Thankoffering Service, November 21, 2004


FIRST LESSON    Deuteronomy 26:1-11

PSALMODY           Psalm 100

SECOND LESSON Philippians 4:4-9

GOSPEL                John 6:25-35



Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you oh Lord our God, our Rock and our Salvation.


To understand today’s Gospel lesson we need to put it into context.  Earlier in this chapter, John tells us his version of the feeding of the five thousand – the only miracle besides the resurrection that is found in all four Gospels.  Jesus was in Galilee healing the sick and preaching the Kingdom of God.  A large crowd was following Him because of the miraculous things He was doing.  They were in the countryside late in the day when Jesus realized the people must be hungry.  It was too late to send them home, so He asked the disciples to feed them. 


Practical Philip argued that they did not have enough money to buy food for so many, and even if they had eight months wages they would not find enough food to buy at that late hour.  Andrew pointed out a little boy with a small lunch – two fish and five small loaves of barley bread.  Andrew did not know what Jesus was going to do, but he had faith enough to trust that Jesus could do something. 


Jesus blessed the food and the disciples passed it out to the crowd.  Five thousand people ate a satisfying meal.  Afterwards the disciples collected the leftover bread and it was enough to fill twelve baskets.  The people were well aware of what Jesus did – they were amazed by the miracle and thought that He might be the Messiah for whom they were waiting.  They wanted to make Him king by force, to sit on the throne of David and make Israel a great nation once again.


Jesus knew what they were thinking and slipped away from the crowd to the mountain to pray.  Though He was more than willing to meet their physical needs by feeding the hungry and healing the sick, this was not the purpose of His incarnation.  Jesus came to earth from heaven to bring God to the forefront of their lives and to focus their faith on that which truly matters.  They believed in Moses and they believed in the Law, but they had grown far from God.  They were more concerned with the things of this world and in earning their own righteousness. 


The crowd went searching for Jesus.  When they found Him in Capernaum, Jesus told them they were following Him for all the wrong reasons.  He said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” 


The crowd answered this lesson with a question, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  Notice that crowd is focused their own gifts and abilities, on their own works.  They did not hear that this food that endures to eternal life is a gift from the Son of Man.  They want to know what they have to do, how they will earn this gift.  They were expecting Jesus to tell them to obey the commandments, to keep the Sabbath and do good works.  To their mindset, that was the way to receive the blessings of God.  Things are not so different for us today. 


But Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."  The work of God is to believe in Jesus.  This sounds very simple, but it is difficult from our human point of view.  We believe in things we can see, feel, hear and touch.  We believe in actions and in outcomes.  We believe that there are things we have to do.  We believe in things that have been proven or that we have experienced.  We believe when our physical needs have been met.  We are not so quick to believe promises or words. 


The Jews believed in Moses and the Law, because through the experiences of their forefathers they saw Moses and the Law as their deliverer.  They recognized that they were most prosperous during those times when their king was faithful and the people were obedient to God’s Word.  By the time Jesus was born, God had been silent for four hundred years.  The people were longing for the fulfillment of all His promises.  They were ready to see the Messiah and they were sure the only way it would happen was if they were good enough.  They thought their pious life and righteous works would restore their nation and their relationship with God.


If they were going to change their point of view, they needed proof.  They asked Jesus, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?”  They weren’t ready to believe in Jesus, but if He could prove Himself with some miracle like the manna in the desert that Moses gave, they might believe what He had to say.  Jesus answered their request, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.”  They wanted full bellies, but they needed to believe in Jesus.


It is well and good that we put our time, talents and resources into the upkeep of the church, both the building and the people.  We run astray when we focus on satisfying our physical needs, making our work the priority.  Jesus said, “The work of God is to believe in the one He sent.”  First we believe, everything else proceeds from our faith.  We must be careful to keep ourselves from self-centered praise by keeping God in the forefront of everything we do. 


As we look back over the past year, we can be very proud of all the wonderful things we have accomplished.  We built this beautiful new sanctuary with the blood, sweat and tears of many people in this congregation.  We have expanded our ministries.  We have delved more deeply into prayer and the study of God’s word.  We have welcomed dozens of new people and we have raised our financial giving.  We began a new Women of the ELCA group here at Triumphant


I certainly did not expect WELCA to take off so well and so fast.  As a matter of fact, I did not want to do the work to make it happen.  When the door opened to the possibility, I realized that it wasn’t my work that would accomplish the task anyway.  God prepared the way so that we could do it together.  It is not our work that made it happen.  Rather it was our faith in God that saw the possibilities. 


