Thanksgiving – 2016 LSB #790
Text – 1 Chronicles 16:34
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!
HE COMES TO JUDGE THE EARTH
Normally I pick the title of my sermon from the words & the phrases of the chosen Bible text. This evening, for effect, I’ve selected as the title words that come immediately before it, because they contrast so magnificently with words that are very familiar to many of you. Those well-known words make up a commonly used table prayer:
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,” because He comes to judge the earth. How do we wrap our puny little minds around that disjunction? “Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good…” Our thoughts for this Thanksgiving will center around that apparent contradiction.
We need to begin with the understanding that in our heavenly Father’s mind there is no confusion, no conflict, no contrast whatsoever between those ideas that in the human mind are of opposing realities. To Jesus they are one & the same truth.
“Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good…” And not only is Yahweh good, “…His steadfast love endures forever!” The author of this portion of Chronicles seems to believe that judging the earth is a joyous occasion. Why does it strike such a discordant note in our minds?
Judgment is about ridding your soul & mine of sin. It’s about ridding our world of sin. It’s about cleansing all of God’s creation from the stench & the filth of sin. Lack of joy, on our part, over the coming judgment, reveals the dual nature of our loyalty. We say we believe in Jesus, yet we cling, ever so tightly, to the things of this world, & we dread losing them.
It’s a broken, twisted & corrupt world, but it’s the only one we know with our physical
senses. Thus the Word of God challenges us, instructs us & would lead us, to a life lived by faith & not by sight. Thanksgiving, as celebrated in America today, is all about sight. Forget faith. You can have all the stuffing you want right now! And when you’re done eating, then you go shopping because Black Friday now includes Thursday as well.
That physically unlimited lifestyle carries over to our spiritual living. When trying to satisfy the needs of our soul we often end up measuring progress with physical parameters. Haven’t you heard comments like these: “I don’t feel like I’m being fed. I just don’t see where anything is changing. What I hear does not seem relevant to the struggles of my life.”
Granted, pastors & churches aren’t perfect at sharing God’s love, but our heavenly Father has created them & has promised that He is working through them. So if you aren’t feeling, or seeing or hearing what you think your soul needs, maybe it’s your thinking that is off base, because the Holy Word of God actually does say:
“Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good…” If the trees of the forest are feeling fed, seeing things change, & hearing relevant words from God, such that they rejoice especially as our Lord is coming to judge the earth, then why are you confused & struggling?
Why is your faith in God’s promises so weak? Why are you not completely satisfied with everything that your Creator has given to you? Will your celebration of Thanksgiving really be about giving thanks, or will it simply be about getting more stuff whether that’s more family time, more food, or more shopping?
Those are challenging questions to answer & the truth is all of us would rather avoid that sort of ‘digging into’ the way we live our lives. We are afraid to question the motives behind our actions because each of us realizes that our heart is not clean. Our Creator has given us the antidote for our sins but somehow we seldom get around to putting it into practice. On the one hand, even the Christian people of our nation seem to have lost any sense of urgency over the fact that Judgment Day is on its way. On the other hand, even the Christian people of our nation don’t seem to realize that an actual Judgment Day will be something to thank God for.
Coming to judge the earth sounds too much like discipline to our hearts, our minds & our ears. We live among a people that wants nothing to do with discipline. We’ve grown soft & fat, not just around the edges, but at the very center of heart & soul. We refuse to take the stairs when an elevator is available. We skip reading the Bible when television can entertain instead.
After any extended period of easy blessings, sinful human beings always need a countering period of difficult blessings in order for them to re-learn obedience. Our nation has had its era of easy blessings & its people no longer desire to know their Creator. Look at how few people are here this evening to thank God for those easy blessings?
They’re too lazy to make the effort to be in our heavenly Father’s house. The reason they’re too lazy is they don’t love Him, & they don’t love Him because they see no need for Him. Speaking of easy blessings, our people already have everything they need for their physical life & for that reason they do not long to know their Creator & Savior.
For those of you who are here, have you considered why? Is it just because this is what you do on the eve of Thanksgiving? Is it just because the church is holding a service so you attend out of a sense of duty? Are you here because you truly are thankful to your heavenly Father for all that He’s done for you?
