Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving Day Sermon

(As the wireless router at work failed last week, this is getting posted late)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          This Thanksgiving Day, we are following the readings for the Harvest Festival, for reflecting, celebrating, and giving thanks for all the gifts that God has given us, all the wondrous bounty He has bestowed upon us.  And the text the lectionary assigns for such a day is really quite interesting.  Is it a celebration?  Nope?  Is it super cheery and happy?  Nope.  It’s a family inheritance squabble followed by a parable where the man dies.  So why, why this Gospel lesson today?  Because when we hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are instructed on how to approach this life remaining truly and rightfully thankful, understanding what is important.  Let’s dive in.
          “Someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’”  Now, let’s set the stage.  Luke 12 begins by telling us that “many thousands of the people gathered together that they were trampling one another” – tons of people are around, and they are wanting to hear Jesus teach, and He does – He teaches them to be content.  He teaches them not to fear those who can harm the body – indeed, by the end of the chapter he will get to the verses that form the basis for the hymn “Have no fear, little flock”.  He tells them to acknowledge the Christ, to understand that in Jesus they have salvation and life everlasting – that nothing in this world can topple them or destroy them – indeed, right before our Gospel we hear, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  What joy, what confidence – live your lives having trust in God, for even if earthly harm comes your way, you endure for life ever lasting!  Indeed, God Himself, the Holy Spirit will be with you and guide you!
          And then, hearing this, someone pipes up.  Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.  In the middle of teaching, in the middle of preaching a wondrous sermon about God’s love and care, love and care that lasts even unto the life of the world to come – tell my brother to pony up the cash.  It’s a start contrast, isn’t it?  Good stuff, blessings from God, eternal blessings no less – eh, I want my share, make my brother give it to me.  Forget this “have no fear, don’t be anxious stuff” – there’s money to be talked about!  And now let us consider this Thanksgiving Day.  When we speak to Thanksgiving, so often it becomes the day of “stuff” and “stuffing”.  Let’s hurry up and think about all the stuff we have and say a nice prayer so that we can get to the Turkey and Stuffing.  We can get bogged down in earthly blessings, we are so blessed that these things are all that we see, all that we think to be thankful.  A fellow in the crowd hears to be bold, and so what does he ask for?  Jesus to boss around his brother so he can have more.  We come to a day of Thanksgiving, and let’s be honest, how often do our thoughts slide so quickly to stuff?  Things.  Possessions.  And in fact, we think that we had better be thankful for them, otherwise God might cut off the gravy train!
          Jesus isn’t overly impressed with what this fellow had interjected.  “But [Jesus] said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’”  Do I look like Judge Judy, what’s going on?  Why did you even bring this up?  And then Jesus drives to the point.  “And He said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”  You are thinking simply about stuff – about things – and while those are great and useful things… they are just things.  They last only for a time.  In fact, after the reading Jesus will bring up the familiar passage about “Consider the lilies”, “Consider the birds of the air.”  Your life is not your stuff, your house, your food, your bank account.  These things while nice are of no lasting value.  These all come and go and 100 years from now will be gone.  No, there is something more important.
          “And He told them a parable saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?”  And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.””  So, here’s the setting – look, there’s a rich man, and what happens – he gets richer still.  Oh, how fantastic – he even has to build a bigger barn.  Is this not sort of the American ideal – expanding, growing, bigger, bigger, bigger?  Better get the bigger house because I’ve got so much stuff.  Man, wouldn’t we all like to be the rich man here – and then we’d be mighty thankful!  But the Rich Man continues on.  “”And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.””  Early retirement!  Even better!  With parties and celebration and just fantastic fun!  Again, it’s the American dream.  “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  Fool!  Literally “non-thinking guy!”  What were you thinking – here you had all these things, and did you enjoy them?  No, you were so busy getting more and more that you never enjoyed the blessings, you never delighted in them.  You slaved away and for what?  Nothing, because you don’t get to take it with you.  You put your trust in stuff, and your trust fell short.
          So what, Pastor?  Does this mean we better start being rich towards God, tossing the cash in the plate by bucketfuls so we don’t die and can have more stuff?  Nope.  It’s an interesting phrase, “rich towards God” – and because we are so focused on stuff, we think of this richness first and foremost in stuff.  No, what does it mean to be “rich towards God”  It’s not about giving, or working – but rather this – where is your attention?  Where is your focus?  Is your focus upon stuff, power, money, cash – the things of this world?  Well, then you are going to have a fairly miserable life, because things, money, cash, and stuff are lousy – they always demand more and more of your time, they promise more and more stuff, so don’t even rest and relax tonight, you better hit the stores tonight at 8 pm before all the good sales are gone.  No – don’t lay up those treasures; rather this – have your focus be upon God and His mercies to you, and then you will see true richness, then you will understand what and why we are thankful.
          Consider this.  God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth loves you.  He has promised to care for you and to use you to care for others.  Even as we are in a fallen, sinful, messed up world, even as we sin ourselves, do stupid things over and over, what does God say?  “I still love you, I still care for you, I still sustain you, indeed, I have sent Christ Jesus to win you salvation and forgiveness, so that indeed, I will take you out of this world which you messed up, and I will make New Heavens and a New Earth which will be full of nothing but joy and peace for you, and with My Son as your head, it will stay that way.  You have total and complete security and peace in My love for you.”  This is the Creed – God the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ, and I look forward to the resurrection of the Body, life of the world to come!  Instead of the rat race where you struggle always after more and more – where you strive to be the biggest, the best, and never have peace, consider what God does.  He says, “Look at Me, remember My love for you, and then you will be free, free to actually enjoy what you have, free to not wait for later, for some measure of success that your neighbors, that TV, that the Joneses set, but you will be free to rejoice now.  You will be free to show love, to do good to others, to care for them with confidence, for you are supported.” 
          This is what we are thankful for.  That God has set us free, that God pulls our eyes way from sin, indeed, even from the sin of covetousness where we worry and fret and strive and struggle and bite and fight for more and more – and He says, “Enough of that.  You are forgiven, you are cared for now and forever.  Relax.  Be at peace and joy – rest in Me and My love for you, and enjoy.”  Remembering God’s love for you, being secure in Him changes the way you see the world, the way you experience the world.  It frees you to see the world as nothing but gift and joy, even in the midst of being in a sinful fallen place.  God provides and cares and most wondrously puts things back in their place, where instead of us serving and worshipping stuff – the things of this life are tools, tools used for our joy, tools used to serve the neighbor.  And this approach to life, this truly free and thankful approach to life is centered in this – you are forgiven and redeemed by Christ, your care for all eternity is assured, and it rests not upon you and how hard you work – it rests upon Christ and His goodness and love, and thus it is totally secure.  My dear friends in Christ, you are utterly well blessed by Him, and shall be even more.  Rejoice and be glad in Him, for this is your richness towards God.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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