SERMON THANKSGIVING DAY, 11-28-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL
Pastor Michael Larson
A blessed Thanksgiving to you all! This is a day which historically is not celebrated in the church calendar, but it’s good that you are here! It’s good to begin this day with the Word of God that sanctifies everything – our lives, our homes, the work we do – and the rest and relaxation we enjoy today.
This day is really a day the rest of the country mimics or at least attempts to do what Christians are called to do every day. To give thanks to God! To recognize that everything we are and have, our lives, food, house, and home – everything we enjoy is a gracious gift of God. That every gift He lavishly bestows upon us He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in ourselves. For all this it is our duty, our privilege, our delight to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. You mighty say the church lives in thanksgiving. It is the air we breathe.
This whole world is sadly blind to the gifts, but the church sees them, and celebrates them. It’s easy to lose focus in a world like ours. We go to the grocery store to stock up on food, turkey, and bread, and hardly give a thought to the countless mercies of God it took for that feast to make its way to the dining room table.
Some of you may know I served as pastor in the village of Wittenberg in Northern Wisconsin, before God called me to serve here. I had seven years to visit with the folks up there in that congregation. Got to walk around the dairy farms, cornfields, and potato farms. Was able to witness the hard work, learn about raising animals. See calves born. Learn the life of the farmer. A good experience for me, a boy from the suburbs. I had plenty to learn and see from those who work hard to bring food to our tables.
So what an absolute beauty of a prayer we have from the Small Catechism: “The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open up your hands and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
Today, we pray that our country would resound with thanksgiving for the earth’s bountiful harvest, crops of wheat and grains, all beneath the canopy of God’s almighty care. Knowing that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Moses leads the way in today’s first reading. He reminds the Israelites of God’s provision for their journey. Water from the rock. Manna from heaven. And quail to eat. Moses reminds them that clothes did not wear out. God provided for them. And then He provides something of a warning as well. Hey, when things get a bit more settled for you, when you enjoy that good land: brooks, fountains, valleys, wheat and barley, and other crops. When you can eat without scarcity – don’t forget, folks, you’re still a people on a pilgrimage – this isn’t home – so remember to bless the Lord for His kindness – use it all to serve God and your neighbor – remembering that you’re on a journey. So it was with the Israelites and so it is with us.
This morning Jesus heals ten lepers. Of the ten cleansed, only one does an about-face and expresses thanksgiving back to Jesus. What’s wrong with the nine? Well it’s not as though they blasphemed or cursed. They didn’t say an unkind word to the one who healed them. Perhaps worse – they just said nothing at all! They just took their priceless gift and went their way in silence. This is sadly the way of the world – receiving mercy and kindness from God and not thinking to do an about-face and worship the source and fountain of all gifts.
There’s something of those nine in all of us. Our prayers have faltered. We’ve all complained. We’ve had serious suspicions of God and His love for us. We’ve feared the worst. Yet here we are, none of us has starved. We are dressed warm. We still have a roof over our heads. We are alike in that our worst fears have not materialized. And even through our sufferings, God has not forsaken us.
For us who are called to be Christians, we have good reason to be continually grateful. We’ve been flooded with undeserved favors and kindness from God our heavenly Father, none of which we have deserved.
The grateful leper in the holy Gospel is a symbol of the Christian who returns to Christ – comes to His church – confesses the faith, sings praises to God through hymns and prayers, and gives thanks. He comes back not just to give thanks, but to receive more from God. That’s God’s way. He has more for you than you can ever imagine. Gifts abounding. So never walk away from Him and say like those nine: I’ve had enough!
The way of faith, instead, is to ever return, glorifying God for what He has given, and you will find that He always has ever more to give, and that leads to more thanksgiving from you. He wants it to be an endless cycle and the very joy of your life. He wants finally to give you nothing less than Himself, and He is, as Dr. Luther puts it in the Catechism, an “eternal foundation that gushes forth abundantly nothing but what is good.” And so we break forth in constant thanksgiving back to Him for all the gifts He lavishly provides!
Today as you gather around the table, or football, or whatever it is you do, remember the cross, His Son, His great love for you. He is the wellspring of every pleasure and delight. Live in thanksgiving. It is, after all, the air we breathe and the song that we sing. In the name of Jesus. Amen.