Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Gracious Giving, Thankful Obedience

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13A, preach on Sunday, August 2, 2020, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    We make sure to teach our kids to say it.  Whenever they get a gift, we remind them to say “Thank you.”  This is a good habit to start in our younger years.  It’s part of living in polite society, and so we too, as adults, we need to be reminded to say “Thank you.”  It’s important for us to respond to people’s generosity with gratitude.  But do we do this with God’s generosity?  Do we thank Him for all He’s graciously given to us, or do we respond with greed, always wanting more, expecting more, thinking we’re owed more? 
    With faith, it’s right for us to understand and recognize that everything we have is a gift.  Our homes are a gift.  The food on our tables is a gift.  Even our friends and families, they’re gifts.  So too are the non-tangible things in our lives like our reputation and talents and time, they’re gifts.  All of it is a gift from God.  But this faithful understanding of God’s gifts goes completely against the old-school American way and also the current culture of entitlement.
    The old-school American way of life isn’t one that seeks out gifts.  Instead it’s all about working hard for everything you have, claiming it as your own.  The material things we have we have because we’ve worked for them.  The family and friends that we have we have because we’ve built those relationships.  We see a direct connection between what we’ve done and the things we have, and so we give ourselves the credit.  And yet, the credit doesn’t belong to us, but to God.
    In a similar way, our current culture of entitlement doesn’t look at what we have as God’s gracious giving, but instead it’s what’s owed to us.  We think we deserve things, we think we’re owed in some way, simply because we’re breathing.  We think it’s our inalienable right to have the latest technology, to eat whatever we want, to live in the exact home that we want.  We demand these things and more, and never once are we grateful for what we have. 
    In both cases we fail to thank God.    In both cases gratitude is absent.  In both cases we refuse to see the Lord’s generosity.  In both cases our greedy sinfulness raises its selfish head.        
    The collect for today is a very pointed one, cutting right through our sinful greed.  Again, we prayed, Heavenly Father, though we do not deserve Your goodness, still You provide for all our needs of body and soul.  Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may acknowledge Your gifts, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience.  Did you hear the first part of that prayer?  We don’t deserve God’s goodness.  What a radical truth for today’s entitled world.  What a radical truth for people who think they’ve earned everything. 
    We don’t deserve God’s goodness.  God owes us nothing.  We’re sinners, enemies of God.  We’ve rebelled against Him, and continue to rebel every time we disregard His Word and listen instead to Satan’s temptations and our own sinful wishes.  We take and take and take, never once stopping to acknowledge how gracious God is.  We take and take and take, never once stopping to see how even though we deserve death, God graciously gives us life. 
    None of us would be breathing today if it wasn’t for God giving us the breath of life.  He created our first parents in the Garden, and through our parents, He’s created each and everyone one of us.  This is what we confess in the Creed when we say “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”  As we say those words we’re confessing that God has made each and everyone one of us specifically, and that He continues to care for each and every one of us.  Out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, God continues to care for us.  He gives us what we need.  He gives us food for our bodies, our daily bread. 
    Jesus did this in a miraculous way in the Gospel.  He had compassion on that crowd of 5,000, taking just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, He prepared a meal for everyone, with more than enough left-overs.  But notice how He delivered this daily bread to the people...through the hands of His disciples.  The disciples served the people the food.  And in the same way, God provides your daily bread by the hands of others. 
    We may not think of it as miraculous as the feeding of the 5,000, but our Lord still provides us with the food we need by the hands of others; whether it be from the farmers who grow and raise our food, the stockers at Kroger who fill the shelves, our employers who pay us for our work so we can buy our food, or the teenagers behind the counter at Chick-fil-a who make our food, by all of these hands, the Lord provides for us.  And the same can be said about everything else we need and have. 
    But the Lord’s compassionate and gracious care doesn’t just stop there.  Jesus didn’t just give the crowd food for their bodies; He gave them food for their souls.  He gave them the Bread of Life, the Word of God, the life-giving Good News of salvation in Him.  And He continues to do the same for you.  And this is a greater miracle than the feeding of the 5,000.
    In a miraculous way, through the Word of Christ and Him crucified, God brings us to everlasting life.  His Word of forgiveness overcomes our sin.  Our selfishness and greed is washed away through the waters of Baptism, and we’re clothed with Christ’s righteousness.  He takes bread and wine and through it physically feeds us His very body and blood, feeding our faith and bodies unto everlasting life.  And again, He does it all through the hands of others, men He’s called to proclaim His Word and administer His Sacraments.  All of this is a gift.  All of this is God’s gracious giving.  And in faithful response we rightly say “Thanks.” 
    In one of the post-communion canticles we sing, “Thank the Lord and sing His praise; tell everyone what He has done.  Let everyone who seeks the Lord rejoice and proudly bear His name.”  In response to receiving food for our souls, we can’t help but give to God thanks.  We literally sing “Thank you.” 
    We praise Him for His graciousness and we share that thanks and praise we others.  We do this with our words and we do this with our obedience.  What better way is there to say thank you to our Lord for the everlasting life He’s given to us then to live it out?  What better way is there to say thank you than to show forth the righteousness of Christ that we’ve received?  What better way is there to say thank you than to be a servant of the Lord, being the hands through which He provides daily bread for others?  There is no better way. 
    Our Lord graciously gives us all that we need: food for our bodies and food for our souls.  And as we faithful receive all these gifts, we give Him thanks: thanks of proclamation, proclaiming the goodness of the Lord, and thanks of obedience, living the life we’re called to live.  So today, and every day, give thanks to the Lord, for He graciously gives all we need.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


“We don’t deserve God’s goodness. God owes us nothing. We’re sinners, enemies of God. We’ve rebelled against Him, and continue to rebel every time we disregard His Word and listen instead to Satan’s temptations and our own sinful wishes. We take and take and take, never once stopping to acknowledge how gracious God is. We take and take and take, never once stopping to see how even though we deserve death, God graciously gives us life.”
“Our Lord graciously gives us all that we need: food for our bodies and food for our souls. And as we faithful receive all these gifts, we give Him thanks: thanks of proclamation, proclaiming the goodness of the Lord, and thanks of obedience, living the life we’re called to live. So today, and every day, give thanks to the Lord, for He graciously gives all we need.”
Since it is the same “we” in both paragraphs, would that not raise some confusion in the hearers? Or, more likely, would a reasonable hearer not think “I cannot be both of these,” so there is no reason for me to listen to this? I mean “never once” is pretty definitive. Surely there is a Christian somewhere in your congregation.
George A. Marquart