Preached: November 26, 2008

Glad Obedience Thanks Our God
Psalm 71:1-4, 14-19; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 1 John 4:7-12, 19-21

Welcome to St. John's Lutheran Church. It is good to see you hear, gathered to give thanks to our great and glorious God for his overflowing blessings. Often as we gather for Thanksgiving we count the many blessings God's mercy has showered on us. We note especially his spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus, our Savior. Tonight the hymns will certainly help us review that. For our hearts are moved to give thanks as we reflect on the great things our God has done for us.

But in the devotions and readings tonight, we address a different question. Instead of asking, “What do we give thanks for?” tonight we want to ask, “How do we give thanks?” Think about that question.

We open with hymn 613 “Come, You Thankful People, Come”




Love the Lord your God above all

“Oh, that gift is so wonderful! You shouldn't have done it. You're just too kind. How can I ever thank you?” Some gifts, especially when they catch us by surprise, leave us feeling that way. How can I ever thank you enough?

But how much more so the greatest gift of all! God gave his very own Son. What a surprising gift! For he gave us his Son while we were still godless sinners, rebelling against him. Though crosses are so common, every cross we see ought to remind us of that wondrous gift. The Prince of glory died for you. The blood from his head, his hands, his feet has ransomed you. His death brings you life, eternal life. What a gift! Such love, such lavish love, ignites total thanksgiving in our hearts. How can we ever thank God?

The hymn writer Isaac Watts reminds us how incapable we are of thanking him enough. He writes, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a tribute far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all” (Christian Worship, 125:4, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”).

How do we give God thanks with our soul, our life, our all? Must we invent some spectacular-looking work like a great pilgrimage or a huge building project? Must we put ourselves through an ordeal, like praying the same prayer over and over, or starving ourselves, or beating our bodies into subjection to show how thankful we are? Not at all! In fact, we dare not follow our human imagination in how to thank our God. For he himself has revealed what he accepts as tributes of thanks to him. If you want to know what that is, if you want to know how to properly thank your God, look no farther than the Ten Commandments.

Jesus summarized the first commandments this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” God's great love for you in creating you, redeeming you, and sanctifying you, his great love revealed in the cross God's love toward you draws us to love him above all.

What does that mean to love God above all? First it means to have no other gods. In other words, we don't look to our money, our ability, our charm, our character, our good luck, our family, our friends, our connections, our job, our recreation, or anything else as the source for happiness and fulfillment in our life. Rather we look to the Lord, our God, alone. He is the source. Anything else that truly brings happiness or fulfillment is only a channel through which God pours his blessing. He alone is the source of all goodness and happiness. So place his word and command above all others, fearing him above all. Rely on him in all things, trusting him above all. Treasure him as more precious than anything else, esteeming him above all.

To love God above all also means to hold his name in high regard as more precious than any priceless jewel, for his name brings life and salvation. It's not a name to use in anger or frustration, thoughtlessly or superstitiously. Rather, isn't it a wonderful way to thank God by using his name to tell others the wonders of his love, praising him up and down as the Savior who makes all the difference in this life and the next. In fact, God even counts it as an tribute of thanksgiving when you use his name to call on him in the day of trouble. As we, with empty hands cling to the cross, come before him in our need, begging for his aid, trusting that he hears and answers as he has promised, that humble petition of faith is not only a request for help but also an offering of thanks. For such a prayer honors God as the one from whom we seek all that is good and helpful. He counts it as thanksgiving.

And finally, to love God above all means to gladly hear and learn his Word. For it is his Word in Scripture and in the Sacraments that brings him to us. For his Word in Scripture and the Sacraments is the Holy Spirits tool to sanctify us, making each of our days holy in his sight, bringing us true spiritual rest. For his Word in Scripture and in the Sacraments washes us clean with Jesus' blood, promising us the rest and peace of full and free forgiveness in Jesus. What blessing his Word bring! Yet even though hearing his true, pure Word benefits us, he also counts it as your offering of thanks when he gladly hear and learn it. Just think of that. Even on those days when you come to church and the message sounds redundant and the music seems too hard to sing and no one gives you a friendly greeting, even on those days your coming is not useless or pointless. For whenever you gladly hear and learn God's Word in its truth and purity, you are giving thanks to God, wonderful thanks.