The Triennial theme for the Women of the ELCA is “Listen, God is calling.”  We are called to believe and then to go out into the world to live in that faith.  There is work to do. There are buildings to be built, hungry people to be fed and many other needs to be met.  That’s why we have chosen to give our Thankoffering to the sanctuary expansion fund, RACAP and the Women of the ELCA Scholarship Fund.  However, we must remember that the work of God is to believe in Jesus, and our task as the Church is not to meet the physical needs of the world, but to bring the kingdom of heaven near to them so that they might also believe. 

The problem with putting our own works above faith in God is that when we do this we begin to worry.  We are afraid that we won’t do enough.  We wonder if we did something wrong.  We fear the consequences of mistakes.  We are anxious and strive so hard we become burnt out and fail.  We lose the peace and joy of Christ because we are so concerned about the outcome.  Sometimes our work fails.  Sometimes things go wrong.  Sometimes we can’t see the miraculous things God is doing through our life.  Sometimes the success is in the journey.  Yet, even when things do not go as we hope, God is near.  He doesn’t ask us to do great things; He only asks us to believe. 


Can you imagine living even one day on only five kernels of corn?  Those early settlers went through terrible difficulties.  Supplies did not arrive as promised.  Desperate ship captains asked the settlers to share their meager goods.  Other captains took advantage of their need and charged them too much for too little.  They had no possessions to trade with the natives for basic necessities.  They had no cows for milk, butter or cheese.  They faced bad weather and disease.  They took in strangers.  They did not understand the new world crops and worked their fields poorly.  They did not have the proper tools to hunt and fish.  The wild fruits and berries were available such a short period of time.


As I researched the five kernels of corn story, I thought to myself, “no wonder they went hungry.”  They were poor stewards of what they had, foolish with their finances.  They gorged themselves for three days at the first thanksgiving, having overestimated their harvest.  When they took stock of their supplies for winter, they realized that they did not have enough.  They became weak with hunger and exhaustion by building a fort instead of attending to their fields.  Yet, they were living on faith.  They believed the success of their new community was going to be due to providence – God’s divine guidance and care.  When a drought threatened to kill their last attempt at a harvest – if this one failed, their community would die – they knew their only hope was in God’s intervention.  They set aside a day to pray and for nine hours they humbled themselves before God.  The next day it began to rain and they finally had a successful harvest. 


They shared everything as a community, took care of one another.  When there was food, they divided it between all the settlers, but there were times when their ration was only four or five kernels of corn.  It would be much better if we could say God miraculously and abundantly met their needs like Jesus did with the five thousand.  We want to see the miracles and rejoice in the success of the community.   Yet, when you consider the conditions under which they had to live those first few years, the fact that the community survived is a miracle.  They suffered.  They made mistakes.  Some of them died.  However, they put God first and trusted Him to see them through.  They sacrificed for the sake of others trusting that God would help them overcome.  And He did. 


I wonder if they ever worried whether they would make it to tomorrow.  I imagine they did.  Philip worried.  He knew there was no way they could feed five thousand people.  Andrew believed.  He pointed out the boy with the ridiculously small lunch and Jesus did the rest.  He did not worry that the suggestion was impossible.  He gave it to God.  That’s what Paul tells us to do in today’s Epistle lesson.  He calls us to rejoice always – not something that is easy to do.  However, when we put God first, knowing that He is near, our worries and fears are replaced by thanksgiving and praise. 


Paul writes, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  That peace of God is not something that can be earned or discovered through our work.  It comes from faith – trusting that God is near. This is how those pilgrims lived, despite their heartache and troubles.  They knew God would guide and guard their community.  This is how Andrew lived, even when the circumstances were beyond his control.  This is how we are called to live – remembering the great things God has already done and living in thanksgiving and praise.


In a few moments we will be approaching the altar with our gifts.  There is an empty basket where you can put your Thankoffering.  The Old Testament lesson is an example of how to give our first fruits to God.  We should not just approach and drop our money in the bucket.  The people were instructed to remember all that God had done for them and offer a sacrifice of praise.  Then they could offer their gift with these words, “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the first fruits of the soil and land that you, O LORD, have given me.” 


He has brought us to this place, and given us this land.  It might not be flowing with milk and honey, but it is flowing with incredible blessings.  We might not see miraculous manifestations of His grace, but we know that He is doing great things in our congregation.  As we bring forth our first fruits, as we share our thankofferings with our God, please take some time at the altar to praise Him for the great things He has done.  You are welcome to kneel if you are so moved, or share your joy and praise with one of your brothers or sisters in Christ.  Some of the ladies will be available around the altar area to listen if you wish to participate.


Most of all, remember that no matter what we do in this world, the work of God is to believe in Jesus.  Everything else comes out of that faith.  Thanks be to God.