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Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA November 28, 2013.

Thanksgiving Day; Year C (RCL): Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35

                      I speak to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

There’s a story about old friends who bump into one another on the street one day. One looked forlorn, on the verge of tears. His friend asked, "What in the world is going on with you?"

The sad fellow said, "Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars."

“I’m sorry for your loss, but how fortunate for you!"

"But … two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and she left me eighty-five thousand dollars. Free and clear."

"Oh my gosh! Again, I’m sorry, but you’ve been incredibly blessed...."

"You don’t understand!" he interrupted. "Last week, my great-aunt passed and I inherited almost a quarter of a million dollars."

Now really confused, his friend asked "Then, why do you look so glum?"

"This week... NOTHING!"

There can be trouble with receiving something over and over again on a regular basis. Even if it is a gift, we may come to expect it. This kind of “entitlement mindset” seems to be permeating American society at a lot of different levels. Many are blessed to live in a land of plenty, yet there is still too great a number of those who live on our streets and under our bridges, who seek their next meal for themselves and for others, and wonder where and if some sound work and good clothing might be found. Those with plenty are at risk of becoming complacent and at times may neglect to give thanks to anyone for anything.

You know the phrase, “Attitude is everything.” Well, it’s no different when it comes to Thanksgiving, or what we at Immanuel often call Grace and Gratitude. Attitudes that we carry with us through life are of paramount importance if we are truly to live lives that demonstrate our gratitude towards God for God’s movement in our lives.

Every time we gather for worship, our work together has elements of thanksgiving. When we are nourished with God’s bounty in Holy Communion, when we partake of Jesus’ word that gives life to the world, and even when two or three of us simply join our hearts in prayer to make our requests known to God, we do so “with thanksgiving.” Let us always give thanks to the Lord, who is good and whose mercy endures forever.

Th

e annual harvest festival called the Feast of Weeks provides the setting for today’s reading from Deuteronomy. Moses reminds the children of Israel that God has been their supreme Helper. It was God who provided the land they possess. The festival celebrates the first fruits of the produce of the land, offered back to God in thanks. God’s people must respond with gratitude toward God because of these continual blessings. Bringing their offerings, worshipers remember and proclaim God’s gracious acts on behalf of Israel. Today, we are called to remember that all that we have: wealth, health, prosperity and love, are gifts from God; they are to be used and shared with others.

In our Epistle, Paul urges the Christians in Philippi to be thankful, and to dwell on everything worthy of praise. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!” It is important to remember that this exhortation comes from a man, writing from prison, who faces death. Paul has been stoned and beaten and hounded by the mob. Yet, experiences which would leave others sour and bitter find Paul overflowing with joy and praise! Look to verses 6-7 for the answer: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   Learn how to lay down your cares and worries before the One who cares for you. Nothing is beyond the God who loves us deeply and fully.

Our Gospel today speaks of the day after Jesus had multiplied loaves and fishes to feed five thousand. He is pursued by the crowd clamoring for more food. When the crowd sought physical sustenance, Jesus pointed them to spiritual food by teaching about the things of heaven. As his Jewish listeners tried to grasp what he taught, Jesus made the historical connection for them by referring back to the Manna from Heaven that God provided the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness forty years. He demonstrated God meeting their ‘true’ needs. Again, Jesus turns the discussion to things of a spiritual nature, and as they ask him to provide “this food” for them, he tells them He is the Bread of Life. Believing in Jesus, they would never be hungry... at least not in things of eternal significance.

How sad it can be when we as sometimes wayward children put other “needs” ahead of this need for the Bread of Life made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ! He is the only real need we have to live a life of eternal blessing, and yet, we still pursue careers, cars, homes and all manner of possessions. In the process, we can neglect the importance of returning thanks to the Giver of all good things.

Family and friends will gather around tables today and take time to name with great delight those things for which they are thankful. Hopefully, the lessons for this civic holiday link persons, places, and things we are grateful for to the giver of all good gifts – to God.

There are no gifts without a giver, no blessings without the one “whose steadfast love is everlasting, whose faithfulness endures from age to age” (Ps. 100:5).

As creator, it is God who has given God’s people the land and the bounty which issues forth from it.

As liberator, it is God who has given God’s people their story of blessing throughout time.

Embodied in Jesus, it is God who has nurtured and fills God’s people with the bread of God’s own self.

As Spirit in our community, it is God who gives that peace which passes all understanding and that listens always to God’s people.

When we bring everything together in God – food and faith, rejoicing and requests, excellences and hungers – we all benefit from God’s gracious hand.

I hope and pray we all make an effort to recognize any blessings we’ve come to take for granted. Let us focus on what we have rather than on what we lack or think we need, and see how it affects our attitude.

Let me leave you with some suggestions:

Be thankful you don’t already have everything you want. If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be grateful when you don’t know something. This gives you the opportunity to learn.

Look for grace in the difficult times. During those times, you may grow.

Be thankful for your limitations, because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be grateful for each new challenge; it will build strength and character.

Find grace in your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary, because it means you’ve made a difference.

It’s easy to be thankful for the good things. But, a life of true fulfillment can come to those who are also thankful for setbacks. As hard as it may be, find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they will become blessings also.

As we look around today at this land of plenty in which we live, it is my hope and prayer that we will see through new eyes each day the ways that God blesses us, and never take God or those blessings for granted.

This year, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, may we each see God for who God really is and know ourselves as who we are: A God that “gives the true bread from heaven” to give life to the world, and a people who have been richly blessed beyond measure who NEED to give thanks to the Giver of all good gifts. We have been given the bread of life, we know this bread and have had our only lasting hunger satisfied, may we now be truly thankful to the God who deserves our Thanksgiving, Grace, Gratitude, Prayer and Praise!

AMEN.