It is good to give thanks to the Lord

Sermon for Thanksgiving Service 2014

Deuteronomy 8:6-18  +  Ephesians 1:3-14  +  Luke 1:46-55

In this final service of the Church Year, before beginning the new Church Year this Sunday, it’s good and right for us to look back on the blessings we’ve received from the Lord’s gracious hand and give thanks to Him, as the Psalmist did, as Moses and St. Paul and Blessed Mary did in our Scripture readings this evening.

Everyone, really, should give thanks to the Lord, because He has been good and gracious to all men. Consider the creation itself: the good earth on which we live and its perfect placement in the solar system and the galaxy. Consider the complexity of the atom and of the living cell, the variety of creatures that inhabit the earth with us, the plentiful array of plants that grow, to provide oxygen, to provide beauty, to provide wood for our houses and cotton for our clothes, and, of course, to provide nourishment to all people. Consider the coal and oil and the natural gas that God has deposited in the earth to keep us warm in the winter and to allow us to build and to travel and to explore. Everyone on earth benefits from these gifts of God the good Creator.

More than that, all people should give thanks to the Lord, because He has sent His only-begotten Son into our human flesh in order to redeem and make atonement for the whole human race. Christ suffered and shed His blood for the sins of all people, even for those who crucified Him. And, in the Gospel, He announces that He earnestly desires for all people to repent and believe in Him for the forgiveness of sins, so that all people, no matter how wicked they have been, may be cleansed by the blood of Christ and justified by faith. Yes, all people should give eternal thanks to the Lord.

But not everyone can give thanks to the Lord, because not everyone has heard and believed the Gospel. And if people haven’t heard of Christ’s sacrifice for them or believed in Him for salvation, then they remain enemies of God, idolaters, unable to approach Him, unable to pray to Him, unable to give Him thanks. Many people this week will attempt to give thanks to a god of their own making, trying to approach God apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Their thanksgiving is worse than worthless; it is offensive to the true God, just another act of idol worship.

But God has shown great mercy to us, because He has graciously brought us to faith in His Son and rescued us out of the darkness of sin in which we used to live, just as He graciously rescued Israel out of the house of bondage in Egypt. We, the baptized, we, the Church that has been gathered by the Holy Spirit around Jesus Christ, we who have been saved by grace, through faith, from the true house of bondage, from the slavery to sin and death—we can bless and give thanks to the Lord, and so we shall.

For what shall we thank Him? Well, first and foremost, for our salvation from sin, death and the devil, because without that, nothing else would really matter, would it? What good is a pantry full of food if your soul is still dead in sins? What good is a plentiful harvest or a barn full of grain or a bank account full of money if your soul is demanded of you this night and you are not found safely sheltered under the wings of Christ? Yes, first and foremost, we will bless the Lord for choosing us from eternity to belong to Christ, for sending the Gospel to us, bringing us to faith, and adopting us through Holy Baptism as His beloved children, so that we can know and have a gracious Father.

Then we turn to Moses’ words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8, after the Lord had saved them from slavery and had preserved them for 40 years in the wilderness, bringing them to the borders of the Promised Land of Canaan. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land… When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Now, we haven’t even yet entered the true Promised Land of heaven, but it has been promised to us and purchased for us by the blood of Christ. And even here in this earthly wilderness, hasn’t God blessed us with most of those Promised-Land blessings that Israel once received? We lack for nothing in this land; God has provided abundantly for us here. And if anyone here is lacking in the necessities of life, the Lord will help them through those of us who have an abundance—as much as we are able and even beyond. For His great providence and faithfulness we bless the Lord.

And in connection with that providence, we will also give thanks to the Lord for some specific earthly blessings: For loving parents, grandparents, spouses, children and families; for one another here in our congregation, both in Las Cruces and in Silver City; for those who attend faithfully, those who pray, those who sing, those who serve in so many ways, for those members who support this Gospel ministry with their faithful and generous offerings, and for those non-members who live all over the country and do the same thing.

We also bless the Lord this year for Dot’s deliverance from this vale of tears into her eternal rest in the presence of the Lord. And for our beautiful church building where we can still gather together in peace. And for our blessed fellowship in the ELDoNA. And also for the afflictions and trials by which God drives us back to His Word and strengthens our faith and builds us up in perseverance and patience, producing character and hope in us that will not fail. For all this we give thanks to the Lord.

Finally, how shall we give thanks to the Lord? Yes, we bless His name and give thanks to Him with prayers and praises, with songs and with heartfelt gratitude. But we also give thanks by making faithful use of the Means of Grace, by speaking of His great mercy in Christ to others, by rejoicing in His goodness to us, and by calling upon Him in the day of trouble. And we give thanks to Him as Moses declared to Israel in light of God’s great works of salvation: You shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. That’s yet another way of giving thanks.

In all this giving thanks to the Lord, it’s most important of all to remember that our giving thanks to Him is not what saves us, not what atones for our sins, not what causes God to continue to be favorable toward us. Instead, Christ alone, by His perfect thankfulness, by His obedient life and innocent death has redeemed us and earned God’s favor for us, and His Holy Spirit alone has turned us from thankless unbelieving ingrates into thankful believing children, so that we say with the Psalmist: Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so. Amen.

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