Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

Thanksgiving 2017

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Thanksgiving 2017

 

Meditation 1 – Genesis 1:26-30

 

These words from Genesis remind us to give thanks to God for life and for all that he has created for us.

If we wonder why thanksgiving often seems to be kind of skipped over, part of the reason might have to do with the fact that so many in our world today don’t believe that God created them and all that exists. If you believe that you evolved from other animals, you probably should be a vegetarian and skip the turkey. If you believe that you are where you are, the top of the food chain, because of the survival of the fittest, then you might be thankful that you are one of the fittest, but you don’t think that God had anything to do with it. The evolutionary worldview doesn’t seem to promote a great deal of thanksgiving.

God tells us that the universe, including humans, didn’t just come about by a random accident. God, the Father Almighty, created all that exists. He created Adam and Eve in his own, perfect image. He placed everything else he had made under them, he made them rulers over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing moves on the ground. He gave it all to them for their enjoyment. He gave them a mind and abilities that no other being he created had. And, in spite of the damage done by sin to God’s wonderful creation, these things still hold true. We still owe our existence to God. Before he formed us in the womb he knew us. We, human beings, still rule over everything else God made. He still gives us all these things for our enjoyment. So, we, more than anyone else; we who know and confess that God is our Father, the maker of heaven and earth, have ample reason to give thanks every day. And we, more than anyone else, who know that God made us and gave us our body and soul, eyes, ears and all our members, our mind and all our abilities, know where to direct our thanks. Not to ourselves, or a happy accident of nature, but to the one and only true God. We don’t just feel thankful. We give thanks to God.

God made me and all that exists. He deserves our daily thanks for that. But he didn’t create everything and then leave it on its own. He still provides for all he has made. He gave Adam and Eve every plant and tree for food. And he decreed that those plants and trees would have seeds and that they would reproduce and grow so that there would always be food for them, for us, to eat. Then, after the flood, God gave Noah the birds, the fish and the land animals as food. And even though there were only seven of each of the clean animals on the ark with Noah, God enabled them to be fruitful and multiply and fill up the earth so that there would always be food for Noah and his family, and for us.

As Luther says, God still provides for us, richly and daily. He gives us our daily bread, and much, much more– our tables and over-full stomachs will attest to that again this Thanksgiving. If God expected Israel to be thankful for their daily manna in the wilderness, how much more doesn’t he expect us to give him thanks for the rich blessings he has showered on us!

God made us. He gave us life. He made us rulers over all he created. He provides for us richly and daily, giving us much more than we need to keep our body and life. And, in addition to all of this, he watches over us and protects us every minute of every day. He promises, he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. He is working in everything that happens to make sure everything works together for our good, to make sure that nothing separates us from his love and we get to spend eternity with him in paradise. We don’t just have a guardian angel, we have guardian angels. These innumerable, powerful angels are constantly at work defending us from danger and guarding and protecting us from all evil.

Considering all that God has done and continues to do for us, even though we don’t deserve it, we can’t help but thank and praise, serve and obey our almighty and merciful heavenly father.

 

2. 1 Peter 1:18-21

 

Despite all the blessings that people have, that we have in our nation, people often feel empty. They sometimes have trouble feeling thankful because they realize that the nice house, the cupboards full of food, the cars and toys, their first article blessings, don’t fill their emptiness. One day all those things will be gone. Those things are temporary, perishable. People who have lots of earthly blessings realize that something is still missing. We hear the emptiness from millionaires who quote the old saying, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” We see the emptiness expressed on the bumper sticker of the expensive car that says, “life’s a ________, and then you die.” It’s hard to feel thankful when you have an emptiness inside that nothing seems to fill.

The Bible tells us what causes that emptiness. It’s caused by the realization that God requires a payment before you can enter eternity with him, and your bank account is empty. In fact, it’s in the red. God demands that your account be filled with perfect obedience. But you and I are not anywhere close to perfect, we are piling up more sins every day. Our account with God is more and more in the red every day. And all the gold and silver in the world won’t bring our account back in the black.

