Harvest Thanksgiving

September 15, 2019


When they found [Jesus]on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:25-35 ESV)

The importance of food cannot be over estimated. It is vital for living. I have had hunger pains from time to time, tummy growling and the like. I have on occasions fasted for while and you learn to live with it. But I remember, as young person, my father who didn’t say much about his life as a teenager and young adult in war torn Europe –and I knew he had suffered hardship and deprivation –saying that ‘hunger was a terrible pain’. It was the antithesis of life –especially a good life.

Food is also vital for fellowship, social interaction, and community. Whom you eat with is important and can reveal friends and allies or relationships begun or restored. In this case food isn’t just a means to a physical end, it is a means to fellowship.

And then food is us –in the sense of ‘we are what we eat’. And with this in mind, who controls the food has a power over us. Regimes might cause starvation as a means of control or simply to oppress. Individuals might use their intake of food as a form of power or identity and this is significant precisely because food and life and intrinsically linked.

So we can simply understand the crowds reaction to Jesus who fed them with loaves of bread and fish in a way that revealed abundance. These weren’t scraps. This was generosity. They wanted more. Especially in the wilderness and with the stories of their ancestors receiving manna and quail, God’s providence, ringing in their ears, they were excited –this sort of thing hadn’t happened for centuries and what did they want? They wanted more food.

Jesus points this out to them –that’s why they followed him and found him in Capernaum –because they wanted their stomachs filled regularly –and Jesus said that he had come not so much to feed their stomachs –their physical life –but to feed them with ‘eternity’ life–by giving them faith and nurturing it. And the crowds go, ‘Oh’…‘Riiight’…They hear and they don’t hear because they now want a sign that Jesus can give them food for this eternal life …and that sign is …? They want another meal! They want physical food to eat –more manna please!

Jesus then tells them this manna which they described as ‘bread from heaven’ meaning bread from God was one thing but he would give them the ‘true bread from heaven ’and this would give life to the world. Can you see how the crowds would hear this? Super manna! Better than manna! Sumptuous manna! Finger licking good manna! ‘Sir, give us this bread always!’

And then the food hope and dream evaporates and vanishes and all they see is Jesus. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Jesus makes claims about himself that he is vital for living; that he can deal with the terrible pain for hunger for the good life; that with him is fellowship, social interaction, and community; and that he doesn’t use himself to oppress or control but to feed and nurture. Jesus and life are intrinsically linked –that’s his claim. And when it is Jesus and my life are intrinsically linked –that is faith.
It is unusual, in one sense, that one of the readings for a Harvest Thanksgiving –where we see food and the abundance of the Earth –the modern manna that doesn’t fall from heaven but grows up from the ground–is Jesus’ assertion that he is the bread of life. There is a sense here that we are talking spiritually –that this sermon may go on to Holy Communion –yet we still have the produce and products of the world literally before us and this is not a regular occurrence in our churches. We know the sentiment that we do not live by bread alone but we still need the bread to live!
And because the harvest is necessary for life, as is creation, the question can arise, ‘Where is God?’. Is creation God? Is God in creation? What is the relationship between the spiritual which we don’t see and the physical which we do see? Philosophies and religions certainly have pondered such questions and have all sorts of answers.
Seedtime and harvest, conception and birth, earthquake and storm –the warp and weft of life that makes up our tapestry –can seem miraculous, spiritual, scientific, physical–and religion puts God in there somewhere.
Christianity looks to this table and the heavens and Planet Earth and nods that there is a Creator. This Creator is also a Provider –more than a clockmaker who made the clock, wound it up and set it going. But we know little else about him. You can get an idea about him holding a new born baby, watching a rose flower, or a killer whale toy with a seal pup before eating it.
Christianity lives with seedtime and harvest and an unknown Creator God who is only made known not in creation in general but in the Incarnation –God in flesh –and not just any flesh but in the person of Jesus. Our starting point for understanding the harvest, the seasons, the biology of ourselves and the world is science but in terms of their meaning, purpose, and goal then we go to Jesus and to the cross. There we see the nature of God –as Saviour who has rescued his creation –and not just us but our restoration involves in the end that creation itself will no longer groan.
From under the cross, we look at the world and see how God maintains it to give us life and we are not to elevate creation to any form of deity but to see it as gift –God’s gift so that we may live and come to know him through Jesus Christ.
Yes, we are always tempted to look away from the cross perspective but to do so changes our relationship with everything and everyone around us. Creation and our interaction with it no longer is stewardship but becomes ownership and domination when we step away from the cross. We then want the world to give us now what we need–to feed us as the crowd wanted.
But from the foot of the cross, we retain the perspective that our life and this world is truly a gift that God sustains and yes, we are participating in this world, in seedtime and harvest, in manufacture and construction and we do so to share what we have received. Yes, we can do this ethically and for the good of the future –when regard what we see as God’s gifts and what we do as also participating in God’s gifts to the world.
Why see things this way? Why behave with this perspective in mind? Not because God is in creation but because God has saved creation through Jesus who is the true gift to the world.
We are what we eat. We are also what we believe. May you and those around you always eat well.

Bible References

  • John 6:25 - 35