Types of Thanksgiving

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  – 1 Timothy 2:1 ESV

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, officially the best American Holiday in my book.  I say that mostly for all the cliched reasons. It’s a day of hearth and home and football. It is a day that connects me with a childhood soundtrack that includes farm reports on the local AM radio and the end of harvest worries. It’s a day that doesn’t demand much.  Christmas always tries to bum rush everything before it.  Today the only thing standing in its way are the ghouls of Halloween.  I never thought I’d find myself cheering for the zombies.  Given two months run up, what is under the tree, even if it is a literal golden horde, doesn’t meet the hype. With Easter the American commercialization machine tried with the Bunny and some Cadbury Eggs to Santa Claus the Holy Day, but it just wasn’t able. The Schools moved breaks such that if you get Good Friday off you are fortunate, which I took as the cultural white flag.  Easter remains a Holy Day, not a holiday.  But that also means it isn’t really shared other than within the church. All Thanksgiving ever promised was a good meal and a pause.  A pause that you can fill with whatever wells up within you.

Thanksgiving itself is of course a completely natural expression of the faith.  If the people of God would not bring forth praise and thanksgiving, the stones would cry out.  But the American Holiday isn’t technically on the church calendar.  So every year when I think about a Thanksgiving service it is mostly about those hymns of harvest, hearth and home. But the big book of strong suggestions – that Altar Book – provides at least three modes of thanksgiving.  There are texts and prayers associated with a simple Harvest Observance. There are texts and prayers stipulated for a Day of Thanksgiving. And there are texts and prayers for a Day of Supplication and Prayer.

I take those three categories as general buckets of what wells up within us.  There is an internet invective – “Touch Grass” – that I find funny.  It is telling the too online to log off and go outside. We were made to tend a garden originally.  Even for the most city mouse imaginable, there is good in being connected to the rhythms of life.  And one of those rhythms is the harvest. Knowing that when you sow, you will also reap.  Knowing that you plant a seed and we know not how but it germinates and grows and provides a harvest – 30, 60 even 100 fold. Unless we have cut ourselves off from all things vital, a harvest celebration wells up good things.

The Day of Thanksgiving is more official.  If the harvest is bottoms up, the Day of Thanksgiving is tops down. The American Presidents have a tradition of issuing Thanksgiving Proclamations. They existed prior of course, but George Washington issued a famous one. And these are completely appropriate.  We can get wrapped up in work and play and life – like the 9 lepers – that we never stop for a second to reflect and return.  Jesus, the King himself asks “where are the other nine?” Having a leadership wise enough to say “today, stop, take stock, enjoy the blessings and return appropriate gratitude” is good and right.

It is the last category that maybe we – the children of materially fat years – pass over too quickly, that day of supplication and prayer. Satan’s tricks are many.  We don’t think about it, but the Northern Kingdom of Israel was the worldly successful one.  They were fat, dumb and happy.  It is the world before the flood.  It is Sodom knocking on Lot’s door, so attractive that his wife turned around in lament even knowing what would happen.  It is the merchants crying over Babylon in Revelation. They are no longer connected to the source of the rain that produces their prosperity.  They no longer have officials wise enough to remind them to give thanks. But the prophet Joel shows up and tells them, “Yet even now return to me with all your heart…the LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…who knows whether he will not turn and relent and leave behind him a blessing, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God. (Joel 2:12-14).” Thanksgiving in prayer and supplication is a renewal of the covenant.  And the providence of God is always enough for his people.

Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices,

Who wonderous things has done, in whom His world rejoices;

Who from our mother’s arms Has blest us on our way

With countless gifts of love and still is ours today.

Thanksgiving 2023

Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday. It is very close to the bone of the religious impulse, yet it is not on the church calendar, but declared by the civil magistrate. The US has a long history of those declarations. This sermon listens to parts of a couple of them and their wisdom in line with Moses to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 8:1-10) about to cross the Jordan and Jesus to the 10 lepers he had just healed (Luke 17:11-19).

Starting from Nothing?

Biblical Text: Mathew 25:14-30

I’m endlessly fascinated with the parable of the talents. It puts forward some obvious truths, that our society rejects, in passing. It’s main comparison – the one the entire judgement is based upon – is something that we miss because we take it as obvious, but then don’t observe how we act. A couple of those obvious truths: 1) God is not about fairness. “He gave to the servants according to their ability.” 2) With what it given to us we have absolute discretion. God is much freer in how he entrusts than we ever are. 3) What God entrusts is never a small amount. Even the least servant got a full talent, a stupendous sum. I think those three truths might form our typically brief against God. He’s not fair; He’s not present to help; He hasn’t given us enough to work with.

And that brief against God, when you get people being honest, is what leads to the parable’s real comparison. The first two have faith in their master’s judgement. The last servant views his master as a hard man and stingy. It isn’t really the performance of the first two measured in money that gets praised. The master doesn’t take any of it back and in fact says “you’ve been faithful in little, I will set you over much.” In the sermon I take this roughly as “you’ve been faithful in this short sinful life, I will give you eternal life.” It’s the faith in the judgement displayed in their actions, not the absolute return. The last servant thinks what has been given – this life – is a complete set up. That the master is out to get him no matter what. The picture of God is of an ogre. When of course the revelation of God is Christ, on the cross, for us.

Real pagans I think tended to be much more honest. They did their sacrifices more to keep the gods far away from them. Running into a pagan god never went well for the human. They were ogres. (And well according to Paul they were demons, so…). I think our society has that view, but you have to scratch off the veneer. The veneer we have is that “of course God is good.” Of course we define good as nice. The first time we think God is unfair or doesn’t show up, the brief against God comes out. In some ways the modern church in what it teaches forms people into the servant with 1 talent. When what Jesus wants us to see is the stupendous nature of the grace that has been given. You have life. You have this life right now. You have the promise of eternal life. “The joy of your master.” God is the lover of mankind. He has set you up to succeed. Yes, not is the way we often define success, but in the way God does – the following of Christ, his son.

Anyway, this is getting as long as the sermon which is a meditation on these themes of life given to us, and our response.

Thanksgiving Grace

Biblical Text: Deuteronomy 8:1-10

A short homily for a thanksgiving sermon that asks what are we giving thanks for? Certainly, for our daily bread which in this land we have an abundance, but also for “every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.” We give thanks for this body and life, which should lead to thanks for the much greater grace we have been given in Jesus.


Biblical Text: Colossians 1:1-17, Small Catechism 1st Article

Thanksgiving in connected to creation. It is also connected to the New Creation in Christ. Either everything falls apart, in which case Thanks and Praise are offensive, or is all hold together in Christ – the one thought whom is was all created and the firstborn of the new creation. Choosing to give thanks, is siding with creation which displays the love of God at all times.

What’s a Saint?

Biblical Text: All Saints Day Lectionary (Rev 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12) Confessional Text: http://bookofconcord.org/defense_20_saints.php

The day on the Christian Calendar was All Saints (Observed). Actual All Saints is November 1st. The point of the day is slightly different depending upon the tradition you are in. In a Roman Catholic tradition it is about all the minor saints which might not have been celebrated. In the Lutheran or Protestant traditions it is more about a celebration of the church at rest, and how the communion of saint continues to help the church at warfare. In the Roman tradition that is straightforward – invocation or prayer directed toward the saint. In the Lutheran tat is not the case. Instead the saints become for us living examples. Examples of faith and of life. Lives worthy of thanksgiving. This sermon asks the question “What is a Saint” and explores their role in our lives.

Pray, Praise and Give Thanks

Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-11

How does one use the name of God?

The right use of God’s name always ends in thanksgiving.

That I believe is the message contained in the story of the 10 healed lepers. It is not just a miracle, although it is that. Neither is it an overly simple, “aw shucks, we should give thanks” lesson, although giving thanks is a good habit. It is really a lesson on who has used the name of God rightly. There are three groups named at the start: Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. All three think they know how to use the name. The 10 lepers use the name in seeking mercy. But only one receives the grace. Only one receives the kingdom. This sermon contemplates the 2nd commandment from Luther’s catechism, which is a spiritual classic. And it ponders our lives, our prayer, praise and thanks, in light of the command and the text. What does it mean to use the name of God rightly? Think about it.

Happy Thanksgiving

This was the Thanksgiving message. Hope you and your’s had a good day and continue having a good weekend with family and friends.

Text: Thanksgiving, 4Th Commandment, Psalm 104, Luke 19:1-10
Gospel in the World

That first Thanksgiving was definitely a celebration of material good, but it was also something larger than that. The pilgrims had arrived at Plymouth Rock in November of 1620. They spent that winter on the Mayflower. When they got off the ship in March 21st of 1621, less than half were alive. By November of 1621 that colony had had a good harvest, had seen its first marriage in May, and had established relations with the local tribes.

Luther’s long list of what is meant by daily bread – food, drink…house, home…husband, wife…good weather, peace, health…good friends. Could clearly be seen. Gov. Bradford’s Thanksgiving declaration is short, but has some of that same flavor.
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience…”

It is not as if the ravages of just a year prior were forgotten. What those pilgrims recognized was providence. They recognized exactly what Luther says in his first part. That God gives daily bread to everyone, even evil people. What we pray for when we ask for our daily bread is to recognize who it comes from, and to receive it with thanksgiving.
Trouble in the World

What I always find interesting is that is somehow seems to be easier to recognize providence after 7 skinny years instead of 7 fat ones.
Maybe there has been a time and place of greater material abundance than the United States, but I doubt it. I’ve read elsewhere that the number one health problem of the poor in America is obesity. Yet at the same time as our astounding material providence, it seems to give us nothing but trouble.

The bread to strengthen man’s heart, is turned into obesity, diabetes and drugs. The wine made to gladden the hearts of men, is tuned to abuse. The oil to make faces shine, seems to turn rancid.
We receive it all, and yet we don’t.

Trouble in the Text

And we don’t, not because God does not provide – because he does. We don’t because we often don’t recognize what we have. And when we don’t recognize what we have, we turn God’s good gifts into things that kill us.

The Pharisees had it all. As Paul would say, “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ (Rom 9:4-5).” They had the promise and presence of God. Yet that great providence had been reduced to checking off Sabbaths. “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”

They had received it all. But they didn’t know “that something greater than the temple was there.”

They wanted the sacrifice, and rebuffed the mercy.


But the son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.

When he hides his face, we are dismayed. When he takes away his breath, we die and return to dust.

When he sends forth his Spirit, we are created, and he renews the face of the ground.

The material is good, but the deep goodness of it rests upon knowing what we have – a Spiritual truth that those Pilgrims knew.
We have not just the providence of God, our daily bread. God surely provides this to everyone, even to all evil people. But we have the mercy of almighty God.

Christ has poured out his Spirit upon all flesh such that the presence of God is with us. We are renewed daily and hourly. We are renewed unto eternal life.

If we receive it. If we receive our daily bread – the manifold material gifts of the Father – with thanksgiving. If we just take it – it is never enough. But received with thanksgiving, we are filled with god things.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever, may the Lord rejoice in his works. And I am sure of this, that he who began this good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Amen.