This was the thanksgiving service. The 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower, I thought it worth reflecting on what the Pilgrims might be able to tell us about both good order and what we should be thankful for.
Biblical Text: All Saints Day Lectionary (Rev 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12) Confessional Text: http://bookofconcord.org/defense_20_saints.php
The day on the Christian Calendar was All Saints (Observed). Actual All Saints is November 1st. The point of the day is slightly different depending upon the tradition you are in. In a Roman Catholic tradition it is about all the minor saints which might not have been celebrated. In the Lutheran or Protestant traditions it is more about a celebration of the church at rest, and how the communion of saint continues to help the church at warfare. In the Roman tradition that is straightforward – invocation or prayer directed toward the saint. In the Lutheran tat is not the case. Instead the saints become for us living examples. Examples of faith and of life. Lives worthy of thanksgiving. This sermon asks the question “What is a Saint” and explores their role in our lives.
Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-11
How does one use the name of God?
The right use of God’s name always ends in thanksgiving.
That I believe is the message contained in the story of the 10 healed lepers. It is not just a miracle, although it is that. Neither is it an overly simple, “aw shucks, we should give thanks” lesson, although giving thanks is a good habit. It is really a lesson on who has used the name of God rightly. There are three groups named at the start: Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. All three think they know how to use the name. The 10 lepers use the name in seeking mercy. But only one receives the grace. Only one receives the kingdom. This sermon contemplates the 2nd commandment from Luther’s catechism, which is a spiritual classic. And it ponders our lives, our prayer, praise and thanks, in light of the command and the text. What does it mean to use the name of God rightly? Think about it.
This was the Thanksgiving message. Hope you and your’s had a good day and continue having a good weekend with family and friends.
Text: Thanksgiving, 4Th Commandment, Psalm 104, Luke 19:1-10
Gospel in the World
That first Thanksgiving was definitely a celebration of material good, but it was also something larger than that. The pilgrims had arrived at Plymouth Rock in November of 1620. They spent that winter on the Mayflower. When they got off the ship in March 21st of 1621, less than half were alive. By November of 1621 that colony had had a good harvest, had seen its first marriage in May, and had established relations with the local tribes.
Luther’s long list of what is meant by daily bread – food, drink…house, home…husband, wife…good weather, peace, health…good friends. Could clearly be seen. Gov. Bradford’s Thanksgiving declaration is short, but has some of that same flavor.
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience…”
It is not as if the ravages of just a year prior were forgotten. What those pilgrims recognized was providence. They recognized exactly what Luther says in his first part. That God gives daily bread to everyone, even evil people. What we pray for when we ask for our daily bread is to recognize who it comes from, and to receive it with thanksgiving.
Trouble in the World
What I always find interesting is that is somehow seems to be easier to recognize providence after 7 skinny years instead of 7 fat ones.
Maybe there has been a time and place of greater material abundance than the United States, but I doubt it. I’ve read elsewhere that the number one health problem of the poor in America is obesity. Yet at the same time as our astounding material providence, it seems to give us nothing but trouble.
The bread to strengthen man’s heart, is turned into obesity, diabetes and drugs. The wine made to gladden the hearts of men, is tuned to abuse. The oil to make faces shine, seems to turn rancid.
We receive it all, and yet we don’t.
Trouble in the Text
And we don’t, not because God does not provide – because he does. We don’t because we often don’t recognize what we have. And when we don’t recognize what we have, we turn God’s good gifts into things that kill us.
The Pharisees had it all. As Paul would say, “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ (Rom 9:4-5).” They had the promise and presence of God. Yet that great providence had been reduced to checking off Sabbaths. “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”
They had received it all. But they didn’t know “that something greater than the temple was there.”
They wanted the sacrifice, and rebuffed the mercy.
But the son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.
When he hides his face, we are dismayed. When he takes away his breath, we die and return to dust.
When he sends forth his Spirit, we are created, and he renews the face of the ground.
The material is good, but the deep goodness of it rests upon knowing what we have – a Spiritual truth that those Pilgrims knew.
We have not just the providence of God, our daily bread. God surely provides this to everyone, even to all evil people. But we have the mercy of almighty God.
Christ has poured out his Spirit upon all flesh such that the presence of God is with us. We are renewed daily and hourly. We are renewed unto eternal life.
If we receive it. If we receive our daily bread – the manifold material gifts of the Father – with thanksgiving. If we just take it – it is never enough. But received with thanksgiving, we are filled with god things.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever, may the Lord rejoice in his works. And I am sure of this, that he who began this good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Text: Luke 19:1-10, Thanksgiving (3rd Petition Catechism, Psalm 147)
Thanksgiving is such a great shared holiday. It’s a secular one, but it treads on sacred ground. A sign to how those spheres in better days can work together. In the past I’ve attempt to dig out Lincoln or Washington or some other American President on the topic of Thanks, if not the day itself. Coolidge, maybe the last true heir of the Pilgrims, is more touching than you might think. Silent Cal loses some of his reticence to speak and having suffered personal loses in the midst of the roaring ‘20s, his reflections are homey-er and occasionally prophetic of what was to come.
But this year I think we’ve had enough of Presidents. The judgement passed I think if we are honest would be the God let us all have what we desired. If we didn’t like any of the results, that is what this Thanksgiving sermon is about.
The text, Zacchaeus, might not be immediate for Thankgiving. Part of picking it was simply it always gets skipped. Reformation Day and All Saints – because we Observe them on Sunday instead of the actual days – consistently bump a couple of assigned readings. Poor Zack is one of them.
But Zacchaeus starts out wanting something simple and specific. He wanted to see who Jesus was. The Galilean prophet of renown is approaching Jerusalem. Palm Sunday is only a parable away. I want to see this prophet. And mixed in there is probably some apprehension about his business. Zach was a tax collector and rich after all. Is this prophet and his mob one that is going to upset my revenue stream? How big and of what type is his following? Are they going to burn it down, and me with it? That is what he wants to know. Can I keep my life?
And the crowds are big enough that he has to climb his tree to see over everyone and get his glimpse. That is when what he desired starts to be changed.
Jesus looks up as he passes the tree and calls up to Zacchaeus, “Come down, I’m going to your place today.”
I doubt that is what Zack was thinking initially. In fact it is probably just the opposite. The last thing a rich tax collector wanted at his door was a populist prophet. But Zacchaeus hurries down and receives him joyfully. Not what he originally wanted, but something better. Fear turned to joy.
Now the people following Jesus I think had different expectations as well because they begin to grumble. We brought along the pitchforks, tar and rails for guys like this, and you are going to eat with him?
But somewhere in the midst of that grumbling Zacchaeus starts thinking about “Can I keep my life” in a different way. No longer is it – are my position and goods safe for me, but how am I walking with my God and my neighbor? And he takes actions that were probably the furthest thing from his mind at the start of the day. Half my goods to the poor, and if I’ve cheated anyone – which is more or less the definition of tax collector in the day – I restore it four-fold. Who is this man? Does the grumbling crowd recognize him? Does he recognize himself? “Can he keep his life?”
And Jesus answers that one for him. “Today salvation has come to this house.” Yes he can, but his life doesn’t mean what he thought in the morning. “Because the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”
We rightly give thanks for all the stuff we have – harvests and food and plenty. We rightly give thanks for those we have been placed with – family and friends, hearth and home. We rightly give thanks for all the first article bounties of creation that the Father daily and richly provides. And we share that thanks with all people because the Father daily and richly provides for the sinner and saint alike. A shout out to the traditional Thanksgiving text – all 10 lepers are cleansed even if only one gives thanks.
But our deeper thanks should not be over all those things that we desire. Our Father knows that we need them and provides. Our deeper thanks should be over what our Father knows we need, but we did or do not desire. He could hand us over to our desires. That is actually the punishment of sin. God doesn’t have to cook up lightning bolts and plagues to punish sins. He just lets us live with them. What our Father knew we needed was salvation. He knew when we didn’t that we were lost. We were bound to the plans of the devil the world and our sinful nature.
And he broke them. There on that cross he broke all those evil desires. That cross shows us where those desires end. In mocking, and cruelty and death. If we desire to keep that, we can.
