Sermon for Thanksgiving Day 2008(November 27, 2008)
A certain farmer was asked to dine with a well-known, wealthy gentleman. Right before the meal, the farmer folded his hands and bowed his head to give thanks to God for the food he was about to receive, as he always did at his own table at home. His host looked at him and said, “I guess I see prayer as a bit old-fashioned. It’s not customary nowadays for well-educated people to pray before they eat.” The farmer answered that with him it was customary, but that, actually, there were some who lived on his farm who never prayed over their food.
“Ah, then,” said the gentleman, “they are very sensible and enlightened. Who are they?”
“My pigs,” the farmer answered.
And so we are gathered here today to not be very “piggy” and to give thanks before we go home and “pig out.”
Our text for this Thanksgiving Day celebration is Proverbs 3:9-10: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
One of the things we give thanks for at this time of year is the harvest. But unless you grew up on a farm, you probably can’t fully appreciate what a farmer goes through to grow his crops. Even in this day and age of technology and modern irrigation, good weather is still necessary. If there isn’t the proper amount of rain and sunshine, then the crops suffer. The Christian farmer recognizes his dependence on God’s control over the storm fronts that pass his way.
And so we suburbanites need to be reminded that our food does not originate in Albertson’s, Safeway, and Haggen’s. They originate in the fields and farms of eastern Washington, California, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and so on. The crops grown there end up in the “barns” and “vats” which are the aisles of our local supermarket. And despite recent economic downturns, our barns ARE filled with plenty. Our vats ARE bursting with wine.
We are gathered here today to give thanks. But are we always thankful, all of the time? St. Paul teaches us in 1 Thessalonians 5[:18] to, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” But we don’t. We neglect to be thankful always. And in today’s Epistle reading, he says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” But not us. We are often discontent and anxious about our circumstances. And we fail to do as the writer of Proverbs 3 tells us: we fail to honor the Lord with our wealth and with the firstfruits of all our produce.
You and I are often inclined to look around and see how much other people have and we become discontent or complain about what we don’t have. For example, in some parts of Mexico, hot springs and cold springs are found side by side—and because of this convenience the women often bring their laundry and boil their clothes in the hot springs and then rinse them in the cold ones. A tourist, who was watching this procedure commented to his Mexican friend and guide: “I imagine that they think old Mother Nature is pretty generous to supply such ample, clean hot and cold water here side by side for their free use.” The guide replied, “No senor, there is much grumbling because she supplies no soap.”
We, too, grumble and complain. And we withhold our wealth from the Lord when we skimp on our offerings or give him ... not our firstfruits ... but what is left over after paying the bills. We like to cling to our money and possessions. We have gotten ourselves in debt to the bank, rather than remembering we are indebted to God.
You see, we owe God our very lives. Because of our sin, we deserve nothing from him except death, as Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”
Even though we do not deserve his blessing, our God is so gracious and merciful that he continues to bless us. Jesus said, “Your Father who is in heaven…makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” (Matt. 5:45) Even in the midst of our ingratitude, God still gives us food, drink, clothing, shoes, home, transportation, and all else that pertains to our body and life.
Even more importantly, in spite of our ungrateful hearts, God still promised us a Savior. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) Christ Jesus honored you and me with the “wealth” of His perfect life, offered for us as a sacrifice on the cross. He is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” as we heard in last Sunday’s sermon. Christ’s resurrection is the promise of the resurrection to eternal life for all who trust in Him.
When we recognize what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, this leads us to give proper thanks. God the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to recognize all of the blessings that are showered down upon us. He leads us to bring our offerings as a sign of our thankfulness. All that we have is a gift from God in the first place: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17) We are simply returning a portion of what he has given to us in the first place.
And God will provide for all our needs. Even when it may seem as though our barns are not as full as we would like, we realize how blessed we truly are.
A mother and her two little children were destitute. In the depth of winter they were nearly frozen, and the mother took the cellar door off the hinges and set it up in front of the corner where they crouched down to sleep so that some of the draft and cold might be kept from them. One of the children whispered to her, “Mother, what do those poor children do who have no cellar door to put up in front of them?”
When the cold winds of want blow in your life, look at your cellar door. Remember the blessings that God has already poured into your lap. When you do this, your heart can be content with what you have been given. And the more you give from what you already have, the more content you become. And the more we give, the more we can help our brothers and sisters in Christ when times are slim for them.
And what about when times are slim for US? Does that mean that God has abandoned us? Not at all. The verses following our text are very important. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” We can receive the hard times as signs of God’s love for us, too. He teaches us during those times to rely on him and him alone. Those are often hard lessons. But they are good ones, and will reap a harvest of trust and thanksgiving in God’s care. God never disciplines us to weaken us, but only to strengthen us. Hebrews 12:11 says, “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.” We can also give thanks to God for those times of discipline. God loves us so much that he gives us many good things. He also loves us so much to withhold certain things from us when he knows it is for our good, when he knows that it will draw us closer to him.
“Honor the Lord with your wealth, and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
Even when our barns are not filled with plenty, the storehouses of our hearts have been filled with faith as a gift of God’s grace. Nobody can steal that away from us.
Even when our vats are not bursting with wine, we have a cup that overflows with the blood of our Lord Jesus, shed on the cross for our forgiveness. That cup is bursting with God’s priceless harvest of forgiveness, life, and salvation. No drought or famine can stop the way our Lord quenches our thirst with his very own living water.
Bring to this sacred altar / The gifts his goodness gave,
The golden sheaves of harvest, / the souls Christ died to save.
Your hearts lay down before him / When at his feet you fall,
And with your lives adore him / Who gave his life for all. (LSB 893, stanza 3)