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Lindemann on Thanksgiving

by revalkorn ~ November 14th, 2010

Just in case.

A DAY OF GENERAL OR SPECIAL THANKSGIVING

A day of thanksgiving may be observed whenever a local congregation or the Church at large is moved to thank God for His gifts in general or for some special gift of His grace and mercy. In the United States of America such a day of general thanksgiving, is observed on the fourth Thursday of November and in Canada on a date annually fixed by proclamation. The Church willingly follows the suggestion of the State but always reserves the right to observe the day in her own way, without disregarding the usual forms of worship. The Common Service Book has the rubric: “The proper Service for this Day is the Order of Mat-ins; but when The Service is used, the following Propria are appointed.” The Lutheran Hymnal offers a complete set of Propers without further comment or direction. On the national Thanksgiving Day, the Order of Matins should be used rather than some order arranged by the pastor. Matins and Vespers are minor services of praise and thanksgiving, the one preparing for and introducing The Service, the other being the Amen to The Service. The Canticle on this day is the Te Deum Laudamus.

If the Order of Matins is not used, wholesome, historical, liturgical usage calls for the Holy Communion as part of The Service also on this day. Many will hesitate to celebrate on the Day of National Thanksgiving. One reason may be that visitors and nonmembers are expected to be present in unusually large number. It is well that we call to mind that a congregation performs a liturgy not for the sake of visitors, but for the members, the household of faith. Consideration for the occasional visitor is permitted to interfere with the worship of the faith-ful also on other occasions. The Nativity of our Lord is commemorated without Holy Communion because the “Christmas Christians” may not wish to “sit that long.” The Resurrection of our Lord is observed without the celebration of the Holy Sacrament because some “Easter Christians” may resent being excluded. Also a Day of General or Special Thanksgiving must be observed without the Eucharist, the Feast of Thanksgiving and Praise, because casual or occasional visitors may not approve. There is no valid reason that compels elimination of the Holy Sacrament. The Lutheran Hymnal appoints a full set of Propers, which are liturgically parts of The Service, the Holy Communion. Therefore a celebration of the Feast of Thanksgiving and Praise is quite in order on the Day of Thanksgiving. Care must be exercised, however, to make clear that our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is not a part of the Sacrifice we commemorate, that we are celebrating a Sacrament and not bringing a sacrifice. In the Holy Sacrament God alone is active, God alone offers. Our offering of thanks and praise is merely the fruit of the complete Sacrifice Christ offered to God Once. If The Service is used, the Te Deum may be sung in procession before the Holy Communion.

The Introit. “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord! Praise ye the Lord! Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise ye the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in the firmai-nent of His power!”

The service opens with a call to everything that breathes to praise the Lord for His mighty deeds, according to His exceeding greatness. The assembled congregation is to praise God in His sanctuary, and all creation in His mighty firmament (Ps. 150:6,2,1).

The Collect. “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, whose mercies are new unto us every morning and who, though we have in no wise deserved Thy goodness, dost abundantly provide for all our wants of body and soul, give us, we pray Thee, Thy Holy Spirit that we may heartily acknowledge Thy merciful goodness toward us, give thanks for all Thy benefits, and serve Thee in willing obedience.”

We confess that we in no wise have deserved God’s goodness. In spite of our unworthiness His mercies are new every morning, and He provides for all our wants of body and soul. We pray for the Holy Spirit that He may lead us to acknowledge God’s merciful goodness, give thanks, and in gratitude and love serve Him in willing obedience.

The Epistle, 1 Timothy 2:1-8. St. Paul urges that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for rulers in high positions of responsibility and authority, so that our common life may be lived in peace and quiet. Phillips translates “Supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made on behalf of all men . . . so that our common life may be lived in peace and quiet, with a proper sense of God and of our responsibility to Him for what we do with our lives. . . . Therefore. I want the men to pray in all the churches with sincerity, without resentment or doubt in their minds.”

The Gradual. “The eyes of all wait upon Thee, and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. Alleluia! Alleluia! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Alleluia!”

