21 November 2018

Give Thanks unto the Lord, for He Is Good

“O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.”

Indeed, the Lord is good.  And as the Catechism has taught you, He gives daily bread, even without your prayer, also to all the wicked — just as He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good.  But He would have you to pray to Him, that by His Word and Holy Spirit you would recognize His grace and mercy and receive His many good gifts with thanksgiving.

It is for this very purpose that we are here this evening, that we should be catechized by the Word of the Lord to know and believe and confess that every good and perfect gift is from above — all that you need for this body and life, and all that you need for the life and salvation to come; and that we, in return, should give to Him the only thing we have to offer: Thanksgiving for His gifts.

As we sing and confess with the entire Church in heaven and on earth in the celebration of the Holy Communion, “It is truly meet, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God, our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

It is for that reason that one common name for the Holy Communion, from very early on, has been the Eucharist, the Greek word for “thanksgiving,” as when the Lord Jesus Himself gave thanks at the Last Supper.  The fundamental pattern of the entire Christian faith and life is there rooted and expressed in the giving and receiving of the Lord’s Body and His Blood with thanksgiving.

As you have heard from St. Paul in his Epistle to St. Timothy, he urges “first of all” that prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all people, including rulers and authorities, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who by His Cross has reconciled the world to God the Father.  And so does the Apostle go on to write in the same Epistle, that everything created by God is good; it is all to be received with thanksgiving and sanctified to our use by the Word of God and prayer.

Thus are you catechized, not only in the celebration of the Sacrament but throughout your life, to recognize and give thanks for the gracious hand of God in the food that you eat, the clothes that you wear, the home that shelters you, and the family, friends, and neighbors who surround you.

The blessed truth is that, in the Lord’s Creation and Preservation of all things, including your body and soul, your eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, you experience and receive the same fatherly, divine goodness and mercy that you receive in His forgiveness of your sins.  Not that it is the same gift, but it is the same grace of the same God.  For just as the Lord feeds and clothes the earth and all its creatures, the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air, and just as He feeds and clothes you for this body and life on earth, so does He also feed and clothe you with His forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation here in His House, the holy Temple of His Church.

Unfortunately, as thanksgiving resides in the heart of faith and rises from it in gratitude and love, so it is that, from your heart of sin, you fail to acknowledge the constant grace and providence of the Holy Triune God.  You are rather prone to pride yourself in all the good that you enjoy, while blaming God and others for whatever bad that you suffer.  Perhaps it even takes a national holiday to remind you of your duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey the Lord your God for all His gifts and benefits.  God grant that you do so according to His Word, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a sinner, you are constantly in need of such reminders of God’s grace, for your fallen flesh is always inclined to turn away from the Lord while you vainly attempt to make and preserve a life for yourself.  Like Adam and Eve, instead of rejoicing in all that God has freely bestowed, you choose to live as a god unto yourself, despite the fact that every breath you take is from the Lord.

It is by His Word and Spirit that the Lord in His mercy turns you back around — by His Word and Spirit that He pulls you out of your own heart and head, and turns you away from sin and death — that you might receive the life that He bestows upon you in humble faith and with thanksgiving.

By His Word of the Law, on the one hand, the Spirit exposes the depths of your sin and the utter futility of trying to make it through life on your own.  He brings you to that sobering knowledge, not only by the preaching of the Scriptures, but also by confronting you with the challenges of mortal life in a perishing world, with poverty, hunger, sickness, and so many griefs and sorrows.

By the preaching of the Gospel, on the other hand, the Spirit presents you with the one and only solution to your otherwise hopeless condition.  For the Gospel conveys that Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the living God, has taken all the challenges of life and death upon Himself, bearing them all in His Body to the Cross.  And in His Resurrection, by the Word and Sacrament of His Gospel, He bestows upon your body and soul the free and full forgiveness of His Cross.

He gives it all to you by grace.  The Lord your God, the blessed Holy Trinity, cleanses you of sin and washes you like a newborn infant in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  He proclaims Himself, His love and mercy, through your ears and into your heart and life by the Word of Christ.  And He lays the life-giving treasures of His Cross upon your lips and tongue in the Holy Communion.

Thus, by way of the Law, the Lord is always driving you and forcing you back to the Cross of Christ; and by the Gospel of His Cross He raises you up to newness of life in His Resurrection.

Even so, the sad reality is that the vast majority of people do not receive their “daily bread” with thanksgiving.  As we have heard in the example of those ten lepers whom Jesus healed.  They all received that gracious gift of God in Christ Jesus, but only the one worshiped Him with thanks.

In much the same way, there is no one in this world who has not received everything he or she has from the gracious Maker and Preserver of all things.  And yet, how many refuse to acknowledge His grace and His gifts with thanksgiving?  And how often do you also fail to give Him thanks?

It remains the case, at all times and in all places, that only by the work of the Spirit through the Law and the Gospel are you delivered from your ingratitude and the hardness of your heart.  And that is true, not only for you, but likewise for your neighbors in the world.  The Law, to be sure, is already working on everyone in the challenges of this mortal life, but the saving promises of the Gospel remain hidden until they are confessed in the words and actions of Christians like yourself.

Indeed, you exercise your gratitude to the Lord your God in no better way than by demonstrating the forgiveness, love, and mercy of Christ Jesus in dealing with your neighbors.  And then, by the grace of God, perhaps your words and actions of love will lead your neighbors to the House of the Lord, that they also might receive His Gospel–Word and Sacraments with faith and thanksgiving.

Thus do we confess with the Psalmist: “Blessed are those whom the Lord so chooses and causes to approach; for they shall be satisfied with the goodness of His House and of His holy Temple.”

Bearing that blessing in mind, consider what you have heard from Deuteronomy tonight, in which the Lord instructs you in the Christian faith and life by the example of His dealings with Israel.  For it is a description of His Law and His Gospel actively at work in the history of His People.

During their forty years of wandering in the desert, following the Exodus from Egypt, He humbled them with His Law; He allowed them to go hungry, that they might feel their need for Him and for His providence.  Then He fed them with manna from heaven, a miraculous bread of life, given by His Word of promise, that they might learn to trust His grace and lean upon His Word at all times.

In this way, says the Lord, the people were disciplined to live as the children of God.  And having become His children by the grace of His Word and Spirit, they were given the Land of Promise, a Land flowing with milk and honey, in which they enjoyed the blessings of their heavenly Father.

In all of this, you are hearing not only the story of ancient Israel, but also a description of your own Christian life.  For you also are disciplined as a child of God by His Law, and fed by His Gospel.  You also are nourished with the Living Bread from Heaven, set before you by His gracious Word of Promise: “Take, eat, drink; this is My Body, this is My Blood, given and poured out for you.”

Having become His child by the washing of the water with His Word, you are on a pilgrimage with Christ Jesus, through the wilderness, into the Good Land of everlasting Milk and Honey.  And on the way, even now in the midst of sin and death, by faith you are able to see and acknowledge the hand of your dear God and Father in all the temporal blessings of this body and life, as well.

And as the Lord Himself has promised, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good Land He has given you,” here in time, and hereafter in eternity.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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