Oh Give Thanks Unto the Lord

I was pondering the fact that Thanksgiving is a religious national holiday (take that separation of church and state!), which led to the following sermon.  Click HERE to listen. (OK, so Mediafire is just too slow tonight.  Check back next week if you want to listen.)

As a way of saying “Thank you” to my faithful reader, you may also read it, after the jump.

In The early days of the church, religion was tied to you nationality. Greeks worshipped Zeus, Romans worshipped Jupiter, Egyptians worshipped Ra, the Jews worshipped their strange God, and unlike everyone else, refused to worship any of the others. So when a sect came along that claimed to be a belief system for every nation, it was immediately suspect. Christianity was not a religion, it was a superstition. Religion could be tied to a state. Rome, Greece, Egypt, Israel. Superstition was a personal set of beliefs. And in the case of Christianity, it was illegal.

There was no separation of church and state during the Roman empire. When Christianity was made a legal religion, it was almost immediately made the state religion. It would remain so for most of Europe until the turn of the 20 century. The first nation on earth to try and separate the worship of God from the function of the state was the United States. And yet, despite the legal so called doctrine of the separation of church and state, the state can not avoid religion.

Public Schools may not be allowed to have public prayer, but the Senate and House begin each day with one. So do most of the state houses. There is a Senate and House chaplain. The military pays men to conduct religious services, military chaplains. Then there are the local fire or police chaplains, prison chaplains. The annual memorial day observance begins with an invocation from a local clergyman. You can’t really separate church and state, no matter how hard you try.

Thanksgiving Day is obviously a national religious holiday.

President Abraham Lincoln, whose proclamation of Thanksgiving Day has become the model for the current celebration, lists the many and various blessings which God has given, even int eh midst of civil war, and then has this to say,

They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

For whatever reason, it makes the news when the current president mentions God in his thanksgiving proclamation, declaring that we should give thanks for “the gifts of a gracious God.” But if we are not thanking God for what we are given, whom do we thank? Bart Simpson of television fame once famously prayed, “Well, we bought this food ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” But if that is true, then tomorrow would be “thanks for nothing” day rather than thanksgiving day.

If we are giving thanks for the bounty we have received, there must be source to give thanks to. One might say, “Ah, we give thanks to the fates, who have given us this bounty by chance.” Yet even the fates were real gods to the ancient Greeks. And if it is truly random, then no thanks is necessary.

The very fact that we have a thanksgiving day, is proof that you can not run a government without acknowledging some source, some sort of creator who has blessed us. The declaration of Independence bases the very call for independence on the rights given by the creator. Without the creator, there are no inalienable rights. Today is a day to remember that we might earn the money to buy the food, we might even grow the food, but without God to give the rain, the land, our very lives, there would be nothing to give thanks for.

The psalmist sings “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,” While many people reject the one true God, our heavenly Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, only fool says in his heart that there is no god. And you would have to look very hard to find an atheist farmer in the world. Someone who puts there entire future in the ground, and then just hopes that random chance makes it rain at the right time, makes it dry at the right time, makes it cold and warm at the right time, and gives a harvest the will sustain him for another year. There are many who are addicted to gambling, but at a certain point the risk is just too great. A farmer may pray to Demeter, Saturn, or Osiris, but there must be some acknowledgment that there is a force greater than we who gives the bountiful harvest.

And so we gather tonight to acknowledge that we are not responsible for all that we have been given, but that it is a gift of God. Of course, we also have the name of God, so that we do not need to pray, as the Athenians did, “to the unknown God”. We pray to God the father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ, his only son our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the father and the son. We pray to the three in one, the one in three, the only true God. The only God that does not arise from the inventions of man’s heart, but from God’s own revelation of himself in Holy Scripture.

The man with leprosy who came back and gave thanks to Jesus knew that this was the one who had healed him, because Jesus was there, spoke the word, and it was done. In our lives, it can be harder to see. God works through hidden things. And many times, we may not be able to see the hand of God at all. Many times, we may be, like Job, suffering under the hand of the evil one. And yet, even in his suffering, Job blessed God. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

Today we have think of all that we have been given by God. All the blessings he has showered on us the past year. We can start with body and soul eyes ears and all our members, move on to food and drink, house and home, clothing, family. And then we remember that he has given us Salvation through the death and resurrection of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, that he has called us to be his own through the preaching of the Gospel, that he has fed and strengthened us with his own body and blood this past year, that he has kept us in the true faith. We give thanks for the opportunities God gives us to share this faith with children, with other family members, with friends. We give thanks for those around the world who confess the name of Christ under duress and persecution, and who do so gladly and willingly because of the hope that is theirs.

We give thanks for all of this. And we pray that in the next year, we would be faithful stewards of all the gifts God has blessed us with.




One Response to “Oh Give Thanks Unto the Lord”

  1. I (your faithful reader) appreciate your allowing me to read this fine sermon. 🙂 A Blessed Thanksgiving, brother!

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