141127 Thanksgiving Day

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

 

Text: 1 Samuel 7:12
Theme: Thanksgiving: A Memorial To God

Not long after the end of World War II a husband explained to his wife that he wanted to give their church a memorial in honor of their son who had fought at Normandy. "But our son didn't die in the war," the wife said with a confused look on her face. Her husband replied: "That is precisely why I want to give this gift," he said. "I want it to be a thank offering to God."

Usually we think of memorials the same way the wife in the story did. Memorials remember the dead. With memorials we express how we feel about loved ones who are no longer with us. But couldn't a memorial be, shouldn't a memorial be more than that?

More than anything else a Christian memorial remembers the grace of God and the many blessings he showers upon us. A memorial is a sweet-smelling sacrifice offered up on the altar of appreciation. If that is what memorial is, if that is what a memorial does, then why do we have to limit ourselves? Why do we have to associate memorials with death? Aren't there many occasions in life when such a gift would be appropriate?

When a baby is baptized, when a young Christian is confirmed, when a couple gets married, when that couple celebrates a silver or golden anniversary, when a soldier returns home safe and sound from war, all of these milestones lead us to remember our blessings and the One from whom our blessings flow.

That is why we are here today. We are here to remember. With grateful hearts we remember everything our God has done for us. And we declare that the fourth Thursday of November is not just Thanksgiving Day. For us this day is also Memorial Day and our thanksgiving worship is a memorial to God...

THANKSGIVING: A MEMORIAL TO GOD

The time of the Judges was not a good time in Israel's history. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes, and that included the area of worship. The people had forsaken the Lord to follow the false gods of their heathen neighbors, and they paid a heavy price for their idolatry.

God's judgment came in the form on the Philistine armies, who attacked Israel from the west. Instead of asking the Lord to deliver them from their enemies, they decided to take the ark of the covenant into battle like some kind of good luck charm. It didn't work. The Israelites were routed. 30,000 foot soldiers were killed in the battle. A nd for the next twenty years much of the Promised Land remained under Philistine control.

After two decades of Philistine domination Israel underwent a reformation under the leadership of Samuel. Samuel challenged the people: "If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines" (1 Samuel 7:3). The people took Samuel's words to heart. They repented of their sins. They got rid of their idols. And they all gathered at a place called Mizpah to rededicate themselves to the one true God.

This huge gathering caught the attention of the Philistines. When they saw what was happening they assumed that the Israelites were preparing for battle, and so they did too. The Philistines mustered their forces and marched on Mizpah to put down this rebellion before it started.

What the Philistines didn't know was that the Israelites were assembling for worship, not for war. They were exposed. They were defenseless. And they were afraid. But this time they didn't appeal to the ark of the covenant to protect them. This time Samuel cried out to the Lord on Israel's behalf, and the Lord answered his prayer: "That day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites" (1 Samuel 7:10).

After the battle, to thank the Lord for this miraculous victory "Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far has the LORD helped us'" (1 Samuel 7:12). Ebenezer means "stone of help," and for generations that stone stood as a silent testimony to God's protecting hand. And if the Israelites would ever be tempted to forget the Lord in the future, Ebenezer would remind them.

Do we need something like that today? Do we need something visible that will help us remember the many blessings we receive from God? Do we need to set up a stone in the front yard or establish an official day on the calendar to remind us to be thankful?

As Christians we know that we are supposed to be thankful, and we know that God is the one we are supposed to thank. Otherwise we wouldn't be here today. And about this time every year we remind ourselves and each other that we have a lot to be thankful for. Again, that is one of the reasons we are all here.

But at the end of the day, or at the end of a Thanksgiving service, after you have finished singing the appropriate songs and praying the proper prayers, have you ever felt like there was something missing? Have you ever felt like you were just going through the motions? Maybe you have even thought to yourself: "I know this is Thanksgiving, so why don't I feel more thankful?"

Observing a national day of Thanksgiving is a tradition worth preserving, but there is a downside. There is a danger that we will become like little children who are coached to say "thank you" at certain times because it's the polite thing to do. That is not enough. It isn't enough to say the right words at the right time because a parrot can be trained to do that. Instead of mouthing meaningless words of thanks, the Lord insists that his children also come before him with grateful hearts.

When another child of God recognized that his heart wasn't in the right place he didn't shrug it off and move on. He didn't make a concerted effort to be more sincere. He prayed. King David prayed: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).

A pure heart, a grateful heart is a gift from God. It is something that the Holy Spirit creates in us. It is something that the Holy Spirit has to create in us because we cannot create it by ourselves. Genuine thankfulness requires humble hearts, and there is no room for humility in hearts that are filled with pride.

My sinful pride says: "Thankful? Why should I be thankful? I work hard for everything I have. I deserve everything I have. No, I deserve better. If anything, I deserve more." You and I would never say anything like that, but sometimes we think that way. Sometimes we act that way. Sometimes we can hide our pride from other people, but we can't keep any secrets from God. He sees the sin in our hearts. His law cuts us to the heart. It makes us realize that without God we would have nothing. It makes us recognize that we don't deserve anything from God except the wrath of God. That humbles us, and that opens the door for us to be grateful.

Grace is grace because it is undeserved. We don't deserve God's love, but he loves us anyway. The Holy Spirit opens our hearts to believe it. Faith opens our eyes to see how much God loves us and how much he gives us. And that makes everything, even the little things, precious to us. Every morsel of food, every breath of fresh air, every small gesture becomes another reason to thank and praise our gracious God.

When I was growing up there was a small Moravian church just a few miles down the road from our house. I have never seen the inside of it. I don't know much about it, but I will never forget its name. Can you guess? Ebenezer. I used to think that was a strange name for a church, but I don't think so anymore.

You don't have to worry. I'm not going to start a petition to change the name of St. Matthew's to Ebenezer Evangelical Lutheran Church (although it does have a nice ring to it). And I have no plans to set up a large stone in the middle of the sanctuary. That isn't necessary. We don't need a new name or a big rock to make us aware of God's blessings because there are Ebenezers scattered throughout the pages of Scripture.

In just a few weeks we will pass by a small blue stone. Topaz (or turquoise) is the birthstone for December, and four weeks from today we will celebrate a very special birthday. Two thousand years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem, but this was no ordinary child. He was the Word made flesh. He was the son of Mary and the Son of God. His parents named him Jesus, but he is also our Ebenezer.

Thirty three years later this man dragged his beaten and bruised body to the top of another rock that bore a striking resemblance to a human skull. On that hill Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the world. His enemies were mocking him when they called him a king, but they were right. Jesus is a king. He is the King of kings, and our Ebenezer.

Three days later some women were concerned about another stone, the large stone that covered the entrance to Jesus' tomb. Little did they know that they didn't have to worry about it. They didn't have to worry about anything because the stone had been moved. The Lord had risen from the dead. Sin and death and the devil had been defeated forever, thanks to Jesus, thanks to our Ebenezer.

When Samuel placed a memorial stone between Mizpah and Shen, he explained why he called it Ebenezer. "Thus far has the Lord helped us," he said. That stone and that name reminded God's people of a specific act of divine deliverance. Today Ebenezer reminds us of something more general but no less important. It reminds us that God still helps his people. He gives us everything we need for body and life. He gives us the hope of eternal life. And today he gives us the opportunity to respond.

And so on this Thanksgiving/Memorial Day we remember. With grateful hearts we remember the great things God has done for us. With our lips and with our lives, with all that we are and all that we have we give thanks to God, our Protector and Provider, our Refuge, our Rock, our Ebenezer. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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Oconomowoc, WI 53066
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