Pentecost 28, B (Thanksgiving) – November 25, 2018

Scriptures – Ps. 103; Deut. 26:1-11; Phil. 4:6-20; Luke 12:13-21

 

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. Ps. 103:2-3

 

A Pastor was preaching one Sunday morning, and in his enthusiasm he went on… and on… and on. Finally, one of the parishioners got up and started walking out. “Where are you going, George?” asked the Pastor. “To get a haircut,” George replied. “Don’t you think you should have taken care of that before the Service, George?” “Didn’t need it then,” he responded.

 

Last Sunday I was in San Diego at a conference, and in the afternoon I spoke on the phone with Carl Mathis. “Pastor, everything went well today at church,” he told me, “but it was looong. Next week you have five minutes.” Or did he say 50? Hmm…

 

The Thanksgiving holiday we have just celebrated has some burdens associated with it – as does listening to sermons. It can involve travel, sometimes lengthy and time-consuming; there is extensive preparation; added expense; and, the day’s calorie intake may require extra workouts to burn off. Celebrating Thanksgiving isn’t easy! Even so, we consider it a joyous holiday and not a burden. Why? Because we focus upon the good, and especially the blessing of family.

 

Ok, so: when it comes to giving thanks to God – and for sermons that proclaim Him! – let us do the same. Focus upon the good! Focus especially upon the family relationship. This is what Moses says in Deut. 26, as he tells the people of Israel how to bring an offering of thanksgiving to God.

 

Begin by thanking God for the good of His grace, His freely given love and favor. “A wandering Aramean was my father,” Moses told the people to say. They were to remember that God did not choose their father Abraham and promise to bless all people through him because he was such a good person and strong believer. In fact, he was a worshiper of false gods when God revealed Himself to him. And, although God promised the land that is now Israel to his descendants, Abraham was never able to settle there. He wandered from place to place throughout his life and endured many hardships.

 

As we wander and travel through this life we can have many struggles that make us wonder whether God is with us. Abraham’s descendants were enslaved in Egypt and suffered immensely. The apostle Paul wrote today’s Epistle to the Philippian people from prison, as his preaching of Jesus was seen to be a danger to the society and the government and he was arrested. Perhaps you’ve felt your faith in Christ putting you at odds with society. And then, there’s Jesus in today’s Gospel. Imagine asking for His help and being confronted with your own sin instead! Yea, God doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear and make us comfortable, does He? It makes you wonder sometimes: is God mad at me because have I done something wrong, or not done enough that is right? Although considering your life and how closely you are following God’s commands is a good thing to do, be thankful that His love for you and His help is not held back until you deserve it. As a good father loves and helps his child before he can do or deserve anything, so – and even more – does our gracious God love and help us! This is grace. “Bless the Lord, O my soul. He shows Himself a gracious God,” says Ps. 103. Because He loves us He tells us to call upon Him as our Father. Give thanks to your heavenly Father for His grace!

 

After remembering His grace, thank God by remembering His mighty work for your salvation. Moses told the person offering a gift of thanksgiving to say, “we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction… [He] brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” Don’t ever forget how much God has done – and still does – for you! This is why we display crosses and crucifixes. See how greatly God loves you: He came down from heaven and became a man to bear your sins and their eternal punishment to save you! Christ’s crucifixion is God’s mightiest work of salvation. Focus upon that and you will never doubt His love and His readiness to receive you and forgive you and help you.

 

Of course, this doesn’t mean He will always tell us what we want to hear or deal with us in the way we desire. The man who asked Jesus, “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” sure got an answer different from what he expected! Like him, we are all selfish by nature, focused upon our own desires and more ready to assert our rights than to suffer loss. And we certainly spend a lot more time and energy on earthly things than we spend on the heavenly treasure of forgiveness that God gives us through His Word and Sacraments! This can have tragic consequences when God requires your soul from you. May this never be! Be thankful that you have a God and Savior who is more concerned with what you need, especially eternally, than with what you desire; who in His Word confronts you with your sin, that you might turn from it and to Him for forgiveness. Christ and His Church are not about making your life good and easy and giving you what you want, but are about giving you what you need the most: the forgiveness of your sins and the blessing of eternal life with your Father in heaven. Thank Him for confronting you with your sins, and above all for His mighty work of dying to gain your forgiveness!

 

Finally, to truly be thankful to God and not just be going through the motions, put yourself into the middle of God’s work. Make it personal. Moses told the people to say, “the Egyptians treated us harshly…Then we cried to the Lord… And the Lord brought us out of Egypt… And he brought us into this place and gave us this land… And now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.” Make yourself the focus of God’s work and His blessings! You can, and should, do so because He has done so. Jesus had you in His mind when He died on the cross! His Father had you in His mind when He sent Him to do so. the Holy Spirit had you in mind when He inspired the writing of and the preaching of Christ’s life. God is not distant and impersonal. He is your Father in Jesus, a Father who knows you personally and loves you as His own child. Rejoice in this! Thank Him personally for this. Receive His blessings personally, by hearing and tasting and holding to them yourself.

 

Our father in the faith, Martin Luther, helps us to do this. We close by confessing together his explanation of the 1st Article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean?

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.