Thanksgiving November 20, 2016
27, 36, 574, 568
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Give us this day our daily bread
A Prayer: Almighty God, whose mercies are new every morning and whose goodness, though undeserved, still abundantly provides for all our wants of body and soul, grant us, we humbly pray, your Holy Spirit, that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness toward us, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Thanksgiving is a great, recurring theme in Scripture. Psalm 100:4, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” Or Psalm 103:2, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” Or Psalm 136:1, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good. His love endures forever.”
Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:19-20, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Clearly, God’s people are to be grateful people. For the people of God, thanksgiving is not a date but a state. Yet, we don’t always feel thankful, do we?
“What do I have to be thankful for?” is a very common question. And all of us ask this question at times, for various reasons: difficult circumstances, poor health, loneliness, financial worries, troubled relationships, “getting on” in years without knowing where the years “got off” to. Even the daily news can impact our gratitude: terrorism, wars, the economy, natural disasters.
When we read Paul’s words—“giving thanks for everything” (Ephesians 5:20) or “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)—we may view them as totally unrealistic. Give thanks for loss? Give thanks for illness? Right, Paul. But isn’t this exactly what Paul’s words say? And aren’t the words of Paul from God Himself? And doesn’t that mean, therefore, that there is a way to give thanks for everything and in all circumstances? Yes. The question is, what is that way?
You already know the answer. I can’t tell you anything today that you don’t already know. As Christians, you and I know the answer to being thankful, only life makes us forget. The world makes us forget. Our own sinful nature makes us forget. Perhaps this is one reason why Scripture so often discusses thankfulness within the context of forgetfulness. To forget something, you must have first known something.
Our first Scripture reading for today, Deuteronomy 8, is almost entirely about remembering and forgetting God. Verse 2, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years.” Verse 6, “Observe the commands of the LORD your God.” Verse 11, “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God.” Verse 14, “Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God.” Verse 18, “But remember the LORD your God.” Verse 19, “But if you forget the LORD your God.”
What did the Psalmist say in Psalm 103:2? “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” What did Jesus say in Luke 17:17-18?, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Obviously, then, the key to thanking God is remembering His gifts and goodness. This is what Jesus intended us to learn in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” The words speak of dependence on God and trust in God. And if by God’s grace and Holy Spirit we can remember these two things—“I am totally dependent on God,” and “I can rely completely on God”—we will be thankful in all things.
“I am dependent on God for everything.” How many of you believe this? How many of you believe that you were completely dependent on God when you rolled out of bed this morning, sipped a cup of coffee, dressed, and then drove to church? How many of you believe that you were completely dependent on God when you bought the vegetables, turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie for your Thanksgiving Day meal? How many of you are wondering what coffee, driving to church, or Thanksgiving Day meals have to do with “daily bread?”
What did Jesus mean by “daily bread?” As a child, when reciting the words “Give us this day our daily bread,” I often thought of a loaf of Wonder Bread in colorful, plastic wrapping. Of course, commercial-baked and packaged bread was not available in the time of Jesus. In Israel, most bread was pan-cooked, unleavened, and flat like a pancake.
However, the New Testament Greek word for “bread,” ARTOS, not only means literal bread, but also food in general; and by extension, everything needed to support our bodily existence, as in our modern term “bread winner.”
In his explanation of the Fourth Petition, Martin Luther explained “daily bread” this way: “Daily bread’ means everything we need for our bodily well-being. It includes food, drink, clothes, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money and goods, a godly husband or wife, godly children, godly workers, godly and faithful leaders, good government, good weather, peace, health, education, honor, faithful friends, trustworthy neighbors—and things like that.” Luther saw all these blessings included in the simple request, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And so should we.
But are we truly dependent on God for these things? Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 6:11. He said, “Give us.” These two simple words imply two important realities: first, that we are being given something we don’t have. Second, it implies that we are being given something we cannot give ourselves. Our daily bread does not come from us but from outside of us and apart from us? Who provides it?
To whom were these two words addressed? “Our Father who art in heaven.” They are not addressed to our local Wal-Mart or employer. Nor to our local food bank or city government. With these two simple words, Jesus taught that God alone is the source of everything we need for our bodily, daily existence.
Jesus taught what the Psalmist taught, Psalm 145:15-16, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” Jesus taught what James later taught in his epistle, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows,” James 1:16-17.
“Don’t be deceived,” James said. The reality is, however, that we too often deceive ourselves in this matter of dependency on God. We too often forget how dependent we are on God for everything. This happens when we don’t trace a blessing back to its true source, when we don’t trace the gift back to the divine Giver;
Sadly, too often we are like the nine lepers who left, not the one who returned to give thanks. “Thank God? Why should I thank God? I don’t see His name anywhere on my paycheck or deposit slip. The bank account is mine, not His. It’s Bank of America, not Bank of Heaven. I make the monthly payments on my car; God doesn’t. I get the performance evaluations at my office; God doesn’t. Why should I thank God for the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and green-been casserole steaming on the Thanksgiving table, not to mention the pies waiting in the kitchen? I bought all these things at grocery store. I used my own money and my grandmother’s recipes. What part did God play? “Give us this day our daily bread?” Nonsense. I earn my daily bread myself.”
Yes, God’s name may not be on your paycheck; but who made you? Who gave you your abilities, skills, and intelligence? Who brought the right people and right opportunities into your life to help you get and keep your job? Who gives you the health to continue doing your job or enjoying your grandchildren? And yes, you may have bought your Thanksgiving groceries from the store; but who makes the sun shine and the rain fall so that the crops grow and the livestock are fed that you may have groceries to buy at the store and put on your table? God does.
How often do we remember that? What if we wrote down everything God did for us on just one day? He let me swallow. He let me walk around the neighborhood. He let me wake up. He let me sleep peacefully. He let my heart go on beating and my lungs go on breathing and my organs go on working and my cells go on reproducing. He let me watch a beautiful sunset. He let me kiss my spouse and tell my children I love them. If we remembered all the ways in which we were fully dependent on God, would we ever forget to thank Him?
One of my professors, C.M. Gullerud, once told our seminary class, “Farmers are usually faithful church attendees.” “Why?” we asked. And he answered, “Because in their profession, farmers realize more than others how completely dependent they are on God.” Every breath, thought, heartbeat and sensation; the ability to walk, run, feel, laugh, love, eat, sleep, think, remember, work, play—in everything, in every way, in every situation, we are completely dependent on God. And He tells us so Himself in Acts 17:28, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” And Jesus said in John 15:6, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”
So far I’ve only mentioned the material things. As important as “daily bread” is—and let’s be honest, daily bread is what we most often worry about—there is something far more important than material things; namely spiritual things and eternal things.
Do you believe in God? Do you believe that God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Do you believe that God created the world in six ordinary days, and did so by speaking the universe into existence? “Let there be,” God said, and there was. Do you believe that by nature you are sinful and cannot please God or save yourself? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior? Do you believe that through faith in Christ, you already possess the gift of eternal life? If you believe these things—and I know you do—run to the Lord, fall down at His feet as that one leper did, and praise God with all of your heart and might. For you did not come to believe these great truths of Scripture on your own. The Holy Spirit empowered you to believe them.
In these matters too, these most important of matters—not daily bread but eternal life—we are entirely and unequivocally dependent on God. As the Bible declares, Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
God has promised to give us our “daily bread,” and everything else that pertains to our bodily existence. David wrote in Psalm 37: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” Yet, even were we to have holes in our shoes and tatters in our clothes; were we to have no place to call home, as was true of our Savior himself—even then we would be the richest of people. God has called us. God has chosen us. God has redeemed us in Jesus Christ. God has given us eternal life. Isn’t there a “thank you, God” somewhere in these gifts?
So the words “Give us this day our daily bread” teach us complete dependence on God. At the same time, they teach us to completely trust God. Notice what Jesus said in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. He did not say, ‘Give us this day our bread for a week.’ He did not say ‘Give us this day our bread for a month, year, or decade; or in the event of an economic meltdown or nuclear attack.’ He said daily and emphasized it twice: “this day” and “daily bread.” What’s the lesson? What did Jesus want us to learn?
There is an unmistakable reference here to the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness. During that difficult period, God miraculously fed the Israelites with “daily bread from heaven.” The Israelites called this miraculous bread MANNA, which in Hebrew means, “What is it?” They didn’t know what it was. More importantly, this bread from heaven fell only once each day, and the people were commanded to gather only what they needed for each day; except for Friday, when they were to gather twice as much so there would be food for Saturday, the Sabbath. MANNA kept more than a day became infested with maggots and began to smell.
The question is rightly asked, why did God feed the Israelites on a per-day basis? Why not let them store-up provisions? Why not send herds of sheep stampeding through the camp or create a Golden Corral in the wilderness? Interestingly, we find the answer again in Deuteronomy 8, that chapter on forgetting and remembering God. Moses said, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD,” Deuteronomy 8:2-3.
In that arid, inhospitable wilderness, the Israelites were not able to grow their own food. They were fed miraculously, by bread they knew came from God. They were given only enough bread to last for a day. What was God teaching the Israelites? The same lesson Jesus taught by teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread;” namely, that we are entirely dependent on God, and we can trust God to take care of us every day. And why can we trust God to take care of us every day and in every way? Because, as Jesus also taught in the Lord’s Prayer, his heavenly Father is also our heavenly Father. And it is our Father in heaven who invites us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Daily bread, just the right amount, to teach us to put our trust in God.
I know a lot of disconcerting, frightening things are happening in the world and in our own country. We may be tempted sorely to worry about “daily bread” and everything that phrase implies. But I can think of no better way to close this Thanksgiving message than with the words of our Savior in Matthew 6: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father deeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that no even Solomon in all his splendor was arrayed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Amen!
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.