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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
November 21, 2018 at 7:15 PM
Central Passage
Matthew 6:25-34
Subject
Thanksgiving Eve
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: November 21, 2018 – Thanksgiving Eve

Matthew 6:25-34

 

Trust and Gratitude

 

            I’m going to come out and say it. It is very difficult to take Jesus’ words seriously. Don’t worry? Don’t be anxious? Look at the birds, who don’t sow seed or harvest and yet God feeds them? Look at the flowers in the field which don’t work but are yet more gloriously clothed than Solomon? At best, Jesus’ words sound quaint. They sound like an old yarn your aged uncle would say. At worst, they sound totally incongruent with our reality. After all, did Jesus ever have to worry about raising a child, for instance? Did he have to worry about caring for an elderly parent? (He seems to have passed that duty to one of his disciples, according to John’s Gospel.) Did he have to worry about crop prices or tariffs or overseas markets? Did he have to worry about debt or taxes? After all, he was able to get money for the Temple tax from a fish’s mouth (read Matthew 17:24-27 for that story). We seem to have a lot of concerns that Jesus never had to worry about.

 

            This isn’t to say that there weren’t worries in Jesus’ day. There certainly were – arguably more. Palestine was filled with disenfranchised people who were worked and taxed to death. Childbirth was incredibly dangerous, with high infant and mother mortality rates. Many people who owned family farms were reduced to sharecropping on their former land after drowning in debt. Itinerant preachers and healers like Jesus were totally dependent on either gleaning in the fields (read Matthew 12:1-8 for that story) or on the generosity of others (read Luke 8:1-3 to learn about Jesus’ benefactors). There was no social safety net. No enforceable laws protecting people from a predatory government or a religious apparatus. Bandits roamed the area. Jesus’ world was not a quaint, sweet world, but one just as, if not more, brutal than ours.

 

            This just makes Jesus’ words more puzzling. How can Jesus tell us not to worry when there are worries everywhere? We know that Jesus is right about the uselessness of worry, at least today. Sure, back when our ancestors had to worry about saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths, worry and vigilance helped them to survive. But, this extreme focus on worry today doesn’t help us at all. Worrying can’t add a single cubit to the length of our lives. In fact, scientific research suggests the opposite. If you’re a rather neurotic person, like me, stressed all the time, worrying about this or that, imagining catastrophic events, you are more susceptible to heart disease, obesity, substance abuse, and major depression. Your lifespan tends to be shorter. We know that Jesus is right, but how can he realistically tell us to not worry when there is so much in our world to worry about?

 

            Jesus tells his disciples – and us – that the key to letting go of worry lies in our priorities. What do we prioritize? The things we immediately perceive? Most of us do. After all, when Jesus tells us to “desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness”, that sounds like an abstraction. We equate God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness with far-off, heavenly concepts – not relevant to us in this life.

 

            But God’s kingdom (which is God’s reign in our lives) and God’s righteousness (which is right, healthy relationships with God and each other) are not abstractions. They are the realities that govern our lives more than we know. Jesus says in verse 24, right before our reading, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” If we prioritize stuff over God, our priorities will be all messed up. We will serve a master who is supposed to be a servant. But when God is first in our lives, then our priorities are straight. Money and things will take their rightful place as servants, not masters, of our lives.

 

            That is exactly the kind of life that Jesus invites us to today. A life in which God is master, in which God comes first, is a life where there is no need for worry. It’s a life where our trust is rightly placed, whatever we face in our lives. And it is a life where we can see just how much God has blessed us.

 

            When we recognize that God is in charge and that God is the giver of everything good, we can finally be grateful. We can be thankful in all circumstances, which Paul exhorts to the church at Thessalonika (1 Thess. 5:18). Everything from our clothing to our salvation from the forces of death and evil is from the hand of a God who is gracious, loving, merciful, and generous beyond our wildest imaginings.

 

            So how might we recognize – deep in our soul – that God is the giver of everything good in our lives?

 

            First, we can remember that God has already given us everything. He has already done everything for us. He has already prepared everything for the future banquet that will have no end, according to Isaiah 25. Because our whole being and those we love are in God’s hands, we have no need to fear.

 

            Second, we can remember that our whole life is one of giving thanks. Luther recommended giving thanks in daily prayers – once in the morning and once at night. As one rises, one may pray, after the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, a little prayer that begins this way:

 

I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have protected me through the night from all harm and danger.[1]

 

            And before bed, we may pray a similar prayer that begins in a similar fashion.

 

I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear son, that you have graciously protected me today.[2]

 

            The whole Christian life is little more than a life lived in praise and thanks to the God who has given us all we have and made us all we are. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

 

 

[1] Luther’s Small Cathechism with Evangelical Lutheran Worship Texts, 2008, p. 52.

[2] Ibid., p. 53.

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