Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day of National Thanksgiving

Sermon on Luke 17:11-19
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
November 24, 2011 (Day of National Thanksgiving)

“What is the Second Commandment?  You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”  In other words, it’s not just this one day out of the year (a day which wasn’t established by Church tradition but by national tradition anyway) that we are to give thanks to God, it is our duty to do so all the time.  The danger in a day like Thanksgiving Day, as with any other day devoted to a specific theme, whether it’s a church holiday or a national holiday, is that people might get the idea that since we’ve got a day set aside for this, we can ignore it the rest of the year.  Okay, that’s over with.  What’s next, Christmas?  But, as the catechism reminds us, to call on God’s name in thanksgiving for His blessings to us is something that we are always to do.  However, since we do have this day to celebrate, it is meet, right, and salutary for us to take the opportunity to hear what God’s Word says about the subject of thankfulness, and so be encouraged to heed the Second Commandment at all times, not just on this one day out of the year.

Of course, giving thanks to God is not natural for us.  It’s not something we do when we’re left to our own devices.  Left to our own devices, we’d rather forget who it is who provides us with clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that we have.  Our old sinful natures can’t stand the idea that we’re dependent on anybody or anything else.  That’s what really causes the sort of rebellion against God’s intention for human behavior and human relationships we see all around us.  It’s not just a matter of wanting to do these certain things even though God says not to do them.  It’s a matter of wanting to turn the relationship around, to show God and everyone else who’s boss.  I suspect that many of the sins we find rampant around us today would not be nearly so popular if it weren’t for the fact that God said not to do these things.  The fundamental problem isn’t so much the disobedience to parents and others in authority, the greed, the murder, the abortion, the adultery, the homosexuality, etc., as it is the rebellion which refuses to acknowledge that we are His creatures and are dependent upon him.  All these other things wouldn’t be nearly so attractive to people if it weren’t for the fact that they are ways of expressing rebellion and independence against God.

It is this false attitude of independence over against God that is the opposite of thankfulness toward Him.  We could talk about all the different ways in which we show thankfulness to him, by praying to Him, coming to His house regularly to hear His Word and confess back to Him what He first said to us, by obeying His commandments for us in our daily lives, by saying prayers of thanksgiving before or after our meals, by confessing Him before the world especially when challenged to provide a reason for the hope that is within us, and so on.  But the real difference between a thankful person and an ungrateful person is in the heart.  We train children to say, “thank you” when someone gives them a gift, because that’s polite.  And it is good to train children this way.  But such outward habits don’t necessarily reflect what is in the heart.  What is in the heart of natural man is the sort of self-centeredness that not only will not, but can not thank God, because it will not and can not admit that anyone besides himself should be the center of his attention.  And that’s what we all are by nature, because we are descendants of Adam and Eve.

And so thanksgiving, like everything else we do that is good, right, and salutary, is not something that we can bring forth on our own.  It’s something we can only do because God has first put to death our old selves and recreated us in the image of His Son Jesus Christ.  We love because He first loved us.  We forgive because He first forgave us.  And we give thanks because He has created in us a clean heart and renewed a right spirit within us.  The outward actions of praise, thanksgiving, and worship are only pleasing to God if they flow from a heart that knows that He has given us all of our blessings and is truly grateful for them.  Otherwise it’s mere show that doesn’t help anybody.

But that sort of a heart is precisely what He gives us.  You see, God’s blessings to us extend beyond clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that we have.  They extend to the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, His body and blood in the great wedding feast of victory which has no end, the heavenly mansions.  God didn’t just give us a bunch of stuff, He gave us Himself.  And He did so while we were His enemies, refusing to recognize Him as the one who made us and gave us everything.  And He has remade us to be what He originally created us to be.  His Son became naked, hungry, thirsty, homeless, friendless, lonely, sick and even dead for us on the first Good Friday, so that we could be put to death with Him and rise with Him that first Easter morning as those who do know their Creator and the giver of all good gifts.

And so we give thanks to Him.  Not just for giving us the blessings we enjoy in this life (which are truly remarkable, as even those who are considered “poor” in our country have more conveniences and comfort than kings did in Biblical times), but for the blessing of eternal life.  And the giving of thanks is not only the outward words or actions or songs or liturgy, although those are meet, right, and salutary when done for the right reasons.  The giving of thanks is in a heart which recognizes who our God is, who our Giver of all good things is, and looks to Him for these things.  When the heart knows who God is, the mouth will too.  So will the eyes and the hands.  We thank Him by acknowledging Him as the one who gave us all this.  And we show that we know Him as the Giver by continuing to receive in faith what He has to give, not just for this life, but especially for the life to come.

At the end of this Gospel lesson, Jesus says to the one leper who returned to worship Him, “Arise, go your way.  Your faith has made you well.”  Actually, what the original Greek says is, “Your faith has saved you.”  The word that is translated “made you well” is actually the same word that is translated as “saved” or “salvation” when we’re talking about spiritual things.  True faith recognizes God not just as the giver of things in this old, corrupt, and temporary life, but as the giver of that eternal life where there will be no more leprosy or any other effects of sin.  And that is the faith God grants you through His Word.  Go your way.  Your faith has saved you.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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