Monday, November 30, 2015

Sermon on Deuteronomy 8:1-20, for Thanksgiving, "In a position to give thanks"

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. If we asked the question, “Have I been put in a position to give thanks?” What answer might God’s Word give us? God’s Word gives us a clear and simple answer: Yes. Every one of us is in a position to give thanks. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Give thanks in all circumstances. God teaches that we should be thankful in all circumstances. The question was, “Have I been put in a position to say thanks?” And if we answer Yes, together with Scripture, then we rightly acknowledge that we are always in a position to give thanks, no matter what our circumstances are.
But if “No” is our answer, what does that say? Our “No” might come consciously, if we are openly ungrateful toward God or are grumbling about our circumstances. Or the “No” might come unconsciously, as we forget or ignore God, and simply don’t give thanks to Him. All too often we let our circumstances drive how thankful we are. If things are going well, maybe we think that that’s our reason to be thankful. But if things are not going so well, should we be less thankful? How can you possibly be thankful when circumstances are really bad? The Bible gives many examples of thankfulness, and it’s related attitude of contentment. Joseph, the Israelites, Job, the apostle Paul, and others, all show good or bad examples of how to learn thankfulness and contentment, even under times of great difficulty.
Thankfulness is an attitude, and it’s born out of something much deeper than our circumstances, which are bound to change daily, for better or worse throughout our lives. The circumstances of every person here varies greatly, and so also the circumstances of everyone beyond these doors. Many people endure a life filled with suffering. Others seem to face very little trouble. But the Bible leads us away from the conclusion that suffering is directly related to how much we have sinned or not. God doesn’t work quite like that. Even the righteous suffer. But God wills us to be thankful in all circumstances. So thankfulness should never be dependent on all those different factors that we pay so much attention to in life—our income, our living circumstances, our health, the weather, the neighbors we have, our looks or intelligence, or anything else we might think we need to be happy. Worldliness places the highest priority on these material things. Godliness turns our attention up to God, the Giver. The attitude of thankfulness flows from God.
Thankfulness is also partly a learned habit. The practice of continually giving thanks (not just once a year, but every day), actually helps create a habit and attitude of thankfulness. The more we take time to see and realize what we have to be thankful for, the more our eyes are opened to the multitude of blessings God has given.
Deuteronomy 8 relates the many ways that God provided for Israel. They were in difficult circumstances, and took plenty of opportunities to grumble and complain about it. They were at the tail end of 40 years of hard discipline. They were given an unprecedented opportunity to walk into the promised land of Canaan and enjoy its goodness, but from fear, doubt, ingratitude, grumbling, and unbelief, they decided not to trust in God. An entire adult generation, who had seen God’s miracles in Egypt and the Red Sea, didn’t believe He could bring them into the Promised Land. And so for 40 years God made them wander in the desert. They faced hardship and difficulty, and never came into the promised land. In the reading, God says the discipline they endured was to humble them and to do them good, so they wouldn’t forget who it was who blessed them.
But now Moses was urging on a new generation who followed them; urging them on to remember what God had done for them. To believe that God would be faithful and continue to bless them. He urged them to remember, to not become proud or self-sufficient, but to remember that God had given them all this, and that it was by His providing. This generation would take possession of the land that God was giving them, but they were to be conscious never to forget that it was by God’s strength and not theirs, that they received it. They were also not to think that it was because they were more righteous than the inhabitants of the land, that God would drive out before them. Instead, they were to be humble, and again, remember God.
Remembering God is such a huge part of the attitude of thankfulness. When our eyes are lifted up to Him, and we remember, in whatever circumstances, to thank Him—then our eyes are taken off of our passing troubles. We look back to Him who provides all things. The simple act of providing, or what we call “providence”, reminds us that God desires life. When God gives food, shelter, and clothing, the basic necessities of life, or the shining sun or falling rain, it tells us that God wills for life to continue. He supplies life, as long as we draw breath. Every lungful of air, and pulsing of your heart to send blood, is a quiet, monotonous reminder that God is supplying your life. He is good to the thankful and the unthankful alike. God continues to be Good, because that is who He is, and He is the Giver. But God’s will for us in Christ Jesus, is that we would “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” His will for us is to realize that He is the Giver, and thank Him for all things.
Not surprisingly, when it comes to realizing what we are thankful for, we begin with the gifts of creation. Our physical blessings—job, family, life, etc. And we should be thankful for these. But God would also have us look deeper into His blessings. Yes, thank Him for our daily bread—but God reminds us, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” God provides more than our physical needs, He teaches and instructs us through His Word as well. All through history, God has rescued and delivered His people. He calls generation after generation to remember His mighty deeds.
Even greater than the physical blessings, are God’s spiritual blessings, of forgiveness, life, and salvation. When Jesus came as the Redeemer—first for Israel, and then for the whole world—He came and lived by every word that comes from the Lord’s mouth. Jesus came, nourished, strengthened, and drawing every breath by God’s Word. It was truly His delight, day and night. Jesus lived and died by God’s Word, in a way that is so complete, we cannot fathom it. But He was richly blessed by it. And those blessings overflow to us as well. Jesus came to deliver His people, to perform mighty acts of deliverance, through His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. He sends out forgiveness of sins to the whole world, through the preaching and teaching of His disciples. He sends His blessings far beyond Israel, to the very ends of the earth.
You are a recipient of these blessings. Your life, your salvation, is found in Jesus Christ. He has poured it out richly upon you. Whatever your position in life—rich or poor, healthy or not, great or small—you have received such blessings in Christ Jesus, that you have every reason to give thanks—in any and all circumstances. With eyes on Jesus, and what He has done, we can begin to reflect on our life as seen from His perspective, rather than whether we think we have enough or not. With eyes on Jesus, we can begin to transcend our lowly circumstances, and to develop the heart and mind of Christ.  Let your thankfulness pour forth from Him! Amen.

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