In the Collect we prayed for the Holy Spirit “that we may heartily acknowledge Thy merciful goodness toward us.” Here we heartily acknowledge God’s merciful goodness and call upon our soul to give thanks for all His benefits, to bless His holy name, the reputation He has established as the Provider of food in due season (Ps. 145:15), and not to forget all His benefits (Ps. 103:2).

The Gospel, St. Luke 17:11-19. This Gospel is appointed also for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, when it was intended to illustrate the cleansing power of Christ. Today it is to teach a lesson in regard to gratitude and ingratitude.

The Common Preface.

SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

The Lord Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, traveling along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and cried: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Immediately He said: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The priests were the health officers who had to pronounce lepers cured before they could return to their homes and mingle with people. “And as they went, they were cleansed.” On their way to the priests they noticed that they were healed.

So far all ten were alike. They were all lepers, suffering from the same disease. All ten faced the same ghastly death, dying by inches. All were out-casts, shut out from the consolations of the church, their friends, and their home. To all appearances one was just as hopeless as the other.

They were alike also in their faith. There is evidence that they had faith. They had heard strange rumors that this Man of Nazareth could heal all manner of diseases. Of course, they found it hard to believe that He could cure even leprosy. But in spite of doubts they went in a body to this amazing Healer. That was faith. When the ten came as close as they dared, they appealed for help. That was prayer. Their prayer was marked by a beautiful humility. They did not ask for justice or for benefits they deserved. In simple faith they pleaded: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Then they gave the supreme test of faith, obe-dience. Our Lord did not heal them at once, but He gave them the bewildering command to show themselves to the priests, to submit to an examination by the department of health. Lepers were to go to the priests when they believed them-selves to be free of their disease. The ten went with their loathsome sickness, they obeyed before they had any evidence of their cure.

Finally, they were all alike in that they found healing. “As they went,” be-fore they had gone far on their way to the priests, something happened. They felt new life pulsating in their veins. Each looked with wide-eyed wonder into the face of the other, seeing what seemed too good to be true.

Like these ten lepers, so we all are alike in many respects. For one, we all are lepers before God. Leprosy is frequently used in God’s Book as a picture to describe our sinful state. Sin makes us utterly unworthy of the least of God’s gifts. In this day’s Collect we confess that we have in no wise deserved God’s goodness and plead for mercy. We can never be truly grateful until we realize our unworthiness and that we have forfeited every claim on God’s consideration.

No doubt, we are also alike in this, that we all have suffered, some more, some less. As we think back over the years, we recall worries, sicknesses, griefs, bereavements, separation. Surely, we are alike also in this, that in our need we went to God for help. As time went on, it became clear to us that man’s help was at an end, that only God could help under the circumstances. So we prayed to God and asked for mercy.

We are alike also in that we have enjoyed God’s merciful goodness. We acknowledge in the Collect that His mercies were new every morning and that He abundantly provided for all our wants of body and soul. First of all, the Great Physician healed the leprosy of our sin. For Christ’s sake God cast all our sins behind His back and will remember them no more. Also in a material way we have enjoyed God’s mercies. Many of us complained much, others feared the direst calamities. Yet here we are, none has starved, we are dressed warm or at least moderately well; we still have a roof over our heads. We are alike in that our worst fears never materialized.

However, there is a point where the likeness ends. The ten lepers in the text were all alike in many respects, but soon a difference appeared. Having discovered that they were healed on the way, they came to the priests in high spirits to be declared clean officially. Then the group scattered. Nine hurried to their respective homes and forgot all about the Man who had healed them. Only one went back to our Lord. He turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and in an abundance of gratitude fell down at the Master’s feet, giving Him thanks.

We have here a picture of the world, of America, of many, perhaps most, congregations today. Ten beg and plead, ten receive mercy, only one returns thanks. Ten enjoy God’s blessings, only one thinks of saying “Thank You.” The Church does wisely when she has us pray today: “Give us Thy Holy Spirit that we may heartily acknowledge Thy merciful goodness toward us, give thanks for all Thy benefits, and serve Thee in willing obedience.” As in the text, so today the grateful are a small minority. The thankful Samaritan towers above the majority like Pikes Peak above molehills. What was wrong with the nine? Why do they seem such pathetic dwarfs? Not because they said any unkind word to their Healer. It is because they said nothing at all. They took their priceless gift and went their way in silence. We honor the nameless Samaritan, not because he was rich or clever, not because he had received more than the nine, but because he knew how to say that gracious and heartening word “Thank you.”

