Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
On January 31, 1957, the Governor-General of Canada, Vincent Massey, issued a proclamation. It stated: “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the second Monday in October.” We don’t really need an act of parliament, or a royal proclamation or even a special day to be thankful, do we? Harvest festivals of thanksgiving are an ancient practice, as you can see in our Old Testament reading. It’s also all over the psalms. Look at our gradual: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever!” (Psa. 118:1) Or you might remember of the preface in the Lord’s Supper. “It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
On this occasion, it is most fitting to offer gratitude for all the blessings we have received from our gracious God this past year. That’s how thanksgiving works: God gives. We receive his gifts and respond with thankfulness. Today we reflect on those things received from the Lord for which we ought to consider worthy of special thanksgiving. Our readings should remind us about the responsibility our abundance puts on us.
God gives you all that you have
Jesus is in the middle of teaching a crowd of several thousand when he is disrupted by an anonymous guy who is utterly obsessed with getting his portion of the family inheritance. But our Lord sees that there is more than just a legal dispute at work here. Getting your legal, fair share is not a good thing when greed is the real motivation. So, Jesus issues a dire warning, which applies to us all: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.”
Covetousness is a misplaced craving in the heart. It is a good desire gone wrong. Greed is our inordinate desire, our excessive love, for wealth and possessions, for money and the things money can buy. God made us to have and to need certain things. The problem of greed and covetousness is not that we want something but that our desires are misdirected and out of proportion.
Jesus tells a story about a wealthy farmer: an already rich farmer gets an unexpected bumper crop. God had blessed him with just the right amount of rain and sun, no disease or pestilence, and huge yields. But there was not a single ounce of thankfulness. Not one thought of sharing. What is his immediate idea? “What am I going to do with all this extra grain? I guess I’m just going to have to expand my storehouses You know what? I’m really set here. I’m not going to have to work another day of my life. I’m going to retire young, take it easy. I’m going to go relax at the beach and sip margaritas and drive fancy cars.” Many who hear this parable, especially in a North American context, wonder why the rich farmer is called a fool? Isn’t this what we are encouraged to strive for? Isn’t it wise and responsible to save for the future? The rich farmer would probably be an excellent financial advisor. He seems to have things figured out by working hard and saving wisely. Now he can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labour, right?
The rich man’s land has produced abundantly, yet he only consults with himself, with no thought of God. He expresses no sense of gratitude to God or the workers who have helped him plant and harvest this bumper crop. He has more grain and goods in storage than he could ever hope to use yet seems to have no thought of sharing it with the poor, the ill, and the naked who were all around him. He did not have a single thought of what God might require of him. He looks forward to congratulating himself on this decision, as he and his own soul spend many happy years eating, drinking, and making merry with all that accumulated wealth. Do you react like the rich man? The rich man failed to consider, and what we often fail to consider, is that life is on loan from God, and God can demand it back at any time. Each day is a gift, and for all this, it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him each day. “We give thee buy thine own, what e’re the gift may be. All that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.” (LSB 781:1).
God gives to you so you can give to others
The prosperous farmer is a fool not because he is wealthy or because he saves for the future, but because he appears to live only for himself and believes that he can secure his life with his abundant possessions. It is all about priorities. It is about who is truly God in our lives. It is about how we invest our lives and the gifts that God has given us. It is about how our lives are fundamentally aligned: toward ourselves and our passing desires, or toward God and our neighbour, toward God’s mission to bless and redeem the world.
Many people express some regrets when they realise they are nearing the end of life, but there is one regret you will never hear. You will never hear anyone say, ‘I wish I hadn’t given so much away. I wish I had kept more for myself.'” Death has a way of clarifying what really matters.
This is what Paul is getting at in our Epistle reading. The congregation at Corinth had pledged to give money in an offering for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem. Paul reminds the Corinthians of their commitment. When the delegation arrived at Corinth to receive their gift, the gift would be ready. Thus there would be no embarrassment for the Corinthians or Paul.
Paul makes the point that God doesn’t want us to give to others because we “have to give.” He wants us to share because we “want to give.” Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” What would motivate us to give cheerfully? God has given us and will continue to provide us with everything they need—indeed, far more than we could ever use up. God had blessed us beyond compare. Now we are, in turn, to show love and compassion by giving to others done out of thanks to God and because our neighbour has need.
Paul points out that all the blessings we receive, both the physical and the spiritual, are given to us to use in a specific way. We use the things we have to touch people’s hearts and show them the love of Jesus. When we give this way, it will cause people on both sides to thank and praise God. Both those who give and the people in need who received the gifts can both alike give thanks and praise to God. The purpose of giving is not to be the glory of man but the glory of God. Giving generously would cause many people to thank, praise and worship God. That’s the real reason for a good thanksgiving.
All of this is just an imitation of God. Paul reminded the Corinthian church about this gift. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Co 8:9). Christ, the Son of God, came down from the glories and riches of heaven and became poor for your sake. He emptied himself of outward glory, laid aside earthly wealth, and walked the way of the cross for you. He came to purchase your salvation. The price was his holy precious blood. Jesus gave you the most significant gift you could have: the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord. It’s good for us to be here this morning. Today we give thanks for everything we have: the bounties of this Dominion, the freedoms we enjoy, the food on our tables, the clothing on our backs, the roof over our heads. All are gifts from our good and gracious Father, “for all which it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” It’s our Christian privilege to give thanks, not only for ourselves but also for our neighbours. Thanksgiving is what we do. And in our abundance, we have the privilege of imitating God’s generosity by giving to others. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; his steadfast love endures forever.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.