In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Thanksgiving runs through everything: being a creature of the God of creation; belonging to the one Lord of all things; and being made holy by the eternal Holy Spirit. Thanksgiving erupts from the hearts and mouths of God’s faithful people, because the gifts of God abound. Everything is gift. Everything is given, and nothing is earned, when it comes to God.
God has made me and all creatures, and He’s given me everything I need for this body and life. And He does this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all of this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him (Small Catechism, Explanation to the First Article of the Creed). Thanksgiving is, in a very real sense, the only word we have to speak back to God. Nothing we give Him is ours to begin with, and so everything is thanksgiving. What did Israel have to return to God in sacrifice? Did they create the animals, or the grain, or the oil, or the fruits of the field? No, all of it returned as thanksgiving to the one who had given it. Did the leper have anything to give to Jesus? Nothing except the worship that acknowledged Jesus to be the Son of God who had come to heal all creation.
But we must also acknowledge that not everything in this creation, as it is, is good. Of course, God’s creating was good, and everything He saw was very good—until that distrust and rebellion and unbelief bore the wild and wicked fruit of sin in opposition to the Creator. Now there enters in the thought that what I have, I have gotten for myself. What I have, I’ve earned. And the only thing God wants to do is to keep me from enjoying what I have in my life. See: we start to call them “my things,” “my time,” “my life.” But not as a gift to us. We call it mine as a right, as something we deserve. And then our flesh, this world, and the devil begin to say of us: mine. What we think we own owns us. What we think we’ve earned binds us to itself and enslaves us. Because if I’ve earned and gotten everything myself, then there’s only one person who’s responsible for keeping it: me.
So we are in need once again, and we hardly even know it. Even so, our God does not cease His giving when we’ve ceased ours. He gives His Son, who is God from eternity and Man in time, in creation. He gives Him to be our Lord, though we only want ourselves as lord. But He will still pay the price with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that we will belong to Him and live under Him in His gracious, giving Kingdom (Small Catechism, Explanation to the Second Article of the Creed). And what is there to say to the one who, all by Himself, frees us from our slavery to sin, death, and the devil? Only thanksgiving.
The Greek word is “eucharist,” which came to be one of the names used for the Holy Supper of the Lord. We call it that, not because it is something we are offering to Him, but because He gives thanks and blesses the bread and the cup, so that they are multiplied to His people as His own crucified and resurrected Body and Blood.
And even more: the psalmist says, “What shall I render to Yahweh for all his benefits to me?” What can I give back to the Lord for everything He has given me? And what a strange answer: “I will [receive] the cup of salvation and call on the name of [Yahweh].” What shall I give? I shall receive. Gift upon gift upon gift.
“O Yahweh, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of Yahweh” (Psalm 116:12-13, 16-17). The one who believes—who knows that all these benefits of body and soul come from God—will call on the name of the Lord and be saved. He has done all this so that I may be His own, live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting innocence, blessedness, and righteousness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity (SC, Explanation to the Second Article).
But I didn’t come to this faith on my own. I didn’t create it or make it or will it, any more than I created or made anything else. It, too, is given to me by the Holy Spirit of God. He called me by the Word, proclaiming Jesus in my and opening my mind and my heart. He enlightened my blindness with His gifts. He keeps me in the true Church of Jesus, in spite of myself. He gives me Jesus as my holiness in place of my unholiness. And He delivers to me daily the forgiveness of Christ’s death and resurrection, until the final Day, when He will raise up all people and give eternal life to all believers in Christ.
Which of those verbs is mine? Of which one am I the subject, the giver, the doer? None of them, except the sinning and the unbelief. So what do I have now to give? Only thanksgiving. Only living in the Spirit, walking in the good works that He has given me to do for others. All of it from God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—all of it to us, all of it through us to others. Nothing to complain about, nothing to be bitter about, nothing to begrudge God or other people. It’s all gift, today and every day.
This is the only way that Paul can say, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). In all circumstances. In the worst circumstances. In the lowest valleys and canyons and the deep holes that we dig for ourselves and that others throw us into. There is no way that thanks can be given then and there unless everything is gift. It is good, right, and salutary that we should give thanks at all times and in all places to God, our Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Then there are no cries of “unfair!” or “my rights!” There is only thanksgiving because there is only gift: created gifts, salvation gifts, the gifts of the Church, of holiness, forgiveness, and resurrection. All of it simply because that is who God has shown Himself to be in Christ: giving everything, all His glory; the Eternal entering time, the undying entering death, the uncreated entering creation, in order to bring all creation to its eternal goal and completion, so that, finally, all the earth, all the nations, all creation will once again praise its Maker. Then every word and every work will be nothing but thanksgiving.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/20/18