THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PRIVILEGE
Thanksgiving Eve – 2021 LSB #’s 806, 703, 885:1-5
Text – Psalm 50:14
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, & perform your vows to the Most High,
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PRIVILEGE
The word ‘privilege’ has become all too common in the recent language of our culture. It’s being thrown around so often that anymore it means almost nothing other than a slam against people who were born with light colored skin.
As for the title of the sermon, you may think it came from the conflict going on in our culture today. The truth is, I got the title from a sermon, written for Thanksgiving, in the year 1947. The preacher was writing from a viewpoint of the world, after WWII, when the United States was the preeminent nation in the world. He said:
“Of recent years, …the contrast between what we enjoy & of what others are deprived of has become so tremendous that many of us have become slightly uncomfortable in our prosperity. The smug superiority of the 1920’s was not a sign of good health, & we had to pay for it in the 1930’s.” Then he wrote, of life after Victory in Europe & Victory over Japan:
“Now comes the dawning realization that ‘to whom much is given, of him much shall be required’ (Luke 12:48); & that is all to the good. For the very idea of sharing is based on the stupendous truth that, in Christ, God has shared Himself with us, holding nothing back, pouring out all the love of His infinite nature in the cradle & the cross of His only-begotten Son.”
Since he was preaching in 1947 it seems that God’s Word is applicable across the ages. The Word of God also has a message to us about privilege & it is a much more beneficial message than that of our current culture. God’s Word is one that brings healing & hope to everyone, to those who lack privilege as well as to those who have received it. Psalm 50 offers that healing & hope to everyone throughout time & space.
Its opening words, “The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks & summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.” put this psalm in a cosmic setting. Yahweh is calling to the entire universe of His creation, putting the heavens & the earth on the witness stand to testify to the justice of His verdict.
All human beings have been offered the privileges that come with being a child of God. What have we done with them? How have we responded to those privileges? This should bring to mind the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke:
“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; & when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” (12:48b) In the secular sense, no human being can justifiably say they have not been blessed by God. In the spiritual sense that is even more true regarding every single child of God.
Our Lord has piled blessing upon blessing over us – every breath we take, every beat of our heart, every opportunity to gather in the house of God – all of these we do not cause, nor deserve. And those are just some of the basic blessings that we seldom give thought to, or thank God for. You & I have more luxuries than anyone in 1947 could have imagined.
The home in which my father’s parents lived, didn’t even have electricity until about 1947. That home didn’t have central heat until sometime in the 1960’s. I can still remember going with my father to get coal for grandma’s kitchen stove. It’s strange, now, given all the luxuries of life we are accustomed to, to think of our country in those days as prosperous.
That’s because we inherently focus too much on the material things of life. People, who have been saved from hell, purely by God’s grace & mercy, have been prosperous throughout the history of the world. That’s why Yahweh calls the heavens & the earth as witnesses to the justice of His verdict. Three verses into the Psalm, fire threatens to consume the sinners & a tempest threatens to drive them away like chaff. God’s warning is that divine judgment is coming, not just to the world, but to the people of His covenant.
The chosen people of God have a special responsibility given to them along with the privilege of eternal life that the Lord bestowed upon them. And that eternal life was not given to them because of anything special they had done to deserve it. In fact, they did nothing to earn God’s blessing.
Already back to the very beginning, what did Adam & Eve receive once they had rebelled against their Creator & defied His love for them? Did they get a knock upside the head? No! When they ran away to hide, Yahweh sought them out & blessed them with the promise of a Savior who would pay for their sin & restore all of creation.
At the time Psalm 50 was written, too many of God’s people were just going through the motions of worship. They publicly confessed God’s Word, but that was an abomination to Yahweh, because the lives they lived were totally at odds with His Word. As Jesus later said of the Pharisees:
“…you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones…” (Matthew 23:27 ESV) Since God was patient, they thought they were getting away with their focus on the material things of life at the expense of the spiritual things.
