Let me tell you a classic Thanksgiving story created by the brilliant Garrison Keillor, which takes place on the outskirts of Lake Wobegon, where “All the women are smart. The men are good looking. And the children are above average.”
“It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.” Keillor’s old home town. “There was a holiday this last week and the return of the exiles. The exiles who come back to their home. Children who’d grown up and moved away and had families, and learned how to complicate their lives in all sorts of new and interesting ways. They come back every year to a little town so much the same it’s hard to look at it and not believe you’re still twelve years old and that’s just how some of the returning children behaved too, when they came back.
A lot of them drive up from the cities with their families and they make a last stop at the Cross Roads Lounge, about ten miles down the road, as they come up over the rise and down into town, the last drags are taken on a lot of last cigarettes, and the first of a lot of breath mints are popped into their mouths and the last warnings are issued to their children, the grandchildren, in the back seat, not to talk about you know what, in front of grandpa and grandma, and remember that at grandpa and grandma’s house before we eat grandpa bows his head and we’re all supposed to be quiet that’s called asking the blessing or saying grace and grandpa is talking to God. So you remember to be quiet then and close your eyes and don’t say a word.
One of the Olsen boys was giving this speech to his children coming into town on Wednesday. He explained all of the rules and was surprised to hear a little voice pipe up from the backseat. And his daughter said, “Who is God daddy?”
He said, “Jesus Christ! What am I gonna do now?” “Two blocks from home! It’s a little late to get this kid shined up for the parents so she looks Lutheran you know.”
But I don’t know why he should be so surprised, “Who is God?” is a legitimate question. A lot of Lutheran theologians have asked it over the years. Don’t see why a kid couldn’t.
Lake Wobegon is not the only place where all the women are smart, the men are good looking and the children are above average. Here in Newmarket, families have gathered to give thanks. I’m sure that in more than one or two households, grown children are acting like twelve-year olds and grandchildren are wondering about who this God character is, that there loved ones are suddenly concerned about giving thanks to. Later today as we bow our heads to say grace, I trust that some will indeed ask: Who is this God to whom we offer our thanks on this day?
In the stories handed down to us by our ancestors we are told: “take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land that YAHWEH, your God, is giving to you, and put them in a basket. Take them to the place which YAHWEH, your God will choose as the dwelling place for God’s Name and say to the priest in office at that time, “This day I declare to YAHWEH, our God, that I have come to the land YAHWEH swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest will then receive the basket from you and will set it in front of the altar of YAHWEH. Then you will declare before YAHWEH, “My ancestor was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien.” There they became a nation great, strong and numerous. When the Egyptians mistreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labour upon us, we cried to YAHWEH, the God of our ancestors, who heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression. YAHWEH brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; YAHWEH gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, I have brought now the first fruits of the products of the soil that you, O God, have given me.” Then you must set them before YAHWEH, and bow down before YAHWEH. Then you all, along with the Levite, and the foreigner that live among you, will feast on all the good things YAHWEH your God, has given to you and your household.” (Deut. 26:1-11)
YAHWEH. I AM WHO AM. I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. I AM WHO I AM The God of our ancestors, of Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, of Moses and Miriam. Who in the wilderness sent manna, the bread of heaven. The God of our ancestors. The God of Mary and Joseph, the God of Jesus of Nazareth, the God of the disciples, the apostles, Peter and Paul, Mary and Joanna, Eunice and Lois, Thomas and John, Mary and Martha, Persila and Aquilla, “I AM the bread of life. Jesus explained to them, I am the bread of life, no one who comes to me will ever be hungry: no one who believes in me will be thirsty.
The God of our mothers and fathers. “Teacher” they said, “Give us this bread from now on.” Jesus explained to them, “I am the bread of life, No one who comes to me will ever be hungry: no one who believes in me will be thirsty.”
YAHWEH: I AM WHO I AM. From backseat somewhere far away, we can be heard to cry, “Who is God?” A legitimate question. Big Bang. Stardust, DNA. Evolution. Expanding universes. Quantum leaps. Higgs Boson. Expanding consciousness. String theory. Black holes. 14 or 26 dimensions of space and time. Metaphysics. Metamorphosis. Meta-literal. YAHWEH: I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. Who is this God? I AM the bread of life. Give us this bread.
Joan Chittister tells a story of a seeker: “How does one seek union with God?” the seeker asked.
“The harder you seek, the more distance you create between God and you,” the elder answered.
“So what does one do about the distance?” the seeker persisted.
“Understand that it isn’t there.” The elder answered.
“Does that mean that God and I are one?” the seeker continued.
“Not one, not two,” the elder answered.
“But how is that possible?” the seeker cried, dismayed.
“The sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and the song—not one, not two,” the elder answered. Who is God? The question has an urgency to it. It caries within itself the foundations of mortality, the purpose of life. The elder in the story makes the point: God and I are not the same thing but God is the essence of everything that is. God in other words, is everywhere, as truly in those things where we are sure that God is missing as in those things that we are sure are infallible signs of the presence of God. It has been said that, “the presence of God does not depend on an act of God’s will; it depends simply on our own realization that where I am, God is. The challenge is to come to the point that where God is, I am. Wherever. Whenever. It is not a case of God being present to me. It is a case of my being present to God. The sure sign that we are living in the presence of God is the way we see and respond to the rest of the world. Those who have cultivated the presence of God see the world as God sees the world. And they respond accordingly.”