With Eyes Wide Open
Like Johnny Nash sings, sometimes you can't see everything clearly because of all the obstacles in your way. Other times you're the obstacle. You don't see because you're not looking with eyes wide open. This Thanksgiving we want to do that.
With eyes wide open look at the world around you. Open your eyes and see a stock market that has lost almost half its value in a matter of months. Look at gay groups militantly asserting their "rights." Look at the sad fact that even a conservative state like South Dakota didn't have enough votes to ban abortion on demand. Look at a war on terror that grinds on. Look at an educational system that chews up money and spits out dropouts. Look with eyes wide open and you might ask with Merle Haggard, "Are the good times really over for good?"
It's as if the birds of the air and lilies of the field that Jesus tells me to look at are tumbling from the sky or being burnt in the field. The birds that neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns seem to be starving. They're sitting on tree limbs and power lines foodless, song-less dropping dead one by one. The lilies of the field which neither toil nor spin seem withered, flowerless, charred as if they have already been thrown into the oven.
I see the equivalent of dead flowers and birds in the economic, moral, and political future of this country, and I thank God. Do you know why? For at long last, the Lord has given me the opportunity to thank Him as a Christian. It's not distinctively Christian to see the breadbasket full and say thanks. No Christian thank as Paul says is "in everything." Not just when you can see the economy getting better but even when you can't. Not just when truth is winning but when truth is denied. Not just when your country is making use of the grace God shed upon her but even when she's abusing that grace.
If our hearts are barren of thanks this year, cold to gratitude, it's because our thanks wasn't distinctively Christian to begin with. It wasn't rooted and grounded in the Giver but in the gifts. So when the gifts aren't there the Giver isn't either. We're no better than the Old Testament Church in the wilderness. We murmur and complain the moment the Lord doesn't do for us exactly what we think He should or give to us all that we think we deserve. This spirit is not only contrary to the many Scriptures which direct us to "give thanks always in all things," it's contrary even to the spirit of this American holiday. The Pilgrims placed five kernels of corn on each Thanksgiving dinner plate to remind them that in their first winter of cold, privation, and death the daily ration was 5 kernels of corn per person.
With eyes wide open look at the world around you. Look at the turmoil, the fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty and give thanks that the Lord is giving you a chance to be thankful as a Christian. Now with eyes wide open look at this Charles Pears painting.
A child is in bed with a breakfast plate before her. She's sitting up; the food tray is across her lap. Her Jack Russell terrier is on her left; her kitten is on her right. She has her hands folded for her meal prayer. The dog and kitten are totally fixated on the food on the plate. They are oblivious to the little girl. They only have eyes for the food. The dog stands rigid willing the food to come to him. The kitten's eyes are big and round trying to eat the food that way. The little girl, who appears like she might be in a sickbed, is not focused on the food. Her face is earnest, too earnest for a little girl's. Her eyes are wide open, but she isn't looking down at her plate but out into the distance. She looks not at the food she can see but to the Lord she can't.
If you stop listening here, you will come away with a moral. If you come away from a sermon with a moral, you probably haven't been listening to a Christian sermon or aren't a Christian listener. The moral, if you stop listening now, is soulless animals fixate on gifts rather than the Giver and if your thanks dries up when the gifts do you're an animal. This is true, but this a truth of the Law, and the Law while it can show you your sins, make you sorry for your sins, make you want to be so different, has absolutely no power to forgive you, change you, help you. Help is in, with, from Jesus.
We find ourselves in the same state as the Old Testament Church when God called them out of Egypt. They complained against God; rebelled against God, and were thankless. When God's gifts weren't right in front of them, God Himself disappeared from their head, lips, and ears. We're no different than they, and like them we should die in this fallen wilderness and never reach the Promised Land. But God did something amazing. Hosea predicted He would do it and Matthew reports that He did. "Out of Egypt" God called His Son. This sets up the rest of Jesus' life as doing what the Old Testament Church didn't do, indeed what no sinner can do, live thankfully and trustingly in the wilderness of this fallen world.
Jesus did that. When He was without food and Satan tempted Him to distrust His heavenly Father, Jesus remained faithful. When there were many hungry thousands in a deserted place and there were only 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed them all, the apostles were beside themselves like I am now about our economy, my future. What did Jesus do? He lifted up His eyes to heaven and gave thanks. He didn't wring His hands in worry like I do. He lifted them up to heaven in supplication. He didn't open His mouth to express fear like I do but to say thanks. Jesus said that He had less than the birds of the air, but looked at them and was certain that as the Father cared for them He would care for Him too. Though it appeared He depended on 12 sinful men and 8 sinful women for food and drink, He confidently preached there was no reason to be anxious about either.
But the fact Jesus was always believing and thankful in our place is just part of the Gospel. The rest is that this believing, thankful Man who is God was driven to the cross by God as the worse ingrate ever. How miffed we are at the sin of ingratitude towards us! "He didn't even thank me; she didn't even say thanks." How much more than is the Holy God?
For our being thankful when we see plenty and not so much when we don't, we deserve to have food and drink taken from us, yet you and I eat and drink. Jesus goes hungry and thirsty on the cross till His tongue split. Because we worry about what we shall wear, we deserve to have our clothes ripped off our backs, but they're not, Jesus' were. Because we focus on gifts and not the Giver, God should abandon us to our sins, to death and to the power of the Devil, but God doesn't. No, instead He abandoned His Son on the cross. God made Him to be sin and with all the wrath that Almighty God has against sin, He crushed holy Jesus till out of His side came Water and Blood. Water to quench our thirst for forgiveness. Blood to cover our shame before God. From this Fountain of Blood and Water thanksgiving overflows.
Thankfulness won't flow from gifts because sometimes there are more sometimes less. Neither will it flow from the God's power and providence because sometimes these are downright scary. Thankfulness flows from the crucified Jesus. It flows from Him into that Font, into my Mouth, and onto that Altar. We are given thankful hearts in our Baptism, Absolution, and Communion, and so thanks flows back to our God and Savior from the baptized, absolved, or communed.
Hebrews tells us, "Look to Jesus the Beginner and Completer of your faith." With eyes wide open let's do that this Thanksgiving Eve, and lets do this by looking at our pets. I've noticed when my two dogs are begging food, unlike the painting, they don't look at the food. Even when I am sitting in a chair and the plate of food is at eye level with the big dog, he doesn't look at the food. He looks at me and not merely at me in general but directly at my eyes.
A dog knows your eyes tell the story of what you're going to do. Defensive backs in football watch the quarterback's eyes. In hand to hand combat training, they tell you look at your opponents eyes. This Thanksgiving don't look at the TV, newspaper, or computer for reasons to give thanks. Don't look at your plate either. It may have 5 pounds of food, but what if sickness, sadness, problems have devoured all but 5 kernels of corn? Look to God instead. Specifically look to the eyes of God; you only see the eyes of God in the face of Jesus.
I'm not telling you thanksgiving flows from your eyes being focused on Jesus. Thanksgiving doesn't flow from what you see with your eyes but from what Jesus sees with His. What does Jesus see? Does He see your sins? Does He see how small your ungrateful heart has been? How can He? He sees only a forgiven sinner which is a thankful saint. Jesus doesn't see all the times you let Him down or failed to be thankful. No, all that was on His back as He was nailed to the cross. That's where it was counted, punished, and disappeared once and for all. It can't be counted again by God. If it can't be counted again by God, then it certainly can't be counted again by you, the Devil, or anyone else.
What do you see with eyes wide open when you focus on Jesus' eyes? Do you see an economy good or bad? Do you see fear or anxiety about the future of you or your country? I see a Jesus looking at me in my Baptism as I used to look at my toddlers playing caring for me more than I did them. I see a Jesus looking at me in my Absolution seeing no more sins in me than I can in Him. I see a Jesus looking at me in Communion as His own Body and Blood. Having bodied and blooded Himself to me by eating and drinking He will take me where He goes. He can no more leave me to the mercy of myself, my sins, or this evil age than He can Himself. All this grace to me opens my eyes wide to another, bigger, truer reality for which I cannot but be thankful. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thanksgiving Eve (20081126)