Thanksgiving Eve

Preached: November 25, 2009

O Lord, How Great Your Blessing Is!
Genesis 32:9-12

Other listening options or try the podcast at iTunes (You will be leaving our website.)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit stirs thanks to our God and Savior is Genesis 32:9-12

Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, 'Return to your land and your relatives and I will make it go well with you.' I don't measure up to any of the mercies or any of the faithfulness you have shown your servant. For I crossed this Jordan with only my staff, and now I have become two encampments. Oh, save me from the hand of Esau, my brother, for I'm afraid of him that he will come and strike us, both mother and children. But you indeed have said, 'I will certainly make it go well with you, and I will make your seed as the sand of the sea, too many to count.'” (Genesis 32:9-12)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men -- robbers, evildoers, adulterers -- or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11 NIV). I suppose some might call that a prayer of thanks. It uses the word “thank.” But I'm sure all of you recognize it as anything but. As Jesus told this parable, he made it clear that the Pharisee was praying about himself.

But how often does our thanks fall short? The Pharisee at least used the word “thank.” Do we think of tomorrow more as “Turkey Day” rather than Thanksgiving Day? I realize some people say Turkey Day for humor or variety, not intending to deny giving thanks. But where is your focus tomorrow? Is it more on the gift rather than the Giver? Do we focus on the food that fills our bellies and the family that fills our home, rather than on the One who alone can fill our souls?

William Reid recognized how far our thankfulness falls short. He wrote, “Forgive us, Lord, for shallow thankfulness, For dull content with warmth and sheltered care, For songs of praise for worldly wealthiness, While of your richer gifts we're unaware” (Christians Worship, 482:1, “Forgive Us, Lord,” ©1965. Renewal 1993 by the Hymn Society, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth TX 76129).

Tonight, may the Holy Spirit stir in us true thankfulness to our God and Savior, the Giver of all good. May he work in us through his word, as we take to heart this prayer that Jacob prayed when he returned to the land of Canaan. Then we will call out this Thanksgiving Day: O Lord, how great your blessing is!

A. I confess my total unworthiness

1. Whom did Jacob direct his pray to?

From the very beginning of the prayer, Jacob knows from whom he has received all that is good. His thanks is not a generic attitude of gratitude that even an atheist can manufacture. He's not thanking an unnamed god or a higher power or something beyond himself. He knows that he owes all that he has and all that he is to the Lord, the God who keeps his promises, the God who spoke to his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac. The Lord had promised to send the Savior through them to crush Satan's power and reconcile sinners to God. To the Lord, Jacob raises his prayer as he says, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord” (Genesis 32:9).

2. What did Jacob realize about himself as he prayed?

When our thanks is directed to the true God, the Lord who keeps his promises, what do we realize about ourselves? The same thing Jacob confesses as he prays: “I don't measure up to any of the mercies or any of the faithfulness you have shown your servant” (Genesis 32:10).

Do you remember why Jacob had left? He had tricked his father into giving him the blessing instead of his older twin brother Esau. Esau was furious. He planned to kill Jacob as soon as their father died. So his mother, Rebekah, sent Jacob to her brother, Laban, in the land of Haran. Jacob left with nothing except the staff in his hand. We might say he fled with only the shirt on his back.

But how the Lord had blessed him during those twenty years at Laban's! He returns with cattle and donkeys, flocks of sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. He now had family with him as well. In fact they were able to camp as two groups, so greatly had the Lord blessed him.

What Jacob did realize as he reflected on these blessings? That he deserved none of them. He in no way measured up to even the least of these blessings. He fell far short. The NIV translates his words here: “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant” (Genesis 32:10 NIV). Unworthy.

