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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.

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.

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.’”

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.”

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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Filed under Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Thanksgivig Day, Year A

Independence Day

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.

A More Perfect Union

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our great heritage as a nation, let us also look at another nation which, in biblical times, was given a great promise and covenant from God. The founders of these nations had at least one thing in common, they trusted in and relied upon God for their formation and mission. One nation was to be a great missionary nation. The other was commissioned by God to be a holy nation and royal priesthood.

Let us look at America first. The delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence took on great personal risk. They were fighting for what they thought was a higher cause and purpose than themselves. As written in the Declaration, they affirmed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As part of the Declaration, they made this pledge also:

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They did so, realizing what the pledge might bring to them personally. Nevertheless, they did not look back. They fully gave themselves to the cause.

The cost was steep. Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or hardships from the war.

Whether realizing it or not, they were following the example of Abraham and his decedents. Abraham entered into a covenant with God. When he did so he entered into unknown territory. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.   (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Abraham did not look back. He endured hardship not only for the promise which God had made to him. He did so for the benefit of all the generations who would him.

Those who followed Abraham endured great hardships as well. Again, from Hebrews we read:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The hardships were for a purpose. Israel was chose by God for a divine purpose. At Mount Sinai God spoke to Moses concerning their mission: 

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”   (Exodus 19:4-6)

This struggle, however, did not nullify the promise which God made to Moses at Mount Sinai on behalf of the children of Israel.

America has not yet become the land which God has called it to be. And Israel has not yet become a holy nation and a royal priesthood. What is impossible for humankind is not impossible with God

After the terrible battle of Gettysburg, which cost so many lives, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in his famous address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We have not fulfilled these words. Despite our efforts, we have fallen short of the dream that our forefathers had for America. We are not yet that nation under God, which provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens. This does not mean that we should stop striving. Without God the dream would not even be possible.

Our nation is now under attack, both from without and from within. There are people and forces who  wish to destroy America as we know it in order to rebuild their uptopia. While they tear down our institutions and work to destroy the family, they tell us to put our trust in them. They will save us if we follow them.

In today’s Old Testament lesson we read:

You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.   (Deuteronomy 10:20-21)

Moses was reminding the people of the true architect of the nation of Israel. Perhaps we need the same reminder?

God is calling us to perfection, but we must be willing to follow him. He is our perfection. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about perfection:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:43-48)

How will we ever achieve this perfection? We certainly cannot do it on our own. We need divine help. The hope for perfection is fulfilled by faith in Jesus Christ alone. It will take the Millennial Reign of Jesus on the Earth before perfection comes.

Israel will one day be a holy nation. Since we are the ingrafted branches, the American dream and experiment will also be consummated as Christians believers the world over join the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, we must press on. We must return to our heritage and, once again, seek to be a nation whose God is the Lord.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.   (Psalm 33:12)

Amen.

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