If you haven’t quite gotten to that point in your spiritual growth, it may appear to be hopeless. The devil often tempts us to just give up, but is it really all on you to get there? Are you the only one responsible for seeing to it that your faith in Jesus keeps on developing & maturing? The answer to that question is vitally important & it’s not simply a yes or no answer. As an adult, if your spiritual life is stifled & stagnating that is your fault & yours alone. That’s the bad news, but the good news is powerful & awe inspiring because it is not all on you to get your faith growing & blossoming & thriving.
That one is on God, your heavenly Father & Creator & Savior. It is the specialty of His Holy Spirit to create faith & to strengthen it & cause it to grow. Yet, God will not force that growth upon us & our sinful nature cannot help but drift away, run away & avoid the hard work of joining with our Lord by receiving His blessing of faith & trust.
We don’t put in the time & effort, refuse even, because we don’t see the need. We don’t feel the need. We don’t hear enough about our need for the difficult blessings from God & how those blessings are often much more beneficial than the easy blessings. Sort of like the way we long for candy but not for vegetables. Our sinful nature does not desire anything that is healthy.
The answer is to feed our saintly nature, & where does God’s Spirit promise to do that but in the Lord’s house. You may find God in nature, but He does not promise to forgive your sin through drinking clear mountain water, or through breathing pure mountain air. He does promise to do that through the preaching of His Word & through Baptism & Holy Communion.
It’s not easy to see the effects of those promises in our lives. I’ve baptized many children & given communion to many adults, yet I’ve never seen a miraculous change in behavior. The vocation of pastor above all others requires living by faith & not by sight. St. Paul confirms that teaching of Holy Scripture with his words in 2 Corinthians:
“For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (4:18b ESV) Too much of our thanksgiving celebration today is about things that are seen & smelled & eaten. Even a central focus on family get-togethers is transient as clearly seen in the fact that not everyone who was with us one, three or 5 years ago is with us today. More of our celebration should be about the things that are unseen, matters of the heart & soul. Those things are eternal. In heaven the family reunion will never end & none of its members ever will be lost to broken relationships or death.
Broken relationships & death come from sin. Too little food & too much food come from sin. Ingratitude to our heavenly Father comes from sin. Our view of difficult blessings, as a bad thing, comes from sin. As Hebrews 12:11 teaches:
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (ESV) Is the will of your heart aligned with the heart of Yahweh? Ultimately the answer is yes & no, if you are a child of God. Greater alignment comes not from our effort but from His.
Yet, we cannot measure that progress with physical parameters such as how much food is on the table, or by how many family members are with us. Here in this life we can only measure the progress of our alignment with our Lord by faith. In heaven we’ll be able to see & feel & hear that progress with every fiber of our being.
Until then, our Lord’s coming to judge the earth is good, because His judgment is for the purpose of eternally cleansing His creation of sin. His judgment that occurs while we’re still here on earth, or we could say His difficult blessings, are for the purpose of cleansing our hearts & minds of sin. Our sinful nature will never appreciate that.
Jesus calls us to tune out that nature, to turn away from it, to reject it as the death that it is. In our relationship to our heavenly Father, maybe, instead of 1st looking for the things He’s given us so that we can thank Him, we should rather begin with thanking Him & then looking for the reasons we do so. Feeding our saintly nature is the antidote for our sins. That feeding occurs here in the house of the Lord & we should eat here more often. Spiritually we’ve grown soft & fat because we’re not eating the proper food which the Son of God offers. We’ve chosen the candy of life instead – the transient things which are here today & gone tomorrow. The easy blessings of this life are good, but they are not eternal, & they do not save us from sin.
The sea roars & the trees of the forest sing for joy because the Lord comes to judge the earth. He’s coming to save us from our sins, & though our sinful nature is afraid & confused, Christ’s love brings life & healing to us even now. How much more will we be healed once we arrive in heaven?
That’s how we reconcile any apparent contradictions in our understanding of this Bible reading from 1 Chronicles. The confusion or fear in our minds can always be reconciled by the love of Jesus Christ. ”Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!” Then all the people said, ‘Amen!’ & praised the Lord.” (16:36 ESV)
For that our saintly nature is eternally grateful. Amen.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise Him, for He is your health & salvation! Let all who hear now to His temple draw near, joining in glad adoration! Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore Him! All that has life & breath, come now with praises before Him! Let the Amen sound from His people again; gladly forever adore Him! Amen. LSB 790:1, 5
Pastor Dean R. Poellet