Why was the one grateful and the nine not? Not because of any difference in their circumstances. If the one had been healed and the nine left to die, this could be an explanation. But all ten were cured. This points to the fact that real gratitude is seldom born of circumstances. If it were, the rich, healthy, successful could be put in one group and the poor, weak, unsuccessful in another, and we could say: “The children of good fortune are thankful, the unfortunate are not.” But many who are comparatively well situated complain and whine, while many less fortunate give thanks.

Could it be perhaps that the nine were grateful but less demonstrative? Perhaps they reasoned that our Lord knew without being told that they were appreciative? This explanation will not serve. That type of gratitude brings no joy, dries no tears. Perhaps our friends and benefactors know, but as a rule they do not. Even If they know, they are greatly heartened by hearing us say so. This was true of our Lord. In His Book He tells us: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” (Ps. 107:2).

The nine may have become so absorbed in the gift that they forgot the Giver. When they received a clean bill of health, they all talked excitedly. “I have not seen the old farm for years,” said one and hurried away. “I must run and see how my business fared in my absence,” said another. “It’s been years since I saw my family last; the baby must be a big boy by now,” and off he ran. How different the Samaritan! He thrilled over his gift just like the nine. Yet his joy was greater thin theirs, because he rejoiced not only in the gift but even more in the Giver. Instead of allowing the gift to become an obscuring mist to hide the face of the Healer, he made it a veritable sunrise to give him a clearer vision of that face. He could not think of his blessing without thinking of God, and never think of God without giving Him thanks.

Another reason for the ingratitude of the ten may have been that they for-got both gift and Giver in their contemplation of the terrible tragedy they had passed through. They had suffered in body and mind. Their sickness had brought financial reverses. They found themselves in the rear of the procession. They had such a fine business, but their sickness ruined it. They could not for-get. They fixed their mind on their losses. This is a common blunder also today. People are far from want, in fact, doing rather well. But they still lament what they suffered and lost and missed in the past. Think where they would be if they had not suffered this or that loss. The attitude of the Samaritan was different. He, too, had suffered, had through dull, gray days and bitter, black nights, experienced tragic losses. But now that he was cured, the bitterness of his yesterdays was all forgotten or remembered only to add to the sweetness of today. His heart was so filled with the glory of the gains that had come into his empty hands that there was no room for a single pang over his losses.

It is even possible that the nine took their healing as a matter of course. It came rather suddenly and soon after their appeal to our Lord’s mercy. But how could they know whether their recovery was not a natural process, had been going on for some time, and happened to become apparent just at this time? Did the Master of Nazareth really have a part in it? The priests, who were bitter enemies of our Lord, perhaps strengthened them in this foolish notion in order to discredit the Nazarene. It would have happened anyhow. In our day many persuade themselves that God has nothing to do with their improved condition. Every affliction is bound to run its course. All one need do is to wait for the end. Conditions always improve sooner or later. Because God’s blessings come through natural or through human hands, without unusual display of power, they are taken for granted. The nine might take their cure as a matter of course. Not so the Samaritan. He took it as a gift of God. Not because he was blinder or more superstitious, but because he was more clear-eyed and saner. To read God out of the affairs of men is not a display of wisdom or intellectuality. Some men of great ability have missed God, but their ability was not the cause. This Samaritan had received something, and with St. Paul he asked: “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Nothing. All comes from God, even though it is usually mediated to us through human hands or natural law.

Possibly the real reason why the nine were wanting in gratitude was their conceit. They were Jews, of God’s chosen people, and had a claim on God’s consideration. It was proper for the cursed Samaritan to be grateful for undeserved mercy, but you can’t down a child of Abraham. How many are going through life today with such a mental swagger in their attitude! Americans are smart and enterprising. When others lose their heads and their shirts, they keep cool and ride out the storm. They have the know-how. For such people this day is an occasion for congratulating God on the wonderful assistance He has been getting from them. They sprain their arms patting themselves on the back. Conceit and gratitude do not dwell in the same heart. The Samaritan was truly humble. Giving all glory to Christ, he turned back and with a loud voice praised God. He was not ashamed to admit that God had a hand in his affairs. He was the only one who gave joy to our Lord. There was a touch of tears in His voice as He expressed His disappointment in the nine. Surely there was an abounding joy in His welcome of the one who turned back to give thanks.

