Give thanks for God’s gracious election

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Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve

Lamentations 3:22-25  +  1 Timothy 2:1-8  +  Matthew 22:1-14

Christians don’t need an annual Thanksgiving celebration, do we? We who know the true God and His Son Jesus Christ live in thanksgiving every day. Every Sunday we celebrate the Eucharist, the great Thanksgiving meal that is so much better than turkey and mashed potatoes. It’s bread and wine and the very body and blood that were given and shed for our eternal good. Where there is faith in Christ, there is and must always be thanksgiving. Our entire lives are thank-offerings to God, and we don’t need to be reminded to thank Him.

And yet, the Scriptures do remind us. Rather often. God, in His Word, does call upon us often to remember all of His benefits and to thank Him for all of it. According to the new man whom God has created in us, we don’t need a reminder to give thanks. But because of the self-centered flesh that clings to us, the sin that threatens to make us act like ungrateful children, it’s good that we take this time to hear God’s Word together and to remember again all His many benefits.

We give thanks for many things, today, tomorrow, and every day—all the things God gives us as part of our daily bread: Everything that pertains to the needs and necessities of this life, such as food, drink, clothes, shoes, house, yard, land, livestock, money, property, a dutiful spouse, dutiful children, dutiful servants, dutiful and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, trustworthy neighbors, and the like. To this we add our heartfelt thanks for faithful parents; for one another; for our diocese and for the Christians near and far who confess Christ together with us, as one body; for the many people through whom God has blessed us, supported us, and made our lives better; for all God’s many benefits, great and small. Take the time today and tomorrow to think about God’s providence in your life, and to remember that you are sinners who deserved none of these things. Take the time to rejoice in the Lord’s compassions, which are new every morning. Take the time to give thanks.

The very best thing which the Lord your God has given to you is the gift of an invitation, as you heard this evening in St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Gospel from Matthew 22 is normally preached on Trinity 20, but that fell on Reformation Sunday this year, so I chose it for our Thanksgiving service instead. Because the greatest benefits God has given us—the benefits which cost God the most and which benefit us, not for a matter of days or months or years, but forever and ever—are the redemption, call, justification and salvation that are included in His gracious election and predestination to eternal life, as the parable of the wedding banquet presents very simply and as we consider very briefly this evening.

The King’s Son was getting married—the Son of God would be “wed” to human flesh in the miracle of the incarnation, so that, for us men and for our salvation, He might be obedient in our place and suffer and die for our sins. That redemption has now been accomplished.

The Jews had been invited to the wedding banquet long ago, in the Old Testament, to wait for the Son of God to come and to be ready to come into God’s house and participate in the redemption that Christ would accomplish. God wanted them there. And when Christ came, the call went forth to the Jews, Come to the wedding! But most wouldn’t come. Most wouldn’t believe. The call went out again. Come to the wedding! Some didn’t take it seriously. Others became angry and turned violent toward the preachers of the Gospel and killed them.

Then the King was angry with the Jews who had rejected His invitation. So He rejected them and sent out the call to others, to Gentiles, to sinners of all kinds, and the banquet hall was filled.

But someone was found there not wearing the wedding garment provided by the King. It seems that he took it off after it was given to him. And he was expelled from the banquet and cast into outer darkness. This man represents those who are once baptized and come into the Church, but once there, they eventually stop using the means God has provided for keeping us there—hearing His Word, prayer, making use of the ministry of Word and Sacrament—and so they eventually fall away from faith, back under the condemnation of the Law. For many are called, Jesus says, but few are chosen. God calls all who hear the Gospel and wants them to be saved. But only those whom God foresaw being brought to faith and persevering in faith until the end were chosen by Him in eternity to spend eternity in His wedding hall.

Our Formula of Concord uses this parable of Jesus to describe the Scriptural teaching of God’s gracious election. We’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating—often!

The entire doctrine concerning the purpose, counsel, will, and ordination of God pertaining to our redemption, call, justification, and salvation should be taken together; as Paul treats and has explained this article Rom. 8, 29f.; Eph. 1, 4f., as also Christ in the parable, Matt. 22, 1ff., namely, that God in His purpose and counsel decreed…

  1. That the human race should be truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life.
  2. That such merit and benefits of Christ should be presented, offered, and distributed to us through His Word and Sacraments.
  3. That by His Holy Spirit, through the Word, when it is preached, heard, and pondered, He would be efficacious and active in us, convert hearts to true repentance, and preserve them in the true faith.
  4. That He would justify all those who in true repentance receive Christ by a true faith, and receive them into grace, the adoption of sons, and the inheritance of eternal life.
  5. That He would also sanctify in love those who are thus justified, as St. Paul says, Eph. 1, 4.
  6. That He also would protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh, and rule and lead them in His ways, raise them again, when they stumble, comfort and preserve them under the cross and temptation.
  7. That He would also strengthen, increase, and support to the end the good work which He has begun in them, if they adhere to God’s Word, pray diligently, abide in God’s goodness, and faithfully use the gifts received.
  8. That finally He would eternally save and glorify in life eternal those whom He has elected, called, and justified.

God truly wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. And so God has provided everything necessary for our salvation: the sending of His Son into our race and the redemption He accomplished, the sincere call of His Holy Spirit through the Gospel, the faith that God works through that call, the promise to hear us when we pray, including the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” and the continued preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments to preserve us in the faith until the end. All of these things together were decreed by God and planned by God before the foundations of the world were laid. And the fact that you, too, have been called by the Gospel to come to the wedding, the fact that you have been clothed with the wedding garment of Christ in Holy Baptism and that God continues to provide you with these opportunities to use the Means of Grace—all of it is part of His gracious election and predestination. And all of it is reason for you, His precious, chosen people, to rejoice and to give thanks! Amen.

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