In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In our shared cultural lexicon, tomorrow’s national holiday is still known officially and commonly as Thanksgiving Day. Oh, there are those who have taken to calling it “Turkey Day” or otherwise downplaying the significance, the purpose, and the origin of this occasion. What is the most important part of the day? “It depends upon whom you ask.” (No, not really.) Some will say that it’s their favorite food traditionally served at the family Thanksgiving feast: turkey, cranberry sauce (in the traditional can shape, of course), stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, corn, Jell-O salad, pumpkin pie. Of course, the family feast, the family get-together, is yet another tradition held in highest esteem by many. Others will say it’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, while still others will say it’s the traditional Thanksgiving Day football games. Many know that the Detroit Lions have been hosting one such game since 1934, and the Dallas Cowboys since 1966; however, the NFL has had Thanksgiving Day games since 1920, and the tradition of football games on Thanksgiving Day goes back to 1876.
The true purpose, of course, for observing a Day of Thanksgiving is just what its name says: to give thanks to God for His providential care, the abundance He has provided. It’s shown in the artwork on our bulletin cover, by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, an artist who was regarded as the Norman Rockwell of her era. I’d never heard of her before. There are a few historical innacuracies in the painting, such as a log cabin; but Jennie herself was born in a log cabin. And that does not negate the Truth of what she depicts, that the Pilgrims, led by the pastor with hands uplifted in prayer, were giving thanks to God for His provision. President George Washington declared the day “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.” It’s such a short and simple petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but just consider all that’s included in that. Martin Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism of “What is meant by daily bread?” covers a lot:
Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
No one can rightly argue against Luther’s expansive list, and in case he left out any category, he ends with “and the like.” So for all of these things, “and the like,” we are called to give thanks, and with the Psalmist we declare, “Unto Thee, O God, do we give thanks.” Our Canadian brothers and sisters in Christ had their Thanksgiving Day several weeks ago already, on October 14. Whenever we give thanks to God for His blessings, we believe as the Holy Spirit says through the Apostle Paul, that foods and all goods “God created to be received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim 4:3b). Those who would deny the true purpose of this holiday do not believe that it is a holy day, or that anything is or can be holy. They give no thanks to God, because they regard Him as unworthy, and so nothing is worthy of being received with thanksgiving. Among such scoffers are those who hold in contempt the history and traditions of this and other special days, and of this land, as being great lies and sins. They hold all history and tradition, and God and His Word, in contempt. Lord preserve us from such unbelief and shame! Help us ever to hold fast to the Truth of Your Word, and to say and do with the blessed Apostle, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4–5).
Through those who have gone before us in the Faith, we have been provided with two sets of Propers, that is, Scripture readings, hymns, prayers, and the like, for such occasions: a National Day of Thanksgiving, and a Harvest Observance. Clearly, we can see how these two are related. In this service, we have blended the two, with readings and prayers selected from both occasions. In the Collect of the Day for a Harvest Observance, which will be the conclusion of the Prayer of the Church this evening, we say to the Lord, “[W]e beseech You to bless and protect the living seed of Your Word sown in our hearts, that … we may always present to You an acceptable thank-offering.” And here we are, gathered to hear and receive His Word and Sacrament, and to offer Him thanks and praise in return for His benefits to us. Sometimes as I have read and pondered the Scriptures appointed for these occasions, it seems as though we’re being scolded for not being thankful. Case in point, the Holy Gospel from Luke 17, Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers. Jesus asks, “Were not the ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (vv. 17–18). By the way, “to give praise to God” here is literally “to give glory to God,” and when this Samaritan first beholds his healing, he turns back “glorifying God with a loud voice” (v. 15).
Another case is the Gospel reading for a Harvest Observance, from Luke 12, the Parable of the Rich Fool. “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,” meaning that the land, the earth, was still doing according to God’s command as first spoken in the Creation on the third day, “Let the earth bring forth grass, herbs … and fruit trees” (Gen 1:11). We plant, and water, “but only God gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7). The rich fool sees this bumper crop, and immediately makes plans to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, so that he may store the harvest for himself, and he says to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (v. 19). Who is his god to whom he gives thanks, to whom he gives the firstfruits of his harvest and all he has? He is! He is what I call an autotheist or idiotheist, a self-worshiper. Yes, we must be on guard against such a fleshly, earthly sense of security, for it is a false sense of security. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (vv. 20–21). It is the same reminder and warning that Moses gave to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 8, following the remembrance of the LORD’s care for them during the forty years in the wilderness, how their shoes and clothes did not wear out, that they remember the LORD and give Him thanks for “bringing [them] into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,” a land of iron and copper. “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (v. 7–10)—BUT, “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God … and your heart be lifted up … and you go after other gods and serve them and worship them” (vv. 11, 14, 19).