Their hearts were far from their Creator. Their knowledge of God & their lives before Him were in total contradiction. For the sake of His holiness, Yahweh had to unmask & punish them, in the hope that they would repent. In verse 21, Yahweh will set before the eyes of the sinner, the true state of his heart & life, so that he shall be terrified at it: “These things you have done, & I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you & lay the charge before you.” (Psalm 50:21 ESV) Light skinned people like us, may not appreciate being slandered with the phrase ‘white privilege,’ but you & I are not guiltless before God. Our sins also must be unmasked that we be terrified of them & repent.
That God has allowed us to live, & given the opportunity to repent of our sins, whatever they might be, should give us cause for thanksgiving, not just with outward motions, & not just on one day of the year. Your heart & mine should be bursting with joy every moment of our lives. That joy should then carry over into service to the people around us.
Yes, even on the one day a year that we dedicate to thanksgiving, we fail miserably, no matter how much turkey we eat. That failure, however, is not cause for despair. Instead, it is just cause to ask for another helping, not of gravy & mashed potatoes, but of forgiveness.
As Luther said in his 1st of the 95 theses, the entire life of a Christian should be one of repentance. And upon receiving that forgiveness, that privilege, it is our responsibility to give thanks, again & again. St. Paul wrote about that sort of living to the church at Philippi:
“Tell God what you need, & thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts & minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6b-7) Living in Christ does not appear to the world, nor to our sinful nature, as prosperity, but it is the life where we find peace.
There is much responsibility that comes with the privilege of being God’s child. How do you look at responsibility? Do you see it as a burden, or do you see it as a joy? As saint & sinner, we will see it both ways.
Our saintly nature will “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, & perform [our] vows to the Most High,” but we do this not of our own strength & faithfulness. We offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving by the strength & faithfulness of the Holy Spirit. True thanksgiving is more than a periodic expression of the mouth; it is an inner attitude which manifests itself in action. If we possess more than others, the way of Christ is not to say “Thank you” to God while holding onto “our” property with both hands.
The way of Christ shares what we have received with those who are in need. Our words of Thanksgiving are meaningless unless we remember those who live in fear & want, & our nation is full of people in those circumstances.
Right now, God’s Spirit is guiding us to repent of our sins, not of our privilege. God’s Spirit is also guiding us to use whatever privilege we have in service to the needs of our neighbor. Our saintly nature gives thanks for those opportunities to be a blessing to others.
Ultimately, the reason any of us here in America should be thankful is not for all the stuff we have. Certainly, we have a lot of it, but there are plenty of Christians on earth who have almost nothing & yet they are thankful, maybe more so, than we. You & I should be thankful that we are not going to end up forever & ever in the place called hell.
V. 7 include the words, “I am God, your God,” just as He spoke at Mt. Sinai. This connects us then to the Sinai event, also a foreshadowing of the Last Day when time comes to an end. What is happening in Psalm 50 is as awesome & consequential as the events on Mt. Sinai. With final judgment in the background, instruction & warning take prominence.
Still, the heavenly Father desires that everyone be ready for that Day. As St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Behold, now is the day of salvation.” And that salvation, which is our most blessed privilege, is always the source of true thanksgiving. Amen.
How can I thank you, Lord, for all Your loving kindness, that You have patiently borne with me in my blindness! When dead in many sins & trespasses I lay, I kindled, holy God, Your anger every day. It is Your work alone that I am now converted; Over Satan’s work in me You have Your power asserted. Your mercy & Your grace that rise afresh each morn have turned my stony heart into a heart newborn. Grant that Your Spirit’s help to me be always given lest I should fall again & lose the way to heaven. Grant that He give me strength in my infirmity; may He renew my heart to serve You willingly. Amen. LSB 703:1-3.
 Lindemann, H., The Thanksgiving of the American Christian, Concordia Pulpit, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1948), p. 457-458.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet