To Thank and Praise, Serve and Obey Him

 

Day of Thanksgiving
Apostles’ Creed: First Article
November 23, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

4.

The first article of the Apostles’ Creed is the shortest of the three. But although it is short, sweet, and to the point, that doesn’t mean that it’s less important. On this national day of Thanksgiving, a lot of people are going to be giving thanks, but they don’t really know what for, or who they’re thanking. The First Article directs our thanksgiving to the Giver of every gift, the source of all goodness.

I believe that God has made me. Notice that the article on creation doesn’t actually begin with creation. At least not the creation account of Genesis. The first confession of creation is, I believe that God has made me. You created my inner being and wove me together in my mother’s womb, writes the Psalmist. I thank You for how marvelously and wonderfully I am made (Ps. 139:13-14a). The first gift is that you’re even here in the first place.

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. Not only is God the Creator, but He is also the Preserver. No Deists allowed. God is not the divine architect who designed a cosmos, which He wound up and set to run all on its own. He is intimately involved with even the littlest details. “Aren’t two sparrows sold for a cent?” asks Jesus. And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s permission. As for you, even the hairs on your head are all counted (Mt 10:29-30).

3.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. For many it takes a national day of Thanksgiving to bend their inward focus outward to see that clothing and shoes don’t just come from the department store, food and drink don’t just come from the grocery store, house and home don’t come from paying the mortgage, wife and children, land and animals aren’t things that just appear out of nowhere.

How did the clothes get to the store? How did the food get stocked on the shelves? Who provides the trees for lumber to build? Who programmed your body with the ability to procreate little ones in your own image? We take these things for granted, that they are all products of our own will and work. Until they aren’t there, that is.

This shouldn’t be a one-day-out-of-the-year remembering, but every day. Your Father in heaven richly and daily provides for you. You should daily remember that.

2.

In addition to enumerating your material blessings this year, perhaps you could add something like, “Thanks be to God that my house was not destroyed in a tornado,” or, “Thanks be to God that I was not diagnosed with cancer,” or, “Thanks to God we were not invaded by an enemy nation and carted off into captivity.”

In addition to making and providing stuff, He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. Although prevention is notoriously hard to measure. When I served in Illinois, I remember hearing then-governor Pat Quinn talking about red light cameras. His argument was that if it could save the life of one child, the extreme cost and burden of installing them would be worth it. But how do you show that it saves a life? You could compare statistics, but they fluctuate (and you can make statistics say anything you want). The possibility of something happening doesn’t guarantee it happening. So how do you know what dangers and evils you have avoided this past year because of the Father’s intervention and the protection of the Holy angels?

The only way you know these dangers exist is because they do happen. Houses are destroyed in tornadoes; people are diagnosed with cancer; and you don’t just have to look at history to learn that Christians are regularly overcome by hostile governments that restrict or even forbid the practice of the faith. So what of that? If you did experience some evil, does that mean that God has abandoned you? Should you hold back your thanksgiving?

Quite the opposite. You should also give thanks for your suffering. Why? Because it’s in your suffering where you learn to know God most clearly as the One who suffers. This is what we call the theology of the cross. Let St. Paul explain: I know how to live with too little or too much. In every way of life I’ve learned the secret of eating heartily and of being hungry, of having too much and too little. I can do everything through Him who gives me the strength (Php 4:11-13).

Being content is the secret to thanksgiving. It’s the realization that even in your darkest times, God still has not removed every blessing from you. It means being like Job, who was reduced to nearly nothing, yet who confessed, I know that my Redeemer lives. Contentment, and thus thanksgiving, is the confession: “Let these all be gone; they yet have nothing won; the kingdom ours remaineth.”

1.

When we talk about divine grace and mercy, it’s usually with respect to the Second or Third Articles—the redemption of Christ or the sanctification of the Spirit. But the providence of God is no less gracious and merciful. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.

There is nothing you do that makes you worthy of the gifts of the Father; He simply gives because He can do nothing other. “If your son asks you for bread, will any of you give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish; will you give him a snake? Now if you, as wicked as you are, know how to give your children good gifts, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?” (Mt 7:9-11).

To call God, “Father,” is not a movement from the lower to the higher—to say that God is like earthly fathers. Rather, God the Father is the One by whom all fatherhood is known. Even imperfect, impatient, negligent, yes, wicked fathers here on earth know how to give good gifts to their children. God the Father in heaven is not inhibited by imperfection, He is long-suffering, He is attentive, and He is good. And so His gifts, despite their outward appearances, are always good.

This Thanksgiving remember that thanksgiving—true thanksgiving—is not something you produce in your own self. It’s not a product of your introspection or an act of the will. True thanksgiving is a work of the gift giver and a product of the gift given. It’s a fruit that is produced by faith. I believe that God has made me; He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life; He defends me against all danger; all this He does out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.

For All This It Is My Duty to Thank and Praise, Serve and Obey Him

This is most certainly true.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA