6 After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberias Sea). 2 A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. 3 Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. 4 It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.
5 Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” 6 Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”
8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, 9 “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. 12 When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.
14 When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.” 15 Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain (John 6:1-15, Common English Bible).
Denise blew her nose and wiped her eyes on the hem of her apron. It was silly for her to be crying over a turkey even if it was the day before Thanksgiving.
She filled the sink with cool water, and then submerged the still thoroughly frozen bird. The instructions on the package said that soaking the turkey in cool water would help to speed up the defrosting process. Even so, Denise calculated, she wasn’t going to be able to start cooking the large bird until sometime next week. Well, it was really tomorrow about noon, but it may as well be next week for all the difference it was going to make.
Back in Cincinnati, Denise’s mother had always bought their Thanksgiving turkey from Mr. Wellstone’s store. He always saved their family a big twenty-pound, fresh bird, straight from the grocery supplier. So Denise had never even seen someone prepare a frozen turkey, much less roast one all by herself. She could see it was going to be a long day, and night.
While Denise was trying to imagine how she would replicate the huge Thanksgiving dinners of her childhood, given that she was getting such a late start in preparing, her daughter Becky ran up to the sink and examined as closely as she could the plastic-wrapped, still frozen bird. “Mama, I don’t like turkey salad,” Becky said in a cool, matter-of-fact tone of voice.
“That’s fine, Becky,” Denise said in a kind of absent minded way. “I wasn’t planning on making turkey salad anyway. It isn’t among my favorite meals either.”
“Mama, I don’t much like turkey sandwiches or turkey and rice soup either.”
“Well, you ate some last year,” Denise replied. “What do you think I should do with all the leftovers when we finish our meal tomorrow?
“Mama, on the TV a few minutes ago they said somebody stole the truck of turkeys that were for the hungry people. I don’t really like leftover turkey very much. And mama, this is one big turkey. Can we give some of our turkey to the hungry people instead of us eating the leftovers?”
Denise turned to face her daughter, whose six-year-old face was dotted with freckles and showed the earnestness of a naïve child. She stood with her left hand on her hip, just like Denise herself often had stood when she was trying to get her way on some issue. Denise’s voice sounded a little harsher than what she really intended. “Becky, what in the world are you talking about now?
Becky took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The six-year-old began her story again all though slower this time. It was as if it were she that was speaking to a child. She tapped her sneaker-clad foot impatiently on the floor. “Mama, I told you. I just heard on television that somebody stole the trucks that were supposed to go to the hungry people. And so, I want us to give them some of our turkey. Mama, we really have way too much.”
Denise looked deep into the face of her only child. The sweetness of Becky’s eyes always seemed to take her breath away. She loved this child so much. How could she have taken Becky away from their huge extended family in Cincinnati? How could she so selfishly deny her so many people who loved her?
When the job opening in Houston became available, it had seemed to her like a gift from God. It was a chance for her to spread her wings and prove she could be a good mother and provide for Becky by herself, independent of her own family.
But two months in a new city without family had really tried her strength. And now it was their first holiday alone and now it was threatened because she forgot to buy the turkey until after work tonight.
Denise reached out and handed Becky a pilgrim-shaped sugar cookie and said, “Honey, I’m trying to get our Thanksgiving dinner going. Go on back in the living room and watch TV a little longer.” Becky took the cookie and reluctantly left the kitchen for the living room and more television.
Two hours later, Becky was ready for bed. She knelt beside her bed to say her prayers, Denise heard her include, “And God bless the hungry people. Send them lots of peanut butter and jelly since they won’t have any turkey.”
Denise then finished mixing up the cornbread and spices for the dressing and then started to fold laundry. The late local news began with the same report of the stolen turkeys Becky had seen a few hours before. “Civil rights leader and city councilman Robert Williams has reported that his ‘Feed the Hungry Dinner’ program is without any turkey,”
The report went on to say someone had stolen the refrigerator truck holding the hundreds of turkeys intended for the annual Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless. And though many people, people from all over the city were coming out of the woodwork to donate money for more, it was believed there wouldn’t be enough turkeys available, nor would there be time to prepare them for the special Thanksgiving lunch scheduled for the next day.
Denise stopped matching socks and let her mind run away for a minute and play over the wonderful Thanksgivings of her childhood. When her grandmother had lived with them, she had let Denise help make pecan pies and her famous yeast rolls. Just as important, Thanksgiving was never complete without her Aunt Pearl’s dressing and Cousin Lynn’s sweet potato casserole.
This would be the first Thanksgiving in her life, and that meant the first for Becky as well, without being surrounded by twenty close relatives. Without a doubt she and Becky weren’t exactly homeless, like the people who were now missing turkeys, thank the good Lord, but they were family-less.
