Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sermon -- Thanksgiving Eve (November 22, 2017)

JOB 1:20-21


In the name + of Jesus.

     The hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God,” was written by a Lutheran pastor named Martin Rinkart.  The upbeat nature of this hymn might lead us to think that Pastor Rinkart enjoyed peace and prosperity throughout his life.  We might envision him as a 21st century American enjoying an easy life in the suburbs.  That is not even close to Pastor Rinkart's life.
     Pastor Rinkart wrote this hymn during the Thirty Years' War in Germany.  The land was ravaged by armies which confiscated food and valuables, destroyed towns and farms, and killed many.  After the armies left, communities had to deal with famine, plague, and even more death.  Throughout the course of the Thirty Years' War, Pastor Rinkart ended up burying nearly 4,500 people, including many co-workers and his own wife.  As scarce as food and clothing were in Germany, and as much as he struggled to provide for his own family, Pastor Rinkart still managed to aid others who were afflicted.  In the midst of the Thirty Years' War, Pastor Rinkart penned the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.”  While war regularly threatened and surrounded his city, Pastor Rinkart still urged his church to sing thanks to God for “countless gifts of love.”
     The suffering of Pastor Rinkart pales in comparison to the patriarch Job.  Job had been an exceedingly rich man and a faithful disciple of the Lord.  Satan challenged Job's allegiance to God.  Satan said, “Does Job fear God for no reason?  Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”  And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand.” (Job 1:9-12)  
     In just one day, Job had taken from him all his cattle, all his flocks, all his herds, and all his servants.  Each disaster left one survivor who reported the bad news.  Finally, one more servant arrived and reported: “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1:18-19)  
     No matter how bad the worst day of your life was, this was way worse.  Job had lost all his wealth and all his children.  Job's response?  Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:20-21)
     Satan was convinced that Job was faithful to God only because God had been so good to Job.  He argued that, if God removed Job's blessings, Job would turn from God.  One of the reasons we find this story appealing to us is because we like to Satan get it so wrong.  But the fact of the matter is Satan is usually right about this.  Satan knows the minds of sinful mankind, and he preys upon it.  He knows that we often regard God as good because he is good to us.  But when God withdraws blessings, we assess blame rather than give praise.
     We celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of every harvest season, and we all have large, sumptuous meals that we are looking forward to.  We have nice houses, easy transportation, many options for clothing, food, and entertainment, and most of us have probably made plans to add to our inventory with some Black Friday deals.  This is why even unbelievers like Thanksgiving.  God has poured out so much on us that we can confess half of what Job said: “The LORD gave...; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
     The Psalm teaches us to sing: Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. (Psalm 136:1)  But why is he good?  Is it only because he is good to me?  When Houston was hit by Hurricane Harvey, was God good?  Was the Lord good when you got hit with bad news or lost money?  Was the Lord good during sickness—and if so, was it only because you got better?  This is exactly what Satan expects us to believe—that God is good only when he is good to me. 
     Job's confession is true no matter what: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)  Even when the Lord takes things away from you, he is good.  For the Lord's goodness is not to be measured by wealth, health, home, safety, or any worldly gain.  Satan teaches us to fear, love, and trust in these things above all, which is why we are so shaken when they are lost.  Therefore, the Lord is especially good when he takes them away from us—for he is removing the idols that we do not want to give up.
     Now, it is true.  The Lord has given you all you have; and the Lord gave abundantly to you, just as he gave to Job.  That was God's choice, and so you can receive and use his gifts with gratitude.  But it is also God's choice when he takes away what he gives.  In Job's case, it happened tragically in one day.  In your case, the Lord may withdraw his blessings over years.  It happens to all people.  Eyesight fades.  Hearing grows weak.  Agility and balance fail.  The mind forgets.  Loved ones die.  God withdraws everything until he finally takes away your heart beat.  Whether you lose your blessings over time or all of a sudden, Job's words remain true: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return.” (Job 1:21)  
     Blessed be the name of the Lord.  No matter how hard we work to build up our little kingdoms in this world, we will never keep what we collect.  Nor can we earn a place in God's eternal kingdom.  But just as he does with all of our possessions, God is pleased to give us his kingdom as well.  Jesus's kingdom is not about a collection of possessions.  Rather, Jesus owned nothing but the garments he wore to the cross.  And then, they were stripped off of him.  Even the tomb Jesus was placed in was borrowed.  Jesus demonstrated a perfect detachment from this world.  He did not hoard goods, but used all that he had for his basic needs and then for the good of others. 
     Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Jesus wrapped himself in our guilt and bore the penalty for our love for money, love for this world, and love for ourselves.  His innocent death is given in exchange for our sinful lives.   For though we enter and depart from this world naked, the Lord has been pleased to clothe us in garments of salvation.  This righteousness is what Jesus covers us in so that we appear before God as good and perfect.
     Blessed be the name of the Lord.  He has given you the kingdom, and that is one thing which he will not take away from you.  Instead, his mercy endures forever.  He does not back off on his promises to you.  These will stand no matter what.  If you lose your wealth, you still have the riches of God's grace.  If your health fails you, you still have a resurrection to life everlasting.  If your friends turn their backs on you, God remains faithful.  If the world falls apart, the kingdom of our God endures forever.  If your life is suddenly overcome with grief, pain, and loss in the likes of Job or Pastor Martin Rinkart, you still have God's love, grace, and mercy.  The Lord God will eventually take away all that you have been given in this life, but he will never remove his promises.
     O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his mercy endures forever. (Psalm 136:1)  His mercy is where the Lord proves that he is good, no matter what.  There will certainly come a point in your life when you will make your confession with Job: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away.” (Job 1:20-21)  Even then, you will remain clothed in garments of salvation.  Even then, the Lord is good.  Even in the face of bitter grief or the cold grave, you will still have all you need.  And therefore, you will be able to complete Job's confession: Blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:21)   

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

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