Well, it’s Thanksgiving week, one of my favorite times of the year. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because, well, it doesn’t really require much more than eating and watching football—two of my favorite activities.
We do a lot of things around the table at Thanksgiving, and when I was a kid there were a lot of traditions. For example, my grandma would always make a special drink for us on Thanksgiving—one that was fizzy and mysterious and was served in crystal glasses. It felt very sophisticated to drink it—until I learned a few years later than it was just cranberry juice and ginger ale.
I’ve always loved the stuffing, the turkey, and cranberry sauce has to come out of a can and retain its shape, you know? That’s the best kind.
I love sitting at the table with my family, we pray, talk about what we’re thankful for. I always imagine Jesus sitting at the meal with us, receiving our thanks.
What I don’t look for, however, is the image of Jesus in the food. But it turns out that’s where he very well might be. Apparently, Jesus has been popping up in all kinds of interesting culinary cuisine.
Take, for example, this story from November of 2004. On an ordinary November day, Fred Whan, an Ontario man in Kingston, accidentally burned a fish stick at dinner and found, with the help of his son, the face of Jesus on his fish stick. A year later he took it out of the freezer and put it up for auction on eBay.
Earlier that year, Diana Duyser of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, declared she had found an image of the Virgin Mary on her decade-old burnt grilled cheese sandwich. She, too, auctioned it off, selling it to GoldenPalace.com for $28,000. In her eBay ad, she wrote: “I would like all people to know that I do believe that this is the Virgin Mary Mother of God. That is my solemn belief, but you are free to believe that she is whomever you like.”
On the morning of October 15, 1996, the manager at the Bongo Java coffee shop in Nashville looked at a pastry and found the image of Mother Theresa staring him in the face. Thus was born the legend of the “NunBun.” The media converged for a treat that became known as “The Immaculate Confection,” “The Divine Dough” and “The Cin-a-Nun.” Some believed that the bends of the roll perfectly captured Mother Teresa’s face, draped in a shawl, while skeptics claimed the cinnamon roll more closely resembled Doc from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
And then there was the discovery a couple of years ago by Steve Cragg, the youth director of Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston discovered this in a bag of Cheetos. One of the youth group teens dubbed this unique cheese curl "Cheesus." Cragg decided not to eat this symbolic cheeto and displayed it on a bookcase in his office, where it has remained since its discovery.
Reactions to the images have been mixed. Some have poked fun at the images found especially in the “miraculous” food items. Ken Schram of Seattle with some aluminum foil made a number of other images on grilled cheese sandwiches. These he hoped to sell, the proceeds to benefit Toys for Tots. Among his creations were a sandwich with his own image, one with Elvis, and another with the image of President Bush burned across its surface.
Dan French of The Examiner, also commenting on the images, writes that it seems that “God has a plan for me, and that plan is to sell you his mug in my beer mug for four grand!”
No matter what you think about these “miraculous” images, these latter-day theophanies do point to a yearning in our culture to find Christ in everyday, ordinary things. Dan French explains, “We’re all looking for the same thing, some faith-worthy sign to give us at least a fleeting clue on how to live our best lives and be our best selves in a confused, nearly unnavigable world.”
We dream of touching what we know only by faith, and whether it be in an old sandwich, some burnt fish sticks, our own church altar or even in the frosted glass of a shower stall, these images let us glimpse with our own eyes the unseen Christ.
The problem here is that these cheesy images also pose a real danger to our faith. How in the world do you lift up a God worthy of praise and thanksgiving when you’ve just found him on a fish stick? Where are my faith and my praise for a transcendent God when that God is not much more than a commodity on eBay?
After all, a God we have to save from the garbage disposal or that emerged from our own culinary mistake does nothing worthy of praise. Thanking a God we can sell or own or that we can reproduce with cleverly wrapped tin foil is a waste of our time.
Not to disparage the faith of some of the faithful who genuinely marvel at the simulacra they find in off places or objects. Not to say that their faith isn’t fervent.
But perhaps we can grow out or beyond this. Like, paw through a pile of 200 potatoes and you’re going to find one that looks like Richard Nixon.
Psalm 100 urges us to prepare for the coming of the Lord by calling us back to worship, thanksgiving and praise. And, of course, there’s not even a hint that we should look for iconic representations of deity in potatoes, fish sticks or tortillas.
The first words in Hebrew name it a psalm of thanks. What follows this introduction are both the reasons and the words to thank and praise our God and King.
It tells us we should praise God for four reasons: because God made us, because God loves us, because we belong to God, and because God is all around us.
God is our maker. He is not made by us. The “miraculous images” of Jesus, Mary and the angels were all made by human hands. The sandwich was made by a mother. The fish stick was made by a worker. The glass, the dirt, the altar. All made by human beings.
Not so with God. Our thanksgiving comes because “It is he that made us …”(v. 3). We did not make him, nor did we fashion him in our image. Rather, we were made in his image. Scripture tells us: “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”(Genesis 1:27). We are his creation. He is not ours.
As his creation, we thank and praise God because our understanding is limited. We only know for certain that it was God’s hands that fashioned us together. Everything else is theory and mystery. We praise God because we are his creatures and his creation. He is not ours.
We are loved by God! We as people love many things that do not love us back. We love our cars and our homes. We love food or entertainment. None of these things can return our love.
We love a God who loved us first. Scripture tells us: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God’s steadfast love and faithfulness last through all generations.
It is no accident that the psalmist ends the psalm, “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
We give God thanks and praise for the sole reason that God loves us so much. God went into death itself to claim us as his own. God loved us before we even began to love him and for this he deserves our thanks and praise.
God owns us. We do not own him. Each of the images belongs to someone. They were found, claimed, and oftentimes, sold to someone else. In essence, God has become the property of human beings.
When the psalmist writes: “we are his …”(v. 3) it is a statement of ownership. We belong to God in Christ, he does not belong to us. We do not and cannot own him, no matter what. Since we are his, it is fitting that we thank and praise him. As creations owned by a creator, we cry out in praise and thanksgiving for all he gives and does for us.
God is all around us! Finally, we give God thanks and praise because Jesus Christ’s face is found, not on the burn marks of a baked piece of fish, but in the marks of life in the faces around us. “We are his people” and as his people, we discover Christ’s presence in the faces of the people with whom we live and work, and those with whom we don’t live and work — the needy, the marginalized, the less fortunate, those in prison, those on welfare, those who live in rich houses or cardboard shacks, those who are different from us, those who live in freedom and those who live in the shadow of tyranny.
This is most significant. For in this the baked fish stick challenges us. We need not look for Christ who says “Whatever you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40) in a piece of baked fish! He has promised to be in the faces of those around us. It should not be easier to see Christ in frosted glass than it is to see him in the faces of our neighbors.
If we long to see Christ, we need only to look around us. Christ is with us in the faces of our neighbors. In the people who do what Christ does for us as they care, provide, love and keep us safe. And in the people we are called to be Christ to, doing the same for them.
God deserves our thanks and praise.
God created us!
God claimed us!
God paid the ultimate price for us!
And God surrounds us with people who reflect his face and presence!
So don’t be looking for God in the drumstick of a turkey in a few days. Find God in the faces of those gathered around your table, wandering the streets of your neighborhood or conversing at the water cooler in the office. And give thanks!