Vol. 10 — No. 48 November 30, 1969
Editor’s Note: This was the first sermon preached to the congregation that became Grace Ev. Lutheran Church of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. It was preached on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1959. By the request of that congregation it will be preached again on the occasion of their Tenth Anniversary, held on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1969.
Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return hither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
In Christ Jesus, to whom and through Whom we give thanksgiving to our God, Fellow Redeemed:
The book of the Psalms is full of praise and thanksgiving to our God. One of the best known and best loved of these Psalms is the l00th, which reads as follows:
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
On this day we think especially of the fourth verse: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name,” These words tell all of us that we were to enter this House of God—and remember that the Word and the Word alone makes a building a House of God—that we are to enter with thanksgiving. We are to come into His courts with praise. We are to be thankful unto our God. We are to praise Him!
But the question that we want to consider this morning is this: When should we be thankful unto our God? Should we be thankful only on this day, which has been set aside as a national day of thanksgiving? Everyone will immediately say that if any person who calls himself a Christian is thankful ONLY on the day that the government has set aside as National Thanksgiving Day, then he may as well forget about that day too. Thanksgiving is to be the condition of a Christian’s heart. In good days and in evil days he is to be thankful! But then there is always the temptation NOT to be thankful. Good days have their special temptation, and evil days also have their special temptation not to be thankful. Now all of us have experienced both: good days and evil days. In both cases we had a special temptation NOT TO BE THANKFUL. And yet we should know and realize as Christians THAT WE ARE ALWAYS TO BE THANKFUL. That thought we want to emphasize this morning, namely,
But this is also true—that there is NO time that the devil does not try to make us forget to thank our God. We note first of all—
That was exactly the situation in which Job found himself when that time of his life was true that the Lord “gave” to him. When we read the description of Job, it is beautiful. We are told, “and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” A model believer Job was. And the Lord had blessed him with many blessings. He had a large family of seven sons and three daughters. He had many possessions in livestock: sheep, camels, oxen, and asses. And it is furthermore reported that Job carried out his religious duties faithfully. Then we are told that the sons of God presented themselves before the Lord, and Satan also put in his appearance. And the Lord pointed out Job as a tried and exemplary believer. And what was Satan’s answer? He said that Job was a believer because God had bribed him to be a believer by blessing him in such a wonderful manner.
Now let’s pause a moment and examine this condition of Job. We all usually think of good days when all is going along fine and smoothly for us as days of greatest blessing. But we frequently fail to realize that good days and blessings in one way or another are also temptations. And what is the temptation of “good days”? It is this that we imagine that the good days do not come from our God, but that they come from ourselves, that we are responsible for bringing upon ourselves good fortunes. And right there is the temptation! It is not to forget to give thanks, but it is rather to forget to give thanks to the right person. We are tempted to thank ourselves, rather than our God when all goes well with us. Job was faced with this temptation and withstood it. But it is a rare person who can withstand the temptation of good days and of great blessings.
In the eighth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy the Lord through Moses warns the people against the temptation of the good days. Moses speaks of the days to come when the Lord shall lead His people into the land of Canaan and bless them in that land that flowed with milk and honey. But then Moses warns the people to beware when the good days come lest “thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God.” And when a person forgets the Lord his God, what comes then? This, “And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.” There is the temptation of the good days—the temptation to forget the Lord, to forget to bless the Lord and to bless oneself.
Who of us is there that must not confess that we have failed to bless the Lord and thank Him in good days? We’ve had better days than this. And on this day we think especially of better days in our congregation. This is the eighth Thanksgiving Day that I am celebrating with you. This is the eighth Thanksgiving Day sermon that I am preaching to you. In an outward way the seven preceding have been better and yet, I must confess, I took those blessings for granted, possibly imagining in my own heart that the outward prosperity of the congregation was due to my gifts and talents. What a fool a man is when he in good days forgets his God and begins to thank himself! Thanksgiving day it is, but also a day of repentance—repentance for not having appreciated the good days as gifts of our God and thanking Him for them. O Lord, preserve us in the good days lest we forget Thee and thank only ourselves.
But the evil days also have their temptation. It is this—
That was the temptation especially for Job. He had been given great riches. And then Satan was given permission by God to take them from Job. And it was just as though a hail storm of misfortune struck poor Job. One messenger came and reported that the oxen were plowing and the asses feeding, and the Sabeans fell upon them and slew the servants, only one escaping. That messenger wasn’t finished when another came and reported that fire from God had fallen upon the sheep and servants, burning them up and only he had escaped. That servant wasn’t finished before another came and reported that the Chaldeans had fallen upon the camels and carried them away and slew the servants with the edge of the sword, and only he had escaped. And while he was yet speaking, another messenger came and reported that his sons and daughters had been having a party when a wind storm came up and collapsed the house and only he had escaped to tell the sad tale. One thing after another—the accumulated blessings of a lifetime destroyed. What was the temptation for Job in that hour? Was it not to think that his God had forsaken Him? When man is battered by the hand of the Almighty and when he arrives at that point that he thinks he cannot endure any longer—then there comes the feeling: My God has forsaken me. He’s forgotten me. Then thoughts of gratitude and thankfulness flee away, and the only thing that plagues the mind is the thought: My God has forsaken me! That was the temptation that Job faced, but he survived that evil day, as he had survived the good day. How did he re-act in the evil day? Our text reports: “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” Here is thanksgiving in the midst of the evil day when a man can say: The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed, yea, blessed be the name of the Lord. To say a prayer of thanksgiving with the lips when all is well, when things are going good, when we are wealthy and healthy and strong—that is easy. But to thank and praise the Lord when sitting in the dust and misfortune, with the plagues of Job raining down upon one’s head—that is faith speaking!
Is this not a thanksgiving day lesson for all of us gathered here in what is for us a strange church? (That first service was held in the Episcopal Church.) It’s so small, as compared to that to which we were accustomed. We find things different. We may stumble over the kneeling pews and so on. Why is it that we are here today instead of in the building in which we were accustomed to gather? Is it not for the same reason expressed by Job as he fell upon his face and worshipped his God, saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.” The Lord has done this. Certainly many of you labored hard for many years, all the years of your lives for what was once your house of worship. You invested hundreds and thousands of dollars. You have left memorials behind you. All this you have done—and yet you know it wasn’t you that have done it, but the Lord gave it all, and now the same Lord hath taken away. Yes, the Lord has taken away! He has done that in this particular way that He has filled your hearts with a love of the Truth and faithfulness to His Word, a willingness to bear a cross, a willingness to suffer persecution and loss of property for His Name’s sake. What should be our reaction now? Should we, as we sit here, complain and bemoan our fate and wail away that our God has let us down, that He has forsaken us, that He has forgotten us. No, no, let us rather say with Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” We have reason to thank our God, for it is not of ourselves that we are here, but rather is it of the Lord. According to human reason it is utter foolishness to leave such a nice and well established church, to start anew. But thank God, thank and praise Him that He has filled our hearts with a love of His Word, with faith, with hope, with courage, with quiet cheer, with strength to start anew so that there will be for us and our children a House of God, a Heaven of Refuge.
So then in good days we are to beware of the temptation to forget to thank our God and to thank ourselves instead. And in the evil days we are to beware of forgetting to thank our God because we may think He has forgotten us. Yea—
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him,above, ye heav’nly host:
Praise, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
That is to be the song on our lips and in our hearts at all times. Even as the one leper returned and thanked His God, so we are to return and thank and praise our God.
May our God fill us with such gratitude this day and every day. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.