Sermon for the National Day of Thanksgiving - Lamentations 3.22-25 - November 26, 2014
1) Generally speaking, we are an unthankful lot, us children of Adam and Eve. The sinful flesh does not like to acknowledge that all we have is gift from Lord. The flesh likes to feel entitled to the good things we have in life. The ever-present temptation is to believe that we have deserved the good things we have in life because we are good people. But the Scriptures teach us otherwise. Solomon speaks truth in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.” Christ our Lord teaches us the same when a certain ruler approaches Him with flattery, calling Him “good teacher.” Jesus responds, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Matthew 19:17) The Lord teaches us that there are no good people in the sight of God. There is none that deserves any of His blessings, temporal or spiritual. There is no one who can boast that they have pried upon God’s hands and taken what is rightfully theirs. All that we have is a gift from the Lord, given out of sheer grace and mercy. Doesn’t Jesus say, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) Thus we have the Old Testament lesson appointed for this National Day of Thanksgiving as a reminder of that fact. Jeremiah writes “Though the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” It is these daily mercies for which we ought to give thanks on this day and every day. The Lord lavishes gifts upon His creation not just once, but every day. All of it is undeserved. In the daily grind of life it is easy for us to neglect these gifts, think light of them, or completely ignore the fact that they are gifts from the hand of God. Since it is appointed that on this day we give thanks, we ought to meditate on the mercies our God has given us each day, the blessings that are ever new.
2) This is what Dr. Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism. He explains the First Article of the Creed with these words, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.” Our bodies and all that goes into caring for our body and daily life are gifts from God. This is Jesus’ point in Matthew 6 when He teaches about the birds of the air and the lilies of the valley. They do not sow, gather, or reap and the Lord provides for all their needs. So it is with us. The Lord who fashioned our bodies knows what our bodies need to live and so He graciously provides us with clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home. The Lord created marriage in the beginning and so provides husbands and wives, and from that union of marriage the Lord gives children. All the wealth that is needed to raise children and provide for families is given from the Lord. The means to obtain that wealth is even a gift from God on High, for all that we have to the support of this body and life is from His gracious hand.
3) The First Article deals only with the created gifts, the things of this life. Too many today will only give thanks for temporal blessings; a job, a family, a new child or grandchild, wealth in retirement, or a good home. We must give thanks for these things. But to give thanks for these things, for our First Article gifts received from the Lord, and only these things, is something the crassest pagan will do on a day like today. In the church we ought to go on and give thanks for the great gift the Lord bestows upon us in the Second Article of the Creed, which is our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Second Article of the Creed we confess the incarnation, life, sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of our Lord Jesus not just as historical facts that certainly happened, but as gifts given to us from God the Father. The Second person of the Holy Trinity did not have to assume human flesh for our salvation. The Triune God, in eternity, did not have prepare salvation for us rebellious sinners. Yet the Lord is chiefly known in showing mercy.
4) So the Triune God prepares the plan of salvation, the enfleshment of the Second person of the Holy Trinity, so that God Himself might bear the full weight of the sin of the world, earning salvation for all who would believe. We confession, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” The incarnation and death of Christ is the Lord’s blessed gift to sinners, and one for which we ought to give thanks daily.
5) But the Lord does not only send His Only-Begotten Son into the world to bear our sin. The great gift of Christ is nothing if it is not grasped by faith. Knowing that we are entirely unable to create faith within our own hearts, the Lord gives us the gifts of the Third Article of the Creed as well. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”
6) The Gospel message of Christ crucified for sinners calls sinners to believe. The Holy Ghost works through the Gospel message to create faith in us and sustain our faith every day. He enlightens us and kindles faith in the hearts of children in Holy Baptism since children cannot comprehend the words of the Gospel. The Holy Ghost uses the Gospel in the tangible form of bread and wine that is truly Christ’s body and blood to strengthen our faith, lest we lose our faith to the temptations of the world and our flesh. We give thanks that our Lord brings us into the Holy Church to weekly care for the wounds of our sin by His Gospel and Sacraments. As His Christians we must give thanks that He gives us faith to believe the Gospel and that He gives us that faith through the hearing of the Gospel, which is why it is so important to be hearing the Word, purely preached without human alloy, as regularly as we can. We also give thanks for the gifts promised but not yet given: the resurrection of the body on the Last Day and life everlasting with Christ in paradise. God the Father gives us God the Son in the Second Article then He gives us God the Holy Ghost in the Third Article, so that we may believe and thus receive everything God the Son earned for us in His life and death.
7) It would be a terrible oversight to neglect the Second and Third Article gifts, for they are His chief gifts. Even when the Lord does not seem to give the First Article gifts according to the abundance and level we think He ought to give, His mercy is demonstrated in this: that no matter what we are given in regards to this body and life, His mercy in Christ, in the Gospel, and in the Sacraments remain forever. Let us give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His mercy endures forever. His mercies are new every morning. They will not wear, wane, or fade throughout our lives. His mercies are ever-present in our daily lives. His mercies in Christ are ever present in these walls, at this font, at this altar, and from this pulpit. For all of these gifts, given out of sheer grace and fatherly mercy, let us give thanks unto Lord. Amen.