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Give Thanks to the Lord November 27, 2013

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1 Chronicles 16:1-2, 7-13, 34-36


November 27th, 2013

Focus: God has given us plenty to be thankful for.

Function: That the hearers give thanks to God for the things He has given them.

Structure: This is the historical situation in the text…these are the meanings for us now.


Give Thanks to the Lord


Why are you sitting there in that pew right now?  Really, why?  Haven’t you seen the lines?  The tents are out already…in fact, they’ve been out since Sunday.  Don’t you want the best deal of the year?  I mean, $200 for a 50” high definition TV at Best Buy, $100 for 32” at Walmart….those are fabulous deals!  Really, why are you still sitting there?!


It’s a little crazy to think about isn’t it?  People lined up six days ahead of time for a deal.  They’ve taken off of work for a week, for a gadget.  They’ve given up their holiday time with family for a gizmo.  It’s gotten so out of control that big box stores like Best Buy and Walmart are opening on Thanksgiving Day, with Kmart opening at 6am!  Only in this sinful, twisted place could we celebrate Thanksgiving one day for the things we have, only to go flocking out to stores the next, so wound up that we’ll literally trample people to death.

Really, if that’s where you think happiness comes from, all that stuff, you won’t find it here.  If Thanksgiving means nothing more to you than turkey, pie, a little football, and some great deals this holiday season, welcome to 21st century America.  Honestly, if Thanksgiving is the only day of the year that you stop to give thanks…well, welcome to 21st century America.

I think it’s safe to say that our culture is confused when it comes to Thanksgiving, what it means to give thanks.  But what about us?  Do we really know what to be thankful for?  For the most part, I think we do.  But Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to reflect.

We can look at our past to get ideas, from the history that came before us, from our ancestors.  That’s what we see in our Old Testament reading today from 1 Chronicles.  We see King David and his people giving thanks.  But for what?

It was just a few years back that God’s people, the nation of Israel found themselves in chaos.  They were jealous, envious of their neighbors.  Everyone around them had a king.  But they didn’t.  They petitioned the prophet Samuel and God for a king of their own.  God gave them what they wanted, but not without a warning.  An earthly king will bring about nothing but bloodshed, taxes, and slavery.  You don’t really want what you think you want.

This led to Saul.  Samuel anointed Saul and made him king over Israel.  For a while, he ruled the people well, doing right in God’s eyes.  But it didn’t last.  The power went straight to his head and he went mad.  As he stopped following God, Israel found themselves in one war after another, constantly under pressure from the same neighbors they had been jealous of.

And if that weren’t enough, Saul’s madness began to divide his own people.  Some broke off and started to follow a young shepherd named David.  As time continued to pass, David’s followers grew.  And the Philistines became more and more violent towards Israel.

Eventually, Saul couldn’t take it anymore.  And after his suicide, Israel was once again united into one nation.  They chose to make David king and to follow him.  And because David’s heart was good in the eyes of the Lord, God blessed Israel.  He gave them victory over the Philistines time and time again.  He gave them victory over the other nations around them as well.

That’s where our text is.  David and Israel are celebrating a victory, but it’s more than that.  David has just established Jerusalem as the new capital of his kingdom.  The ark, the symbol of God’s very presence among the people, was paraded into Jerusalem.  All was good, at least for a moment.  So they rejoiced.  They celebrated.  They sang praises to Him, called upon His name, and made known His deeds among the people.

Today, we can truly be thankful for this.  Without God’s work in history, you and I wouldn’t be here.  That’s a blessing to be thankful for in and of itself.  That God has constantly been working out His plan for His creation.

That’s what “make known His deeds among the people,” and “tell of all His wondrous works,” mean.  We could go back and count off the blessings, starting in Genesis 1, all the way up to today.  That’s not bad to do.  Think about adding some of those things to your list of things to be thankful for.

But ultimately, why are we here?  Why aren’t you lined up at the stores right now, bundled up because of the single digit temperatures overnight?  There’s one thing in particular, one deed, one wondrous work of God, that we are truly thankful for.

Asaph and his brothers didn’t know the fullness of the words of their song.  “Save us, O God of our salvation!”  Save us from what?  They thought at that moment in time, they were thankful for God’s deliverance from enemies.  But we know it goes deeper than that.

We know our enemies number off more than just Afghanistan and Iran.  We know our enemies include sin, death, and the devil.  And we’d be foolish if we didn’t admit that our list of enemies even includes: me, myself, and I.

On account of sin, our sin, we deserve nothing more than Saul’s fate.  Death.  It’s our fault, we’re the ones who gave up on God and started worshipping things.  We’re the ones that can’t control our temptations.  We’ve failed, we’ve fallen short of what God made us to be.

And that’s where Asaph’s song really comes in.  That’s where salvation really comes in.  I know that the verse is abused and overused, but it’s true.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that, whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

God didn’t leave Israel, us, with a corrupt, power mad king.  Instead He sent His Son Jesus Christ.  And while all the people around Him were still expecting an earthly king, Christ knew better.  He knew that what we really needed was for God to be our king again.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.  That’s the way God’s creation was meant to be.  That’s what Christ came to do.

By His death on the cross and His resurrection on Easter morning, Jesus Christ abolished Satan’s power.  Jesus did what we needed Him to do.  His sacrifice returned creation to God.  It restored God’s authority over everything He made.  And in His resurrection, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shares in that authority.  The Father has given Him the power to rule over creation.  Our Redeemer lives.  Our Lord reigns on high!

That’s what we have to be thankful for.  There’s nothing more important.  No toy or gadget can buy happiness for you.  Nothing that you can camp out for here on earth can forgive your sins.  No deal is as precious as the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And so we close with an Old Testament Canticle, a chant used sometimes in our sister churches.

“The Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.  With joy will you draw water from the wells of salvation.  And you will say in that day:  “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the peoples, proclaim that His name is exalted.  The Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”



The Smallest Gesture November 17, 2013

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Luke 21:5-28

Proper 28

November 17th, 2013

Focus: God works through all things for His Kingdom.

Function: That the hearers live out their vocations faithfully as the children of God.

Structure: Opening Story.


The Smallest Gesture


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to begin our sermon today by sharing a story with you that floated around the internet a few years ago.


“One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.” I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friend tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.

“As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, I saw a tear in his eye.

“As I handed him his glasses, I said, “Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.” He looked at me and said, “Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude. I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play football on Saturday with me and my friends. He said yes. We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him. And my friends thought the same of him.

“Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, “Man, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!” He just laughed and handed me half the books. Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends.  Kyle went on to be valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak.

“Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than me and all the girls loved him! Boy, sometimes I was jealous. Today was one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, “Hey, big guy, you’ll be great!” He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled. “Thanks,” he said. As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began.


“Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach…but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.” I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. “Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.”

“I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its depth. Never underestimate the power of your actions.  With one small gesture you can change a person’s life.  For better or for worse.  God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way.”


I’ll admit, I have no idea if that story is true, or made up.  I never bothered to check Snopes.com to find out.  But I shared it because the point is so valuable.  The moral of the story is one we can’t afford to overlook.  “With one small gesture you can change a person’s life.”

As we wrap up our church year this week and next, the focus of the Scripture readings is on the end times, the end of the world.  And since we literally just covered today’s gospel reading from Luke in Bible class last Sunday, I wanted to take you in a slightly different direction this morning.  I wanted to focus our attention on something else that Jesus says.

As He’s walking and talking with the crowd about the end times, about wars and famines and diseases and great signs from heaven, He takes a detour in their conversation.  He pauses from this gloom and doom and He tells them what their life is going to look like when it all comes crashing down.

12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.


The disciples lived that very statement.  Jesus just prophesied the rest of their lives.  But it wasn’t just them.  Think about Paul in our epistle today, once the persecutor, becomes the persecuted.  And it hasn’t stopped.  Jesus’ prophesy wasn’t just about those disciples.  It impacts us as well.

