Download or listen to the Day of National Thanksgiving: “Thanks for What?” (Deuteronomy 26:1-11)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The difficulty with hearing Deuteronomy 26 on this day of national thanksgiving is that we can easily confuse Israel with the United States. With all its Puritan history of cities on hills and promised lands, Christians have long confused passages that speak of Israel’s Land of Promise with the prosperity of this country. So when we gather together in the Lord’s House on a day which is a national day and not a Church festival, we have to be clear about why we are here. We’re not here because this is a Christian nation. Some of the founders were Christians, some were not. Christianity is the religion that the majority of people in this country claim, but it’s not even close to being the only religion. We’re also not here because this is the land of which Moses speaks in Deuteronomy when he says, “When you come into the land that [Yahweh] your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it…” or when he says that God “brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:2, 9). If this were the Land of Promise, then the same severe warning would apply to the U.S. that applied to Israel: If you do not obey God and you worship other gods, then He will cast you out of the land; He will bring all sorts of disaster and devastation upon you. Moses says to the people of Israel, “For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against [Yahweh]. How much more after my death! … For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of [Yahweh], provoking him to anger through the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:27, 29). No, I don’t think we want to take on the burden of Israel for the United States. Besides that, what makes us so confident that we are under God’s blessing, rather than the curse?
We might want to compare our prosperity with the land of Canaan, but this country is not the promised land. As Americans, our ancestors were never in Egypt, never released from slavery by the mighty working of God, never wandered in the wilderness, never entered the Land of Promise by crossing the Jordan River. As Americans, we are not the chosen people, and a Day of National Thanksgiving does not mean that people are thanking god, let alone the Holy Trinity. On this day we might find significance in the fact that, when they entered the Land of Promise, the Israelites were supposed to appear before the priest and bring a basket of the first fruits of the land and offer them in thanksgiving to God. “And you shall set it down before [Yahweh] your God and worship before [Yahweh] your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that [Yahweh] your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you” (26:10-11). I hope you brought your Levites and sojourners with you this morning. So we are here, obviously, to give thanks. ***But I’m not thankful. Not really. I should be. But I’m not. I could make up a list of things that I think I’m thankful for, like we all do, but that list ends up being so trite and superficial. Family, friends, food, health and home, etc. Should I not also be thankful for things like hot water, refrigerators, toilet paper, trash bags, and opposable thumbs? I should be thankful for these and all sorts of things, but if I’m really honest with myself, I’m not thankful at all. Everything I have I take for granted and I have forgotten to give thanks far more often than I’ve remembered. My universe is completely self-centered and vain. I use what I have as if it’s my right to have it, and when the trash bag rips or the hot water runs out, I get upset as if I’ve somehow been wronged. I’m not really thankful. I’m selfish. Really selfish.
So how is a Christian to give thanks, on this day and every day? Not by eating pie and watching football (both of which I plan to do). We give thanks, rather, by approaching the throne room of God at the altar of His Son’s body and blood, saying “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” This is the way a Christian begins to give thanks. Not by giving anything at all. Let us not be so arrogant as to think we can give enough of our thanks to God for the infinite blessings He graciously bestows. Rather, we give thanks by receiving the one thing God so desperately desires to give us.*** Release from the slavery of our own making, to things and our own desires. His singular Word of undeserved forgiveness because of His Son’s death and resurrection for you and for me. The baptism which He will finish in the promised resurrection. The Feast that will last far longer than leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. And your God will continue to give and give and give some more, until you are not ten percent His, or partly His, but completely His. He will continue to pry us from the strong grip of this world, until we kneel before our Great High Priest with the full harvest of righteousness from the seed of faith He planted, and watered, and made grow.
We are about to begin Advent this Sunday, and, oh, we need it. We need to be reminded of how badly we need a Savior. We need to be reminded that our Savior-King is coming again. We need Him to come because we cannot free ourselves from our self-centered thoughts and desires, from our own ungrateful hearts and minds. We need Him to come because we change all His gifts into opportunities to make ourselves fat and comfortable. O God, rend the heavens and come down! Come, Lord Jesus and heal us! Come to us this Sunday and feed us with something more than what will fill our bellies and our covetous eyes. Come quickly and bring us into the final and perfect Land of Promise, which You have purchased with Your own blood. Bring us, sojourners all, to our true home and to the true Feast. For that, we give you eternal thanks and praise.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/22/11
***The section between the asterisks is taken (slightly modified for preaching) from Pr. Anthony Voltattorni’s excellent blog post on Thanksgiving. You can read the entire thing here: http://allbeggars.blogspot.com/2011/11/im-not-thankful.html