Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sermon -- Thanksgiving (November 23, 2016)



In the name + of Jesus.

      Have you ever wondered what the world might be like if Satan had complete, unchecked control of it?  You probably would think of a world that is constantly at war.  You would think of marriages falling apart and marriage itself under attack.  You would think of protests, riots, and rebellion against authority.  You would envision many people dying of various diseases, nations suffering from natural disasters, and people at odds over who should receive help and who should not.  In other words, you might envision the world as we know it, but worse.
     The Lord issues a warning with a much different picture.  The Lord does not warn Israel about a world of troubles, but a world of prosperity.  Consider this: If Satan were given unchecked control of the world, there would be no wars on any fronts.  Crops would grow in abundance and no one would be hungry.  The economy would boom.  The abundance of wealth and the lack of war would result in a housing market which allows people to build luxurious homes to live in.  Now, isn't that the exact scenario we pray for and work for?  We yearn for wealth, health, peace, and prosperity.  These are the kinds of blessings which prompt holidays like Thanksgiving.  So what is the problem?  The problem is that Satan warps God's gifts to us.
     The Lord said: “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God....” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)
     The Lord warned Israel about the danger of peace, prosperity, and wealth.  If the Lord would give all these blessings and all these blessings made life easy for the Israelites, they would quickly forget the Lord.  After all, if everything is going great, who needs the Lord?  They could devote themselves to building up their own worldly kingdoms at the expense of the kingdom of God.  Heed the warning so that you do not go astray.  Remember the Lord your God.
     No matter who you are or what you believe, Thanksgiving is a day to express gratitude that you have received blessings, and that these blessings are gifts.  Even if you insist that you earned your wealth, the Lord notes: Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17)  Even if you did earn your wealth, the Lord gave you the ability to do so and blessed your efforts.  But you and I have not earned God's blessings; they are simply given.  You did not earn your birthday, your parents, your family, your abilities, your interests, sunshine, rain, peace in our land, music, art, pumpkin spice flavor, and so on.  These are gifts that are graciously given, and even the most stiff-necked atheist can appreciate them.  But if this is as far as our Thanksgiving goes, then we are no different from the stiff-necked atheist.
     Remember the Lord your God with thanksgiving.  Listen again to the reasons the Lord gave to Israel why they should remember him.  The Lord is the one “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.” (Deuteronomy 8:14-16)  Four times, the Lord declared his faithful grace to Israel.  The Hebrew accentuates this all the more.  He caused you to go out of the land of Egypt....  He caused you to go through the great and terrifying wilderness....  He caused you to attain water out of the flinty rock....  He caused you to eat in the wilderness....”  The Lord had not only delivered Israel out of Egypt and destroyed their enemies for them, he also sustained them on their way to the Promised Land.  The Lord is the cause for all their blessings.
     It did not matter that the wilderness could not produce crops or supply water to feed them; the Lord miraculously fed them and nourished them.  It did not matter that serpents and scorpions threatened them; the Lord defended them.  The Lord used the impossible situation in the wilderness to highlight that he was the cause of their salvation, their sustenance, their defense, their hope, and their very life.  The only reason Israel survived in the wilderness for forty years is because the Lord was with them to bless and keep them.  For that reason, they should always remember the Lord their God with thanksgiving and with faithful and humble obedience.
     Beware, lest your wealth causes you to forget the Lord's highest blessings.  Yes, the Lord supplies you with all you need to live and more.  He supplies it with abundance and variety.  But these blessings will not save you.  They do not pay for sins.  They cannot bribe the grave.  And no matter what blessings the Lord does give you, they will all pass away.  
     Remember the Lord your God with thanksgiving.  Remember that it is the Lord who saves you and sustains you.  He has caused his Son to come down to earth for sinners.  He has caused your sins to be lifted from you and taken up by Jesus.  He took up your cause, to pay for your sins by his sufferings and death.  And since Jesus has risen from death, the grave now owes Jesus its dead.  The Lord was pleased to cause this gospel to be preached to you so that you know where to find forgiveness for your sins, comfort for your soul, deliverance from death, and assurance of the resurrection to eternal life.  He causes his word to come to you still—whether it is proclaimed mercy in preaching, or it is added to water which has cleansed you of your sin, or it is added to bread and wine so that you can be sustained through this life and delivered safely to the heavenly land.
     Remember the Lord your God with thanksgiving.  For, he causes all things to work for your good and to bring you to everlasting glory.  That is true even in the hardships you face in this life.  It is true especially in the hardships you face in this life.  When your situation seems impossible, it is because you do not have strength to deal with poor health, with faithless friends, with political turmoil, and with death.  It is because God shows you that all earthly blessings—no matter how beneficial or beloved—will finally be lost.  The Lord causes hardships, bitterness, frustrations, and temptations to work for your good.  For, when these come upon you, then all you can do is to pray to God and to cast your cares upon him.  And if that is what it takes to have you call upon God and to cast your cares on him, then the Lord is blessing you when he sends you hardship so that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. (Deuteronomy 8:16)  
     Remember the Lord your God with thanksgiving.  He is always the cause of your comfort, your hope, your joy, and your salvation.  He is the only cause of your comfort, your hope, your joy, and your salvation.  This life with its disappointments and even with its blessings will come to an end.  Life with Jesus Christ will not.  When disappointments invade your life, you learn that the only comfort that matters is what Jesus supplies.  Remember the Lord your God who alone forgives all sins, who alone gives you eternal life, who alone promises you glory which will not be destroyed or be devalued.
     What would this world look like if Satan had unbridled control of it?  That doesn't matter, because he does not.  Jesus has delivered you from your enemy.  He lives and reigns to defend you from every enemy of salvation and to preserve your life in the midst of sin, death, and the devil.  We give thanks to God for whatever gifts he is pleased to give us.  We use them to honor God and to serve our neighbor.  For, we know that we are merely passing through this world, more eager to receive the kingdom that God has promised us than building up our little kingdoms in this world.  Therefore, we flee to Jesus who sustains us every day and will finally deliver us to the perfect and endless blessings of heaven.

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

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