Thanksgiving 2014 – St Stephen Lutheran Church
Deuteronomy 8:7-18; Luke 17:11-19
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III, STS
‘I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.’
What is this?
I believe that God has created me together with all creatures. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing; food and drink, house and home; fields, livestock, and all property, along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. God does all this out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.[i]
That’s a lot, isn’t it?
It’s a lot to be thankful for.
If we are especially pious,
we usually thank God for the food and drink placed before us on the table.
But perhaps we should also say grace when we tie our shoes and put on articles of clothing;
when we greet our spouse and children;
when we see a farmer’s field when we’re on a drive in the country,
when we arrive safely home after another day
and walk through the door of our house and turn on the lights.
There are a couple of times I have tried to give thanks
for everything I think of.
Each breath, each event, good or bad,
It usually doesn’t last more than a few minutes at a time,
but it’s a good exercise, I think.
It reminds me of how dependent I am
upon God and the rest of his creation.
This feeling of dependence is not one that we like to have.
It is so un-American.
We are taught that we have freedom,
and that we are to be self-sufficient.
As if there was any such thing as self-sufficiency!
As if we were not creatures in the creation,
dependent in a fragile universe?
A very few variations in the makeup of our cosmic environment,
and earth would be incapable of supporting life.
Without our neighbors fulfilling their vocations well in life,
our society falls apart.
We see that played out all the time,
and especially in these last few days.
Once we lose our sense of dependence on God and others,
things fall apart very rapidly.
Moses warns the people that once they come into the good land,
the land of Canaan,
they will be tempted to cease to be dependent on God.
Not that you can ever stop being dependent upon God,
but it is the understanding that makes the difference in our lives.
When we lose this understanding that we are dependent upon God and others,
we also lose the understanding that others depend on us.
When we lose this understanding, God can no longer depend on us.
After Luther enumerates all the blessings of God,
his creating and preserving activity in the world,
‘For all this I owe it to God to thank and praise,
serve and obey him.
This is most certainly true.’
Those who are dependent,
and who believe they are dependent,
in turn become dependable.
They become the agents of the creating and preserving God,
the hands of God in the world.
Luther writes in the Large Catechism,
‘Although much that is good comes to us from human beings,
nevertheless, anything received according to his command and ordinance
in fact comes from God.
Our parents and all authorities –
as well as everyone who is a neighbor –
have received the command to do us all kinds of good.
So we receive our blessings not from them,
but from God through them.
Creatures are only the hands, channels, and means
through which God bestows all blessings.
he gives to the mother breasts and milk for her infant
or gives grain and all sorts of fruits from the earth for sustenance –
things that no creature could produce by itself.’[ii]
In our family life,
in our relations with all others,
we have the command to do others all kinds of good,
just as our neighbors have also received that command from God.
We do this in thanksgiving for what God does for us,
in his creating and preserving work.
But if we forget our dependence,
we also forget that God and our neighbors depend upon us.
In our Gospel reading from Luke,
ten were made clean from leprosy.
The nine viewed their healing as the restoration of freedom.
They were now ‘independent,’ set free from their ailment,
free again to live their own lives.
But it was only the Samaritan
who understood that to be given his life back
meant that his life was now set at the service of him
who gave him his life.
And so he returns to Jesus,
not simply to do what we do when we say ‘Thank you,’ to the cashier,
not to do what we do when we write a nice thank-you note
to those who have given us some gift,
but he fell on hs face before him,
in the posture of unconditional surrender;
in the position of obedience and service and worship.
And he gives thanks –
the word in Greek is euchariston.
Jesus says ‘Your faith has made you well.’
On the face of it,
this makes no sense.
How then were the other nine healed?
But ‘wellness’ is more than physical healing,
and truthfully, even in the absence of such healing,
we can be well.
To be well is to recognize, in all circumstances,
the One on whom we must depend
and to thank and praise, serve and obey him.
And conversely, to fail to be thankful in this way,
to assert one’s independence,
to not recognize that God gives all things,
is to be gravely ill.
Alexander Schmemann writes:
‘…the ‘original’ sin is not primarily
that man has ‘disobeyed’ God;
the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for him
and for him alone,
ceased to see his whole life
depending on the whole world
as a sacrament of communion with God…
The only real fall of man
is his noneucharistic life
in a noneucharistic world.’[iii]
But he goes on to say
that when the congregation says
in the preface to the Eucharist,
‘It is right to give God thanks and praise,’
that …’[it expresses] in these words
that ‘unconditional surrender
with which true religion begins.
For faith is not the fruit of intellectual search,
or of Pascal’s [wager.]
It is not a reasonable solution
to the frustrations and anxieties of life.
It does not arise out of a ‘lack’ of something,
but ultimately it comes out of fullness, love, and joy.
‘It is meet and right’ expresses all this.
It is the only possible response
to the divine invitation to live
and to receive abundant life.’[iv]
With these words,
‘It is right to give God thanks and praise,’
let us go to the Eucharistic meal,
in which we join Jesus
in his oblation of thanksgiving to the Father.
Let us prepare by again repeating
the teaching of Dr. Luther,
so that thanksgiving to God may sink into our ears
and reach our hearts.
I believe that God has created me together with all creatures. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing; food and drink, house and home; fields, livestock, and all property, along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. God does all this out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
[i] Luther’s Small Catechism, translated by Timothy Wengert, Augsburg Fortress © 1994.
[ii] Luther, Large Catechism para. 26, in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, translated by Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, Fortress 2000.
[iii] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, SVS Press 1982, p. 18.
[iv] Ibid., p. 38.