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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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Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 28A

Track 1: Go, Take Your Position

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

There were many great female leaders in the Bible along with the men. Today, let us look at the ministry of the prophetess Deborah who was Judge of all Israel. She served at a time when Israel was disobedient to God. As a result, God had delivered the Israelites into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan.

From Judges we read:

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”   (Judges 4:4-7)

The the commander of King Jabin’s army was Sisera. Sisera was formidable. He had he hundred chariots of iron. His strength would have been far too great for Israel to face alone. The assignment that Deborah was giving Barak son of Abinnam would be difficult at best, if not impossible. Why would he want to accept it?

Why would we accept a difficult assignment? For Barak, the answer lies in the fact that Deborah’s charge was also God’s charge. Not only that, but he had the assurance from God that God would be with him and bring him the victory. Of course, he still had to trust God and carry out what God was asking.

What about us? We are living in difficult times today. God is still giving out difficult assignments. He is still saying: Go, Take Your Position. God has a position for each of us. That  position is important, not only to us, but to the people who are counting on us. In fact, God is counting on us. Will we take up our position?

If the answer is yes, then it will still take great faith and trust on our part, because we will always face formidable opposition from the enemy. We will first want to hear from God clearly about our assignment. We cannot go off on our own, even for a cause that we believe is right. God determines the right cause for each of us.

Further more, we cannot claim any victory on our own, The Apostle Paul wrote:

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved,[a] be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.   (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

Israel needed the mercy of God Deborah’s time. We need the mercy of God today. Our country needs his mercy. There are enemies afoot, both within and without. To overcome our enemies we must seek the will of God each day in our lives. The psalmist wrote:

To you I lift up my eyes,
to you enthroned in the heavens.

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he show us his mercy.   (Psalm 123:1-3)

Are we looking to the Lord our God? Are we listening to him? If so, then he has an assignment for us. And he is saying: Go, Take Your Position.

 

 

Track 2: I Knew That You Were a Harsh Man

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Many of us are familiar with the parable of the talents. In the parable, the master gave certain talents to his servants to invest while he was away. (A talent represented a rather large sum of money) Some servants received more talents than their fellow servants. Nonetheless, when the master returned it appears that he though each one of his servants had invested wisely

There was exception – the foolish servant who buried what he had been given by the master. From Matthew we read:

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.   (Matthew 25:24-27)

Why did this man bury his talents? He stated his reason in the parable: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”

Is that the way we see God? Maybe we had parents who were very demanding, or a boss, or a teacher. In the parable, the master was fair. Even though his servants did not receive the same amount, he reward them according to how well they used the talents they were given, not by any absolute universal standard. The expectation of the master was that each servant would do their best to add to what they had been given, regardless of the amount of money they were asked to invest. The foolish servant had misread the character of the master. If we are not careful, we can misread the character of God. God’s true character may be seen in his Word and by his deeds.

The foolish servant was afraid of the master. Did he think he was all alone and could not ask for help? Have we ever felt that way? The  Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.   (Jeremiah 33:2-3)

We are not alone. We are not asked to prove ourselves before God by our own wisdom and strength. The foolish servant was in a state of paralysis, but the foolish servant did not understand the character and nature of the master.

Of course, there is accountability with God. He cannot overlook sin. The Prophet Zephaniah warned of the coming day of the Lord:

Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is at hand;

the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people

who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,

“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”

Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.

Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;

though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.

The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;

the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.

  (Zephaniah 1:7,12-14)

For Christians, the day of the Lord has already come. The prophet wrote that God had prepared a sacrifice. That sacrifice was his son Jesus hanging from a cruel cross. It was a time of darkness. It was the day in which God punished all sin. We are participants of that day, provided that we have placed our sins upon Jesus.

There is a time of judgment coming. It is hastening towards us. But this time of judgment is not for us. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.   (1 Thessalonians 5:8-11)

Let us not misunderstand the character of God. Now is the time for us to encourage one another. It is not time to hide our gifts. Jesus Christ is our hope of glory. Let us shine for all the world to see. Amen.

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Saint Michael and All Angels

649Spiritual Warfare

We are in a battle on this earth. The battle has been ongoing for a long time but it did not begin here. The battle began in heaven:

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.   (Revelation 12:7-9)

We are in an epic battle and we must understand who our real enemy is. The Apostle Paul writes:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.   (Ephesians 6:12)

We are fighting the forces of evil. Evil is real. We cannot defeat it by our own strength. Fortunately, we are not in this battle alone. God is with us. His holy angels are on our side. The archangel Michael and his angels are still fighting for us. Today, we honor Michael and all the holy angels.

Yet, it is important for us to understand that we do not worship angles but the One true God who has made us all. Again, the Apostle Paul writes:

Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,   (Colossians 2:18)

Angle are not to be worshipped. They are to be honored. Let us show our appreciation for the warring angels through our prayers. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord has set his throne in heaven,
and his kingship has dominion over all.

Bless the Lord, you angels of his,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
and hearken to the voice of his word.

Bless the Lord, all you his hosts,
you ministers of his who do his will.   (Psalm 103:19-21)

We can give thanks to God for our guardian angels, but we should not pray to them, or to anyone else, but God alone.

The holy angels are fighting against evil and we must also fight evil. We have two primary weapons to do so. In Revelation we read:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,

for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.

But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,

for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.   (Revelation 12:10-12)

We have the blood of Jesus which covers our sins. This gives us access to the throne of God. By faith in the blood of Jesus we appropriate the righteousness of God in Christ. Thus we have authority over the devil. That is important to understand because prayer is our primary weapon against evil. We can bind evil with our prayers because we have authority over evil by the blood of the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ

Our faith must be complimented by our testimony, however, if our prayer is to be effective. If we claim the blood of Jesus then we must boldly tell others. Our prayers are also made powerful by the word of our testimony. Let us be bold as the Archangel Michael and not shrink back from the face of evil in this world. Amen.

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