Monday, December 2, 2013

Sermon -- Thanksgiving Eve (November 27, 2013)

GENESIS 8:20-22
THE LORD BESTOWS UNENDING KINDNESS.
 In the name + of Jesus.

 
     Noah had a right to think of God as an angry, demanding judge.  After all, Noah had entered the ark when the population of the world was likely in the millions.  Noah stepped off of the ark and the world’s population was down to eight.  Noah had entered the ark in a world where the people lived for centuries.  But such longevity had been wiped out by torrential rains, powerful geysers, and violent floods.  It seems likely that in the pre-Flood world, there were no seasons.  Plants continued to flourish in a world-wide subtropical climate under a firmament of water.  But the firmament collapsed and fell for 40 days and 40 nights.  The world underwent a catastrophic climate change.  When Noah stepped off the ark, it was a very different world.  The world that he knew had been scrubbed out by the flood.  Now, the world was empty.  Everything which would fill the land again trickled out of the ark to repopulate the world.  Noah and his family would walk down Mt. Ararat to settle, to build, to plow, to plant, and to reestablish some sense of normalcy. 
     It must have been frightening—how different, how new, and how empty it all was.  Sure, Noah and his family were happy to be alive and to have been spared.  But God’s judgment and wrath were undeniable.  Perhaps this was the new normal—a vengeful God who would act swiftly and violently against any infraction by mankind, a God who would not hesitate to wipe out sinners by rain or fire or lightning from heaven.  Noah had a right to think of God as an angry, demanding judge.  He had seen year’s worth of it.
     But that is not what he heard from the Lord when he left the ark.  Instead of sending off Noah and his family with stern words of warning, the Lord made a promise.  He would not be the God who can’t wait to smite.  He is the God who continues to bless.  With the world still damp from the flood waters, the Lord gave Noah, his family, and the entire world this promise: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth.  Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.  While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22) 
     It is easy to see that the Lord has been faithful to his promise.  The Lord bestows unending kindness upon his creation.  This past year, like all others, he has blessed seedtime and harvest.  He has sent us a summer so that the land can produce, and he is bringing winter so that the land can rest.  He grants us sleep in the night so that we can be recharged for each day. 
     What’s more, the Lord has bestowed this unending kindness to all.  Jesus told us that his heavenly Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  (Matthew 5:45)  The eyes of all look to him, and he gives them their food in due season.  He opens his hand; he satisfies the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:15-16)  Nor is the Lord stingy with his blessings.  He does not limit you to one food, but provides a smorgasbord of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and so on.  Jesus has taught you to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and adds the promise that your heavenly Father knows what you need and will always supply it. (Matthew 6:31-33)  He has not failed on his promises.  The Lord bestows unending blessings, and he will as long as the earth endures.
     Yet, you still do not trust him.  Perhaps it is because you fear that the Lord will not keep his promise.  Or you think that a lean year means that God is unreliable.  Or you love your goods so much that you despise the Lord because he does not give you more—more quantity, more quality, and more often.  We live in the richest nation on earth, and yet we still complain that God’s blessings are not enough—not enough to pay the bills, not enough to meet our retirement, and not enough to make us content.  The Lord’s track-record is well-documented and undeniable, and yet man denies the Lord the honor he is due as one who is both generous and faithful.  The Lord is trustworthy, and yet you do not trust him.  Noah had witnessed the wrath that God has upon those who do not believe him or honor him.  Repent.
     But the Lord does not treat you as your sins deserve.  Noah had witnessed the mercy of God.  The Lord bestowed unending blessings upon Noah and his family.  Of all the people on earth, God had chosen Noah and his family to be delivered from the death and judgment that fell upon the earth.  The same flood that had destroyed all the earth also saved Noah and his family.  In the safety of the ark, Noah and his family were lifted up above the destruction.  They were granted new life in God’s new world. 
     Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.   And … the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma…. (Genesis 8:20-21)  Noah did not offer it in order to be saved, but rather, Noah gave a thank offering because he had been saved.  The Lord had bestowed kindness to Noah and his family, and Noah honored the Lord for doing so.  The smell was pleasing to the Lord, for Noah had offered his sacrifice in faithful thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance. 
     That is also why you give thanks to the Lord.  The Lord has bestowed unending kindness upon you.  It is far more than giving you your daily bread and pouring out abundant gifts.  Even the ungodly and the ungrateful receive those.  Rather, the Lord’s kindness has been shown to you in the offering that God made for you.  Unlike Noah, God could not choose one of several clean animals to be sacrificed for you.  For, there is only One who is clean, pure, unblemished, and holy—Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus was made a sin offering which was consumed in God’s burning wrath.  The Lord smells the aroma of the sacrifice which covers over the stench of your sin, the fragrant scent which makes you beautiful before the Lord.  For Jesus does not carry on him the stench of death.  Rather, he arose, perfumed in the scent of aloes and myrrh.  He has covered your guilt.  He has opened the gate to eternal life.  And God is pleased.
     The Lord bestows unending kindness upon you.  He does not drown you in his wrath, but cleanses you through your baptism.  That water, like the Flood, destroys in you whatever is wicked.  That water, like the Flood, delivers you from death and destruction.  The Lord has delivered you into the ark of the Church where you are safe, where you are given new life, and where you receive unending kindness—not merely as long as the earth endures, but forever.  His mercy is without limit.  His forgiveness is without measure.  His love is without compare.  And his kingdom is without end.
     The Lord bestows unending blessings upon you.  And in your new life, you get to honor the Lord with all that he gives you.  The Lord grants you blessings for you to use—for the benefit of people you love and for the aid of people who are in need.  These are your thank offerings to God who has delivered you.  He is pleased to give you his gifts, and he is pleased that you honor him with them.

 In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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