Sermon–November 23, 2011–Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving Eve 2011
Preached at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Muskegon, MI, while on Internship.

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Psalm 65
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Luke 17:11-19

Thanksgiving. A time to give thanks. But remember the LORD your God.

I am a person of short memory. Ask anyone on staff here who has had to deal with me, I have a hard time remembering anything. Big things, little things, important things, trivial things: nothing is safe from the purging process in which my brain so delights.

And there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to what I can and can’t. I can tell you that the shortest verse in the New Testament, in Greek is in the first letter to the Thessalonians. Or I can tell you that Luke Skywalker’s call sign was Red-5 at the Battle of Yavin when he destroyed the first Death Star. I can tell you that the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is not found anywhere in the Bible, but was in fact spoken by Benjamin Franklin. Or I can tell you that the Orca, the Killer Whale, is one of the only known whales that attacks and kills other whales, particularly the sperm whale, for food.

On the other hand, I often forget my lunch sitting on the counter. Or that I have a 7:00 AM small group at the Steak ‘n’ Egger. Or where the Song of Solomon is found in the Bible. Memory is a funny thing. We can forget any number of things. And when it comes to the lessons of our past, well, why should they be any different?

I have had many interesting discussions about prayer with classmates. It seems all of us have similar experiences when it comes to praying. When things are going badly, our first instinct is to throw up our hands to God and say, “Help!” But when things are going well, we tend to just enjoy the great blessings life has given us. I still neglect giving thanks to God even at the dinner table when I am about to eat.

The Israelites had plenty to thank God about. They had a covenant with God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, who brought them out of the house of slavery, who led them through the great and terrible wilderness, and arid wasteland of poisonous snakes and scorpions, who made water from flint rock, who fed them in the wilderness with manna.

Have you ever noticed how often we hear about what God has done? So many people will look at our first reading tonight and see the part about keeping God’s commandments, ordinances and statutes.

“Aha!” they will say, “there he goes again, telling me what to do! All demanding and commanding, pah! Forget this!”

I don’t think God is being unreasonable though. The command to keep the covenant is bookmarked on both sides by not only what God has already done for the Israelites, but also by what God is about to do for them. The Israelites had a lot to thank God for. And still they forgot. Once things were going good again, the people forgot all about what God had done for them.

It’s easy for us to forget, too. Most of us haven’t had to wander around the desert for 40 minutes, let alone forty years, having to depend on food from heaven to survive. We’ve never lived under oppression. We’ve never experienced slavery. Most of us never had to rely on God for our very existence. It’s easy to forget about God.

We are raised to believe that we can get anything we desire if we just work hard enough. We lift up as idols those men and women who rise from the lowliest of circumstances and become world leaders and billionaires. “Wow, look at everything they’ve done! Look how far they’ve come.”

But remember the LORD your God.

We truly are blessed for the lives we have been able to lead. Deuteronomy tells us how: it is God who gives blessing and wealth and prestige.

Paul, then, tells us why. We are blessed not so that we can show it all off to the world. We are blessed, not so we can set ourselves up as idols to be adored. Instead, we are blessed for the sole purpose of being able to bless others. Our own human ideas about wealth and power and blessing don’t count for much.

One of my favorite movies—and there seem to be a lot of those—is the Prince of Egypt, and one of the songs, “Through Heaven’s Eyes”, has a verse that says,

“So how do you measure the worth of a man
In wealth or strength or size,
In how much he gained, or how much he gave?
The answer will come
The answer will come to him who tries
To look at his life through heaven’s eyes.”

How much we have or how much we give away is not important. That we have, and that therefore we give away—that is why we are blessed. This holiday then is not about giving thanks, but thankfully giving. We are blessed with the abundance. But remember where it came from, and where it needs to go. Remember the LORD your God.

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Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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