Thanksgiving – 2015 LSB #’s 895, 732 v.1-3, 5-6, 806
Text – 1 Timothy 6:17-19
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous & ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
THE PROBLEM WITH THANKSGIVING
A wealthy man from Texas liked to give special gifts to his dad on Father’s Day. One year it was lessons on hang gliding. Another year, the father received the entire collection of Willie Nelson songs. Last spring the rich Texan felt he’d topped all the other years combined. He bought a rare kind of talking bird.
Besides speaking five languages, this fowl could sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while standing on one foot. The talented bird cost $10,000, but the Texan felt it was worth every penny to honor his father. Dad would never forget his Father’s Day gift from this year!
A week after the gift arrived, he phoned his father anxiously waiting to hear what he thought of the present: “Dad! How did you like the bird?” “Fine,” said the father. “It was absolutely delicious!” You might guess it was the wealthy Texan who never forgot that Father’s Day gift. It ended up being a $10,000 turkey.
But that’s what all of us are hoping for with tomorrow’s meal, isn’t it – that it would be absolutely delicious? I suppose you’re also hoping it costs a bit less than 10 grand. I would guess that parents especially, are hoping for a Thanksgiving in which the whole family is able to be there, the children get along & everyone appreciates the time they spend together.
We never know when those opportunities will end, so when they do, if we’re caught unprepared, people can end up with nothing but regret over what they shoulda, woulda, coulda done. The same is true, only worse, with our spiritual opportunities. Hell will be one endless cycle of shoulda, woulda, coulda. If only… The true problem with Thanksgiving is not how much the bird cost. The problem is that the focus too easily ends up, & remains, on nothing more than the meal, or the family time together. Family & meals are very important, but they are not so imperative that they should overshadow the One we are to be thankful to.
“…charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Those are the instructions of St. Paul to his protégé Timothy, & to every under shepherd of Christ who has ever followed Him.
Pastors are to encourage the members of their congregation & community to set their hopes on God, & on Him alone. Everything else in this life will eventually fail – even fond memories of Thanksgiving holidays, where all the family was there & everyone got along. Memories can be beautiful, but they cannot nullify or erase the evil that happens in this world.
Pastors need to focus our hopes on Jesus alone because our sinful nature twists & corrupts every single blessing that our heavenly Father bestows upon us. Apart from the promises that Christ has made, & that Christ has kept, nothing survives this world undammed.
If you look at the evil of terrorism in our day, nothing of this world can erase the damage that was done to the victims or their families. The answer has to come from outside this world. It must come from a place that is untarnished & unbroken. That’s why the only-begotten Son took on human flesh to enter time & space for the purpose of re-creating this world.
That program is in place. It is happening right before our very eyes, even though we cannot see it. The father of the wealthy Texan did not see a talking bird. He saw one to provide a meal. His vision was too narrow to see anything more than that. Our vision also is too narrow. We see blessings as something to consume. We see them as a commodity to be used.
We totally fail to see blessings from God as a sign of the relationship He has with us.
When you have to tell a child to say thank you for a gift they’ve totally missed the importance of the relationship, & are solely focused upon the material thing they have received. On the other hand, when someone, whose friendship you value, gives you a gift the thank you comes easily & spontaneously.
That happens because you value the relationship as much as, or more than, the gift. In those circumstances, no reminders are necessary. However, Christians celebrate Thanksgiving precisely because reminders are often necessary. Just a casual look at our nation & its culture makes that perfectly clear.
As a country, we have been blessed beyond measure. Yet, as a culture, we are increasingly moving the God of the Bible, & His teachings, out of the picture. More & more of the noise we hear is making it clear that a large number of people in the United States do not want to be reminded of the relationship our heavenly Creator longs to have with us.
For that reason, our celebration of Thanksgiving, as a reminder of whence all blessings come, is more important than ever. And because it is more important the devil is working diligently to divert our attention away from our Father in heaven.
Satan is glad to have us put way more emphasis on the delicious meal than on Christ. He is delighted to have us place more importance on the gathering of family than on Christ. Lucifer can’t wait for us to tune in to the Thanksgiving Day parades, or to the football games, if either of those move the Holy Trinity to the sidelines of our celebration.
In years past it was not uncommon for families to pray together before their meals, & again after the meal. In the families of both my parents, no one was supposed to leave the table until after the prayer of thanks, which wasn’t given until everyone was done eating. To us children it was annoying because we wanted to leave & play as soon as we finished stuffing our face. Though we weren’t thankful to God at heart, the rule was enforced because it was part of our instruction. Now in my later years I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of that training. If our parents had not enforced the rule they would have been robbing us of that future blessing.
