1 Tim 2:1-4, Ps. 67
Vicar Paul Rockrohr

 

Dear Christian friends, this day is a national holiday. Of course, you knew that, but it is interesting to consider why we come together here to receive our Father’s gifts on a national holiday. A holiday is a day that most people get off of work, or so I always thought as a child growing up. But the true meaning of holiday is not found in that simple answer, though it contains some truth. A holiday was meant to be a “holy day,” a day set apart and consecrated to worship God. This sense of the word has a long history, and we can even see this in light of the Old Testament. After all, the Sabbath was set apart, consecrated, for rest. It was not designed to burden man, but rather to give him rest and refreshment as he received the gifts from God.


In part, the sense of having a day off is true of holiday. But from what are we taking a day off, and for what purpose? How do we define Thanksgiving, even as we gather with friends and family? Several friends of mine have taken to calling this day “turkey day,” which is very revealing insight of a particular view, or definition, of this day. How would such a person define it? “A day when we get together with our family, eat turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and remember the good things we have. Sometimes we share with each other what we are thankful for.”

 

Altogether, this sounds like a pretty good day. But what is so holy about it that we should call it a holiday? In remembering the good things that we have, to whom are we thankful? Are we just happy that we have what we have, or is there a specific person to whom we offer words of thanks? These are very important questions to ask, for the words “national holiday” are advocating idolatry. A holy day for the nation, fine, worshipping what god? Capitalism and consumerism? Many will celebrate black Friday tomorrow, a day glorified to the consumption of stuff and self. Or perhaps there is cause to worship our nation itself, for providing freedom to many different peoples? Or perhaps we make our government into a secular messiah, one that will rescue us out of all disasters by constantly providing? Or should we serve ourselves, with all the good that we do? Or perhaps some ethereal concept of a deity? These are certainly some options that our nation considers, but it does not as a whole offer thanksgiving on this day to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. You will see Snoopy and Sponge Bob, but you will not see a Macy’s parade float proclaiming the crucified Christ as the Savior of the world. The other nine lepers did not return to give thanks at the feet of Christ, what god were they thanking for their miraculous healing? On this day when we “give thanks” as a nation, what god is being advocated?

SERMON FOR THANKSGIVING DAY, NOV. 28, 2013
1 Tim 2:1-4, Ps. 67
Vicar Paul Rockrohr

Dear Christian friends, this day is a national holiday. Of course, you knew that, but it is interesting to consider why we come together here to receive our Father’s gifts on a national holiday. A holiday is a day that most people get off of work, or so I always thought as a child growing up. But the true meaning of holiday is not found in that simple answer, though it contains some truth. A holiday was meant to be a “holy day,” a day set apart and consecrated to worship God. This sense of the word has a long history, and we can even see this in light of the Old Testament. After all, the Sabbath was set apart, consecrated, for rest. It was not designed to burden man, but rather to give him rest and refreshment as he received the gifts from God.


In part, the sense of having a day off is true of holiday. But from what are we taking a day off, and for what purpose? How do we define Thanksgiving, even as we gather with friends and family? Several friends of mine have taken to calling this day “turkey day,” which is very revealing insight of a particular view, or definition, of this day. How would such a person define it? “A day when we get together with our family, eat turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and remember the good things we have. Sometimes we share with each other what we are thankful for.”

Altogether, this sounds like a pretty good day. But what is so holy about it that we should call it a holiday? In remembering the good things that we have, to whom are we thankful? Are we just happy that we have what we have, or is there a specific person to whom we offer words of thanks? These are very important questions to ask, for the words “national holiday” are advocating idolatry. A holy day for the nation, fine, worshipping what god? Capitalism and consumerism? Many will celebrate black Friday tomorrow, a day glorified to the consumption of stuff and self. Or perhaps there is cause to worship our nation itself, for providing freedom to many different peoples? Or perhaps we make our government into a secular messiah, one that will rescue us out of all disasters by constantly providing? Or should we serve ourselves, with all the good that we do? Or perhaps some ethereal concept of a deity? These are certainly some options that our nation considers, but it does not as a whole offer thanksgiving on this day to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. You will see Snoopy and Sponge Bob, but you will not see a Macy’s parade float proclaiming the crucified Christ as the Savior of the world. The other nine lepers did not return to give thanks at the feet of Christ, what god were they thanking for their miraculous healing? On this day when we “give thanks” as a nation, what god is being advocated?

Despite this, it is nevertheless beneficial and good that we as Christians celebrate Thanksgiving. In our epistle for today, St. Paul urges that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. While the rest of the world will make a false confession about where blessings come from, and we as well by our nature as sinners, yet in Christ we recognize the reality of the matter. All the things we have received, material and immaterial, have been given out of the grace and mercy of the true God. He alone can give these things, as our Psalm today proclaimed. Why then does God give these things to all, Christian and unbeliever alike? It is for the sake of Christ that God gives all things. None deserve mercy, no one deserves blessing. Yet God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. That truth is none other than Christ crucified, who atones for all the iniquities that prevail against us. And it is not just for the sins of Christians that Christ died, but for the unbelieving as well. Though they do not yet receive it, there is forgiveness for them. Because our Father in heaven desires all people to be saved He preserves them, maintaining their life for a time so that they may turn and repent and believe.