There is only one thing that can fill the emptiness we all feel by nature, the emptiness of sin that was passed down to us from Adam and Eve. The thing that we need to fill our emptiness is forgiveness. And, in grace, God has provided a way for us to have forgiveness and have our emptiness filled. He provided his Son. Even before creation, even before Adam and Eve sinned, God chose Jesus to be the perfect, unblemished lamb who would win forgiveness, not with perishable things like gold or silver, but with his blood. Because Jesus came to earth and lived his whole life without sin, because he was innocent, his blood shed on the cross was precious. It is worth more than all the gold or silver in the world. It is the only thing precious enough to pay for every sin that ever has been or ever will be committed.

Jesus redeemed us. He paid the price God demanded to set us free from the power of sin, death and Satan. Because of Jesus, in place of the emptiness caused by sin, we have hope. Our hope for a better and eternal life is a certain hope because it is guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus. He is the first fruits. Because he lives, we too will live.

Our redemption, purchased for us by Jesus, isn’t something that only affects where we end up when we die. It affects how we live right now. The redemption that Jesus won for us not only gives us hope for the future, but it gives us purpose right now. It reminds us that we belong to God. It reminds us that we are his children. It fills us with the desire to serve him every day. It reminds us to strive to be righteous, to do the things that God would have us do. It replaces our emptiness with a desire to see God’s will be done and his kingdom come.

Because Jesus has redeemed us, purchased us for God for all eternity, even if we had no Thanksgiving meal, even if we lost everything in one day the way Job did, we would still be able to be thankful. Our faith and hope don’t rest in anything earthly or perishable. Our faith and hope are in God, and because of Jesus, we will live and rule with him eternally.

 

3. 1 Corinthians 12:1-7

 

On Thanksgiving it’s easy to remember to thank God for our first article blessings as we enjoy food and drink and relaxation. Since we are here in church it’s hard not to think of our second article blessings. There’s a big cross hanging on the wall that reminds us that Jesus paid a huge price to redeem us and make us his own for time and eternity. But even in church it’s sometimes easy to forget about our third article blessings, the blessings that are ours through the work of the Holy Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit is the person of the trinity who guided Moses and the Prophets to tell us that God created us and all that exists. If the Holy Spirit had not done that, we wouldn’t know the truth about it. The Holy Spirit is the one who guided the Evangelists and Apostles to record for us the things that Jesus said and did, and to give their eyewitness account of his suffering, death and resurrection. If the Holy Spirit had not done that, we wouldn’t know about it.

But the most important work of the Holy Spirit is that, as we hear the word of God recorded for us in the Bible, he is opening our spiritual eyes so that we see and believe that all these things are true.

As Paul tells us, no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Or as Luther put it, “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ my Lord nor come to him.” By nature we are all dead in trespasses and sin. The things of God are foolishness to us by nature. We need a second birth, a birth that comes from above, a birth that comes by water and the Spirit. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel in Word, Baptism and Supper, that anyone has the power to believe and confess that Jesus is their Lord and Savior from sin.

A second mistake we are tempted to make is that, even if we give thanks to God the Holy Spirit for creating faith in our hearts, we tend to forget his continuing work. His job is not to create faith and then leave us alone, just as the Father didn’t create everything and then leave it alone. When the Holy Spirit brings us to faith Paul reminds us that he also gives us spiritual gifts. As we continue to hear the Gospel and receive the Supper he works to strengthen our faith and to encourage us to use whatever gifts he has given us to bring glory to God and to help our neighbor. Paul told the Romans, we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

You know how you feel if you give someone a Christmas gift and a year later you see that the gift you thought would be just perfect for them is still in the box, unused. Sometimes what we think is a perfect gift for someone really isn’t; but that’s not the case with the Holy Spirit. He knows us better than we know ourselves and he always gives us perfect gifts. When we let those perfect gifts lie unused, we don’t just make the Spirit sad, we sin.

When we show thanklessness by failing to use the gifts the Spirit gives us he graciously and patiently uses his law to point out our sin. When we realize our sin and are cut to the heart he points us to Jesus and the forgiveness he has won for us. As we rejoice in our forgiveness he reminds us of the gifts he has given us and encourages us to use them faithfully, to bring glory to God and to help our neighbor. He inspires us, not just to say thank you to God, but to live lives of thankful service every day.