Thanksgiving Day

breaking of breadA Sacrifice 0f Praise and Thanksgiving

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 100
Philippians 4:4-9
John 6:25-35

Observing a day of thanksgiving is an ancient tradition. While the Children of Israel were still in the wilderness, God instituted a day of thanksgiving through his prophet Moses:

The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.   (Deuteronomy 26:8-11)

The Israelites had not yet received the promise land and did not have any first fruits to present to God. Nonetheless, God instructed them to remember that he had brought them out of Egypt with signs and wonders and protected them on their journey. They were to celebrate and remember what God had done.

During hard times we may find it difficult to celebrate. How do with give thanks in time of lack?  The Apostle Paul wrote that we should begin by counting our blessings. When we make our requests before God we should do it with thanksgiving:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

Thanksgiving and praise is a way of entering into the presence of God. The psalmist wrote:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.

For the LORD is good;
his mercy is everlasting;
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.   (Psalm 100:4-5)

During times of great material blessings we face a different challenge. We may become too satisfied with those blessings. The tempter will always try to distract us with temporal things as he did with Jesus:

The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   (Matthew 4:3-4)

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus warned us against putting temporal blessings ahead of that which is eternal:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

The people had received a miraculous feeding from Jesus and were looking for more of the same. They equated this miracle with the miracle of the manna that God gave to Israel in the wilderness. Jesus taught them that there would be a greater blessing in store for them if they could receive it:

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”   (John 6:31-33)

Jesus was referring to receiving his body and blood through the Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper. The word that is used for Communion in many liturgical churches is “Eucharist.” This word comes from the Greek noun εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) which means “thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving Day in America is a special day of celebration with family and friends. We remember that America is a gift from God to us, and not to us only, but also to the world. There are dark forces that want us to dismiss America, and even God, altogether. We are told that it is wrong to celebrate America. It is out of place to give praise. This is so far from the truth of God’s Holy Word.

Let us continually celebrate and remember what God has done for us. Let us remember that God is the one who established America, though our founding fathers had to understand what he was doing and be willing to sacrifice their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. What are we prepared to sacrifice today? Are we still willing to give a sacrifice of praise?

America has not yet been perfected. In this lifetime it never will be. But should that stop our praise? In Hebrews we read:

For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.   (Hebrews 13:14-16)

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Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 28B

Track 1: Adoration

1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

As you may remember, Hannah was barren. In the house of the Lord she prayed for a son, promising that she would dedicate him to the service of God. Eli, the priest, told her that God would grant her what she had asked. Hannah was overjoyed. She believed what Eli said and God granted her petition. As she had promised, she was faithful in dedicating her son in the service of God.

In adoration, Hannah prayed to God:

 “There is no Holy One like the Lord,
    no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.   (1 Samuel 2:2-5)

King David, at the end of his reign prayed to God in adoration. From 1 Chronicles{

David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly; David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.   (1 Chronicles 29:10-12)

What did Hannah and David have in common and what was common about their prayers? They both new adversities and hardships, yet they kept their faith in God. And from their prayers it is evident that they both understood at least two things about God: God is sovereign and God is good. These are two key factors which lead us to adoration and praise before God.

Adoration is a matter of the heart. We have settle in our heart that God is love and that he loves us. Circumstances in life can lead us away from that understanding. As we grow in faith, however, we discover more and more of what God’s love means and what it means to each one of us. We demonstrate our acceptance and appreciation of his love by adoration. In doing so we return our love to him.

Adoration is a form of prayer. The more we practice this prayer we solidify our love for God in our hearts. Ultimately, adoration continues in our hearts even when we do not specifically voice it. It becomes a way of life. The Apostle Paul writes:

Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)

Are we a thankful people? Yes, there may be times in our lives when we find it difficult to give thanks. Paul also writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus  (Philippians 4:5-7)

Satan wants us to be discouraged and depressed. God will stand guard over our hearts and minds when we put our trust in him – when we offer him praise and thanksgiving. He will not allow the enemy to steal our joy. The key is adoration. God is sovereign and God is good. He is watching over us. He is protecting us, His peace is upon us. He is our strength and our rock. The psalmist writes:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.   (Psalm 18:2)

In adoration, we show our love and appreciation to God. Have we set our love on God? Again, the psalmist writes:

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
1With [f]long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”   (Psalm 91:14-16)

 

 

Track 2: Temple Worship

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

The Temple in Jerusalem was everything to a devout Jew. It was the primary place of worship, the place of atonement, the holy of holies which contained the Ark of the Covenant, the place which housed almighty God. Naturally it was impressive to the disciples of Jesus. In today’s Gospel reading, however, Jesus made this shocking remark concerning the Temple:

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”   (Mark 13:1-2)

Jesus would soon replace the Temple in Jerusalem with himself. When he was asked by what authority he had to cleanse the Temple of the money changers he said:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.   (John 2:19-22)

Jesus entirely replaced the sacrificial system by becoming the atoning sacrifice for us all. As the Book of Hebrews explains in today’s Epistle reading:

Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.   (Hebrews 10:11-14)

We can understand how the disciples were shocked when they were first told about the destruction of the Temple. The stones of the Temple were supposed to be lasting. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE during the Siege of Jerusalem.

