Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

God Is Our Salvation (Thanksgiving Eve) – November 25, 2015

Wednesday’s Reading:
Isaiah 12:2-6

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +


We gather again this evening in preparation for tomorrow’s celebration of Thanksgiving. The way we most often think of this holiday is essentially reflective: we are urged to look back over the past year and to identify the people and things and events that inspire feelings of gratitude and thankfulness in us. No doubt many of us will have conversations like that tomorrow. At first blush, tonight’s reading from Isaiah is a perfect fit! It’s an unbridled declaration of praise and thanksgiving for God’s wondrous acts. In fact, it’s a declaration that God is so amazing that the whole world needs to be told! It’s very tempting to just read this passage and have a seat, implying that this word of Scripture says everything that needs to be said about our calling to give thanks to God for the gift of salvation.

I can’t do that, however, because there’s a slight twist to this evening’s reading that I think needs to be addressed, and it reveals something important about the nature of thanksgiving for us as we prepare for tomorrow’s festivities. That something is the timing of God’s glorious deeds, the “tense” in which this passage from Isaiah is written, and the key to recognizing the twist comes right at the beginning of verse 4: And you will say on that day… (Isaiah 12:4, NRSV). Suddenly, this reading isn’t quite so straightforward, is it? This word from the prophet is not a reflection on God’s past acts of mercy and salvation. It is a forward-looking word of prophecy, a hope-filled declaration that this nation, surrounded by hostile peoples and wracked by short-sighted leadership and unfruitful living, will yet be saved by God. It is a word which acknowledges all the challenges that face the people of Judah, and which nevertheless announces the conviction that God will move to redeem and save them.

I think there’s something to this notion of “pre-emptive thanksgiving” that’s worth thinking about as we prepare for another day of thanks in our country. There is much for us to be grateful for when we reflect on the year that has passed, and yet the reality is that all of us are dealing with situations that don’t call for thanksgiving. Illness and injury, grief and sadness, loneliness and isolation, all of these are signs of the brokenness of our world, and an honest acknowledgement of them – while it may not negate those other things for which we are thankful – gives us an awareness of wounds that are yet to be healed. As we look around our nation and world, we are also aware of the ways that social sicknesses like racism and sexism continue to infect systems and institutions and cause pain and suffering for many people. We are confronted with the reality of warfare and conflict that locks humanity into endless cycles of violence between people and nations. We continue to see widespread poverty and hunger and disease in many places around the globe, despite technological advances that have made the end of those problems more possible than ever before. As we prepare to celebrate thanksgiving, we are all too mindful of how sin wracks our world and prevents all from experiencing the abundant life that is God’s will for us in Christ.

That’s why this idea of “pre-emptive thanksgiving” is so important. It is a way of acknowledging our broken reality without being bound in fear and cynicism and despair. Because Scripture has revealed God’s will for salvation, and because God’s reign has broken into our world in the person of Jesus, we can give thanks both for the ways that God has already delivered us, and for the ways that God has promised to save us and our broken world in the future. If you find yourself feeling weak because your circumstances have beaten you down, God has promised to be your strength and your might. If your heart is dry and parched because of the pressure and stress and heat of a world that can be unforgiving, God promises that you will draw water from the wells of salvation, and drink deeply of the joy that comes from knowing God’s help in your time of trouble. If you find it difficult to lift your voice in praise, God promises that you will one day rediscover your son, and that joy will pour forth from your lips because of God’s glorious deeds. If you grieve the pain that so many in our nation and our world suffer daily because of what we have done (or what we have left undone), God promises a world renewed and restored, a world in which all will sing the praises of our good and gracious God.

Brothers and sisters, we stand at the hinge of the year. Advent is just around the corner, and with it a renewed focus on God’s promised coming to put everything right. Let us begin our preparation tomorrow with a day of “hopeful thanksgiving”, a day that is not only reflective of God’s blessings over the past year, but a day that holds up our fears and longings and sighs with the knowledge that they, too, will in time be healed by our good and gracious God. Amen.

