Back to Biblical Thanksgiving


I have an undated editorial cartoon in my files. It says, "Thanksgiving is a day when we pause to give thanks for things we have. Memorial Day is a day when we pause to give thanks to the people who fought for the things we have." Where is God thanked in this American system? We've got to get beyond it if we're going to leave here thankful. So back we go; Not 72 years ago to Norman Rockwell's "Thanksgiving;" not to Lincoln's 19th century Thanksgiving Proclamation; not even to the Pilgrim's 17th century celebration. But back over 3,000 years to Psalm 100 which Scripture titles, "A Psalm for Thanksgiving."

Biblical Thanksgiving is not based on blessings but on God. Actually it's based on Yahweh; more about that in a moment. Even Aristotle knew it was foolhardy to focus on external goods. He said, you "might as well say that a brilliant performance on the lyre was to be attributed to the instrument and not to the skill of the performer" (Politics, 7, XII). The Germans reflect this truth in their old proverb: "'God has more than He has ever given." Luther too rejects thanksgiving based on things not God. He calls such a "fool's sense of blessedness" (LW, 14, 297).

God is where the Thanksgiving Psalm starts: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord." This "joyful noise" better translated "joyful shout" is based on intimate knowledge of God. From Proverb's Bible class you'll recognize the word yada. This is the most intimate knowing, but it's not intimately knowing the God of power and might that produces thanks, but knowing Yahweh. God as He is revealed in promise, grace, mercy, and peace. God as He is known in the Person and Work of Christ. The God who says, "Come unto Me and I will give thee rest." The God who takes up children in His arms to bless them. The God who spreads out His arms to be nailed to a cross.

A 19th century Spanish song "Lord What Will the Earth Bring Forth" is a dialog between the Lord and a sinner about the earth bringing forth laurels of thorns and flowers. The hymn closes with Christ speaking of these crowns saying "Those made of thorns are for me; those of flowers I give to thee." One music critic says that this closing makes a person feel less like applauding and more like kneeling (Music of the Great Composers, 181).

Yes, the intimate knowledge is of Jesus, and the Psalm says as we sung, "Know that the Lord is God alone." Jesus is no local god powerful only to Christians or Americans. All lands, all people are called to thank Jesus, not Allah, not Krishna, not the God America says she is under in the Pledge of Allegiance or the God America says she trusts in on her money. No, the God the Bible calls all to thank has a face. "Come before His presence with singing," is literally "come before His face." The only God with a face is Jesus. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father," says Jesus. Paul says the Creator God only gives us knowledge of Himself "in the face of Christ."

Knowing who you are is intimately connected with where you came from. If you believe you came by way of evolution from lifeless matter at the end of a long line of primitive life forms that happened to evolve, you have no one to thank but Father Time, Lady Luck, and Mother Nature. Biblical Thanksgiving calls us to another reality, "Know ye that Yahweh has made us, and not we ourselves."

A poster left behind by a chaplain I was replacing said it this way. "Two foundational Facts for Human Existence: There is a God. You are not Him." If my origins are in God, if I didn't happen to come into being, but came from a superhuman Being, if as we sing, "His sovereign power, without out aid, made us of clay and formed us men," and if as we also sing "We are His people, we His care," then who is to thank for the approximate 42 million times my heart beat this year? Who is to thank for the 6 million plus breaths I took? Scripture shows Moses living 40 days without food or water. That means man does not live by bread alone but by the word "live" coming out of the Lord's mouth. Not only doesn't your medicine, pacemaker, or willpower keep you alive, not even your food or drink does.

And even if your food did keep your heart beating where does that come from? I've remarked about the sign in the 70s I use to see off the Kansas turnpike. "This Kansas Farmer Feed 250 PeopleAnd YOU" it blared! Not so fast. An Ag school in Iowa reports that to produce 100 bushels of corn from 1 acre requires 4 million pounds of water, 6,800 pounds of oxygen, and 5,200 pounds of carbon. They estimate that only 5% of the produce of a farm can be attributed to the efforts of man (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 336).

Did you catch the intimate nature of the Lord's providing in the Psalm? Or do you think the hymn writer is stretching it when he speaks of us as "We are His people, we His care?" Nope, this is in the Psalm. "We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture" it says. "Pasture" here is not the same Hebrew word used in the 23rd Psalm where Jesus, the Good Shepherd "makes us to lie down in green pastures." The Psalm 23 word comes from the verb to make beautiful and so emphasizes beauty. Our word comes from the verb to feed, to pastor. Psalm 100 says we are the sheep of not just His pasture but of His pastorate. When Jesus saw people without a shepherd, He taught and fed them. Do you think now that He has went to the cross, to hell, and to the grave and back for "all people that on earth do dwell," that He does less for them?

Biblical Thanksgiving isn't based on blessings but on the God who created us, takes care of us, and redeems us. Do you see how our 18th century hymns finds not just creation and providence in Psalm 100 but redemption? "And when like wandering sheep we strayed, He brought us to His fold again" it sings. Is this in Psalm 100? If not, isn't this adding to God's Word? The Church has done a similar thing since ancient times. We follow this practice in the Introit and when we chant Psalm 130, the De Profundis. We add a Trinitarian doxology to the end of Psalms. We do this to confess that the Psalms are really about Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Yahweh spoken of as LORD throughout the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New. Paul says "Jesus is LORD" is the confession of the New Testament Church.

Being redeemed by the LORD, Jehovah, Yahweh, Jesus born of Mary and begotten from the Father in eternity is the cornerstone of our thanks. Seeing that we needed to be redeemed, forgiven is an integral part of Biblical Thanksgiving. It's not of the world's. The three F's family, food, and football are the world's thanksgiving touchstones. Forgiveness is not. But it was for Washington in the first Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1789. He proclaimed that the nation "beseech Him [Almighty God] to pardon our national and other transgressions."

What national transgressions are we to beseech Almighty God to pardon this year? How about the child sacrificing industry of abortion? How about the overthrowing of the created order by joining together in marriage what God never did? You do realize that these 2 sins are the reason God spit the Canaanites out of Canaan and later the Jews? The only thing that is stopping this from happening here is the Church's prayer "forgive us our trespasses."

If the sins of our nation are heavy our own are heavier. Ingratitude is a big one. Right behind not recognizing that God made us and not we ourselves is thanking luck, chance, or coincidence for all that is good rather than Yahweh's mercy. Did you catch that making a joyful noise unto Yahweh, serving the Lord with gladness, entering His gates with Thanksgiving, His courts with praise, and blessing His Name are all based on that the Lord is good; His mercy endures forever, and His truth endures to all generations? That's what the word "for" means. "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving for [because] Yahweh is good, His mercy is everlasting; His truth endures to all generations."

This is familiar to you. We remind each other of this almost every week. Once we have feasted on the Body and Blood of our God and Savior, once we have received from His hands forgiveness for all our sins, life in our mortal bodies, and everlasting salvation, I say, "O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good!" And you say, "For His mercy endures forever." His judgment doesn't endure forever; His wrath doesn't last forever, but His mercy does. Why? How?

Eternal mercy is based on the fact that from eternity, before the World was even created, the Lamb of God was sacrificed for the sins of the world. You can't reason this out; you can't figure this out. You can only adore the mystery as expressed in Scripture: the Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. That means before the Fall, before sin entered into the world; before I did that, said this, or thought that, the reality of Christ crucified for my sins was before the throne of God. Christ crucified hung before the eyes of the Father in eternity. That is far longer than my sins, my guilts, my fears, my worries. Compared to the eternal anything in time no matter how long it exists is nothing.

Can you feel it rise? Can you feel a chorus of thanksgiving begin to swell? If you remember those hand pumps for water, it's like that. You could pump and pump and get nothing, but if you primed the pump with water first, gallons of water came gushing out. So the question is what are you priming the pump of Thanksgiving with? Things from man or things from God? And then what things from God? True enough God gives me "body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house

and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have."

Go ahead; pour all those things into the Thanksgiving pump, but that's not where the Thanksgiving Psalm of 3,000 year ago lives. It lives in the everlasting mercy of Yahweh in whose hands sins are sent away never to be found or remembered, thorns become graces, and mercies are not just tender but new every morning. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Thanksgiving Eve (20151125); Psalm 100