It is right that we hear God’s holy Law and take His warning to heart, so that we know our sins and shortcomings, that we confess to Him that we have not thanked or glorified Him as we ought, that before Him we act and speak, and even think, as though we have acquired what we have by our own efforts, our own work, our own intellect, our own self-application? And who has ultimately given us the abilities, the strength, the knowledge, and all the goods that we do have? Who sustains us day by day, moment by moment? You and I know who that is, and we are here, gathered together around His Word and around His altar-table, to receive His holy gifts and to give Him thanks and glory and praise and honor for all His gracious, merciful, undeserved benefits to us.
After fretting so much about the apparent “scolding” we’ve been getting in these Scripture readings for Thanksgiving and Harvest, a truth about our Gospel reading finally dawned on me! I take no credit for this realization. Thanks be to God alone for His insight! For me, it was a “V-8 moment,” smacking the forehead, “Wow! I could’ve had a V-8!” (Not that I like the stuff.) My theme for this Thanksgiving and Harvest service is “Giving All … and More.” We know from the Torah, the Law, the LORD’s instruction through Moses to His chosen people Israel, that He commanded a return of the tithe, one-tenth of the produce: “For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance” (Num 18:24). In His goodness God bestowed upon His people all their crops and herds, in abundance, and in His Law He called upon them to return a portion to Him. In His Word, He also calls upon His people, you and me included, to love Him with our whole being, to devote to Him all that we are and have. All. Everything. Leave nothing out. How, then, can anyone possibly give more? More than all?
When the ten leprous men call out to Jesus, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” He gave them the healing and the cleansing they had long desired. He told them to do according to the Law, “God and show yourselves to the priests.” “And as they went they were cleansed” (Lk 17:12–14). Just the one, the outsider, the man who was not of God’s chosen people, believed fully what had come to pass by Jesus’ Word. He returned “glorifying God,” prostrating himself before Jesus, “giving Him thanks” (vv. 15–16). According to the Gospel, that is, by the undeserved mercy of God in Christ, Jesus gave ten healed and cleansed men. According to the Law, a tithe, one-tenth, was returned to the LORD in thanksgiving. What’s wrong? The healing, the restoration, was according to the Gospel, from the Gospel made flesh, our God and Savior Jesus Christ. The Law cannot heal or restore. In the Gospel, He holds back none of His goodness from us. So the thanksgiving likewise is to hold back nothing. Giving according to the Gospel is to be all. All you have. All you are. Your whole family. Your whole you. It’s all His in the first place. He has redeemed it all, purchased it all, purchased all of you, with His holy, precious blood.
What man can render thanks and praise, glory and honor, enough to God for such abundant goodness and providence toward us? Of course, no one can—except the Man Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God for His faithfulness on our behalf! If we can only give all at the most, how can we give “and more”? We can’t, and we’re not the ones giving all … and more. Consider the times Jesus fed the thousands with a few loaves and fishes. At the end of Matthew 15, we read:
32 Then Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to Him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 He took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks He broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.
All they had were seven loaves and a few small fish. In the feeding of the five thousand, in Matthew 14, all they had were five loaves and two fish. They gave all they had; how could it possibly meet such great need? We can’t give more than all; but God can, and does. When we think we have reached our limit, He gives more. In Matthew 14, they took up twelve baskets full of left-over pieces, and in Matthew 15, seven baskets full. In like manner, we have set out bread and wine here for the Holy Supper of His body and blood. This isn’t all our supply available; but, even if it were, that by no means limits the body and blood of our God to feed and forgive all His people. As much as is needed, He provides, as one of our hymns says,
Now in faith I humbly ponder / Over this surpassing wonder
That the bread of life is boundless / Though the souls it feeds are countless …
Jesus, Source of lasting pleasure, Truest Friend, and dearest treasure,
Peace beyond all understanding, Joy into all life expanding … (LSB 636, sts. 4, 5)
We can never out-give our gracious, provident God, who has indeed given us all … and more, and still gives us all … and more, and who ever shall give us all … and more. For He has given us not only our daily bread, all that we need for the support of this body and life; far more, He has given, is giving, and ever shall give to us, to you, His beloved, His very Life and Light and Being, His whole Self. God the Son indeed has given you His whole Self, body and soul, even into death and newness of life. God the Father has given you His whole self as your Father, inviting you to talk to Him in prayer, to call Him “Father”—what a privilege and honor He bestows on you! God the Holy Spirit has given His whole Self to you to renew you in heart and mind, body, soul, and spirit, to give you the gift of your true self, as God made you to be, and is making you to be, in Christ. Try to out-give that! You won’t be able to; but do try, and let Him give the “and more.”
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds by His Spirit in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.