We like to make excuses.  I know I can up with a number of them on my own.  It’s really easy to be lazy and become a couch potato.  It’s definitely a temptation to drown ourselves in our work, focusing on bringing home the bacon so much that we forget that we have a family we’re doing it for, or friends to spend time with, or neighbors to visit.

And then sometimes, sometimes we’re just plain scared.  We’re simply afraid of talking about God or telling someone about Jesus because it’s awkward.  It’s uncomfortable.  We find ourselves concerned with how they’ll react.  What if they reject me?  Any of this sound familiar?

Here’s where this all starts to come together for us.  Evangelism, sharing God’s love and the gospel doesn’t mean going door to door.  In fact, that’s probably not a good way to do it.  Instead, it’s about one of Lutheran theology’s favorite words.  Evangelism is all about vocation.

You’ve heard me use that word a few times before.  Vocation is simply a fancy way of labeling something God has given you to do.  It’s really easy to identify your vocations just by naming your relationships.  Boss, coworker, employee, customer.  Mom, dad, grandparent, brother, sister, son, daughter.  Spouse, husband, wife, uncle, aunt.  Neighbor, friend, Tarsilla’s regular.  God has knit together our community.  The relationships that you have, you have because He’s given them to you.  They’re gifts to be cherished.  And these various relationships are precisely where evangelism, or sharing the gospel, happens.

That’s the beauty of the moral of our opening story.  A small gesture?  You make those hundreds of times every day.  God has put you in relationships so that you can live them as His child.  The people you come in contact with, they see you.  And your actions or your words, speak volumes about you, and your faith.  It doesn’t matter what role you have.  If you’re a plumber, be a good plumber.  Be honest in your business dealings and set a good example.  It may not seem like much, but they’re watching.  They’re seeing a child of God living out their faith.  The plumber CAN share the gospel in his work.  He can do it when he goes home to his family or out to dinner with his friends.  He can share the gospel through his actions with people on the street, with the neighbor who has a hard time keeping up on the snowblowing, or with the cashier at Fareway.

But if instead you curse and swear because you got a little dirty on the job, some of that “stuff” plumbers have to deal with, they see that too.  Then Christians get labeled hypocrites.  Then we get people saying they want nothing to do with the church.  Or strangely, they say they like Jesus but not the church.  They don’t even realize they’ve just spoken an oxymoron.

They’ve missed out on the fact that Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her.  Jesus Christ loves us so much that He died for us.  And that His blood cleanses us of that dirty “stuff” that is sin.  In the waters of holy baptism, in your baptism, He cleansed you and set you free from sin.  He said to you, “You are my child.  I love you.  I died for you so that you can live.”  That’s what He has said to you.  That’s what we just saw Him say to Landon.  You are a child of God and He loves us all.

That’s where all this starts.  It all starts with what God did for us.  It starts with His love for us.  And while we have a tendency to overcomplicate evangelism, we don’t have to.  Instead, just be His child.  Live the life God has called you to live.  Be faithful to Him and honor and cherish the relationships He’s blessed you with.  Be faithful in those relationships, whether they’re your closest friends or just an acquaintance or your worst enemy.  Whatever the relationship is, just be faithful, full of faith.

In the rest of Jesus’ dealings with this in Luke’s gospel, He’s pretty clear about the urgency of it all.  He compares the Second Coming, when He returns to finish what He started, He compares that to the flood in Noah’s day.  No one saw it coming.  Nor did Sodom and Gomorrah see the fire and brimstone coming.  Nor do you see a thief coming, or the lightning bolt that lights up the sky in an instant.

That’s how He speaks of His return.  We won’t see it coming.  We can’t control that.  So we simply live faithfully until it happens.  We thank and praise God by living out our vocations.  We live our lives each and every day to their fullest, faithfully as children of God.  Never underestimate the power of God to work in the smallest things.