In Proverbs 15:32, God tells us the reality of what’s going on behind the scenes: “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself…” If we are failing to give thanks to God, every day of our lives, it’s because we despise our very selves.
So our celebration of Thanksgiving is first & foremost meant to remind us of the incredible relationship we have with the Lord of the universe. And in that relationship, Psalm 121 describes the attitude that our Lord desires most of all for each of us: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” (Psalm 121:1 KJV)
Fond memories are important, a good meal is nice, family & friends certainly are a blessing, but eternal life does not come from any of those. Healing from terrorism does not come from any of them. Our sins are not forgiven & erased by those blessings.
Unless we accept, trust & believe in the relationship Jesus created for us, as He was born on Christmas Day, no matter how sincere, our celebration of Thanksgiving will not last for eternity. With Christ, our thanksgiving will never end.
The problem with Thanksgiving is this – we can fake it, even though our heart is not in it. True thanksgiving is a matter of the heart, just as faith is. You can go through the motions of faith & you can go through the motions of Thanksgiving, but God is not fooled. It’s the problem Jesus highlighted in the Gospel reading from Luke 17.
All ten lepers were healed, but only one of them recognized the relationship Jesus had created with him: “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return & give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise & go your way; your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:17-19 ESV) I want to highlight that Jesus did not say, “Thanking Me has made you well.” Rather, it was the Samaritan’s faith in Jesus that gave him, not just healing, but eternal life. That Samaritan’s new found relationship with his Savior was at the root of his genuine & spontaneous thanksgiving.
It is that life-giving faith, created in us by God’s Spirit, which St. Paul is encouraging when he tells us not “…to set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” If we do that we will be rich in good works, generous & ready to share, storing up treasure for ourselves as a good foundation for the future.
That future is heaven! It is paradise for all who believe in Jesus as Savior from their sins. The only other future is hell, which can hardly be described as a future at all. The difference between the two is vast & monstrous. In this life we cannot comprehend it. By the time we do grasp, in the next life, it will be too late. The decision will have been finalized.
Back to the problem with Thanksgiving: like the rich Texan’s father, we fail to see all the possibilities to use our blessings in God-pleasing ways. We see food as something to consume. We see money as something to spend. We see time as something to be used for our own benefit. We view saying thanks as something we’re obligated to do, rather than as an act of love.
Because our nation has been so tremendously blessed, we pray that our heavenly Father would enable us to survive the abundance of what He’s given. St. Paul wrote to Timothy because the people he was shepherding thought that religion was a way to become wealthy.
Paul reminds them that since this life, & world, is corrupted & broken, we are to find our true riches, our true satisfaction in God & in the life to come, which will be life as our Creator meant it to be. There’s nothing evil in wanting to enjoy a delicious meal, but that can fly in the face of reality if God has a different plan. His plan is always best, even if it fails on many occasions, to line up with our ideas. This text is always relevant, because in every generation the church is plagued, more or less, by those who teach that religion should be used in attaining earthly riches. They appeal to the lower nature in man maintaining that we should live right in order to be blessed with earthly gain. That is the problem Paul is dealing with in our text.
Christ teaches us that we should live right as a response to the love He has given to us. We should live right, because that is how our godly nature desires to live. We are to live right because that is who we are – children of God. Listen then to St. Paul’s words to the church at Philippi, as he describes the Christian life that God has given to us:
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire & the power to do what pleases Him. Do everything without complaining & arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked & perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain & that my work was not useless.”
May God bless each one of you with the wisdom, the insight & the knowledge to receive with thanksgiving whatever blessings He bestows upon you – tomorrow, & in all your days to come. And may God bless you such that you can tune out the “noise” of this world, & keep your heart & your eyes focused on Jesus. Amen.
All depends on our possessing God’s abundant grace & blessing, though all earthly wealth departs. They who trust with faith unshaken by their God are not forsaken & will keep a dauntless heart. If my days on earth He lengthen, God my weary soul will strengthen; all my trust in Him I place. Earthly wealth is not abiding, like a stream away is gliding; safe I anchor in His grace. Amen.
 1 Timothy 6:17
 1 Timothy 6:17
 1 John 3:1a
 Philippians 2:12-16 NLT
Pastor Dean R. Poellet