22 November 2017
Psalm 65. 11-13 [12-14 MT]
We Have Nothing Except What God Gives Us
Dear friends in Christ. We just heard in today’s Gospel of the ten men cured from the dread disease of leprosy and only one returned to thank Jesus. Was this man the only one who was thankful? Hardly! Certainly all ten were happy and thankful. Jesus had told them: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they went away they were cleansed. All ten believed that Jesus could/ would heal them. Maybe it could even be argued that the nine were the faithful ones, the obedient ones because they were quietly going out doing what Jesus had told them to do: Go, show yourselves to the priests. But notice Jesus’ words: “Was no one found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?” This foreigner—meaning the ones who did not return were Jews. And if that’s the case, did they not return because they were being faithful and diligent to the Law God gave through Moses that demanded getting a priest’s OK that there was a healing, and this foreigner perhaps didn’t feel that necessity to be so fastidious to maintain the OT commands? Or was it that the nine Jews expected that healing because of who they were—Jews, God’s covenant people, and basically took God’s/ Jesus’ goodness and mercy for granted.
That’s what we have to be on guard against—taking our Lord’s goodness and blessings for granted. Here in our country the government actually gives us a day for us to give thanks. To be sure, every day is a day to give thanks, but for tomorrow we actually have a reminder from the government to give thanks. But as we look around, why aren’t all the churches filled to capacity? Is it because we have actually taken our blessings from the Lord for granted and just merely expect them? And now Thanksgiving Day is filled with all sorts of filler in its place?
The vital thing to remember and to take to heart this Thanksgiving Day and beyond is that we have nothing except for what God gives us—both physically and spiritually. To help us in this let us examine our text from Psalm 65.
- Notice what St. David writes at the beginning of our text: You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The subject is “You”, that is, God. He is the actor/ the one doing the work. It’s not even that God is our co-pilot, who takes over when we can’t/ when we run into trouble. It’s not even us and God working as a team. God is the one who crowns the year with His bounty. He calls the shots; all depends on Him.
All that we are/ have physically is because of God’s blessing. He has to do it. Even the most basic thing we have—life—is a gift and blessing from God. No one else can create life; certainly no one can create his/ her own life. Life is that basic and yet most precious gift of God to us, as St. David says in another psalm [Ps 139.13-14]: You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. But God didn’t just stop with creating us, giving us life but He continues to preserve us—and all creation—until our dying breath, again as St. David writes of the Lord [Ps 145.15-16]: The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. Long story short, we didn’t create ourselves, nor can we preserve ourselves/ keep ourselves alive by ourselves.
God must do it and He does do it. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. And why does He do it? Purely out of His grace and mercy. We didn’t do anything to cause God to create us. He created us so that He could show us His love; so that we could be objects of His love and care. And even our sin and our guilt do not drive the Lord from us, from preserving our lives and showing us His grace. What does Jesus say of His Father here [Mt. 5.45; Lk. 2.35-36]? He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust; and He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. What, then, is thanksgiving all about? It’s all about remembering that the holy Triune God, out of His pure grace and mercy, has created and is preserving my life; that I am the constant recipient of His love, grace and mercy; it means remembering that He is not dealing with me as I, a sinner and rebel against Him, deserve; that I have nothing to offer Him to make Him “have to” give and preserve life. To put it differently, thanksgiving makes us realize our utter dependence on God—for everything.
Our old sinful nature in us wants nothing more than for us to reject the fact that we are utterly dependent upon God for everything. It willingly buys into the myth that we can be self-made people, or like we heard in today’s reading from Deuteronomy: My ability and the power of my hand have earned this wealth for me. Yes, we do the work; we struggle and strive, but the Lord grants us blessing. Again, He didn’t just create us and then leave us to our own devices. Instead, He is actively involved in every part of our life, as we also heard in today’s OT reading: But then you are to remember that the Lord your God is the one who gives you the ability to produce wealth… May we be on guard and recognize and so repent of this sin when we see it in our lives: this sin of thinking we can do it/ have done it without God, that we are not utterly dependent upon Him for everything. Where our lives are not full of thanksgiving, this sin has taken hold and must be rooted out in contrition and repentance.
When we see ourselves surrounded by so many blessings, the temptation from our old sinful self and the devil is also to take these blessings for granted, to just kind of expect them and not to regard them as they truly are: the true gift and blessing from God to preserve our lives—and not just to eke out some subsistence existence but to give and surround us with beauty and joy.