Life with God: The Book of Psalms – Week 5 – Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday’s Reading:
Psalm 40:1-10

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

Two weeks ago, when we explored the psalms of lament, I mentioned that it is sometimes possible to look back on our experiences of hardship and recognize the hand of God working to bring deliverance and healing and comfort. Today, we turn to the psalms of thanksgiving, a group of psalms that is precisely about the discernment of God’s power and presence in our lives. In Psalm 40, our text for today, the psalmist calls to mind a time that he was in need of God’s rescue, in need of divine intervention to save him from the hands of his enemies. In response to that need, God stoops down to pick the psalmist up, drawing him out of the pit, freeing him from the deepest muck and mire, and setting his feet upon a sturdy rock. The psalm of thanksgiving is a response to that deliverance, a song that declares God’s goodness and care for those who call upon God in time of trouble, a song that invites others to reflect on the times that they, too, had experienced God’s salvation.

That last characteristic of thanksgiving, the language of invitation, is particularly important, because it speaks to something that we’ve likely all experienced at one time or another: the contagious nature of gratitude. Think, for instance, about the well-loved ritual of sitting around the table on the fourth Thursday in November and taking turns sharing about those people and things for which we’re grateful. Sure, in some cases the fact that everyone can bring something up is due to the social pressure of not wanting to seem ungrateful. But more often than not, I think that the act of hearing others express their gratitude unlocks something in us. It tunes our hearts and minds to see the gifts and blessings that, perhaps, we’ve taken for granted. The language of thanksgiving blossoms and flourishes when it is expressed, and gratitude follows gratitude in a way that is really something to behold.

I’m convinced that this is the reason the psalmist goes out of his way to tell God of his refusal to keep the story of his deliverance to himself. Look again at the last couple of verses of this morning’s reading:

I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation;
     see, I have not restrained my lips,
          as you know, O LORD.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
     I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
          I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
(Psa 40:9-10 NRS)

The psalmist knows that keeping his gratitude to himself does very little. He understands that his story will inspire trust and gratitude in others, that it will draw the entire congregation together in remembering God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, that those who are experiencing hardship and struggle can take heart in knowing that others have been brought through their times of trouble.

Brothers and sisters, gratitude – especially gratitude that is rightly directed to God – is a powerful thing. As I reflected on the idea of thanksgiving, I was struck by the convergence between the power of gratitude and the history that accompanied the composition of today’s closing hymn, a hymn that Doug and I selected six weeks ago with no idea of the deep resonance that it would hold today.  “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by the poet James Weldon Johnson in 1899, and set to music and performed for the first time as a song in 1900 on the occasion of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The poem is a poignant expression of thanksgiving for the end of slavery in the United States and the progress that had been made toward liberation and equality during the era of Reconstruction following the end of the Civil War. It is a text that looks back over the difficult history of slavery and oppression with frank realism. It is a text that surveys the present with gratitude for distance that the African-American community has come. It is a text that looks with hope to the future, recognizing that the work of liberation is far from done, while also trusting that, as Martin Luther King, Jr., would say in later years, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Like Psalm 40, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a testament to the power of gratitude to inspire a community, to uplift a people who were experiencing hardship, to help people to see beyond their present circumstances by means of a persistent hope that better days were coming. Like Psalm 40, these words, once addressed to a particular community, now inspire others to give thanks for God’s provision of care in the past and of strength to meet the challenges of the present and future. Before we sing these words later in the service, I’d like to read them aloud, the way they were originally intended, as a way of helping us hear and appreciate them anew:

Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring,
ring with the harmonies of liberty.
Let our rejoicing rise high as the list’ning skies,
let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us;
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chast’ning rod
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our parents sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
we have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee;
shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand,
true to our God, true to our native land.
(Hymn #841, Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

In a similar way, many Lutheran Christians have drawn strength from the words of gratitude contained in perhaps our most famous and well-loved hymn: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. Martin Luther’s paraphrase of Psalm 46 is another song that speaks powerfully of gratitude for God’s deliverance, and it is a song that has sustained generations of the faithful – Lutheran and non-Lutheran alike:

A mighty fortress is our God, a sword and shield victorious;|
he breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod and wins salvation glorious.
The old satanic foe has sworn to work us woe!
With craft and dreadful might he arms himself to fight.
On earth he has no equal.

