Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sermon -- Thanksgiving Eve (November 25, 2015)


GENESIS 8:20-22


In the name + of Jesus. 

     The Christian Church confesses, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."  Luther's Small Catechism offers this explanation of that confession:: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures, giving me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason, and all my faculties.” (Luther's Small Catechism, First Article of the Apostles' Creed)  Luther goes on to teach us that God is the giver of all that we need from day to day.  He daily and richly provides what sustains us through our life, and he protects us from many evils that could harm us.  Now these things are true whether people acknowledge them or not.  Rich and poor alike receive clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, … and all (they) own. (Luther's Small Catechism, First Article of the Apostles' Creed)  Whether a man is pious or pagan, he still enters this world at God's decree, exactly where, when, and to which parents God determines.  Even people who defy and deny God receive good gifts from him.  As Jesus reminds us, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:48)
     God the Father does indeed deserve our thanks for all of his blessings.  Another year has gone past, and God has richly and daily provided his blessings again.  While we may fret over how we are going to pay some bills, we have never fretted about whether or not there will be food this year or whether the sun will come up again.  God demonstrates his faithful kindness to us every day of every year—as Luther also taught, “All this God does because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it.” (Luther's Small Catechism, First Article of the Apostles' Creed)  These things shall never cease, for his mercy endures forever.
     Our sinful hearts, however, betray us because we often think that we deserve better from God.  We feel ripped off if our blessings are not as rich as another's.  God has been so kind and so faithful in bestowing his blessings that we assume that we have a right to them.  It does not take much for us to lodge our complaints, either.  Every once in a while, harvests are lean.  If frost strikes Florida, for example, the orange crop will suffer.  The price of orange juice goes up.  And we cry foul.  It is not as though God failed to provide for us.  We will either have to pay more for orange juice or choose another beverage.  But we blame God, as if God owes us.  God is so faithful and generous in what he does that we forget he owes us nothing and yet he gives us everything.
     But sinful hearts are nothing new.  Man has always sinned against God, decrying, denying, and defying him.  Back in the days of Noah, the Lord's patience for this had worn out.  The LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:6-7)  And the Lord sent a Flood to destroy everything living thing that was not in the ark with Noah and his family.  The Lord treated people as their sins deserve.  He who does not acknowledge and obey the Lord shall perish forever.
     Once the Flood had subsided and Noah and his family left ark, 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 when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil form his youth.” (Genesis 8:20-21)  
     Even though the Lord had scrubbed the earth clean of the people who had wickedly sinned against him, man had not changed.  His heart is still sinful.  We do not have to be taught how to sin.  We are selfish and greedy from the very beginning.  As we get older, we do not improve.  We may learn to be more subtle about it with passive-aggressive comments or manipulation, but the sinful condition has not gotten better.  We still expect better, and we complain when we do not get it.  And yet, the Lord has promised that he will withhold his destructive curse.  He will not destroy the planet and all mankind as he had done at the Flood.  What's more, the Lord added this promise: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)  These things will never cease.
     Dear Christians, you have the Lord's own word on this.  The seasons will always pass. The Lord will always bless the earth with seedtime and harvest.  Day will follow night.  These are not surprises.  These are promises.  We need not fear that the Lord will fail to take care of us.  If he will take care of the unjust and the evil, he will surely take care of us, too.  These things will never cease; for his mercy endures forever.
     But the Lord loves you even more than than.  He does not only love you enough to make sure you get pumpkin pie and turkey.  The love of God is not measured in how well-fed, how well-clothed, or how well-protected we are.  The Lord's love is not damaged by an early frost, and his care for us is not destroyed by a jihadist attack.  The Lord reveals his love to you similar to how he revealed it to Noah.
     Noah had found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Genesis 6:8)  That is not to say Noah was a sinless man who earned his spot on the ark.  Rather, Noah listened to the word of the Lord and took God's promises to heart.  Most specifically, Noah believed God's promise that a Savior would come to take away his sins.  The sacrifice of clean animals that Noah made was a foreshadowing of the one sacrifice which would once and for all save us from sin and death forever.  Just as the Lord revealed himself to Noah as one who delivered him from death in the Flood, so also the Lord revealed himself especially as the one who delivers from death and hell.  This faithful love will never cease.
     And it is this faithful love which the Lord has revealed to you and which saves you, too.  The Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve.  Instead, Jesus was treated on our behalf as our sins deserve.  He was slain—the Lamb of God, clean, pure, and innocent on behalf of sinners such as us.  Jesus suffered for our selfishness, for our ingratitude and complaining, for our disobedience and our failure to trust that he will actually take care of us, and for every sin we have committed.  The Guiltless has suffered for the guilty.  And by Jesus' sacrifice, your sins have been paid for.  By baptism into his name, Jesus has imparted to you gifts such as peace, joy, salvation, grace, and mercy.  These things will never cease; his mercy endures forever.
     For many people, Thanksgiving is a day to remember that we have stuff.  Some stuff fills our hearts, and some stuff just fills our homes.  All people have been blessed by God with body and soul, with food and clothing, with sunshine and rain.  All this God does because he is (our) good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because (we) have earned or deserved it. (Luther's Small Catechism, First Article of the Apostles' Creed)  God is most gracious.
     But you have all the more reason to be thankful, and it is impossible to limit your thanksgiving to any one day or one moment.  The Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve.  He has freed us from its curse.  He promises deliverance from death and the grave.  He assures us that our eternity will be with him in everlasting peace and rest.  It is not because you are better; it is because God is most gracious to you.  This will never cease.  Therefore, neither will our thanks.  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his mercy endures forever. (Psalm 118:1)
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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