A little later, back in the kitchen Denise poked her finger in the big, plastic-coated, submerged bird. Because of the water sitting on it, it seemed to reflect the light back at her. As she looked at the turkey, Denise knew Becky was right. This was far too big of a turkey for just the two of them to eat. They couldn’t finish it in a week. It just wasn’t what the two of them needed. Denise sat down at her computer, pulled up an internet search engine and looked for the number, grabbed her cell phone and dialed.
An hour later, Becky stirred in the backseat of the car as Denise headed for downtown. She sat up rubbing sleep from her eyes and asked the question so many children ask their parents while traveling, “Are we there yet?”
“No, honey, but I think we are really close.” Denise turned on the car’s overhead light and looked again at the directions she had scribbled on the back of an envelope. She had made the third left, but all the warehouses looked alike. It was so dark. And, on top of that, she had never been in this part of town. She felt lost and alone and even a little scared.
Then, up ahead, she saw a building with the doors standing wide open and light was spilling out. As she pulled her car into the parking lot, a woman came out and waved. As they entered the building, Lucille, the woman in charge, shouted out to the dozens of others who had volunteered, “Everybody, say hello to Denise and her daughter Becky.” Voices rang out, “Hello!”
Lucille first introduced Becky to her young daughter Deidra and then gave Denise the job of opening huge cans of green beans and whole kernel corn.
“I think I am smelling turkey roasting.” Denise said. “Where did you find all the turkeys?”
“After the late news last night an older woman called the police. She had noticed an unfamiliar truck sitting just down the street from her house that fit the description of the stolen truck,” Lucille said. “Sure enough, it was the truck and all the turkeys were still there.”
“That was a really lucky break for the homeless,” Denise said. “Now they can have a real Thanksgiving dinner.”
“No, my new friend, said Lucille. “It wasn’t luck. It was the power of prayer. Since the truck was stolen there has been a lot of prayer going on around here and God always answers prayer.”
Many hours later, the time passed so fast, Denise reached under the table and shook Becky and Deidra awake. The two new “bestest” friends came out from under the table, holding hands. Becky and Deidra asked Denise, “Is it time?”
Denise said, “Yes, it just about is. Deidra, find your mother, she’s filling plates in the kitchen. Reverend Williams is going to say a prayer before everyone eats.
Denise looked around the room at the hundreds of people lined up for plates of turkey, dressing, vegetables, and peanut butter sandwiches. Men, women, families, all together, out of the chilly weather, were ready to share a special meal.
When Reverend Williams finished the prayer, Denise squeezed Lucille’s hand and said, “Lucille, let’s get the girls together this weekend for some playtime.”
Lucille smiled and said, “Sure. And, I’ll give you my recipe for sweet potato casserole. I would bet you that you will like it better than your cousin’s. The secret is in the sugar, you know. You need to have two different kinds.”
“Two different kinds?” As Denise looked around the warehouse at the full tables she thought, “No, there are many more kinds of sweetness here than two.”
From that year on, Denise’s traditional Thanksgiving always included some kind of service for those less fortunate in the community. She loved it, and so did Becky, who remained “bestest friends” with Deidra from that day forward. The two girls loved helping those in need and looked forward to Thanksgiving as a time of both giving and eating.
That Thanksgiving dinner always included Lucille’s sweet potato casserole and a platter of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And there was also as much loving company as her heart could hold.
As we all know it is Thanksgiving week. We all have our own Thanksgiving traditions. I think this will be the first Thanksgiving Cindy and I have not spent with at least some part of our family. Will we miss them? Sure. But, there is always room for new Thanksgiving traditions. This year we will celebrate with Paul, Margie and Ryan.
It seems to me that the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 was a great miracle. But, for us today, I think it should be a story about thankful and generous hearts.
You see, Jesus took the boy’s lunch, five loaves of bread and two fish and gave everyone their fill and had twelve baskets of crumbs left over. That friends is a miracle.
Today, we mere mortals don’t have the ability to perform such a miracle, or do we? Most of us, I believe have witnessed times again and again in our lives when there is great need. And, it would seem that each time people step forward and share what God has given them, entrusted to them. The need is met and there is, it seems, always something left over.
Even when we have had our fill, even when our plates seem empty and there is nothing left, there really is still something left over. God is what is left. God who provides for us in all situations is still with us. And, where God is, there is also love. Where love is, there is always a reason to be thankful. And, we should remember to be thankful more often than just the fourth Thursday of November.
We are called to be thankful people at all times and in all circumstances for what God has given us. We need to remember that even when our plates seem empty, our cup still runs over. It runs over with the love of God.
In just a minute or two we will sing our closing hymn, “Open My Eyes, That I May See.” As we sing this morning, I would invite you to come to the alter and leave there a prayer both of thanksgiving as well as asking that God open your eyes, open my eyes to see the world as only God can see it.