Is Enough, Enough?
Let's get right to the point. You know why we are here. You know what Thanksgiving is about. It's about gathering together once a year, at the invitation of our government, to give thanks to God for His blessings of the past year. On what is our thanks to be based? On having an abundance? On having more than enough? On simply having enough? That's what you think, isn't it? Thanksgiving is to be based on simply having enough. I disagree. In fact, I say that Thanksgiving can't be based on having enough.
Do you know why? Because what is enough? Do I really think I have enough of anything? What I wouldn't give for fewer backaches. How I wish that this or that were different for my family. I don't think we ever get over being kids who when told to come in at night call back, “Just five more minutes?” There is never enough; we always want more.
Besides if Thanksgiving is based on having enough what about those who don't? And don't kid yourself there are people who don't have enough, and giving them one turkey meal a year isn't going to change that one cotton pickin' bit! You may have enough health, but there are people with cancer and heart disease. You may have enough wealth, but there are people wondering not what to spend their money on but wondering where their money is going to come from. You may have enough companionship, but there are people who've lost a spouse, been divorced, or never found anyone to begin with. You may be able to base Thanksgiving on having enough, but other people can't and neither can I!
See I don't think people are really thankful for having enough, they settle for having enough and they do so by comparing what they have with what others don't have. This is the ole' “there are kids starving in India” line, and it works in a worldly sort of way. I am thankful that I live in a land where disease and famine don't run rampant. I am thankful that I am free to worship God without the government telling me how. I am thankful that neither my kids or myself have ever had to go to bed hungry because there was no food.
But this is thankfulness by default, or thankfulness by comparison, it's not the overwhelming thankfulness that St. Paul has in so many of his letters. Rom. 1:8, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.” I Cor. 1:4, “I thank my God always concerning you.” Eph 1:16, “I do not cease giving thanks for you.” Philp. 1:3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” Col. 1:3, “We give thanks to God...praying always for you.” I Thes. 1:2, “We give thanks to God always for all of you.” 2 Thes. 1:3, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you.” 1 Tim. 1:12, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord.” 2 Tim. 1:3, “I thank God, whom I serve.” And in 1 Tim. 2 when Paul gives directions for having services he says, “First of all, then I urge entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men.”
I want to be like St. Paul. I want thanksgiving overflowing my heart and mouth, but where does such thankfulness come from? Why from God, of course, the Giver of all good things. There is a German proverb that says, “God has more than He has ever given.” But that's wrong. God has given all to His children, and those who realize this are profoundly changed by it.
Consider Esau and Jacob. They met after 40 years apart. During this time Esau had become a mighty ruler with 12 sons as princes. Jacob too had been blessed with 12 sons, but they weren't that old. Moreover, Esau arrived as a mighty conqueror; Jacob, on the other hand was fleeing for his life. At their meeting Esau didn't want to take the gifts sent to him by Jacob. He said, “I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own.” Jacob, who outwardly was the weaker, the poorer, and had the harder life responded, “Please take my gift...because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have all.”
Friends, I think our sin of sins at Thanksgiving is that we view ourselves as having less than all. We can say we have enough in the face of others with less. We can say we have more than enough compared to those who have enough, but we can't say we have it all. We can't say that because we just don't believe what God tells us.
God plainly tells us in I Cor. 3:21,22 that “all things belong to you, whether...the world or life or death or things present or things to come: all things belong to you.” All the gold in Fort Knox belongs to me. All the food in all the HEB's in all the world belongs to me. All the vibrancy of life belongs to me though I be at death's door; far from death owning me I own death. Everything in this present evil age belongs to me as well as all things to come. There is not one single solitary thing in this world or the next that you can point to and say I don't own it because I do. And so do you.
Am I crazy? Well if I am, then St. Paul is because he's the one who by inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, “All things belong to you.” Do you know why he can make such an incredible, all encompassing statement? In Romans 8:32 Paul explains, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Now can you see where our doubts, our fears, our problem with having all comes from? In comes from not believing that Jesus really was delivered for us all. It's just too much for sinners like us to believe.
Jesus is the One through whom all things came into being. He is the One who upholds all things by His powerful Word. He is the One to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given. This is the One whom God delivered up for us all. In 2 Cor. 8:9 Paul teaches us of this marvelous grace of God saying, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you though His poverty might become rich.”
This One who was King and Lord of all heaven and earth became a pauper for our sakes. He put on the heavy obligations that God's holiness demands as well as our rags of sinfulness. All that God ever required of men, Jesus did perfectly. Go ahead and name all the things that God's holiness requires of you. Think of all that God requires of perfect men, women, children, parents, church members, and citizens, and know that Jesus met and exceeded all of those requirements. Think what God's justice demanded of those who transgressed His commandments but once. There was hell to pay, and Jesus paid it. Drop by drop, drip by drip, He gave His tears and His blood to satisfy the justifiable wrath of God against sinners.
You are tentative, you are hesitant, you are afraid to claim all that is yours simply and only because you can't bring yourself to believe that Jesus really won all things for you. You think of this or that you still need to do before you can really lay claim to all of earth and heaven. This or that sin haunts the recesses of your heart rising up like a ghost to howl that this sin still stands between you and God. You can't really be sure of God's grace or His gifts because that seems presumptuous for a sinner such as you.
And you're absolutely right. It would be the height of presumption for sinners like us to lay claim to all things whether in the world, or life, or death, or things present or things to come if God did not in fact give them to us. But give them He has. When Christ laid claim to all authority in earth and heaven, He didn't do so as God. Christ as God always owned and had authority over all things. But after keeping the laws that hung over our heads and paying for our breaking them, He laid claim to all things as a Man. And in Him all men, women and children have all that He does. How can it be any other way St. Paul argues in Romans 8? How can the God who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how can this One not along with Him freely give us all things?
Has not God given each and everyone of you all of Christ? When you were Baptized did you not as Paul says put on all of Christ? Your Baptism didn't just give you part of Christ. So along with all of Christ, you received all the things that belong to Him. When you are absolved of your sins is not all of Christ forgiving all of you? All of Christ is aware of all your sins and by the forgiving Word of absolution He sends them all away. When you eat and drink Holy Communion are you eating and drinking all of Christ or not? All of His Body and Blood is given to each of you. You don't get this or that part of Him. You're getting all of Jesus and with Him God gives you all things that belong to Him.
This was the secret of contentment and therefore thankfulness that Paul speaks of learning in our Epistle lesson. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” What is that secret? The secret is Christ. That's what Paul says in the very next verse, “I can do everything through Him [Christ] who gives me strength.”
Regardless of the situation you find yourself in this Thanksgiving whether you are old or young, healthy or sick, wealthy or needy, all of Jesus belongs to you by Word and Sacraments. And with Him all things: the shining sun, the falling rain, food and drink, health and wealth all belong to you. Now sometimes it happens that your possessions are hidden so others can't see them even as Esau could not see that Jacob had all. Sometimes, as in the case of the Corinthians, even you won't be able to see that you have all. At such times you're to speak, live and rejoice based not on what you see, but on what God in Christ says. And He says not that you have enough this Thanksgiving to be thankful, but that you have all. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thanksgiving Eve (11-26-03)