Thanksgiving 2012

21. November 2012
Thanksgiving Eve

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Thanksgiving. Thanks and giving put together. Word order matters. It should be Givingthanks. First you are given and then you receive with thanks. That’s how it works. You say thanks only after receipt. We teach this to our children. First say please, then receive, and then say thanks.

Thanksgiving presumes we have received something and something worth giving thanks for. Everyone takes time before their big buffet tomorrow to say thanks to someone for their food. We say thanks to Mom or Grandma for slaving over the hot stove. Dad cooked the turkey and he gets a thanks. Our friends or family arrive and we say thanks for coming. These are good gifts—food, friends, and family. No doubt they are worth their thanks.

These are gifts given by God. God gives us homes, family, friends, food, and everything we have because He loves us in Christ. Thanksgiving is really about giving. God’s giving. Gift. Free. Generous. Bountiful. Loving. You’re here to receive. You’re here for the blessings. Free, underserved, and generous as God gives. God the Father gives you Jesus Christ. He forgives you, washes you clean, feeds you holy food, cares for your body and souls through bread in the ears. You receive everything needed from God.

No one wants to be dependent on another. Only reluctantly will someone resort on food stamps. Only out of complete desperation will they ask family, friend, or stranger for cash. To be a beggar is to be inhuman or so we were raised to think. Not with God. There is no more taking credit for your life. You know better. You are beggars and this is good. God made everything. The earth is full of His creatures. He makes the grass grow for the livestock and plants to grow for man to harvest. God gives us food from the earth and wine to gladden our hearts. (Psalm 104)

The pagans worship the god of their stomach and Football. They give thanks to the gods of hard work, fortune, and luck. They have been blessed by God but something is missing. The gifts of the Spirit—forgiveness, life, and salvation in His holy church—are notably absent. They feed their body and their eyes but pay no attention to their souls and their future death.

The pagans get the God part wrong. They also give the thanks part wrong. Throughout the Holy Scriptures, Jesus teaches us that thanksgiving is not a merely word but it is a giving. Word order matters. God gives and we return thanks by giving. It’s the divine “pay it forward” scheme. Thus, when you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground… and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there… You shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.

There it is. Thanksgiving. Giving an offering of the first of the fruit in thanks. An offering is given not out of obligation, or duty, or even necessity, but in thanks. How many of us can lay our offerings before the LORD and then rejoice in all the good that the Lord [our] God has given to [us] and to [our] house[s]?  Too few. We hold the purse strings too tight. We love our wealth too much. Jesus says: take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

You are completely dependent on your God. He gives even without your asking. He gives you daily bread and gives you faith to realize this is from Him. There’s the rub. God gives and faith receives. Without the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Giver is ignored or dismissed. You’re here today not for turkey, smashed potatoes, or sweets. You’re here to receive bread from heaven, the Word that gives faith. And in receiving you realize God’s blessing and receive everything with thanksgiving. You receive and give thanks to the Giver of every good gift.

The thanks only come after the giving. If there is no gift, then there is no thanks. Christian worship is all about the gift: Word preached, absolution declared, water and word washed, body and blood of Jesus fed, blessing given. Such great gifts received and what happens? Anything? Wake up! The glory of God is revealed in His gifts. The Lord rejoices to give and gives that you receive. Receiving God’s gifts changes you. He gives you blessings that make you whole again through forgiveness of wrong. They are seals of a promise to be with you until the end of time. They give the inheritance of heaven from His last will and testament.

To the one who keeps the Lord’s treasures for himself, God calls a fool. It is foolish for you to receive and never give. It is foolish reap bountifully and then store in barns. It is foolish to give thanks and withhold charity.  It is foolish to receive the Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament only to horde this bounty for yourself. God gives, we receive, and we give thanks, not merely in word but in deed and truth. Lord, grant us the humility to receive with thankfulness and share with those in need.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Thanksgiving Eve 2011 – Deuteronomy 26:1-11

23. November 2011
Thanksgiving Eve
Deuteronomy 26:1-11

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
Dyer, Indiana