No strength of ours can match his might! We would be lost, rejected.
But now a champion comes to fight, whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is he!
Christ Jesus, mighty Lord, God’s only son, adored.
He holds the field victorious.

Though hordes of devils fill the land all threat’ning to devour us,
we tremble not, unmoved we stand. They cannot overpower us.
Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage!
His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!
One little word subdues him. 

God’s word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes who fear it;
for God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse,
though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.
The kingdom’s ours forever!
(Hymn #504, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, ©1978 Lutheran Book of Worship, admin. Augsburg Fortress)

Brothers and sisters, today we rejoice in God’s deliverance, and in those songs of thanksgiving and trust that allow us to remember how God has sustained us in times of trouble and brought us to a new day of hope. This week, may the language of gratitude blossom in our own hearts, that we might call to mind the bountiful gifts of grace and favor that are ours in Christ. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Thanksgiving Evening – Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday’s Readings:
Complementary Text: Matthew 18:12-14
Preaching Text: Ezekiel 34:20-31

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

Tonight we’re going to talk about what it means to be fat. Now, before anybody starts getting nervous – myself included – don’t worry. This is not a sermon about the excesses of Thanksgiving. I think you’ve already heard that one before, possibly from me, and while that might be an important message for another day, it’s not my focus this evening. What I’d like to get at is what the prophet Ezekiel was talking about when he referred to some of the people as “fat sheep” and others as “lean sheep” and indicated that God was preparing to judge between them. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear from the reading, let me just point out right off the bat that in Ezekiel’s mind there was no such thing as a “sheep” that could claim to be living “fat and happy”. If you were to choose between being a fat sheep and a lean one, it’s pretty clear that things are going to turn out better in the end for the lean ones. So, what exactly is going on here?

Well, Ezekiel is in the middle of a series of prophecies in which he indicts the leaders of Israel, accusing them of being false shepherds, and creating conditions for injustice and inequality among the people. Some folks benefited from those conditions, and ended up doing pretty well for themselves. Others found themselves on the wrong end of the equation, and the consequences were not good for many of them. Ezekiel describes those lean sheep as being scattered and ravaged by the fat sheep, who butted them with their horns and pushed them around so that they would miss out on the bounty of God’s provision.

This evening’s reading makes clear, however, that a situation like that cannot be sustained forever, because God’s will for justice, equality, and abundant life for all of God’s people cannot be thwarted. So the Lord declares that a new day is dawning, a day in which the false shepherds who allowed things to go so wrong would be replaced by one shepherd. That shepherd was to be no one less than a servant of the Lord who would feed and guide all the sheep under the terms of a new covenant of peace and establish a new flock in which slavery would end and fear would give way to safety and security.

As Lutheran Christians, this description points us directly to Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep who was sent by God to reconcile the world to himself and bring about peace between God and humanity. He was also sent so that we might examine our hearts and minds and consider whether we are living like fat sheep or lean ones. In other words, do our words and our actions reflect our belief in the promises of God? Do we live as though we have been showered with blessing, or are we trapped in a mindset of scarcity that leads us to lash out at others? Do we speak in ways that reveal our understanding that God is God and we are not, or do we join our voices with the chorus of the nations and rain down insults and curses upon our brothers and sisters? Do we spend our time rejoicing in the freedom that is ours in Jesus Christ and extending that freedom to others, or do we contribute to systems that keep people under the yoke of oppression?

It’s not easy to be a lean sheep, but our text this evening reveals that God in Christ has promised to be our shepherd, even if it means seeking us out to bring us back into the fold. We worship a Lord whose will is a world saturated with showers of blessing, a community that lives in safety and security, an earth in which hunger and pain will be no more. On this Thanksgiving Eve, let us bless God for the wondrous things that we have seen and heard and received in Jesus Christ. Let us thank the Lord for the promise of a world restored and a community reconciled. Finally, let us pray that we might surrender our lives each new day to our Good Shepherd, so that in everything we say and do we might lead others to give praise and thanks to our righteous and merciful God. Amen.