Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Eve of the National Day of Thanksgiving (Harvest Festival)

Luke 12:13-21; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Deuteronomy 26:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Giving thanks is the natural fruit of justification, trust and faith in God for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Thanksgiving blooms naturally from a Christian, the way plump and juicy bunches of grapes burst forth from the vine. Yet, there are many things that will hinder a Christian from giving thanks, amongst them being covetousness and greed.
These are no minor sins. Indeed, God has given no less than two Commandments against covetousness and greed, the Ninth and Tenth – three, if you count the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.” These, like all sins, are ultimately sins against God, a transgression of the First Commandment, as the covetous and the greedy place their fear, love, and trust in some material or worldly created thing over and above the Creator of all things. Thus, in book two of The Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Dante described the covetous and the greedy as being bound and laid face down upon the ground for having concentrated too much on earthly thoughts.
We are all susceptible to covetousness and greed. Indeed, these were present and active in the Garden when our First Parents desired what God had forbidden, not only to eat the forbidden fruit, but to be their own gods, producing no fruitful thanksgiving and praise to God their Creator, but only the fruit of sin, which is death. We transgress the Ninth, Tenth, Seventh, and First Commandments, and probably others too, when we are anxious and worried about what we will eat and wear, and when we place our trust in our own works, wealth, and prosperity as did the man in Jesus’ parable this evening.
In answer to two men in the crowd who were disputing over an inheritance, Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then He told them a parable about a rich man whose land produced plentiful crops so that his barns were filled and he had no more room to store his grain. After considering, the man decided to tear down his existing barns and build larger ones to store all his grain and his goods. Then the man said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
To our American, independence-idolizing ears, the man’s reasoning likely sounds good, even praiseworthy. After all, it’s his grain, his barns, his land; he should be able to do whatever he likes with what is his. That’s the American dream, right? That’s what we all hope to achieve in our retirement, if not sooner – independence, the freedom to not depend on anyone: parents, children, neighbors, government, God. Relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Sounds good, right? In fact, most of us will be doing just that tomorrow on the day we, as a nation, have designated a Day of National Thanksgiving. But, how many will be giving thanks? What will they be thankful for? And, who will they be thanking? How many will thank no one but themselves?
The rich man who tore down his barns and built bigger ones trusted only in himself. He was pleased with himself and thankful to himself for his own efforts. Was the land really his? No. Did he produce the seed that grew into crops? Did he make the rain to fall and the sun to shine that the seed might grow and be fruitful? No. No, truly, even the man’s life was not his own, just as your life is not your own, and that very night God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Relax, eat, drink, and be merry, for I have ample goods laid up for many years? Today, you are more likely to hear this adaptation: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. For, this is the common tomorrow that all men face, sooner or later. Therefore, since we will not live forever in this life as it is, and we all know that hearses don’t pull U-Hauls – that is to say, “You can’t take it with you.” – the question is, “How, then, shall we live?” However, this isn’t so much a decision that you need to make as it is fruit that you will bear when you have faith and trust in God, the Creator and giver of all things, even your life. Better, then is the way J.R.R. Tolkien put it in The Lord of the Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
St. Paul explains saying, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” For, Paul continues, “[The LORD] has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” And, the result of this is that “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
This is to say that your life, possessions, wealth, time, talents, and treasure are all precious gifts to you of God’s most loving grace. He gives them to you to use, for yourself and your family, and He makes you a steward and manager of His gifts to use for others. This is, in part, how you give thanks to God for His love, faithfulness, and providence – by being generous with His gifts, you bear the fruits of faith, which are living proof that you love the Giver more than the gifts. This is your confession in action of your faith in the LORD, who graciously provides you all that you need to sustain your body and life.
No man is an island, but we are all conceived and born into families, communities, villages, and nations. We are our brother’s keepers, and they are ours. Recognition of this fact does not make us socialists, but Christians. The most important fruit that is born of such faith and trust in God is freedom from the slavery of idolatry. Because you are a slave to Christ, you are free to live in His grace and receive His gifts, no strings attached. Therefore, you are free to freely share His gifts and give them to others, knowing that you are losing nothing, for your God who graciously gives you all things will not withhold from you all that is needful and good.
On this National Day of Thanksgiving, we remember the pilgrims who came to the New World with little but the clothing on their backs. After much toil, tribulation, and suffering, they were thankful; they were thankful for the land, for food, for shelter, for friendly neighbors, and for their own lives. They were also thankful for freedom: religious freedom, political freedom, freedom to taxed only with representation, and freedom to a fair trial and justice. Jesus taught that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, because of our prosperity and wealth, we take much for granted and falsely believe that all we have is the fruit of our labors and rightfully ours alone. As a result, we are not thankful, and if we give, we often do so with somewhat less than a cheerful heart.
Well, charity does begin at home, and thanksgiving begins at the altar. We gather here this evening to receive God’s gifts and to offer Him thanks and praise. He graciously forgives our sins, strengthens our faith, and gives us eternal life that we can live and worship and share His gifts without fear of not having enough or running out. He fills you until you are overflowing, then He keeps on pouring and giving that you may be both blessed and a blessing. “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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