So how do we thank God? Take home the first point. We give God thanks by loving him above all. Think about that as you listen to the reading from Psalm 71:1-4, 14-19

Honor those in authority

How do we thank God? By loving him above all. When we love him above all, we obey his commandments. As we take to heart the Fourth Commandment and honor our parents and others in authority, this too is a thank offering to God.

For you see, God has set up his arrangement in the home, in society, and in the church. He has placed parents in the home as the authority over the children. Honor your parents. Show them love and respect. Esteem them highly. Show modesty, humility and deference towards them. And especially for you children living at home, that means obeying them without back talk or a tantrum, listening to what they say without complaining, willingly doing what they tell you. For you see when we, as Christians, honor our parents or others in authority, we are showing thanks to God.

How can that be? Parents are just human beings. How can honoring them or any other human authority show thanks to God? Well, who gave you your parents? Who commanded us to honor them? Who blesses us through them? Our God does. So honoring our parents and others in authority shows thanks to God.

And we don't outgrow this commandment. Even when we move out of our the house and have families of our own, we are still to honor our parents. As they age, honoring them may include using our time and possessions to care for them, help them, visit them, respect them, encourage them, just as they cared for us. We do it not only for them. We do it also as thanks to our God, who gave us our parents.

Remember, too, that this commandment includes not only parents but all whom God has placed in authority over us. It includes the police, judges, and other local and national leaders, whether you voted for them or not. It includes your pastor and church elders. It includes your teacher at school or your boss or supervisor at work. Now what authority and how much authority they have over us varies from case to case. So also the best way to show them honor will vary as well. But as you show the authorities over you the appropriate honor, that is your thank offering to God.

Now in this age when tearing down and making fun of those in authority is so common, when children often seem to boss their parent, what a wonderful opportunity you have to give thanks to God by honoring those in authority, showing humble respect to them, praying for them. For God himself has placed them over us. And he wants to funnel his blessings to you through them.

How do we thank God? Not only by loving him above all but all also by honoring those in authority over us. The reading is 1 Timothy 2:1-6

Serve your neighbor

Finally, as God's love fills our hearts it overflows in love to our neighbor. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said. Or to put it another way, serve your neighbor. For you see, love is sitting back in a cushy sofa thinking, “I feel so sorry for those people out there. I wish someone would do something for them.” Love takes action. It humbly serves. It shows kindness to those who need help.

This is what the rest of the commandments talk about. They not only forbid us from harming our neighbor, but they also direct us to do good toward them. That is something for us to think about each day. Don't look at your daily work, your job, your family responsibilities, your recreation and entertainment and ask, “What can I get out of it. How does it benefit me?” Rather, look at all that you do at home, at work, at school, for fun look at all that you do and ask, “How can I serve my neighbor in this.”

To help you think about that remember how Luther explained the last six commandments. We are to help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need. We are to lead pure and decent lives in words and actions as husband and wife love and honor each other. We are to help our neighbor improve and protect his property and business. We are speak well of our neighbor and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way. We are to help our neighbor keep his inheritance and house and urge his spouse, workers, and animals to stay and do their duty. Love for our neighbor serves.

And don't forget who your neighbor. Your neighbor is not just your friends or people that are like you. Think of Jesus parable of the good Samaritan. That Samaritan helped that Jewish man that lay half-dead from the robbers. He helped at risk to himself. He paid for the man's stay at the inn. He served that man that fell among robbers. He served even though Jews and Samaritans hated each other. That's what is to love our neighbor as ourselves, to humble serve those whom we can help.

And what a wonder! This service that you do for others out of love for Jesus, God considers a personal thank-you from you to him. Jesus says, “Whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you have done for me” (see Matthew 25:40).

So how do we thank God for all his many blessings. Look no farther than the Ten Commandment. For glad obedience thanks our God. The final reading is 1 John 4:7-12, 19-21

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313