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Thanksgiving Sermon: Remembered. November 24, 2022

November 25, 2022

This is the sermon I preached on Thanksgiving at Grace Lutheran Church (River Forest, IL). If you want to hear my scratchy voice, feel free to check out the livestream. I hope you all had a marvelous holiday!

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. It’s a day when memories come back on their own, unbidden. The aromas of today’s kitchen will bring me back to the farmhouse, where Grandma Nyhus and the other women in the family prepared the turkey and all the fixings. Desert will bring visions of the pantry just off that kitchen, stacked high with sugar cookies and krumkake. The Cowboys-Giants game will bring back memories of, well, nothing at all. I’ll probably be asleep on the couch by time this afternoon. In the company of family and friends today, I’ll remember times spent with different family and friends years ago. On Thanksgiving, I don’t have to try to remember. The remembering happens all on its own. And while there is a melancholic hue to these visions, reminding me of those who won’t be around the table today, they are happy memories. I don’t know that times were actually simpler or better, but they sure felt that way then, and I seem to remember them that way now. If today is a feast for our stomachs, it is also a festival for our memories.
  2. Most days, of course, we aren’t quite as good at remembering. Sometimes it’s hard on Thanksgiving; the first two Thanksgivings we were married, I forgot to take the giblet bag out of the turkey before we cooked, although that worked out well for me in the long run, as I never get asked to help any more. But our problem runs deeper. We remember wrongly, pretending that the past was a golden age in which all was well. Or we focus so much on what is wrong with the present that we don’t remember the good that has happened to us in the past. We are selective, if not downright self-serving, in how we remember things. We are short-memoried, more concerned with what’s been done for us lately. And eventually, of course, memory fades. Whether we are sharp until the end or dementia comes first, our minds will stop remembering.
  3. “What sign are you going to give us?” The crowded thousands gathered around Jesus are having a memory lapse. It’s like all 5,000 of them walked into the kitchen only to find they no longer had any idea what they were looking for. What sign are you going to give us? Not ten minutes ago he had found the one kid smart enough to pack a lunch and turned his five loaves and two fish into a meal to feed the multitude. Sure, Jesus, but what have you done for us lately? Humans have short, selective memories. Where nine minutes ago they were eating their fill of filet-o-fish sandwiches, now they’re wondering if Jesus is even worth their time. At least Moses, they say, gave their ancestors something to eat.
  4. Jesus stirs their memories. It was not Moses who was the source of the manna, the mysterious “what is it?” bread that nourished the people as they journeyed from Egypt to Canaan, from slavery to the Promised Land. It was Jesus’ Father who fed them. It was God who, day after day and year after year, made sure the people had provisions, who gave them that day – each day – their daily bread. Not only had Jesus’ just performed a sign, a miraculous feeding; in doing so he had shown that his mission was entirely consistent with that of his Father. Jesus came to feed God’s people.
  5. In the past referenced by Jesus, of course, God did not simply feed. God freed. At the end of the Exodus, after forty years of manna, God brought the people into the Land. They are commanded by God to keep the Feast of Weeks, a festival of the harvest in which they give of their first fruits to the Lord. And it’s not because God needs it; it’s because the people need to remember. They need to remember that the first of them was a wandering Aramean. A migrant. A refugee. They need to remember that their sojourn in Egypt was not one of leisure. They had been enslaved, subjected, oppressed. But God did not forget them; God remember the people. God remembered the covenants made with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel. Though the people forgot, God remembered. Remembering, God saved them and set them free.
  6. Jesus invites the crowd to look beyond the gift to the giver. The work to which we are called is faith in Christ, trusting that this One sent by the God who fed our ancestors in the past will carry us safely into the future, all the way into eternal life. What sign will the Son of Man perform? In the end, the most wondrous of all: He will give himself away for the sake of the world. Remembering the covenants of the past, God now makes a new covenant, sealed in the blood of Christ and freely given to those who call upon his name. Jesus becomes for us food that will not perish. Take, he says, and eat. Take and drink. Do this for the remembrance of me. Whatever hurts or sorrows you bear this day, remember what Jesus has done for you, and trust what Jesus will do for you. Eat, drink, and remember.
  7. However you mark this day, remember, too, that our forebears in faith once wandered homeless, suffered oppression, and worried about hunger. As we feast today, both around the Lord’s table and our own, bear in mind that we are not fed for ourselves alone, but that we might be strengthened and nourished to be signs of God’s presence and care for those in need in our midst.
  8. And rejoice! Always rejoice. For while our memories falter and fail, God’s does not. The promise is sure. Around this table, God re-members us, joining us together with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, in this foretaste of the heavenly feast. Believe in Christ and you’ll never be hungry again. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → Sermons

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