The Eve of Thanksgiving, Sermon 2018
Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Luke 17:11-19; LSB 846
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Appropriate for this evening, the sermon hymn gives us a good structure to follow in terms of our hopes and thanks.
We sang, in stanza one, “Your hand, O Lord, in days of old / Was strong to heal and save; / It triumphed over ills and death, O’er darkness and the grave. / To You they came, the blind, the mute, / The palsied and the lame, / The lepers in their misery, / The sick with fevered frame” (Your Hand, O Lord, in Days of Old, LSB 846:1).
We love to rejoice in the mighty works of God, and stanza one does just that.
For us, it’s an easy thing to sing a hymn that tells of the mighty works of God. We pick up the hymnal, turn to almost any page, and sing.
But there are those—friends, relatives, guests at your Thanksgiving dinner table—for whom even this hymn is scandalous.
There are people who claim no need of God—call them atheists or agnostics or heathen, whatever—who would use hymns such as this one against us, against the Church, against Jesus.
We sang, “Your hand, O Lord, in days of old / Was strong to heal and save; / It triumphed over ills and death, O’er darkness and the grave.”
Or, to paraphrase, God did stuff then. But not now.
To hear some tell it, if God did stuff now, like He did then, they’d believe.
They want proof. We can’t blame them—proof is a desirable thing. But we do pity them.
Because, logically, this is how the argument goes: if God did stuff now, I’d believe in Him. But He doesn’t do stuff now, so I don’t believe in Him.
That’s not a denial of God. That’s hatred of God.
You don’t deny God’s existence by saying He doesn’t do anything.
But when you claim that God doesn’t do anything, you confess that God exists—just that you don’t think He’s active, loving, all-powerful, or some combination thereof.
For many who have a connection to the church but no faith, the simple answers as to why they don’t go, why they don’t read their Bible, why they don’t sing hymns, the simple answers only mask a hatred of God, a fear, a loneliness that oppose Christian hope and faith.
Stanza two gets at that: “Your touch, then, Lord, brought life and health, / Gave speech and strength and sight; / And youth renewed and frenzy calmed / Revealed You, Lord of Light. / And now, O Lord, be near to bless, Almighty as before, / In crowded street, by beds of pain, As by Gennes’ret’s shore” (Your Hand, O Lord, in Days of Old, LSB 846:2).
Again it’s then that God acted. Then Jesus’ touch brought life and health.
But where is the evidence for now?
Is He here to bless? Is He almighty?
Have you seen crowded streets and beds of pain where God was needed-but-not-there?
If you’ve attended church your whole life, you’re not used to asking questions like this. You’ve been taught, or you’re just used to hearing and saying, that God is great, and good, and that we are to bless Him for all our food, Amen. Or something like that.
But this Thanksgiving pay attention to how people talk. There’s a big difference in how Christians talk and how non-Christians talk—or, perhaps I should say, there’s a big difference in the way unbelief speaks and how faith in Christ speaks.
Unbelief rejoices in materials—cause that’s all they got.
With Christmas already in our minds, what makes your Christmas every year? The money you spend? The stuff you accumulate? The picture of your Christmas tree with nine-thousand presents all around it? Is this what you rejoice to hear and say?
With Thanksgiving before us tonight, what makes your Thanksgiving? Family, friends, food, fellowship, football? How many “F’s” until we get to faith?
Unbelief rejoices in materials, stuff, things—that which is fungible. Cause that’s all they got.
Faith in Christ speaks a different language entirely.
St. Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
You see, faith hopes in the unchangeable reality of God’s goodness and love. You can’t exchange what God has done or gives or promises. It’s there for you to rely on. He’s there for you to hope and trust in.
Unbelief looks at the things God did in the past and wants similar things now—because unbelief rejoices in stuff.
And—to an extent—they have a point.
It’s not love if God only did stuff then and not now. For the groom to show up for his own wedding but not stick around is not love. Or, to say it in a way that’s excusable only because I’ll be gone for the next few days, for the husband to show up for the meal but check out when it’s time to clean up and do dishes, is not love.
If God only did stuff then—but not now. That’s not love.
Stanza two asks God to be near us now to bless those who are afraid and in pain.
But when you walk down a poor street or visit someone on their deathbed, it just doesn’t look like it
Stanza three: “O be our great deliv’rer still, / The Lord of life and death; / Restore and quicken, soothe and bless, / With Your life-giving breath. / To hands that work and eyes that see / Give wisdom’s healing pow’r / That whole and sick and weak and strong / May praise You evermore” (Your Hand, O Lord, in Days of Old, LSB 846:3).
This one aims high but suffers the same fate—so says unbelief.
It prays for God to restore our sick, quicken our dead, and bless us all.
But I am unaware of any literal miracles. Lots of like-a-miracles, but none of the real thing.
When a broken husband prays for his wife, or an innocent child prays for her broken father, or when you pray that secret prayer for yourself or for your spouse or for your friends or family, what are the odds that God will hear your prayer and act?
Unbelief answers that this way: if God did stuff way back when, then God must still do the same stuff now. That He apparently doesn’t (for the unbeliever) means God is all a lie.
But thus far we have not understood everything rightly.
In stanza two, the key is found in these words: “…revealed You Lord of Light.”
The miracles, the mighty works, the stuff God gave and did revealed Jesus as the Lord of Light.
The miracles don’t reveal Jesus as the Giver-of-Stuff but as the Saver-of-Sinners.
If God is a Giver-of-Stuff or a Doer-of-Miracles and He doesn’t give stuff or do miracles, you have nothing to believe in, because the stuff and the miracles are all you had and wanted.
But if God is the Saver-of-Sinners, and He doesn’t give you the stuff you want or dance to the tune you call or give you the miracles you want, He can still save the sinner.
There has been a day…and for some, it may be today…and, of course, there will be a day when your body and soul beg God for a miracle.
Maybe you’ll get it—and God is good.
But God is still good even if you don’t, because He is the Saver-of-Sinners.
Tomorrow, give thanks for what God has done.
He created you. Redeemed you in Christ. And sent His Holy Spirit into the world to bear witness of Christ that you would believe and live and rejoice forever.
He did not come that you would have abundant things. He came that you would have abundant life.
Let us pray: “O be our great deliv’rer still, / The Lord of life and death; / Restore and quicken, soothe and bless, / With Your life-giving breath. / To hands that work and eyes that see / Give wisdom’s healing pow’r / That whole and sick and weak and strong / May praise You evermore.”
In this life—and in the life to come.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen!