Deuteronomy 26:1-11: Thanksgiving and Thanks-living

Desiccated lips become the desert land, cracking under the unrelenting sky.  Her skin begins to blister, stinging red from the blazing sun.  The Autumn day scorches the farm field, baking it as the heat of Summer.  Her head swims, woozy, waves of distorted air rising from the ground, altering the shape of the wheat.

She glances at the workers laboring in the fields.  Her heart moves with compassion.  She, the wife of the farm owner, can little imagine the hardship they endure, harvesting the crop, as her dry throat scratches for water.  She sounds the dinner bell, calling them all to a spread of food as they bundle the last of the harvest.

Eyes glimmer over honey-glazed ham.  Bread with butter, made from fresh milk, fill them with promise.  Refusing the moment to thank God for their provision, the field hands eat like ravenous wolves.  Each thinks if he waits, he’ll miss the best of the table.  The immediate indulgence of flavors and full bellies stifle their thankful hearts.

Israel also delighted in the promise of plenty, as their roots of ingratitude scraped deeper into the rock.  A land laden with bee’s honey and milk frothing with cream lay before them.  Would gratitude flicker within them for only a moment, or would grace-filled hearts shine back with grace?

So, Moses takes a teaching moment to retell the people to be thankful.  They entered Egypt as a small family.  They grew into a mighty and populous people, whom the king of Egypt began to fear.  The Egyptians oppressed and afflicted them, and assigned them hard labor.  The Lord led them out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with terrifying power, signs, and wonders.

God sent ten terrible plagues on Egypt, killing their first-born sons, but saving Israel in the Passover.  He opened the Red Sea for them and fed them with manna from heaven, as they journeyed in the wilderness.  He brought them into a land of creamy butter and honey topped bread, where God would provide in plenty.  God granted them a cornucopia of reasons to thank and praise Him.

So also with us.  We are living in a land flowing with more than milk and sweet honey.  Medical advances are overtaking one disease after another, resulting in longer lives.  Luxuries and conveniences abound in our homes, which king and queens of yesteryear never imagined.  In our nation, we can worship God without fear of harm or persecution!

Do we thank God for what is around us?  Consider the mountains, the valleys, the trees, rivers, and streams.  The beauty alone is awe-inspiring.  Think of how God brought His creation together so life can exist and continue.  Everything around us is a continuing miracle of God.  Do you not gape in wonder?

The mountains provide protection from passing storms.  Trees and flowers produce oxygen.  Rivers flow with much-needed water for all living creatures.  These are but a few of the many miracles abounding in our everyday lives.  A million more are waiting for you to recognize.  Don’t let the miracles surrounding you become ordinary—if you do, you will miss the remarkable blessings hiding in every corner and cranny.

Remember to be thankful for the little blessings.  A friend calls to say hello.  You find a $5 bill in a coat pocket.  Someone says he understands what you are going through—and does!  Remove your expectations of others, for they are often compositions of your sinful nature.  With your self-created expectations removed, you are ready as Luther taught to understand “everything in the best possible light.”  Let these surprises become the moments of joy for you as gratefulness for each of them blossoms anew.

A meaningless existence once enslaved us, where our sinful flesh lusted after what harms us, if not now, in eternity.  So terrible is the bondage, no one leaves unscathed, whether infant or adult, ending in eternal death for both body and soul.

So Jesus, the second Moses, comes.  The cries of His people pierced His ears before the throne of God.  On the cross, His words ring with a commanding air: “Let my people go!”  His blood streams out, redeeming us from the devil’s domain, from the cruelest of pharaohs in his darkened tyranny.

Now, Jesus continues to lead us through the wilderness of this fallen world.  He strengthens us with heavenly manna (His Supper) until we reach the promised land of heaven.  God’s eternal country awaits us, flowing with milk beyond compare and honey beyond what our mouths have savored.

Jesus hands eternity to you because He loves you, changing everything.  His grace fills you with grace.  With childlike faith, your eyes can now spot unexpected divine interventions all around.  A fortuitous event happens, and you catch the blessing sent your way.  Thank God.

Realizing all to be thankful for, what are some ways we can show our thankfulness.  God commanded the Israelites to “gather the first harvest,” not the leftovers.

Gather the first harvest from the land the Lord your God is giving you.  Place it in a basket, and bring it to the place where the Lord your God will choose to locate his name….  Place the basket before the presence of the Lord your God and bow down before him. [Deuteronomy 26:2, 10]

We put into our basket our praise and thanks to God.  The reason we gather for divine worship is to rest in the salvation God gives us in Christ Jesus.  Every worship service now becomes a giant “thank you” to God.  With eternity before us, our problems shrink in comparison.  God not only saves us from something: hell’s destruction.  He also saves us for something: a life of eternal joy.

We also put into our basket our way of life.  Our thanks will show in how we live.  Jesus ransomed us out of slavery to sin.  So, we no longer live as the slaves of sin but for the One who died for us and rose again.  We will live every moment like Jesus is with us, for He is!

Are we living our life and going places where we don’t want Jesus to be with us?  Ancient Israel wanted to be without God—after He rescued them from their slavery in Egypt.  Paul used Israel’s life with God as a picture of our life with God.  All the Israelites went through the waters of baptism, as did we.  “All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea.”

Does baptism save (1 Peter 3:21)?  Yes!  No Israelite lacked from the waters of salvation, but most never entered the Promised Land.  You can choose not to live in your baptism, as the Israelites did, and not enter the Promised Land of heaven.

What about the Lord’s Supper?  Every Israelite—not some, but all—ate of the Supper.  “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink… Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:3).  Does the Lord’s Supper forgive sin (Matthew 26:28)?  Yes!

No Israelite lacked from the Lord’s Supper, but most never entered the Promised Land.  You can choose not to live in the Supper’s forgiveness, as the Israelites did, and not enter the Promised Land of heaven.

We can let ungrateful hearts cast a dark shroud over our life by choosing to be ungrateful.  God made you into His child through baptism.  Don’t decide to be someone else, by camping out in some sin.  You are walking away from your baptism and living outside the forgiveness of the Supper.

Psalm 136:1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.”  God tells us to be thankful.  Why?  “His faithful love endures forever.”  Hebrews 12:28: “Since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us be thankful.”  Scripture is using command language.

The book of Hebrews goes on to describe how thankfulness shapes our worship of God.  The verse finishes: we “worship God in reverence and fear, in a way pleasing to him.”  Doesn’t that sound like our reading from Deuteronomy?  “Place the basket before the presence of the Lord your God and bow down before him.”

What else do we put into the basket?  We put in a portion of our time, money, and abilities.  God gives to us in many ways, and a grateful heart responds with thanks back to God.  Set some money aside to help in the work of the Church.  Give some time.  Do something with a skill you enjoy; something others can’t do.

God fills our pantry with many reasons to be thankful.  But we often don’t care.  Now, we can beat ourselves up for being thankless—and we should!  Repent!  Turn away from yourself to the One who comes and reshapes your heart to be thankful.

How do you repent for not being thankful?  You do so by being thankful.  Crazy?  No, for you repent by thanking God in gratitude for the second Moses, Jesus, who made everything right between you and God.  He shed His blood to cover your sins, including your sin of ungratefulness.  He led you out of your slavery to sin and now is leading you to your homeland above.  He gave His life so you can live forever with Him.

Today, God comes to us, once more.  He comes, changing us from the outside in, so we can be thankful from the inside out.  The faith God gives us brings us to thank Him for all He does—and more, for not giving us what we deserve.  Ah, so His faithful love does endure forever!  What God does for us is worth thanksgiving and thanks-living.

When you live in the faith God gives you, He sets you up for life—eternal life.  Thank God!  Amen.