Tonight our church hosts an event where our congregation and those we share Thanksgiving baskets will share a meal together. Folks from across the life of the church and across the life of our community will share their stories with one another. Below is the devotional thought I bring to this great event. It captures my heart for Thanksgiving.
In 1994 Beth, the kids, and I spent our first Thanksgiving in Thailand. In a whirlwind year we had been appointed as missionaries, sold our home and the vast majority of belongings, attended a month long orientation training process, had landed in Bangkok, and had begun language school. We had been in language school about four months and every day had been a struggle. While the language school process was still the hardest thing I have ever done academically, it was the heat, and the pollution, the strain of living cross-culturally, and the difficulty of getting from point A to point B in a city of 12 million that had almost worn us down. Because our language school was taught an international population, they did not take a break for Thanksgiving Day. But we decided to take a day off to spend with our kids and to remember Thanksgiving celebrations of years gone by. We shared our Thanksgiving meal with an older British – actually Scottish - couple that lived on the other side of our duplex home. Carl and Angus McNeil had become like family to us and we were glad to share our table with them. Beth had worked hard on the meal. While it did not have many of the normal fare, we had been able to buy a frozen turkey from a specialty grocery store. We tried very hard not to think about how old the turkey might have been or how long it had been frozen. I cherished the day away from language school. I cherished the day with my family. I cherished the meal that we shared with friends. But, the thing that I will always remember and still cherish from that day was something that Angus told us over the dinner table. He told us that this was only their second Thanksgiving. They had been a part of one years before when they served in Africa. Their American missionary friends had invited them to join them then – and now we had invited them to join us for our Thanksgiving meal. Angus told me that while Thanksgiving was a uniquely American holiday, there was reason that he was celebrating with such joy with us that day. He had learned that the Thai term for Thanksgiving was Wan Kap Kun Prajow – that means “the day to thank God.” He shared that he relished claiming a day to thank God for all God had done in his life. These were words that encouraged me and nourished me. Even in the midst of a crazy and difficult year I had seen God at work. I had so much to be thankful for and relished setting aside a day to offer my thanks to God. Ever since that time I put aside stories of pilgrims dressed in black and white and Indians welcomed to the feast. No, when I come to a moment like this one – I come with the single purpose of thanking God for all God has done and is doing in my life.
So, let me share a very different Thanksgiving story with you from the Bible – the Book of John, Chapter 6. 1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. 12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. 14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
This is one of the first Bible stories I remember hearing in my childhood. Maybe the reason it stuck with me so quickly is because as a little boy I thought it was pretty amazing that Jesus used a little boy’s lunch to do something really amazing. But, as I have grown my appreciation for this story has grown with me. It is a story of the disciples who were so focused on what little they had and how big the crowd was that they had little room left in their heart or faith for Jesus to do the unexpected. It is the story of Jesus who is so focused on the needs of the people in front of him that he could not imagine not meeting their need. This is the story of a little boy who trusted Jesus so much that he was willing to give him everything he had. This young boy demonstrated a life of authentic generosity – open-handedly sharing the best of who he was and what he had with God. God not only used what he offered to feed the huge crowd of people – there was food left over.
I often wonder who in the story we are most like. Are we like the disciples who were defined by the boundaries of what they could see and hold in their hands? Are we like Jesus, so focused on meeting the needs of others that there was room for a miracle? Are we like the little guy, so trusting of God we are willing to give God everything and trusting God to multiple it and make it work for His purpose?
Part of what I love about this story is that fact that the two fish and the loaves of bread were small. It lets me know it is not about the size of what I offer to God, but is instead is about having to heart of trust and thanksgiving. When we truly trust God will all we are and all we have, we give God the opportunity to do something greater than we can even begin to imagine. May this be a Thanksgiving where you share yourselves generously with others and celebrate a Day to Thank God for what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through you in the days ahead. Happy Thanksgiving!