3. What do we confess about ourselves as we reflect on the Lord's blessings?

That, dear friends, is our confession this Thanksgiving as well: “O Lord, how great your blessing is, so much greater than I measure up to! I am unworthy of all your kindness. I don't deserve any of the mercies or faithfulness you have shown your lowly servant.” Resist the world's whisper: “Your worth that new blouse, new gun, new car, new video game. You deserve that turkey on the table. You've worked hard for it.” Resist it. For the Lord has already blessed us so richly. He may bless you with more. But give him thanks for what he has given you. For we don't deserve any of what we already have. It's all a gift of his mercy and kindness. It's a gift of his faithfulness, for he does not change. He keeps his promises, though we in no way deserve it. I confess my total unworthiness.

Now the world will say that you can't think like that. You need some sense of worthiness, some sort of self-esteem. But those feelings are deceptions when their built on what I have, or what I am, or what I can do. Rather only the Lord's promises bring us true worth.

B. I cling only to your promises

1. How does Jacob show that he's cling only to the Lord's promises?

Take note how Jacob begins and ends his pray. With the Lord's promise. “O Lord, who said to me, 'Return to your land and your relatives and I will make it go well with you.'” (Genesis 32:9), and then again at the end,“But you indeed have said, 'I will certainly make it go well with you, and I will make your seed as the sand of the sea, too many to count.'” (Genesis 32:12). There is no greater way to give God thanks than to cling to his promises alone.

Jacob no longer relied on his skill and intrigue. He relied on the Lord's promises. He heard that Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men. How could Jacob stand up against that? His servants were shepherds and workers, not soldiers. What would happen to the mothers and their children? Fear filled him.

So he goes to the Lord in prayer. He holds God to his promises. “You promised to make it go well when you told me to return. You promised to bless me with many descendants like the sand of sea shore, through whom my Savior would come. You promised, O Lord!” Jacob clings only to the Lord's promises.

Even later when Jacob sends gifts on ahead to appease Esau, he knows that only the Lord blessing will make that work. He's not trusting his skill or planning. He's clinging to the Lord's promises. What a marvelous way to give thanks to God!

2. How can you hold God to his promises?

So also, dear friends, give thanks for past blessings by clinging to God's promises no matter what lies ahead. Like Jacob, we also face the uncertainty of the future. What about the economy and politics? What about your personal finances, your job, your family? What about your health or the health of loved one? What about our congregation's finances or the synod's budget?

The same Lord who has blessed us in the past, has made his promise for us to hold on to as go forward. As we reflect on his blessings this Thanksgiving, we can pray: O Lord, how great your blessing is! So I will continue clinging to your promises alone.”

Like Jacob, open and close your prayers with the Lord's promises. When faced with financial worries, pray: “Lord Jesus, you point me to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. You say, 'Look at them, they don't sow or reap or store away in silos and barns. They don't labor or spin to make clothes. But see how your heavenly Father takes care of them. Are you not much more valuable than they? So do not worry.' Help me to lift my eyes from these worries to see how great your blessing is, so that I seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. For you have promised that everything I need will be added well.” (based on Matthew 6:25-34)

When faced with illness, sickness, pain, or disease, pray, “Lord Jesus, you came in mercy to those who were sick and suffering. Stand by my side in this hour of need, for you have promised, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you' (Hebrews 13:5 NIV). Strengthen me to bear up underneath this load, and, if it is your will, relieve me of this suffering. Yet not my will, but yours be done. For you work all things for the good of your people. Help me hold to that promise in faith that sees how great your love is. For you didn't spare your own Son but gave him up for us all (based on Romans 8:28, 32). How great your blessing is!”

When plagued with doubt, despair, and the agony of guilt, pray: “O Lord, the darkness of my sin is so deep. Shine into my heart with the light of your promise. You have said, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV). Your promise of forgiveness touched my forehead with the water of Baptism. It touches my lips in bread and wine. Wash me clean. For your blood, Lord Jesus, purifies me from all sin (based on 1 John 1:7). Yes, because you live, I too shall live (based on John 14:19). How great your blessing is!”

No matter what the circumstance, dear Christian, as you face the fearful future, as your Esau comes at you, pray the Lord's promises. Cling to his promises. For only his promises give us real worth. For you have been ransomed not with perishable things like silver and gold, “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18, 19 NIV). How great the Lord's blessing is! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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