"O Give Thanks unto the Lord"
Eve/Day of National Thanksgiving
1 Timothy 2:1-4
November 26 and 27, 2003
IN NOMINE JESU
We are gathered here today on a day that is not a major festival on the liturgical calendar. Nor are we here to celebrate a minor festival, such as the commemoration of a saint. In fact, this is not even a religious holiday. We are here to celebrate a federal holiday, one prescribed by our national government. In 1789, President George Washington declared a national holiday to be set aside for giving thanks. Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, ended the practice, calling it a conflict between church and state to mandate that the people have a day of prayer and thanksgiving. By the mid-nineteenth centuries there were many states celebrating a day of thanksgiving. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving. It bears noting that this proclamation was made while our nation was at war with itself. President Lincoln said it was only by God's blessing that this nation was not warring with other nations, that freedom, law, and order were still maintained here, and that America's business and population grew, despite the many lives lost during the war. During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to lengthen the Christmas shopping season and moved Thanksgiving Day up a week, to the third Thursday in November. In 1941, Congress voted to move this national holiday back to the fourth Thursday in November, and this day has remained in this place ever since.
We as a nation cherish our freedoms. We cherish the separation of church and state, a phrase found absolutely nowhere in our nation's constitution, nor in any of its amendments. We believe that the state shall not tell the Church what to believe, nor shall the Church collect taxes and govern the people. Yet both of these realms have one thing in common. Both of these have been given to us by our great and gracious giver God. For this reason, St. Paul encourages us to pray for, among other things, our secular rulers so that we would live in peace. Paul writes, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (vv. 1-2). This passage applies to all Christians in all nations, for God has instituted government, regardless of its form, for the general welfare and protection of the entire nation, Christians and non-Christians alike.
Yet here we have our federal government declaring one day be set aside for giving thanks. We as Christians are obligated to give thanks to the Lord, not because the government says we must, we are moved by God's goodness. We respond to all of God's gifts to us through our prayers to Him, our praise of Him, and our giving Him thanks. As Christians, we live this liturgical life. Even as we, through the liturgy of the Church, respond to what our Lord has done for us, we in our daily lives respond to what our Lord has given us by giving thanks to Him. The life of the Christian is a liturgical life of response to God's gifts. It is for this reason that we are here today, just as when we are here each Sunday. It does not matter on which day we are here in the Lord's house. It does not matter whether our national government has encouraged us to set aside a day for giving thanks. Our lives are to be a daily thanksgiving to the Lord. The blessed Reformer, Martin Luther, spoke well of what it means to give thanks in a lecture on the text of today's sermon. He says: This also pertains to Christians. Gratitude always merits the receipt of more; ingratitude drains the fountain of divine goodness. Gratitude consists of more than the expression "I thank You, Lord God." It also involves acknowledging first that it is a gift of God, that a person knows that peace, which today holds sway here in Germany [and here in America], a type of government, and the security that allows one to marry are pure gifts of God. It is a gift of God to have a king and a state and the pest without poison, etc. After all, Satan wants the air polluted, all the land burdened with pestilence and death. That this does not occur is a gift of God. We have so many kings and peoples, so much produce, food, and property, purely out of His goodness. This gratitude consists not only in our words alone but principally in our acknowledgement of the blessing we have received. Those people are rare who make such an acknowledgement. Thus no one gives thanks, nor do people pray. Even those who pray with their mouth do not make this acknowledgement. Gratitude must be involved with prayers, because one must confess the gifts he has received. [LW 28:258]
There is something else we must confess, and that is our sin. We are all guilty of the sin of ingratitude. Our sinful hearts are selfish. We are more interested in what we can get rather than from whom we have received our gifts—namely, our heavenly Father. He gives us not merely the extraordinary things, but He also gives us each day our daily bread. As Luther teaches in the Fourth Petition of the Lord's Prayer, "God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving." Luther explains also what is meant by daily bread, "everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like." All that we have and all that we are have their origins in our Creator, the Triune God. Yet we are so absorbed in our own lives, in our own problems, that we fail regularly to recognize the Source of our gifts, our possessions. We are selfish, and we are self-idolatrous. We would rather get things than give thanks. Not only are we selfish and self-idolatrous, we are also ungrateful. Perhaps it is a good thing that we have this national holiday of Thanksgiving in place, so that we would be reminded to give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.
One of the many things I teach our catechumens is a major difference between the Ten Commandments and the Apostles' Creed. In the Ten Commandments, God tells us what we are to do and not to do. In the Apostles' Creed, we confess what our Triune God has done for us. In our study of the Creed, we learn to confess that "all this He does only out of fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy, without any merit and worthiness in [us]. For all this it is [our] duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true" (First Article). Our God has made us, given us each day our daily bread, defends us, has redeemed us, called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified and kept us in the true faith, forgives us, will raise us and give us eternal life to us. And for all of this we get to thank our God. God has first given us all of these things, and, in our liturgical lives we respond to our Lord's goodness and give Him thanks—every day as we live our Baptism through daily contrition, repentance, and thanksgiving.
The greatest gift, for which we give thanks, is the gift of God's Son, our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our Lord came into this world to take our sins upon Himself, to become our sin, and pay with His very life the penalty we by our sins have deserved, giving His body and shedding His blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. This is the same body and blood He gives us in the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist is Greek for "thanksgiving." The Lord's Supper is the Great Thanksgiving, for we come to receive in this Sacrament what He won on the cross for us, and we in turn give thanks for the gifts He has given us in this great Feast. We thank our Lord for first loving us, for dying for us, and for rising from the dead for us, that we will, through faith, one day dine with Him at the eternal Feast.
Until that day when our Lord comes again, let us keep in mind, and put into practice, the encouragement given to us by the great Church Father, St. John Chrysostom: Let us then exhort the saints to give thanks for us. And let us exhort one another toward gratitude. To ministers especially this good work belongs, since it is an exceeding privilege. Drawing near to God, we give thanks for the whole world and the good things we commonly share. The blessings of God are shared in common, and in this common preservation you yourselves are included. Consequently, you both owe common thanksgivings for your own peculiar blessings and for those shared in common with others, for which you rightly should your own special form of praise.... So then let us give thanks also for the faith that others have toward God. This custom is an ancient one, planted in the church from the beginning.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, for it is meet and right so to do, to give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. SOLI DEO GLORIA
Rev. Mark A. Schlamann Our Savior and Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone and Woodworth, ND
To be Christian is to be Trinitarian. To be Trinitarian is to be Christian.
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