We say grace, a prayer of thanks for our food, before most meals at our house. More often than not, our kids say the prayer. At first this was so cute. Now this is more of a race then anything. Who can say the grace first and who can say it as fast as possible so we can get on to eating? Saying thank you for our food is a lost art. You know what I mean. As we sit down to eat our Thanksgiving meals this week how many of you will reenact this scene. The whole family sits down to dinner, about to dig in when someone (usually the mom) says who is going to say grace? An awkward silence descends upon the room as people either try to look to whoever they think should do it while others keep their head down and avoid eye contact. Eventually some brave soul offers, or a child is asked to recite something they’ve learned in Sunday School. If you’re my family and lucky enough to have someone who studies this stuff for a living you call on them. But more often then not the practice of giving thanks for our food, for remembering that God provided the abundance on our table, is something that gets forgotten and ignored in the craziness that is our lives, especially for us adults.
As I child I learned this one… Come Lord Jesus be our guest and let thy food to us be blest.
Oh sure we want to teach our kids this practice. But do they ever see the adults doing it? What good is trying to drill a prayer into our children if most of the time we as adults never model it? Sure we pray when we eat together here at church. But when was the last time you said a prayer over your food at a restaurant? A fast food joint? Breakfast? Why is praying over a meal so difficult for us? If we believe that God gives us everything we have than why shouldn’t we remember to give thanks before we consume that which helps to sustain our life? In the gospels it is clear that whenever Jesus and his disciples eat, Jesus first gives thanks to God. Think of our ultimate meal as Christians. He took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it and after supper he took the cup, gave thanks, and drank it. What prevents us from giving thanks? I think quite honestly we all too often forget. We forget why we need to give thanks and we forget how to give thanks.
How about this grace – Bless our hearts to hear in the breaking of the bread, the song of the universe.
We live in a culture that says over and over to us you get what you work for. If you have an abundance than you must have earned it or you must deserve it somehow. You worked hard to get where you are, to put food on the table. Last week I asked the kids where does money come from. Of course the answer was – a machine. We know money from a machine simply comes out of our bank account built up by our paycheck. But we may be tempted to say the money from that paycheck comes because of our hard work. We put it there in that account. Deuteronomy reminds us that no mater how much, or how little, we have in our bank account, we didn’t put it there, God did. Deuteronomy chapter 8 says “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…Do not say to yourself, “my power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is God that gives you power to get wealth.” Nothing we have is from our own importance. God gives all. No matter if you have a little or if you have a lot, it is still a gift from God. But it is so easy to forget that. Saying grace is a way to, on a daily basis, remind ourselves of those gifts.
Try this grace this Thanksgiving – Lord, you who gave bread to Moses and his people while they traveled in the desert, come now and bless these gifts of food which you have given to us. As this food gives up its life for us, may we follow that pattern of self surrender for each other. May we be life to one another.
How about another Thanksgiving and holiday ritual – worry and stress. Whether we forget about God or not, we’re often so stressed out about the whole holiday thing that adding something else – to say grace or to have each person say what they are thankful for – seems overwhelming. What if we say the grace wrong? Or what if we offend Uncle Joe? Maybe the food will get cold by the time we’re done. If my cousin says the grace first and blesses that political party again I may not make it through the meal. Our feasting is beset by worry, anxiety, and stress. No wonder we often need a holiday after our holidays! Well this year Jesus shows up to your Thanksgiving and he has something to say – relax, and focus on what you should be focused on. All those things your obsess over – your life, your work, the perfect turkey and potatoes, the outfit you painstainkingly picked out, whether your guests notice the dust and cobwebs in the corner, etc – I tell you do not worry. The Gentiles worry about this stuff. You, as children of God need to strive first for the kingdom of God.
This blessing might reflect a little of that: Bless this food we are about to receive. Give bread to those who hunger; and hunger for justice to those who have bread.
Imagine if you could take all that
energy that you spend worrying and stressing and turn it into striving towards the Kingdom. We do a little of that each Thanksgiving by putting together baskets for those who would otherwise miss out on this feast. That is a wonderful thing of course. But what else could you do to strive more for the Kingdom this Thanksgiving? The Kingdom of God is characterized by service to others. If you’re the host I challenge you to serve your guests with love and thanksgiving for their presence, not with anger or frustration or stress as a dutiful hostess. If you’re attending someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner what can you do to willingly serve them? How about your conduct with those gathered? Will you step up and say something if someone makes a racist, sexist, or otherwise hurtful remark? Will you show tolerance and loving mercy and kindness for that annoying relative who always talks about themselves, or has substance abuse issues, or is always showing off? How can you be Christ to others on this day? Can you serve at a soup kitchen making Thanksgiving meals for others? Can you visit an elderly shut in who has no family to come visit? What will you do to strive for the Kingdom first?
This is our challenge as Christians on Thanksgiving and every day– to be thankful to God for all that we’re given. We can do that two ways – remembering who gives us the abundance we have by giving thanks each and every time we eat, and by striving first for the kingdom of God in all that we do. On Thanksgiving day we have a special opportunity and challenge to model for ourselves and those around us what it means to be Christians. It may not seem like a monumental thing to pray over our food and be kind to those around us, but these are the little every day things that keep us aware of God’s presence in our lives and mark us as Christ’s disciples.
This Thanksgiving as you sit down to eat – give a smile to all around the table and offer a blessing – maybe even this one – Faithful God, let this table be a sign of tomorrow’s hope already here, when with the world, which hungers for your justice and peace, we shall come together singing your name as our very own. If you thank God for your blessings and invite Christ’s presence at your table, Jesus has promised to give us a feast we cannot even imagine.