Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC
23 Nov. 2016, Thanksgiving Eve Year C: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35
On this night before Thanksgiving tell me: If participants in the 1st Thanksgiving were here to celebrate with us, what would we call them?
[One parishioner answered correctly! I asked how she knew the answer? Had she played the same Thanksgiving game I played last year which has this answer? She just smiled.]
On a serious note: Why don't we bring a pet turkey to church?
Answer: They use fowl language!
[Again the parishioner answered correctly, adding amusement to our gathering!]
God gives us laughter as a gift, a grace. Without laughter, life would be unhealthy. You may recall my sharing this fact with you: One good belly laugh raises the immune system for 3 days, a fact I learned long ago as a reporter covering a stress awareness workshop.
We know the importance of staying healthy through holiday stress. The joy we express in laughter dispels fear & shines the light of God's grace into distressed lives & fear-filled hearts.
God’s grace guides us when we are stuck having to do Thanksgiving differently when life changes.
God’s grace guides us when we are stuck having to do Thanksgiving the way we always have.
God's grace stands at the center of
our Thanksgiving celebrations.
On Thanksgiving we may have in our minds Norman Rockwell pictures of families at a table, heads bowed to say grace. We say grace at meals often without thinking.
How often do we say grace without thinking of food which perishes & food which endures for eternal life, as Jesus tells us about in our Gospel?
How often do we say grace & think of the difference between grace as a noun & grace as a verb – something we do?1
In our Gospel, we hear people asking Jesus to do something. The people ask for a verb, for action.
The people stay stuck in the past, knowing how God has provided way back when & how Jesus has fed them recently on the other side of the Sea of Galilee2. Yet they hesitate to move forward in trust.
Trust relies on grace.
I wonder if they have overlooked the grace God includes in our lesson from Deuteronomy: the feast includes the stranger among us. This is grace.
I understand “grace” as a noun. I know well Grace [with a capital G]: Grace is the mother of 3 sons. [I married her first-born.] Grace is a golfer, an artist, fashion designer, space program illustrator.
Grace is a positive gift we receive.
What about “grace” as a verb?
In his meditation “Grace: the Verb,” Brother Mark Brown of the Society of St. John the Evangelist says: our words based on the word “grace” are influenced by Greek words for joy, rejoice, give freely, thanksgiving. He says:
“There’s something of joy in grace.”3
There is joy in our Thanksgiving meals, gatherings, parades & special events. What brings you joy?
How often do you thank God for the joy you experience?
What do you think about Jesus saying in our Gospel, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,...whoever believes in me will never be thirsty"?
I know after our Thanksgiving meal, I will eventually be hungry & thirsty. What does Jesus mean? [Answers: “spiritual hunger”.]
Yes. Jesus speaks of hunger in our souls, hunger for joy, security, serenity, grace.
We see how much God's grace endures as we see Jesus’ dying for us, rising again & sending the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Br. Mark says much of our beliefs revolve around grace:
- By God’s grace our world has been created, redeemed, sustained.
- By God’s grace our sins are forgiven.
- By God’s grace we can live as Jesus tells us to in our Gospel:
Do not work for food which perishes,
but for food which endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
We share this true bread from heaven, bread God gives for life to the world, each time we gather at God’s Holy Table. Jesus gives us this bread always.
Jesus gives us grace, & we can face down fear.
We hear fear & hesitation from the people in our Gospel. These children of God have just experienced the miracle of having enough to eat, yet doubt sneaks into minds & hearts, breeding fear about what to do, whom to trust, whom to follow.
These children of God know the past, which we hear in our lesson from Deuteronomy. They know life in the present & want a guarantee.
Beloved Brothers & Sisters, may we have grace to do as Paul reminds the Philippians & us:
Stay on message.
Be true to our calling as Christians in
this Body of Christ.
You are a beautiful, love-overflowing Body of Christ. You ARE change agents for our brothers & sisters living in old ways, with fearful thoughts & fear-filled hearts.
Remember: with God’s grace you/we can remain strong in the Lord & confident in our work as agents for positive change. God's love & guidance through the Holy Spirit will strengthen you/us as you/we share God’s grace as both a noun & as a verb.
How do we do this?
Br. Mark suggests:
Being gracious to the one who has only unkind words to say – [this] is grace.
Generosity to those who cannot give in return – [this] is grace.
Kindness to those who wish us harm – [this] is grace.
Going beyond what is strictly necessary into a realm of sheer possibility – [this is] grace.4
Bible Gateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/ Accessed: 22 Nov. 2016.
“Grace: the Verb”. Br. Mark Brown, Society of St. John the Evangelist. Accessed: 21 Nov. 2016. http://ssje.org/ssje/2010/03/09/grace-the-verb-br-mark-brown/.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed: James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.
1 Idea from “Grace: the Verb”. Br. Mark Brown, Society of St. John the Evangelist. http://ssje.org/ssje/2010/03/09/grace-the-verb-br-mark-brown/. Accessed: 21 Nov. 2016.
2 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 1056
3 Ibid. “Grace: the Verb.”