What are we, then, to do? Follow the advice of St. David in our Psalm: your wagon tracks overflow with abundance, that is, when we see and experience God’s blessings in our lives—and we all do and are surrounded by them—know that God was there! Know He has an active part and that the reason we have something/ anything is because He was there. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The image St. David here uses is that of a wagon—where there are the ruts, the tracks from the wagon, you know that someone has been there. What are the wagon tracks/ ruts the Lord leaves behind in His wake? Blessings! When you see blessings all around you as they are—know the Lord has been there for you.
Especially now at Thanksgiving, abundant harvests come to mind, filling our tables on Thanksgiving with all sorts of delicious foods. That agricultural abundance is what St. David is especially describing in our psalm. You crown the year with your bounty. God once again visited the Israelites then and us today in grace giving an abundant harvest. And as we look at the harvests that have come in, let’s look at them like St. David here does—as a crown. We have experienced a year of blessing since last Thanksgiving and the harvest—so we can live and survive—is the crown set upon the whole mound of blessings.
Look how the Lord’s blessings are described: The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain. You even have untilled meadowlands showing rich fruitfulness—the evidence and the result of God’s coming and leaving behind His blessing. Then there’s the wonderful way St. David pictures the scenery— the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks. The green of life, of plants, growth is described like the hills put on a festive green garment. What was before dreary and bare is now alive and full of joy. Without God’s divine care they were naked and sad. But the Lord came and where He came there is now life and blessing, your wagon tracks overflow with abundance, so that God may provide and care for us: the valleys deck themselves with grain. Such an abundant and complete change when God comes in grace and leaving His blessing where He has gone.
- Even the creation—the hills, the meadows, the valleys—recognizes this and all creation praises God: they shout and sing together for joy. The creation praises God as it does what God has commanded and enabled it to do—to provide for us. As the field yield their crops, as the tree bears its apples, etc. they are praising God by that. How much more should our praise of God be, for we, dear Christian, recognize Who it is who is providing our food, preserving us, blessing the labors of our hands and the thinking of our minds!
And when we ponder God’s wonderful care and preservation of us physically, can’t we see His same gracious work in us spiritually. Let the harvests, let the blessings we are surrounded with preach to us of our greatest blessing for which we must praise God—our Christian faith and the Lord preserving us in it.
Our Christian faith is a gift of God to us. Just like we cannot give ourselves physical life, neither can we give ourselves spiritual life. God has to do it. And He does so through His holy word and Sacrament. Your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The wagon, so to speak, is the word and sacrament our Lord rides, and where He goes, the wagon tracks/ ruts overflow with abundance, rich spiritual abundance of forgiveness of sin, life and salvation—that’s what He leaves behind and gives us in the word, water, bread and wine, both to give and to preserve spiritual life. God comes to visit us in His grace in the word and sacraments. The wonderful thing is that God wants to do this. He alone can bring us to faith and life; and after bringing us to spiritual faith and life, He wants to continue to come to us in grace to strengthen and preserve us in it—that too is something He alone can do. Not only is every physical blessing from the Lord, but so too is every spiritual blessing.
Looking at the bountiful fields and the meadows clothed with flocks reminds us that the Lord has been there with His grace and blessing since they would be bare and dreary otherwise; so also that is a preaching to us reminding us of God’s blessing when He has come to us in His word and sacrament giving us spiritual life and gifts. In other words, there is a complete change in us when God comes to us in grace. Before, without God’s grace and work, we were spiritually fruitless/ with no spiritual life. But now we are spiritually alive and like the hills we by faith gird ourselves the holiness and righteousness of Christ and are full with joy; and like the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, we are adorned with life, new life in Christ that begins now and continues into all eternity. So then, look at the bounty of the field, look at the bounty of your Thanksgiving Day table and let that be a picture to you of our spiritual abundance that we now have in Jesus because He has brought us to faith and keeps us in the faith. Look at the abundance of the harvest that finds its way to our tables and think that God has so graciously given us life and preserves it, so also has He brought me to life in Jesus and keeps me in it. Just as He daily feeds and provides for me all my physical/ bodily wants, so also does He daily and richly feed me spiritually with His word and sacrament, especially in the Blessed Sacrament as Jesus comes to me giving me Himself, His body and blood. Let us all recognize the miracles of God’s care both physical and spiritual and fill the earth with songs of praise and thanksgiving. They shout and sing together for joy. INJ Amen