23. November 2011
I admit to being a curmudgeon when it comes to the church year. We follow a calendar that developed over centuries of Christian teaching and preaching. It was honored and practiced by our spiritual fathers. The Lutheran reformation saw its wisdom and retained its use.
The church year respects the times and the seasons. It provides a yearly pattern for the Christian life and discipline. But most importantly, it keeps our eyes fixed upon Jesus. Not just any Jesus, mind you, but the Jesus whose incarnation, teaching, healing, death, and resurrection are our the sum of our teaching.
Thanksgiving is an odd holiday for us to celebrate. It was instituted not by God, by Moses, by Jesus, or even an Apostle. Instead, we remember a national day of thanksgiving because our President instituted it. Now, that’s weird. Why would a church celebrate such a holiday when it does not inherently commemorate or remember the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?
Ironically, Thanksgiving is one of the purest and least secular of holidays. We gather as families, sharing in a meal, and rejoicing in our Lord’s gifts with thanksgiving. Even the pagans see fit to do the same. Who they thank, I have no idea. Yet, even they recognize that life is precious. Food is a blessing. Family is to be cherished. Even, rest and leisure are gifts.
In a real way, every day is thanksgiving. Every day we wake and say to our Father in heaven, “I thank you…for keeping me this night from all harm and danger.” In the evening we ay, “I thank you… that you have graciously kept me this day.”
Our Sabbath mass is chock full of hymns and prayers of thanksgiving. Every time we acknowledge the giver of every good gift, that is, Jesus, we are giving thanks. After receiving the life-giving body and blood of Christ, the pastor sings, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and his steadfast mercy endures forever! Amen.” Indeed, some of us end every mealtime this way.
Thus, thanksgiving is characteristic of Christians. Thanksgiving has two parts—one, that we acknowledge that we have been given all that we need for body and life, salvation and eternity, and two, that it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey the giver of this gift. It is not about giving thanks but about thanking for God’s giving. It is our dutiful response to the tremendous blessings we have.
Moses told us about this duty. After 15+ chapters of laws for obedience, Moses speaks of the beautiful inheritance of Zion. “When you come into the land that Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it…” When, not if. The Lord promises and he delivers. Inheritance, not earned. A new land for living. A blessing and a gift.
Such a blessing is easily forgotten. One day in bondage in Egypt, then delivered by the hand of God, and the next day you’re already making an idolatrous calf. God gives you everything and then you turn around and forget it. You act as if you earned your life. You squander God’s gifts recklessly. You horde your paycheck for creature comforts. Repent. No good comes from you but only from the hand of your beneficent heavenly Father. Receive and give thanks.
That’s why Moses repeats over and over “that the Lord your God is giving you.” The children of God forget. We forget. We want to take all the credit for everything we have. We forget it was our Father who delivered us from our mortal enemies. That’s why we’re here this evening. We need to hear again. We need to know that God loves us, that He has promised to take care of us, and that He has defeated everything that stands in the way to our Palm Sunday entrance into heaven.
We were once wandering Aramens like our father, people without a home. The Lord gave us a fertile land in Goshen, a little Eden He brought us to the knowledge of His goodness. But it did not take long for us to accept the slavery of Pharaoh. His word is false and his rule complete.
Yet, our Father had better things in store for us. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. He drowned our hard-hearted Pharaoh in the Red Sea. He cast out this Satan when He baptized us in those waters.
That mighty hand carried us to font and often into his holy sanctuary, where he speaks and works with great signs and wonders. He says, “your sins are forgiven,” and it is done. He says, “you are my beloved child,” and we receive adoption as sons. He says, “Lo, I am with you always, even until the ages of ages,” and He keeps it.
Not only that, he promises us to us a paradise, a promised land. It is true that this promise is yet to come. We are but strangers, wandering pilgrims. We won’t cross the Jordan until our death, only then to enter into the new Jerusalem, our heavenly home. But, lest we forget this is coming, he gives us a taste of this heavenly feast even now. Bread come down from heaven, manna for our wilderness walking, is given. Blood of the once-for-all sacrifice freely given, the price having been paid at the holy hill.
So, while we yet long for Zion, we already are part of it. The holy catholic church is the new Israel, redeemed by Christ and taken into the new land, a land flowing with milk and honey. The Word dwells richly here, admonishing us for our weakness, redeeming us from all evil, and encouraging us in our walk with God. The pure Spiritual milk sustains us as it sustains all newborn children. When we eat of this scroll, it is sweet as honey.
God has already given you what is needful, the eternal Zion. Thus, when… you shall take some of the fruit of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. What a waste, we might think—to take of the abundance and to give it back to the giver.
Ah, but you are wrong! For everything you have is a gift that came at great price. The only reason God takes care of you or anyone is for the sake of His Son’s death. The redemption from Satan? Only in Jesus. The forgiveness of your many faults? Only in Jesus. The destruction of death? Only in Jesus.
Not only that, the food on the table? Only for the sake of Jesus. The blessing of family? Only for the sake of Jesus. The rest and leisure of the people? Only for the sake of Jesus. You see, God has blessed us greatly. Indeed, we have everything we need and more. To give of the first fruits of the ground, demonstrates our thankfulness and trust that He will continue to provide.
With such great blessings, we say with the whole people of God: “Behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.” And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
O, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church