Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

Sermon on Luke 17:11-19
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
November 27, 2008 (Thanksgiving Day)

What does it mean to be thankful? Does it simply mean saying a polite “thank you,” like our parents taught us to do when we were little and someone gave us a Christmas or birthday gift? Does it mean that we have a particular warm feeling in our hearts, that our emotions are stirred in a particular way? Does it mean that we owe some sort of debt to the person to whom we are thankful? And, since we learn in today’s Gospel lesson that we’re supposed to be thankful to God for the blessings we have received from Him (and the fact that today is set aside in our nation for that purpose as well reminds us of that fact), the question also arises, how do you make yourself be thankful to God? How can you cause yourself to do and to be an imitator of the Samaritan leper whom Jesus holds up as our example in this text?
Being thankful, of course, often includes most of the things I mentioned before in various proportions depending upon the situation, but thankfulness doesn’t start in outward politeness or in the emotions or in the desire to do something for the one who has helped you in return. All of these things are the result of thankfulness, not its cause. And yet God demands it from us. Those who are not thankful, who do not confess back to God and to one another the great things God has done for Him, are showing that they have hearts not right with God, a condition which our creator and lord finds unacceptable in those who would inherit His eternal gifts. And by the way, one way in which we confess to God and one another that we are thankful for His great gifts to us is that we support with our time, talents, and treasure, the Church where He gives us His greatest gifts of all, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, and I do urge you to think about that when you sit down to decide how much to put in the plate on Sunday mornings. And yet, true thankfulness is not something we can make ourselves do by our natural powers. You can’t make yourself “be thankful” by doing these outward actions. Thankfulness starts in the heart. We must, but by our own reason or strength we can’t. So how do we get out of this trap? Where does the solution come from to this dilemma?
It helps to remember that being thankful involves faith first of all. According to the Augsburg Confession, the founding document of the Lutheran Church, the highest worship of God is not in outward actions, not even the outward actions of singing and speaking and giving to the Church that we normally refer to as “worship.” The highest worship of God is to believe in Him, to trust that He will continue to provide everything we need both in this life and for eternal life. After all, everything that He gives us in this life is a free gift and not a reward of any kind for anything we’ve done. As the Catechism puts it in its explanation of the Fourth Petition, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Of course, the faith that springs forth in thankfulness is itself not something that we can produce in ourselves in response to a command, but it is something that God creates in us by means of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament. We can only be thankful to God because He freely gives us the ability to do so.
Faith will inevitably spring forth in a confession of that faith. We say back to God, and to others around us, what He has first said and done to and for us. The heart by faith trusts in God as the one who gives all good things, and the mouth naturally reflects that trust in words. To be thankful, in other words, is to see God as the source of our blessings, as we do in the Fourth Petition. What will then naturally happen is that we proclaim Him, both in prayers and praises back to Him and in confession to one another, including also by our support with time, talents, and treasure, as the source of everything we have. The Samaritan leper realized who it was that had healed him, and so he went back to confess his faith in an outward act of worship toward our Lord Jesus. We can imagine that he also confessed his faith publicly to others who saw him and welcomed him back to his community and family, just as we are to confess our faith in word and deed to our friends and neighbors as well. The nine others didn’t seem to care from whom they had receive this blessing, and by not showing their thankfulness they showed their lack of faith. Faith itself is, of course, a gift of God. In Psalm 51, which is the Psalm David prayed after he had repented of his sin with Bathsheba, David prays, “O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.” It is only God who can open our lips. It is only God who can enable us to thank and praise Him for His blessings to us. He does this first of all by giving us His gifts in the first place. He has blessed each of us individually with what we need to support this body and life, in response to our prayers for daily bread.
But all of these blessings would be for nothing if it were not for God’s eternal blessings, the blessings He has given us in response to our prayers for the forgiveness of sins. He hasn’t just given us a roof over our heads, He has given us heavenly mansions. He hasn’t just given us light to see by; He has given us our true Light, Jesus Christ and His Word. He hasn’t just given us food to sustain our earthly bodies, He has given us Christ’s body and blood to nourish our new selves which will live forever with Him. He hasn’t just given us clothing, He has given us the white robe of Christ’s righteousness with which we will be clothed eternally. He hasn’t just given us money to get by in this world, He has given us our true heavenly riches, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life itself. Therefore, it is truly meet right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places, not just today but every day, give thanks to the God who has given us these great blessings. Amen.
✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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