Our Lord demands gratitude. It is part of a Christian’s equipment. In almost every letter St. Paul admonishes Christians to have a spirit of gratitude, and not merely that they give thanks for a particular favor done them, but far more that a spirit of gratitude characterize their entire life. Generally speaking, a noble person can be known by how he excels in the matter of appreciation and gratefulness. A Christian especially has reasons to be continually grateful, because he has been deluged with favors by his heavenly Father. From the midst of thousands he has been snatched out of darkness and hopelessness and transferred to the realm of light and grace. The cleansing of the ten lepers forcefully reminds us that in Holy Baptism our leprosy of sin was healed, we were justified and endowed with sanctifying grace. We must live in a wicked world and in the ordinary pursuits of life. But we have appointed days and occasions when we turn back to Christ in order to thank Him for the favor of having cleansed us from sin and enriched us with grace. The grateful leper in the holy Gospel is a symbol of the Christian who returns to Christ in the house of God, praises God with a loud voice, falls on his face, and gives thanks.

This day is such an occasion for baptized Christians to praise God and give thanks. We have gathered to celebrate the Eucharist, to perform the Liturgy of the Service of Thanksgiving and Praise. The Holy Communion is the finest and loftiest service of thanksgiving, and for this occasion we have added the Te Deum Laudamus. We give thanks for all the favors we have received from Almighty God, in particular for having been chosen to be children of God. We be-gin by calling on one another, yes, on all that breathes, to praise the Lord. We pray for the Holy Spirit that He may lead us to acknowledge God’s merciful goodness, to give thanks for all His benefits, and to serve God in willing obedience. In the Kyrie we acknowledge that we are utterly dependent on mercy, and in the Gloria in Excelsis we glorify, praise, and give thanks. In the Epistle we are told how we may serve God in willing obedience. In the holy Gospel the Lord Himself opens His mouth, just as He spoke of old on the mount or from the boat. The ceremonies of the Liturgy demonstrate that in the Gospel Christ really speaks to us, for when it is announced, we rise and chant: “Glory be to Thee, O Lord!” After the reading we chant: “Praise be to Thee, O Christ!” The offering and the Offertory are expressions of offering ourselves and of our consciousness that we are united with God, and they include our work, our sorrows, our prayers, and our firm will to serve God and to follow His admonitions. This was ex-pressed much better in olden times. The housewife and mother of a family used to bake a loaf of bread embossed with the sign of the cross. In this loaf she en-closed, as it were, the cares and necessities of the family, their love of God, and their trust in Him. On the following Sunday, at the Offertory procession, she laid this gift on the table of offerings, in token of the self-sacrifice of her family, and from time to time she had the joy of seeing her bread chosen for the element of the Eucharist. The money we offer today is certainly not as beautiful and expressive a symbol.

The celebrant admonishes us, “Lift up your hearts,” and we respond, “We lift them up unto the Lord.” Next we declare that it is meet and right to give thanks unto the Lord, and the celebrant introduces the Sanctus and Benedictus with the words: “It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, ever-more praising Thee and saying” . . . The congregation then chants the angels’ hymn of adoration from the sixth chapter of Isaiah and the song with which our Lord was greeted when He came to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. As we kneel at the altar, our Lord comes and together with the Bread and Wine gives us His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. Christ says to us: “I gave My Body for you, I shed My Blood for you.” He gives Himself to us as our very own and assures us that we are beloved children of God through Him. He gives us food for the life of grace. Our Holy Communion becomes a great commingling of love. Most appropriately the Eucharist ends with, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good,” and the response, “And His mercy endureth forever.”

The Order of the Holy Communion is the finest prayer of thanksgiving we have. May God grant us what we ask in the Collect for this day! May the Holy Spirit inspire us to celebrate the Eucharist with heartfelt fervor and thanksgiving and to be strengthened by our Holy Communion in our resolve to serve God in willing obedience?

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