guilted into it, not because you’re pressured into it by me or your family, not because it’s just that time. Come because you know that God has given you everything you could possibly need, but it is still a blessing to be reminded that you will continue to be taken care of, provided for, and loved by the bread of life, Jesus Christ.
I also would be remissed if I didn’t take time to thank God for all of you. 3 years ago tomorrow I was ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament. God prepared me for you and God prepared you for me. I am more in love with all of you than I was 3 years ago. God continues to provide for me and for all of us. I am so thankful you have given me your trust, your hearts, and your hopes, dreams, and fears. The Holy Spirit continues to stir in this place and we continue to feast on the bread of life and trust in that movement.