11/28/2022 2:47:51 PM
The Basis for Our Thanksgiving
Pastor Joel Leyrer - Thanksgiving - Thursday, November 24, 2022
Dear Friends in Christ, Some of the Psalms tell us who wrote them. Psalm 100 does not, but it does tell us why it was written. It’s a single word in the original Hebrew language, but the inscription we find in one English Bible says this is a psalm “for giving thanks.” Another translates it “for giving grateful praise.” Either way, this makes it a most appropriate Word of God for us to contemplate today.
Let’s read it together. You’ll find it printed in your service folder.
Before we take a closer look at this Psalm and as a way of perhaps complimenting the thoughts expressed in it, I’d like to call your attention to another one. In this case we do know who the (human) author is. Psalm 73 was written by a man named Asaph, and in Psalm 73 ancient Asaph doesn’t seem so antiquated because he describes some timeless feelings and emotions that believers still wrestle with today.
Psalm 73 chronicles a spiritual journey that moves from a personal confession to a satisfying conclusion and ends with a joyful proclamation. Asaph begins by admitting how he felt it wasn’t fair that godless people who do wrong things appear to prosper and have everything life has to offer, while it was almost like he as a God-fearing believer was penalized for his devotion to God. Here he is seemingly playing by the rules and, in comparison to those who aren’t, things aren’t really going all that well. This just didn’t seem right.
As he continues to reflect on this he comes to the conclusion that maybe life isn’t to be judged purely by external standards, and Asaph remembers he has something all those others – including the ones he once envied – don’t have. He has God. Which means he has the promises God gives to his children. Which means he has heaven. And in the end, a strong and lasting relationship with God is all that matters.
Our Psalm for today upholds and corroborates Asaph’s discovery. It very clearly and very convincingly outlines for us
THE BASIS FOR OUR THANKSGIVING
And not just today, but every day.
Listen again to how this Psalm begins. It tells what to do. Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
How is it that our lives can be this medley of thanksgiving and praise and service and joy? Our Psalmist provides us with the answer: Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Here we are given the two essential reasons for thanking God: we know him, and he knows us.
Because of the possibility that at times it can either be taken for granted or simply assumed, and because of the reality that things which are taken for granted or assumed are often not valued as they should be, let us intentionally contemplate this simple, life-changing fact: We know that the Lord is God.
If you were counting, you’d notice that the word “Lord” is used four times in this Psalm. And if you were especially astute, you may also have noticed when we sang Psalm 100 earlier, the word “LORD” was printed in all capital letters (and for some unknown reason didn’t carry over to the version we just read together minutes ago, but should have).
At any rate, this is an English device to communicate that in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament a special word was used. That word reflects the fact that God is the great eternal and ever- present “I AM,” the only true “Existing One” who has shown himself throughout history to be the Savior God of free and faithful grace.
But here is the main point that is being made: We know this God. More than that, we have a relationship with this one, true God.
The sad fact is that not everybody does. There are those who have rejected him as well as those who are not yet informed. For them, Thanksgiving presents a conundrum. They know in their hearts and from their lives that they should be thankful, and they are in a horizontal sense (meaning they are thankful for the role other people play in their lives). But in the big vertical sense they don’t know who they are to thank. Good fortune? Their lucky stars? Some cosmic twist of fate?
But by God’s grace, today presents us with no conundrum. We know who to thank. Because we know (in the sense of understand and believe with all our hearts) that the Lord is God. Through the power and work of the Holy Spirit we know who God is, what he has done for us through his Son in the past, and what he promises to do for us in the future.
That knowledge – and all the comfort and strength and confidence for life it provides – truly is the basis for our thanksgiving. Everything else in the world is secondary to knowing the one, true God. That’s not an overstatement.
The popular 19th century American hymn writer Fanny Crosby understood this when she wrote:
Take the world, but give me Jesus! All it joys are but a name.
But his love abides forever, through eternal years the same.
Take the world, but give me Jesus. Sweetest comfort of my soul.
With the Savior watching o’er me, I can sing though thunders roll.
Take the world, but give me Jesus! In his cross my trust shall be
Till with clearer, brighter vision face to face my Lord I see.
Many believe that last verse was written with her personal condition in mind. Fanny Crosby lost her sight as an infant, but apparently she didn’t view this as either a disability or a reason to not be thankful. Later in life she made this statement: “If I had a choice, I would still choose to remain blind…for when I die, the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Savior.”
Which simply makes her another powerful witness to the truth of our text: When we know God, who he is, what he’s done for us, and where he plans on taking us, everything else is secondary.
There’s more. By his grace not only do we know him; the flip side is also true: He knows us. It is he who made us and we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Here we are reminded that God is the Creator of all things, including us. Every single one of us is an act of his creation. If we were paintings, we’d all be originals. Martin Luther calls attention to this in his explanation to the First Article – which we will gratefully confess at the conclusion of this sermon: “I believe that God made me and all creatures, and that he gave me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my mind, my senses, and all my abilities.”
There’s still more. As our Creator he is also our Preserver. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. In other words, not only does he know us and not only did he make us, he owns us. Through the waters of baptism he placed his name on us years ago. We are his, and, as such, he will take care of us according to our individual needs.
The imagery is a familiar one and found throughout the Bible. Like a shepherd who watches over his sheep, so the Lord watches over us and takes care of us.
And at no time is that more evident to us than it is on Thanksgiving Day. The blessings God has showered upon us both materially and spiritually are too numerous to mention. Many families have the custom of counting their blessings around the Thanksgiving Day dinner table, and upon reflection there is never a lack of things to say. If you haven’t been in this habit, you may want to try it.
But as you do, don’t forget to also thank God for what he hasn’t given you. For instance:
He hasn’t given you so many riches that you have forgotten God and lost the riches of Christ.
He hasn’t given you the whole world so that in the process you’ve lost your own soul.
He hasn’t given you so many friends that you have forgotten what a Friend you have in Jesus.
He hasn’t given you so many good days in a row that you have forgotten to look upward and remember the words of Psalm 121: “Where does my help come, my help comes from the Lord”…
And in all the difficulties that accompany living in a fallen world, he has not let us forget this promise: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out, so that you can stand up under it.”
Regardless of what our personal situation may be, we have never had a trouble that has taken away our faith in Jesus. Nor have we ever had one that Jesus could not or would not help us through, because “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So we thank God for what we do have, and we thank God for what we don’t have because we know his good and gracious will is behind everything. Confident of that truth, in the words of our Psalm, we can and we do: Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; [we] give thanks to him and praise his name.
Our text concludes by enumerating additional characteristics of God, which, in turn, provide us with additional reasons for thankfulness and praise. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
We could spend considerable time on each of these qualities, but let it be sufficient to say that the highest expression of his goodness, love and faithfulness to his creatures comes in the life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. The words of another hymn come to mind (verses from “Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”):
Jesus, the name that calms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease,
‘Tis music in the sinners ears, ‘Tis life and health and peace.
He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoners free;
His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood avails for me.
See all your sins on Jesus laid; the Lamb of God was slain;
His life was once an offering made, that we might live again.
Yes, the Lord is good and loving and faithful. And Jesus Christ is the ultimate proof. He is the basis for our thanksgiving today and every day.
So today we observe another Thanksgiving and with it we stop to take special note of something all of us already know: there is so much to be grateful for. That being said, the Psalmist reminds us that nothing we have or don’t have can trump these two facts: We know God and God knows us.
Happy Thanksgiving. Amen.