Thanksgiving Eve and Day, 2016
Proverbs 30:8 -
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
One author suggested that the first Thanksgiving celebration, which took place in 1621 with the Pilgrims and Indians, was more about praying than it was about feasting. It was a three day gathering which followed what they considered a bountiful harvest, which had followed on the heels of a brutal winter where more than half of the pilgrims had died. It’s not hard to imagine that their gathering was more about praying / praising / thanking / asking than it was about feasting / celebrating / In today’s Old Testament Lesson, we find Moses urging Israel to enter the Promised Land thankfully, carefully, and prayerfully. In today’s Epistle Lesson, we find Paul urging early Christians to bring all of their requests before God with thanksgiving and to be learning what he had learned, namely the secret of contentment. Both the Proverbs 30 prayer and our Lord’s Prayer have as their premise a daily contentment that keeps on growing into and turning into thankfulness.
The Fourth Petition is a bit of an odd prayer, if you think about it. We ask God to give us enough daily bread for today, already knowing that we have supplies that would last us dozens, if not hundreds of days into the future. We say that we will be contented if we have food and clothing and shelter, knowing that we already have bought and paid for enough food and clothing and shelter to provide for a small army of people.
What does it mean that we pray for that which we know has already been given? Luther answers, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
The Catechism expands on Luther’s answer with three answers to this question, why do pray to God for daily bread? With that in mind, I invite you to consider these three answers to the question, “Why would Jesus want us to pray for that which we have already received and would most likely receive even without asking?
Answer #1 is so that we realize that our entire life and that of everyone else depends on God. In our text for today, we find the writer of Proverbs 30 requesting two things. First he asks to be kept from sinning in his speech. Just as God’s Word is pure, so Agur asks that God with his sanctifying power, keep his words pure.
Secondly, Agur asks that he be neither impoverished nor made rich. He requests that God feed him only his allotted food. That God would daily provide him with only what he needs for this body and life each day. This is the way God had provided manna for Israel in the wilderness, one day at a time, and this is the way God promises to provide from beginning to end in Holy Scripture. Agur knew what we want to know today – that if a believer receives more than he needs and gets rich, the temptation will be to rely on his own success and riches and deny God, saying, “Who needs Yahweh?” On the other hand, if a believer has too little to provide for the needs of himself and his family, he faces the temptation to abandon his trust in God and take matters into his own hands by becoming a thief or a swindler.
It seems as though in these days, the temptations of riches and poverty could be a bit different. The danger of having too much, one could argue, is that we are tempted to take our blessings for granted. On the other hand, the temptation that comes along with poverty or having far less than the people around us have is that of complaining about what we don’t have instead of being grateful for what we do have.
(Chapel story where I gave De $20, Ingrid, $10, and Kristin $1). De couldn’t wait to go shopping, Ingrid complained about how unfair it was that De got more, and Kristin quite humbly said thank you and put it in the offering plate!
Which brings us to the second reason why we want to pray day after day, give us this daily bread. The second reason is that Jesus would teach us as we pray to not only realize that God is the giver of all good gifts, but that we would receive all our physical blessings with thanksgiving.
This morning, we do well to admit to God and to one another the many ways we have fallen short in terms of receiving our daily bread and so much more with thanksgiving. It’s one thing to have a general feeling of thankfulness, it’s quite another to speak words of thankfulness in a consistent kind of a way, and it’s quite another to actually overflow with thankfulness in ways that help and befriend others. Some days, we may find ourselves feeling as though our cups are pretty much empty, other days only half full, on our good days we may realize our cups are full, and on our best days, we say with the Psalmist that our cups are overflowing.
It’s on our not so good days that we are tempted to take our prosperity for granted. One author came up with a top ten list of blessings we tend to take for granted: we take our jobs for granted instead of realizing how God has given us ability to work, we see problems as wastes of time instead of as opportunities to learn, we take our schools for granted, we take the government for granted instead of appreciating it, we take air for granted, we take food and drink for granted, we take friendship for granted, freedoms for granted, family for granted, even Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, we take for granted. Lord, teach us how and why to pray, give us this day our daily bread. Help us to be aware of how privileged, how absolutely privileged we are!
Author David Smith, “If we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, 60 would be Asians, 14 Africans, 12 Europeans, 8 Latin Americans, and 5 North Americans. 33 Christians and 67 non Christians. Five out of 100 would control 32% of all wealth, and all 5would be US citizens. 80 would live in substandard housing and 24 would have no electricity. Education- 67 would be unable to read, and one would have a college education50 of 100 would be malnourished, and 33 would not have a safe water supply, only a third would have toilets, 7 would have internet access.
It’s tempting to hear all of that and feel as guilty as we can feel, but the Spirit of God would instead nudge us in this hour towards gratitude for blessings received. And not just feelings of gratitude, but words and prayers and songs of gratitude that get passed on from one generation to the next. And not just words and prayers and songs of gratitude that get passed on from one generation to the next, but actions of generosity that show up in such a way that congregations little and big all across the countryside become like cities of light set on hills where God is praised and neighbors are befriended. Cities of light set on hills where Jesus Christ is trusted, sins are forgiven, and tragedies are traveled through together. Cities of light set on hills where the Good News is felt, the Good News is spoken, the Good News is believed, the Good News is lived by folks whose cups are consistently spilling over. And it all began with the people of God one by one praying again and again, give us this day our daily bread, receiving their daily bread, deciding how much of that daily bread they will keep to themselves, and giving away the rest as fast as they can, as much as they can, as cheerfully as they can.
A third answer our Catechism gives to the question, why pray to God for daily bread, is this, “Christ would teach us to look to God for physical as well as spiritual blessings.”Looking to God for blessings in body and soul doesn’t mean walking through life with our heads held high in the sky, it means doing the work we have been called to do with a good understanding of what God has done for us in the past, what He is doing this very day, and what He promises for the future.
At today’s dinner table, like many of you, Debi and I will have four generations together praying and feasting. What a terrific opportunity we have to give thanks to God for each of our family stories and to see how God has given each generation their daily bread. I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more reflective I get.
I reflect on my Grandpa Griffin, born in Iowa, farming in South Dakota as a young man, scratching out a living in the 20’s and thirties, praying over and over again, give us this day our daily bread, I think of him losing a farm and starting over in 1939, sending four sons off to war, I think of them surviving poverty, by the grace of God not turning into a thief or a swindler, day after day praying give us this day our daily bread.
I think of my great great grandparents on my mom’s side helping to build a little German Lutheran Church and School in Watertown, Wisconsin in the 1850s, my great grandparents building a little German Lutheran Church and School in Lotts Creek, Iowa in the 1880s, I think of my grandparents helping to build a little German Lutheran Church and School in Barney, North Dakota, I think of how they wanted more than anything fountains where their babies could be baptized, they wanted communion rails where their sins could be forgiven, they wanted pastors who would shepherd their families into green pastures and beside the still waters, they wanted cemeteries where their loved ones could be buried, all the while praying day after day, give us this day our daily bread.
I think of my own parents working with the hands the work they were given by God to do, I think of three meals a day always preceded with prayer, I think of supper time concluding with Little Visits with God and prayer, I think of dad and me sitting down with huge dishes of ice cream before bed, I think of Mom tucking us kids in praying now I lay me down to sleep………and as eyelids grew heavy, give us this day our daily bread.
May I suggest that this day in our own little family circles be days not so much about feasting, but more about praying. Perhaps our prayers would focus on the next generation and this is how our prayers might go…. Lord God, we praise you for our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren, we praise you for all the children in these days and for creating them marvelously, wonderfully, and with purpose. We ask that you give them neither poverty nor riches; that you would feed them with the food that is needful for them. We pray that you would work in their hearts a gratefulness that will not complain, that your Spirit would work in their souls a thankfulness that will not take their blessings for granted, tht you would work in their spirits a generosity that keeps on spilling over into the lives of others. Hold them close, Jesus Christ, no matter what, hold them close. Amen.
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