Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Sermon

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

When times have been tough, when the year has been not as wonderful as years past, Thanksgiving Day always seems a little more poignant. When everything has been coming up roses, we can approach Thanksgiving with a haughty attitude – ah, yes, what a year, I suppose we should give thanks – and then when it is done we fly away from Church and the tedium of thankfulness back to enjoy all our wonderful stuff. Thanksgiving, in a good year, can be almost perfunctory – something we have to do. But on those years when things are a bit tighter – when things have been a bit rougher, we reach this day, and it becomes a true day of reflection, a true day of thanksgiving – because that small touch of lack and sorrow simply serves to highlight all that we have received from God in His unbridled love and mercy.

Our Gospel lesson is a familiar one – the 10 lepers. And when we hear this story, sometimes we can be a bit detached from it. Sometimes it seems hard to relate to these lepers – I mean, they have horrible, wretched existences. We don’t. They were horribly ill; we live in a land with the greatest health care ever seen, where illnesses that were a death sentence 50 years ago are cured with ease. They were beggars with no wealth – we live in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen. It can be hard to relate to them normally – but this past year. . . well, it’s a little different, isn’t? We’ve had those debates and fears regarding health care, we’ve seen chaos in the economy reminding us that we could lose our jobs – we saw crops become brittle and break – and suddenly, these lepers don’t seem as distant as they normally do. Instead of just looking upon them detachedly, we can understand them a touch better.

These lepers cry out to Christ for healing – they wish to be restored, to be healed, to be delivered. And Christ tells them to go into the city, to show themselves to the priests. And at His word they go, they walk by faith towards town, and as they go they are healed. They see first hand the wonders of God’s care and love for them, and they are ecstatic. But then, only one of them, a Samaritan, turns around and returns to Christ to give thanks. On this day, this year, when we have seen so clearly where we could be, we pause to turn and give thanks to God, because we see and understand how richly and undeservedly He has blessed us – and He has blessed us here at Zion. By rights, 10 percent of us should be unemployed – but God has preserved us. The odds say that at least some of us should have been evicted by now – yet our homes remain. We have seen horrible illnesses and tragedies in our community – and yet, we are preserved. Even those of our congregation who have died were preserved to either ripe old ages or lived much, much longer than their health problems would have led us to expect. Indeed, many of us have even received wondrous healing this year. We see what God has done for us, and we turn now, knowing it could be so different, and we give Him thanks.

But if we make this day a day of thanks for earthly stuff alone, as so many in this land will do, we will miss the point. These earthly blessings of God are indeed wonderful things – and we are right to rejoice in all the blessings that our Father gives purely out of His divine goodness and mercy without any worth or merit in us. But that is not the end. Whenever we think of our earthly blessings, we ought to then move in our minds to all the spiritual blessings which God has given us in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is a year when we see a bit more clearly how messy this life, this world can be. We see the impact of sin a bit more clearly now – and we see its impact upon us more clearly as well. It is not swept under the rug – it confronts us, face to face.

Christ Jesus our Lord saw the trials and tribulations of this world – and then out of His great love for us, He chose to come down from heaven and enter this world in order to win us salvation. Ponder that for a moment – there is Jesus, enjoying the perfection and wonders of heaven – and yet, He takes on human flesh and strides into this messy place. And while here on earth He takes upon Himself all the things that we can fear. He takes on poverty, He takes on illness, He takes on the scorn of friends. Even Satan is astounded at what Christ takes on – even Satan at the temptation in the desert looks at our Lord’s suffering and says, “This is crazy – why do you treat Yourself so – command stones to turn to bread, eat something, you are God after all!” And yet, our Lord dives into this world with all its sorrows whole heartedly. And why? Because in coming to this world, our Lord joins Himself to us – He makes a tie between Himself and us, sealed in the waters of Holy Baptism. And then He suffers all – everything we could think of fearing, everything this world could throw at us, the things we’ve seen more clearly this year – even death, Christ tastes it. And then He rises – and He says to us – “I have done it all, and I have risen. This new life, this is yours now.” Christ Jesus wins us salvation.

And every time we see a temporal blessing, every time we realize just how much God has protected us in this earthly life, it should point us again to Christ Jesus, Who came down from heaven to be our Brother, so that we might see the love of God not just in earthly things which will fade, but that we might see this Love face to face for all eternity when we stand in the presence of God. These temporal blessings which we give thanks for are but an appetizer of what is to come – a sampling of the restoration that is ours in Christ for all eternity. And so dear friends, let us truly give thanks this day for all the blessings God has given us – the blessings of body – for this life, and the blessings of soul – for all eternity. God has made us to behold His love for us – let us rejoice and give Him thanks. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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