How shocked would we be if someone told us that we had to give up our way of worship? Perhaps the Spirit of God is saying that to us today.

Which are our sacred stones? Are they a historic church building? A favorite preacher or Bible teacher? A bishop? A form of worship? What do we worship today?

Is Jesus our high priest? The curtain in the Temple which separated the holy place from the most holy place was torn down from top to bottom at the moment Jesus died on the cross. We cannot afford to build any more curtains. Jesus said:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.   (John 14:6)

The psalmist has written:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.   (Psalm 18:2)

Now is not the time to abandon our Lord. Rather, it is a time to understand fully who he is and what he has done for us. The Apostle Peter writes:

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built[a] into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him[b] will not be put to shame.”   (1 Peter 2:4-6)

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Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 27B

Track 1: God Has a Plan for Us

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Naomi struggled just to survive. Things seem hopeless for them. They stood alone, without family support. Naomi’s husband and two sons had died. She was in a foreign land without support. Only her daughter-in-law Ruth stood by her. Yet things changed. From today’s reading of the Book of Ruth:

Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.   (Ruth 4:13-17)

Naomi returned to Judah. Ruth found a husband. And then Ruth was blessed with a child who became significant, not only to her and Naomi, but to all of Israel.

The story of Naomi and Ruth is our story. Their struggle is our struggle. Life can be extremely difficult and challenging. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in life for us is trusting in the plan that God has for each of us. Do we trust God? Do we accept his ordering and steering of our lives.

The psalmist wrote:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
their labor is in vain who build it.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,
in vain the watchman keeps his vigil.

It is in vain that you rise so early and go to bed so late;
vain, too, to eat the bread of toil,
for he gives to his beloved sleep.  (Psalm 127:1-3)

I remember a difficult time in my life. I struggled to overcome apparent failures and setbacks. I was experiencing so much anxiety that I had trouble getting to sleep at night. Does that ring true for any of you? The psalmist tells us that God “gives his beloved sleep.”

To gain that sleep with all the challenges that faced me, I had to accept an even larger challenge. One of the greatest challenges in life is to accept the plan that God has for our lives. We cannot make things happen by our own wisdom and strength alone. We must trust God and allow him to take over our lives. I believe this is what Naomi learned to do, opening up God’s outpouring of blessings on her. From the wisdom of Solomon:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.   (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Are we ready to accept the challenge of trusting God? From Jeremiah we read:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.   (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

 

 

 

Track 2: God’s Economy

1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

God’s economy is not the economy of Wall Street nor the economy of bankers and the market place.It is not the economy which some are preaching:” If you give to the church enough money you will eventually win God’s lottery.”  It is an economy that can only be understood by revelation from God’s holy word.

Today we will look two widows: one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. First the Old Testament:

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”   (1 Kings 17:8-16)

From the New Testament:

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”   (Mark 12:41-44)

What did these widows have in common and what can we learn from them? They were poor and needy, facing desperate circumstances. The widow of Zarephath was barely surviving. There was widespread famine and she had little to eat. Nonetheless, she was willing to give the man of God all that she had. In the New Testament, Jesus observed a widow as she gave all the money she had to God.

How many of us are willing to give God all that we have? What would it take for us to do that? The two widows were desperate. But despite that they were able to take their minds off themselves in order to help others. Hopefully, some of the money in the treasury would go to help others in need. In the case of the widow of Zarephath, she gave all the food that she had to Elijah. In both cases, the widows must have been able to trust God for their provisions. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
whose hope is in the Lord their God;

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
who keeps his promise for ever;

Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,
and food to those who hunger.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger;
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.   (Psalm 146:4-8)

Are we willing to contribute to God out of our abundance? That is a big step for many of us. But to do what these two widows did would require an even greater step. We would have to believe that God is a just God,  that he is in control, and that he is willing to take extraordinary steps to care for our wellbeing. Is that our God?

Jesus said that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Our financial blessings can be distractions which take us away from depending upon God. The kingdom of God is made up of those people who place God first in their lives and not last, or somewhere down our list of hierarchies.

Where is our focus in life? If we are blessed financially then, all the more, we should be concerned about meeting the needs of others. Our character must become God’s character. God gives justice to those who are oppressed, gives food to those who hunger. lifts up those who are bowed down, cares for the stranger, and sustains the orphan and widow.

God’s economy requires everyone to do their part to help others. Jesus said:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.   (Luke 12:48)

We must take our eyes off ourselves and look at the needs of others. There are great opportunities for us to see the miraculous economy of God. We are part of that economy. All other economies are fleeting at best. They are passing away. Are we passing away with them?

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