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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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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20A

Track 1: Let Us Not Be Anxious about Earthly Things

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Have we ever found ourselves complaining against the Lord? The children of Israel had been liberated from slavery in Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders by God. Now, however. they were unsure that God would still provided for them. From Exodus we read:

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”   (Exodus 16:2-3)

Why is it that, when our faith is challenged, we want to go backwards, even when that means slavery to past problems? It is better for us to wait upon the Lord as he helps us to face the present.

God answered the complaints of his people:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”   (Exodus 16:4-8)

When we complain against God it is usually because we are focusing on the wrong things, the less important things in life. God knows our needs before we ask him. This beautiful prayer is found in the Book of Common Prayer:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Surely we are living in a time when earthly things are quickly passing away. How are we to be best prepared for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Today’s psalm may say it best:

Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.   (Psalm 105:1-4)

We remember that Jesus told a parable about a widow and an unjust judge. She continually sought the judge concerning her complaint. He finally granted her justice because he was tired of her complaining. Jesus said that Father in heaven would do better than the unjust judge:

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”   (Luke 18:7-8)

God responded to the concerns of the children of Israel in the wilderness. He has responded to our concerns in the past. But will we keep the faith? Will we seek his face on a daily basis? Will we continually praise his name? Will we tell others about the mighty things he has done, how he has given us salvation through the blood of his Son?

Let us not let the enemy steal our praise. Let us hold on to our holy hope. The world needs our witness all the more as the day grows darker and temporal things pass away. Jesus is calling us to keep the faith even in challenging times.

 


Track 2: The Privilege of Serving God

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

All of us are called by God for a specific ministry in his kingdom here on earth. Understanding our call and answering that call is just the beginning, though a very important first step. What happens when we accept that call and begin our ministry is a whole new level. Almost immediately, we are met with opposition from the enemy, particularly if we are following God’s plan for our lives. We often run into things that we did not expect to encounter. And the results that we wish to achieve are occasionally changed or transformed by the Holy Spirit, without our initial understanding of God’s purpose.

The prophet Jonah of the Old Testament was confused about his ministry. His ministry to the city of Nineveh offers a classic case of an expected result, at least on Jonah’s part. Nineveh was the notorious enemy of the Jewish people. As we remember, Jonah did not want to minister to Nineveh. He set sail in another direction, away from Nineveh. Eventually his sailing companions tossed him overboard when they discovered that his disobedience to God was jeopardizing the ship.

We now the story, Jonah was rescued when swallowed by a large fish. He then was persuaded by God to prophesy the destruction of this great city if its people did not repent. Unexpectedly, Nineveh repented, but this did not please Jonah. From the Book of Jonah we read:

This was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.   (Jonah 4:1-11)

Jonah wanted God to rain down destruction upon the people of Nineveh, even after they repented. What was Jonah’s problem? Perhaps he was too much into rewards and punishment. We can decided in our own minds who deserves punishment and who should be rewarded.

Jesus told a parable about workers in a vineyard which may help illustrate this point. As you recall, the owner of the vineyard hired laborers to work in his vineyard. Some of them were hired early in the day and others late. Some were hired even at the last hour. A problem arose because of this. We read in Matthew:

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”   (Matthew 20:8-12)

We may have a built-in understanding of what we think is fair play. (Keep in mind that we are talking about reward and punishment.) Again, from Matthew:

The owner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

This parable speaks on many issues. One issue is our sense of fairness. What is fair about “the last will be first, and the first will be last?” God’s order is not our order. His ways or not our ways. Just serving God is a privilegeThe Apostle Paul wrote:

Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well — since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have   (Philippians 1:27-30)

What keeps us from understanding the privilege of serving God? We have the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well. There are hardships in serving God. Things do not always go our way. But we are blessed to even be in the arena with God – to be counted as his servants. We are coworkers with Christ.

We are not working that we might receive salvation and enter into the kingdom of God. That is a free gift from God by faith in Christ Jesus. We do not have to keep score on ourselves or others. God is the one who keeps score. We recall the words of Jesus:

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’   (Luke 17:9-10)

These are harsh words for those who are working for rewards. But they are liberating words for those who know the joy alone of just serving Jesus in the vineyard, under any and all circumstances. To God be the glory!

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Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6A

Track 1: All Things Are Possible with God

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

God is the God of the miraculous. The Old Testament examples of his miracle-working power are numerous. Today we read about the three men who came to visit Abraham. Who were they? Were they three angels or perhaps three persons of the Holy Trinity? We do not know, but they had a message from God. Sarah, in her old age, would bear Abraham a son. For Sarah, the notion of bearing a child was laughable. In Genesis we read:

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”   (Genesis 18:9-14)

As we can see, one does not always take the promises of God seriously. Perhaps his promise is beyond one’s ability to believe. Our beliefs and our understandings can so easily limit us. God is not limited. The question for Abraham and Sarah and the question for us is: Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Well, God’s promise was for Abraham and Sarah. We are just ordinary people. Sarah and Abraham were just ordinary as well, as were most of our heroes in the Bible.

In today’s Gospel reading we see Jesus sending out very ordinary people on an extraordinary mission:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.   (Matthew 10:1-4)

God often sends his elect into hopeless situations. But we are not without hope. The Apostle Paul writes:

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

Yes, God makes extraordinary promises to us and he sends on extraordinary missions. We are asked to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones and preconceived boundaries. When we accept his gift to us and we accept his call, we often find ourselves in situations beyond our ability to handle. Less we lose hope, we must remember the words of Jesus: “You received without payment; give without payment.”

Jesus has made an extraordinary down-payment for us. He has given us his body and blood, and he has poured out his Spirit upon us. Are we to shrink back into our fearful, limited, and unbelieving selves?

Paul reminds us that we have access to God’s grace. And for that reason we are able to stand in his strength. We do not have to rely on ourselves. In our weaknesses God manifests his strength. Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

 

Track 2: You Are My Treasured Possession

Exodus 19:2-8a
Psalm 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Today’s reading from Exodus recaps God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from their exile and slavery in Egypt:

The Israelites had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 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 obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”   (Exodus 19:2-6)

The exodus story is our story as we;;. We are also God’s treasured possession because we have been engrafted into the branches of Judaism through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us that by grace we have been saved through faith. He writes:

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.   (Romans 5:1-2)

The question remains: What will be our response? Are we ready to share the glory of God? Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their unbelief in what God was offering and requiring of them. Are we, too, in the wilderness? We are if we do not understand the covenant which God has established for us by the sacrifice of his Son:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.   (Romans 5:6-8)

That covenant has been freely given to us by the grace of  God. It requires, however, a response on our part. We must allow ourselves to be loved by God. Do we appreciate his love and demonstrate that appreciation in tangible ways. Do we:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name?   (Psalm 100:3)

The passion of Jesus Christ invokes a passion in us. Do we respond as the beloved bride of Christ? We are his treasured possession. Let us treasure the one who gave us his all. He is our beloved. In Song of Solomon we read:

“He has brought me to his banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love.  (Song of Solomon 2)

Do we long for the marriage feast of the Lamb more than anything this world has to offer?

For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.   (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

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