Sermon for Thanksgiving
Habakkuk 3:17-19 + 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 + Philippians 4:6-13
Thanksgiving, as you know, is an American holiday. It isn’t necessarily a Christian holiday. People across the country will be giving thanks tomorrow to various false gods and idols, and so it will be, for many people, just one more day of idolatry whitewashed with an appearance of godliness but without its power. Some won’t be giving thanks to anyone tomorrow. They’ll be too busy indulging in pagan revelry and gluttony. Still others will spend Thanksgiving lonely and without a feast on their table, and they won’t recognize anything in their life for which to give thanks.
But Christians don’t need a government-sponsored national holiday to remember to stop and give thanks to God. Christians formally celebrate Thanksgiving every Sunday in that great Thanksgiving Meal that is called the Sacrament of the Altar, or the Eucharist (“Thanksgiving”), where we receive the greatest blessing heaven has to offer: the very body and blood of the Son of God, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. The whole Christian life is one of thanksgiving to the true God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, because the whole Christian life is a life of faith in Christ Jesus, our Savior, who gave Himself for us on the cross, satisfied God’s wrath for us and rose from the dead. And where there is faith in Jesus Christ, there is always thanksgiving, because, no matter how many blessings you can count in your life, no matter how few, you have Christ, and with Christ, you have the Father’s love and every spiritual blessing that exists. With Christ, you have the sure hope of eternal life, resurrection from the dead and an eternal inheritance kept in heaven for you which can never perish, spoil or fade. With Christ, you have the favor and love of God the Father; you have the living Lord Jesus reigning over all things for the benefit of the Church which is His body; you have the gift of the Holy Spirit sanctifying you and preserving you in the true faith. On top of all that, you have God’s promise to provide you with daily bread for your body here on earth, too.
Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll be rich with earthly wealth, or that you’ll have a pleasant, easy life on earth. Some Christians have plenty and the pantry is full and the body is healthy. Other Christians have little and the cupboard is bare and the body, diseased. Who has more to be thankful for?
Listen again to Habakkuk: Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Who has more to be thankful for? Every Christian has the same thing to be thankful for: God’s love and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Jesus’ mercy extends to rich and poor alike, and whether you have much or little, His blood shed for you is worth the same. All those who are baptized into Him have the same status before God—the status of Jesus, the status of the beloved Son of God.
In His fatherly, divine goodness, God provides for us, sometimes in great abundance that no one can measure, sometimes with just enough to get by. As Paul taught the Corinthians, that’s something to give thanks for, in either case. He calls it an indescribable gift. Why? Because then those who have been given more have something to share with those who have been given less. And those who have been given less in food or money often have more of something else of their own to share, as was the case in Jerusalem. The Corinthians had worldly prosperity while the Jews in Jerusalem were suffering from famine. But the Jews in Jerusalem had a gift of their own to give to the Gentiles in Corinth—the Gospel itself, the message of Christ. It was the Jews who sent the Apostle Paul to the Greeks in the first place to give them the blessing of salvation through faith in Christ. Now it was the Gentile Christians’ turn to take of their earthly wealth and share it with their needy brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. And all of this giving back and forth resulted in praise to God and glory to Christ.
We have so much to be thankful for all the time. What, you don’t feel very thankful all the time? Of course you don’t! You drag around with you 24/7 a miserable, sinful flesh that’s never content, that feels entitled to comfort, pleasure and plenty. You live in a world that seeks to con you every day into thinking you need something else, you need to buy it, you need to win it, you need to receive it as an entitlement. And there is also a devil who from the very beginning at the Garden of Eden has always worked to convince human beings that GOD IS NOT GOOD, and His providence is not enough. Of course you don’t feel thankful all the time. You’re a wretched sinner.
But Christ didn’t come to save happy, godly, thankful people. He came to save sinners who have been taking God’s providence for granted since birth, for sinners who are far better at complaining about the life they’ve been given than they are at giving thanks for it. Christ Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am chief, said the Apostle Paul.
Which is the very thing that taught the Apostle Paul—and that teaches us—to be content in any situation. I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
All things through Christ who strengthens me. You have no strength to trust in God, to be thankful, or to do anything else to please God. But you poor sinners have been given Christ. And you know that. And you are thankful to God for that. I don’t have to tell you to “Be thankful!”
But let me tell you how to be thankful. You going through a Thanksgiving ritual once a year is not how God wants to be thanked. You relying on Christ Jesus for mercy and grace and every good thing…you receiving His gifts with joy, you sharing your good things with your neighbor in need—that is how God wants to be thanked. That is what will make tonight and tomorrow and every Sunday, and every day in between, a true Thanksgiving to the one true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a true Thanksgiving that only Christians can render. Amen.