Likewise, our Father preserves our life with His good gifts to remind us of His great love for us. Each of us in turn may ask if we truly deserve to have food on the table, a family, job, or home. What is the difference between those of us that have and those that do not? There is no difference, for none of us deserve the mercy shown to us, for we would be quick to replace God with ourselves as the benefactor. I earned that wage, I paid for that turkey, I bought this house. Such claims easily become idolatry, replacing the generosity of God as He works through means to provide for us, with the implication that our own works accomplish so much. If not for the gracious protection and merciful blessings of our Father in heaven Satan would not suffer us to have bread on the table nor an hour more of life.

Despite our wantonness to replace the source of every blessing with ourselves, our Father nevertheless forgives and gives. We are declared blessed, for He has chosen us apart from our deeds and thoughts. He has called us as His children through the waters of Baptism, and therefore treats us like His children. He provides for us all the needs of this body and life, but even greater than that, He gives us that which sustains us to life everlasting. Though the sin of idolatry clings to our hearts as we struggle with its temptation, still He will forgive us, still He will bring us near to dwell in His holy courts. He does all of this on account of Christ. On the true Black Friday, Christ went to the cross, not scorning its shame. He did not think of Himself as He prepared to pay, but only of you. The cost was the shedding of His holy, innocent blood and through His precious suffering and death, Christ cleanses and atones for all our sin. He sanctifies us, making us holy, just as he is holy. In His grace we do and act as the redeemed, our deeds no longer filthy rags but pure and holy in Christ, pleasing to our Father in heaven. When we act as His holy people, that which we do is truly holy because we do it through Christ, who is always our intercessor before the throne.

 

Thus every day that is consecrated, or set apart, to the Lord is a holy day. Thanksgiving is truly a holy day for us, because we have set it aside to rest, yes, but also because we have set it aside in thanksgiving to the God who gives every good blessing. We have set this day aside to make supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings on behalf of all people, especially those that God has put in authority over us. Have you ever wondered if anyone was praying for Pontius Pilate as he stood in judgment over Christ? Yet it would have been right to pray for him, to pray for him at the foot of the cross, to the one who has true authority. When Jesus made intercession while hanging, he did not make exception but asked, “Father, forgive them.” In such a way we also make intercessions for all in authority, Christian and unbeliever alike, because Christ desires them.

 

As is proper in every time, we make supplications to our Father that He would curb and destroy all the evil plans of the world and Satan. In praying this, it is not against mankind in that we desire the destruction of anyone, but rather that all may hear the Word and believe. On this day when we give thanks for many blessings, this is the highest good we may ask for our neighbor. We care for the body, but it will be raised again on the last day whether to perdition or to paradise. The supplications we make against evil are not only for a peaceful and quiet life, but also for the salvation of all.

 

So that the Word may have free course, our prayers concern that which is good.  Good rulers, good weather, good economy, and the like. Though we too benefit from these things, we ask for these not only for ourselves, but for all around us. We do not wish to see anyone hungry or naked, but that all would be cared for in their physical needs. To pray for good, is to pray for preservation, for time that the Word may be heard by all. In praying this, we must also realize that the Giver of all gifts will use us as well in providing for His creation. Our God loves to work in means, to use His creation in giving blessings. No greater example can be seen of this than in the Sacraments. In water, wine, and bread our God binds Himself to it by His Word, giving great and wonderful promises of life and forgiveness. If He gives us His true body and true blood by means of bread and wine, and His Holy Spirit and Sonship by water, why should He not desire to use us as well? It is pleasing to our Father in heaven to show His mercy to all through His children, thus we not only pray for good but that we may also be a source of good for our neighbor.

 

And there is much need of good, because there is much suffering all around. Disease, sickness, and death are but a few causes of suffering. There are many in need of comfort, so intercessions are made on behalf of many. These we ask, knowing that God hears us and will act according to His good and gracious will. This very fact, that He has promised to hear us and to answer our prayers, leads us to give thanks for all of His benefits to us. As we give thanks to God for our many blessings, we make a true confession of where these things come from. All good that we have and receive comes only from God our Father because of His mercy through Jesus Christ our Lord. Even the good gifts of prayer, of making intercession with thanksgiving, comes in Christ and through Christ who carries us before the Father. Therefore it is pleasing to Him that we gather with our families and friends and enjoy the good that He has given us. And it is pleasing to Him to give us these things because of Christ, who is His greatest gift and our highest treasure. Amen.

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