Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Thanksgiving Sermon

Thanksgiving Day – Luke 17 – November 25th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
On Thanksgiving day it tends to be customary to have a sermon which involves a recounting, a listing of all of God's gifts to us. And then the Pastor can wag the finger and say, “See now, shouldn't you be so thankful for all that God has done” and we are all solemn and quiet and thoughtful until we leave and then go eat tons of turkey and fall asleep. Instead, this morning, I have what I think is a much more interesting and insightful question to ponder: what is thanks? We hear the Word bantered around all the time, but what does it mean to give God thanks? What is involved, what does thanks look like?

To give thanks to God is nothing less than to praise Him. To give thanks to God is nothing less than the right and salutary worship of God. We don't generally think of things this way. We often put thanks and praise into two separate categories – but you cannot thank God without praising Him. We see this again in this morning's lesson. One of the 10 lepers returns to give thanks to Christ: Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his feet at Jesus' feet, giving thanks. Thanks and praise, the two ideas are linked. Think on that scene, envision it in your head. The leper falls to Jesus' feet, and scripture says that he gives thanks. What is he saying? What would his thanks sound like? When we give thanks, we give thanks for something. Thank You for healing me, Jesus. It is that second part that shows the praise – to praise is to declare what one has done. Jesus has healed me – that is praise. Thank you Jesus, the leper cries, for You have healed me. And hearing this, Jesus says, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Thanks and praise go hand in hand. They accompany one
another – they form the basis of the worship of God – It is truly meet, right and salutary to give thanks to You. . . and join in with the angels and archangels
evermore praising You and saying – Holy, Holy, Holy.

And so dear friends, let us pause and see what this means for our lives. When our thankfulness to God suffers, when it is lax, when we slough off thanks –
our praise of God suffers. When we overlook and ignore the things which He has done for us – our worship will be lacking – and we will treat God as sort of ho-hum. When we are not thankful, we forget all that He has done for us simply out of divine, fatherly goodness and mercy. To give thanks is to praise – to not give thanks is fundamentally to not praise. To not give thanks is to remain silent and distant, enjoying your blessings while ignoring the One who gave them to you.
Isn't this sometimes a problem? Don't we often take the blessings we receive in this life for granted, say we are in a rush, in a hurry, and we do not pause to marvel at how richly God has provided for us? We have places to go and people to see, busy busy busy – and a gift from Him to us is overlooked. Or perhaps one of these gifts is now commonplace, and we forget to give thanks for it anew – the house we live in is the same one we've lived in for years – do we give daily thanks for it – for it is indeed part of our daily bread. It is easy to be less than thankful, it is easy to be more like the 9 that wander about their merry way. And as such, it is easy for us to treat God as a distant, small entity, having only a minor influence on our life – to treat God not as the sole source of every blessing in our life, but more like our divine, eternal retirement plan – salt away a little praise now and then and reap rewards in the end – or maybe we treat God like a holy, Almighty insurance agent, whom we don't worry about when things are well, but can safely run to when things get bad – like a good neighbor, Jesus is there (but only when something goes wrong and I want Him to fix it). When we stop looking with thanksgiving at the blessings God has given us, we put Him off in a corner as though He is small and unimportant, our praise becomes lax, and we blunder on in indifference – a pathetic and miserable band, overlooking the blessings of God.

Now, when we talk about Jesus and what He does in His Earthly ministry – one of the things we remember is that He fulfills what we call Active Righteousness – that Jesus actively does all those things which we ought to do but fail in – that the thankfulness which we fail to show, Jesus shows perfectly. Think on it. Before the feeding miracles, what does Jesus do? John records for us that “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated.” He is thankful for us. Indeed, whenever we celebrate Communion, we hear that on the night when He was betrayed, He took bread, and when He had given thanks… Christ Jesus gives perfect and right thanks to the Father, He gives that thanks which we ought to have – and indeed, we are justified and forgiven of our thanklessness because He is thankful for us. Our praise may lack, but Christ never fails to show proper praise to the Father, and again, this is done for us, that our sin would be covered.

And Christ Jesus also teaches us how to be thankful, how to give proper praise to God. Chief of those ways is prayer. Christ Jesus is always praying – pretty much every miracle He does is proceeded by prayer. That is indeed our thanks and praise to God. Think on the Lord's Prayer – the prayer He teaches us to pray. Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be done. Give to us our daily bread. Forgive us, keep us from temptation, deliver us from evil. When we pray the Lord's prayer, these are not just things we are asking for and expecting in the future, but these are all things that we have already received and are giving thanks to God for. Has not God placed His holy name upon you at your Baptism? Has not Christ Jesus brought His Kingdom to you in His Word – indeed, that's the only way know that He will come again. Has not God's Will been done – for Christ prays “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” God's will has been done, for Christ Jesus goes to the Cross. Has not God given you daily bread each day of your life? Has not God richly forgiven your sin? Has not God kept you safe from a multitude of temptations, and has not God delivered you from all sorts of evil, defended against and thwarted plan after plan of Satan's? Every prayer about what God has done is praising Him, and in our praise we also give Him thanks for what He has done.

And He has done it all. Every good thing in our life is nothing but a gift from God. Every opportunity to show love – a gift from God. Our forgiveness and salvation, a gift from God. This fact, this truth, is what shapes our worship and gives it focus. Here in God's House, where we receive the blessings of His Word and Supper, the forgiveness He gives to us again and again – we do speak, we do sing words of thankfulness and praise – all that we say or do in this house is to be thanking God and declaring His praise. But, this continues after worship proper – for when you praise God to your neighbor, when you declare what God has done for you, that too is true thankfulness. What God has done for us completely shapes our lives, and our thankfulness is simply the recognition of this fact. Heavenly Father, keep our eyes focused upon Christ Jesus our Lord, so that our thankfulness may be full, not only on this day, but every day. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

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