a personal reflection on an American holiday from a Christian perspective for Christian folk, based on John 6.25-35, on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish, feeding and filling 5000 famished bellies. The people, amazed by this miracle, perceive Jesus as a great prophet, like Moses, who they will compel to lead them in throwing off the shackles of their Roman oppressors. However, Jesus’ empire is not of the world, but of the Spirit, its methodology, not overpowering force, but unconditional love, its market, not self-interest, but justice, its manner, not avarice, but service. Jesus, recognizing the people’s misunderstanding and refusing their misdirected acclaim, withdraws in solitude and silence to the other side of the lake. The people, still hungry for signs and wonders, pursue Jesus. Knowing they mistakenly have made physical sustenance the greatest good, Jesus challenges them to labor for “the food that endures for eternal life”. The people, barely comprehending that Jesus points to something spiritual (thus, beyond the material, yet, paradoxically, no less real), ask: “What must we do to perform the works of God?” In other words, how do we get this spiritual food? Jesus answers, “Believe in me.”
Belief. Not mere assent to an intellectual proposition that Jesus is Messiah or prophet or wise teacher or Lord or Savior (whatever any of these titles might mean), but rather an attitude arising from a relationship of trust, calling us to follow him…
One of my finest mentors, Verna Josephine Dozier wrote: “Jesus did not call us to worship him, but to follow him. Worship is setting Jesus on a pedestal…enshrining him in liturgies, stained glass…biblical translations…pilgrimages to places where he walked…Following him is doing what he did.”
Thanksgiving Day. Historically, an annual occasion to express gratitude to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony persevere during the harsh winter of 1621. Later, for the harvest. Later still, for all the blessings of this life.
Today, looking through the lens of doing what Jesus did – loving unconditionally, acting justly, being of service – I see Thanksgiving Day as a yearly reminder that Christianity is an incarnational religion; at its heart, the ongoing, never-ending story of the Spirit of God’s love and justice taking flesh, yes, in Jesus and in his followers, and through his followers that Spirit being alive and active in this world.
I oft have said that Jesus would have a good reputation if not for the church. Through two millennia, the community of his disciples frequently wielding instruments of force, wedded to self-interest, and well-versed in materialism have strayed from his path.
In truest thanksgiving, I pledge anew, paraphrasing the song, to “follow Jesus more nearly, day by day.” Again quoting my beloved sister, Verna: “The important question to ask is not, ‘What do we believe?’ but ‘What difference does it make that we believe?’ Does the world come nearer to the dream of God because of what we believe?”
For me to answer humbly, honestly, “Yes!” is my thanks giving for bountiful blessings and, even more, my prayer that I, in my living, will be a thanksgiving, a blessing for the world.
 See John 6.1-24.
 From The Dream of God, page 98 (my emphases), by Verna Josephine Dozier (1918-2006), retired District of Columbia public school teacher and administrator; theologian, biblical scholar, workshop leader, church consultant, and lay preacher; an advocate for the authority and ministry of the laity in religious communities; and, at the time of her death, a 50+ year member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill, where I served as rector (1998-2015).
 Words by Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)
 The Dream of God, page 105 (my emphases)