But He has also called us. Today, I must stay at your house. If we desire His life, we can receive it joyfully. Because he’s done it, and though Christ and in Christ we are all Children of Abraham. He came to seek and save the lost.
That is our deeper thanksgiving. Not that God gives us the things we naturally desire. These are good, but we can often twist even the greatest of his gifts. We give thanks because in this one most important thing – life – he didn’t just give us our desires. God acted and continues to act. He builds up Jerusalem and gathers the outcasts of Israel. He determines the number of the stars, he gives to all of them their names. Sing to the Lord with Thanksgiving. Amen.
Biblical Text: Luke 17:11-19
Full Sermon Draft
Recording Note: Sorry, the live recording was unusable, so this is a re-recording after the fact.
I was sure walking into the pulpit this morning that I had failed. I was a page or more short. And I felt like that shortness wasn’t because I had successfully condensed a good word, but simply because I had wrestled with the text and lost. The Samaritan Leper is an easy story to just make into a moralistic word. There is nothing wrong with saying “give thanks”, the law is good and wise, but such often comes off not as “give thanks” but “give thanks because there are starving children in China”. There is always something specious about that old common phrase to get kids to eat. It doesn’t bring about thanks. It rarely made you eat your vegetables. So what I was struggling with was a way to preach not just “give thanks” as the law, but to make thanksgiving like the Samaritan Leper, full of wonder and joy and recognition. I thought I had failed, but somewhat surprising to me is that I got more good feedback than I would have expected. My inner cynic would say that is because it is only 10 minutes long, but I’m going to dismiss him as the crank he is. The Spirit takes the lessor and makes it greater.
Worship Note: Because of the recording problem you won’t hear it, but an important thing was this service started with a baptism. Baptism’s place in the sermon’s conclusion rests partly on what we had all witnessed that morning. Also, I just want to put this here. Lutheran Service Book 788, Forgive Us Lord, for Shallow Thankfulness, was the hymn of the day, surrounded by the staple hymns of Thanksgiving. This is also probably part of the rescue. Those are some of the best hymns in Christendom. But 788 is a powerful text. It is a comparatively modern hymn from 1965. I could wish that the text had a better tune, although Sursum Corda is not bad. It is the text that carries a necessary message about recognizing the greater and less, and not confusing them. The fifth stanza stands out to me: Forgive us, Lord for feast that knows not fast/for joy in things that meanwhile starve the soul/for walls and wars that hide your mercies vast/and blur our vision of the Kingdom goal. I’m sure it was written by a old fuzzy commie, but one that never let his politics become unmoored from the signs and wonders of the true kingdom.
Text: Luke 6:27-36, Psalm 34, Fifth Petition & Explanation
If I say prisoner’s dilemma or game theory, I hope you have some understanding of what I’m talking about. It is usually represented as a 2 x 2 grid. The Prisoner part is the standard cliché of cop shows. Two criminals in separate rooms. Each one issued demands. Tell us what happened. First one to open up gets the deal. The other guy gets the book. If the prisoners follow the code of omerta – they can’t be touched. But is your criminal buddy in the box next door going to talk? Do you risk a dime upstate to get away scot-free, or do you take the two-year stretch and talk? Prisoner’s dilemma is the negative framing. I always appreciated the more positive one. Think of the binary win/lose. There is a variable pot of money. If you both pick win, usually co-operation, you both get 7 units. If you both pick lose, usually hostility, you both get 2 units. But if one picks win and the other lose – the one who picks lose or hostility gets 9 units and the one who picks co-operation gets nothing. There is a clear world nobody wants to live in. Lose-lose only has 4 units. Its shelves are North Korea. There is also a clear world where we all want to live in. Win-win has 14 units. It’s the local Sam’s club of worlds. But those other two worlds are tempting. I could have 9 units. It is a much poorer world overall, but I’ve got it all.
As a kid and not so kid – I often found myself in lose-lose. Lose-lose can have a roguish charm. I can take this longer that you can. It’s the position captured in: Born to Run, Against the Wind, Rebel without a Cause, and more recently Breaking Bad. Walter White, a guy tired of choosing win and being paired with lose, sets it on permanent lose. “I’m in the empire business”. It’s all mine.
But even Bob Segar claiming he’s still running against the wind, finds himself searching for shelter. The Stones would end gimme shelter turning from rape, murder to love, It’s just a kiss away. The romance of lose-lose wears off with deadlines and commitments. Or with enough blood.
But the problem is not lose-lose, the problem is lose-win. How do you avoid a conflict with those who want a fight? Or maybe more troubling, how do you avoid making your own separate peace. I’ve got mine, go find someone else to get yours from.
Every real-politick expert and all the best research will tell you lose-lose is necessary sometimes to maintain win-win. When they put one of yours into the hospital, you put one of theirs into the ground. And that is true. It is not called real-politick for nothing.
But here comes Jesus saying essentially rip out your lose option and stick it permanently on win. Do good to those who hate you. The one who strikes you, give him the other cheek. Love you enemies. Completely unrealistic. Dangerously unreal.
And for us maybe it is. Although as a law – notice that the golden rule is embedded here. As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. As a law I think it tells us how far from righteousness we are. Just how impossible righteousness by the law is.
But if we hear this only as a law, I think we miss its purpose. “You will be sons of the most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Yes, it is a call to live the Christian life. But it is more a statement of how God himself acts. In Christ, God has ripped out his lose button. He’s declared peace and put down the conflict. We are the ones who insist upon conflict. And the only way to avoid conflict is to accept personal loss. To not withhold your tunic, as they gamble for it at the base of the cross. To accept the beating and the lash. To forgive those nailing you to the tree. To be merciful, as the Father is merciful.
Yes, it’s a call to the cross. One that even the best of disciples often run from. But it is also a statement of shelter. God always welcomes the prodigal. He always invites the older son in to the feast, when he’s willing to put down his accounting.
We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them…but God gives them to us by grace.
Thanksgiving can be about thanks for many things. But the wellspring of it should be we have this kind of God. One who is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. One who redeems the life of his servants. One that none who seek shelter in him will be condemned. One who loves his enemies and does good. Lending and expecting nothing in return.
And the best way to show that thanks? Turn away from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it. Sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us. Be conformed to the likeness of our God. Amen.
Biblical Text: Mark 13:14-37
Full Sermon Draft
This week we read the rest of Mark 13. The sermon is really divided into a macro and a micro part. The consolations are the macro. If you read Mark 13 as a whole there is a great rhythm to the sermons. The horrors seem to increase, but each increase ends with a promise. The point is not to stoke worry or even less rage as so much of the world’s narratives are designed to do. The point is to restore sanity. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He really does sit at the right hand of God. It’s going to be okay.
The micro part is when you start focusing on the words and tracing out what they mean in scripture and history. One part of that is listening carefully to Jesus’ time markers. When we listen carefully we can make the distinction between those times by which Jesus means the time around AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple and that day and that hour by which he means the last day. Those times have a specific sequence and will end within this generation. And they did. That day and that hour are unknown. That is necessary to set some ground rules, but the word that this sermon hones in on is abomination or more specifically the abomination of desolation. It is actually a well defined term or concept in the Old Testament and history. We can’t use it to make a timetable; that is foolishness, but we can think about endings of old orders. This sermon lays out that groundwork and does what a watchman does, it cries watch.
Musical Note: This morning was our matins week which I always realize when formatting is so defined by its music and continuous in one way it is difficult to cut pieces. But cut I did. I left in two musically bits. Our Choir sang “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” which is a great Last Sunday of the Church Year or Advent piece. And I left in the final hymn, Rise My Soul to Watch and Pray Lutheran Service Book 663, which is fast becoming one of my favorites and captures the key thought of Jesus’ sermon – watch. It is a great tune that you find yourself humming all day. The text is a typical Catherine Winkworth translation by which I mean crisply poetic and poignant if sometimes pietistic. (I’ve been told that her translations are often quite free. Nothing wrong with that because they work.)
Vision and Call, a thanks for those who bring God’s Word, as strange as it might be