Inner Health Made Audible
C.S. Lewis said that giving thanks is inner health made audible. He said that the most balanced and biggest minds give thanks the most while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents give thanks the least (C.S. Lewis, Psalms, 94). Well I know where that leaves me.
If you're not thankful than you're worried, and if you're worried, you're not thankful. Worry doubts that God is able to do for you as He does every day for the flowers of the field. I'm sure someone has done a study calculating the amount of water, energy, food, and air that it takes for every flower in every field to bloom. We take that for granted because we see it every day. We are amazed at the beauty of wildflower vistas, but we probably don't stop and think about the power it takes to make that happen. Worry says, "Though God clothes the fields of the world everyday with flowers, I'm not sure He's able to clothe me and my family." Worry speaks as if God doesn't know how much things cost, or how much you make, and as if God had never clothed millions of Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years.
But it's not really the argument from science that tangles you up. It's the argument from love. Worry doubts God is willing to care for you as well as He does for the birds. To Jesus' question, "Are you not of more value than they?" The worried heart, the fearful heart, the unbelieving heart has to say, "I don't think so." "I'm not sure." Or, "Let God prove it." In any case, you don't acknowledge receiving your daily bread from the hand of the heavenly Father, and so you don't sing a song of thanks with the birds.
If thanksgiving is inner health made audible, I'm one sick person, but the answer is not, as many people think, to count your blessings one by one.' You can shove my face in how the Lord has clothed and fed me in the past, but as long as worry gnaws at my heart it will remain thankless. Worry says, "Sure there is a blessing now, a gift now, but I'm afraid God won't continue to help me; How can I who sin much and daily deserve His wrath and punishment count on His help?"
Now we're on to something. Thanksgiving is inner health made audible but it comes from something else. The Jews of Jesus time had a saying that when the Messiah would come all sacrifices [would] cease except the todah [the offering of thanksgiving] sacrifice. This will never cease in all eternity" (We Look for a Kingdom, 136). They based this saying on Jeremiah 33:10-11 which says that when God restored His people they would bring thank offerings to Him. Confessional Lutherans agree with this. We say in our confessional writings that after Christ made full atonement, full payment, for the sins of the world on the cross there is no sacrifice left except a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Kleinig, Leviticus, 173).
Someone said that we don't really know God as long as we do not thank him for His gifts (Teaching Luther's Catechism, 53), but you can't thank Him for His gifts if you think He is still angry with you or is out to get you. There can be no inner health of soul to produce the audible sound of thanksgiving if you have this lingering doubt that things aren't all right between you and God. The still small voice of God that pricks your conscience saying, "I know what you did;" "I know about that;" "I know who you really are and so do you," can only produce doubts not thanks, ill feeling not thanksgiving.
Until you see that the Laws you haven't kept were kept perfectly by God the Son, Jesus Christ, you're going to always try to keep them yourself so you can preserve a modicum of good feelings about yourself. Until you see the Laws that you have broken obviously, secretly, repeatedly, or only once were kept by Jesus you will always be unsure of God's love, God's providing, God's care. Until you see that the broken, accusing Laws have already been paid for by Jesus, you will never get to the last sacrifice of thanksgiving but will always be trying to make a sacrifice of something to get into God's good graces.
The way to the sacrifice of thanks is only through the sacrifice God made; the one sacrifice that took away God's wrath; the only sacrifice that ever atoned for anyone's real or imagined guilt. The sacrifice of the innocent Son of God on Calvary's cross. All of God's wrath against you, against your sins, against your guilt, against the world's sin and guilt were taken out on Jesus' on that cross. How do I know all sins were paid for, all God's wrath appeased? How do I know that God doesn't want you to continue to carry your sins around, continue to try to excuse them, continue to try and make up for them, continue to promise to do better? He told me so. He told you too. By raising Jesus from the dead on Easter, He proclaimed there are no more sins to pay for, (No, not even that one.); there is no more guilt to carry (No not even for that).
It's like this. Jesus being God in flesh and blood only died on the cross to pay the debt of the world's sins. Having finished paying for sins neither Death nor Devil could hold God, could they? They couldn't swallow God; they had to spit God out of the grave. Jesus rising from the dead is proof positive that He succeeded is satisfying the Law's punishments and appeasing the wrath of God against sins.
Take a deep breath. That's the smell of forgiveness, redemption, absolution. That's what Jesus came out of the grave breathing on the disciples, and they in turn went out preaching and proclaiming to the whole world: forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake. Everyone who inhales the forgiveness of their sins exhales thanksgiving. Everyone who inhales the fact that in Jesus they can expect only good things from God since He is no longer angry at them exhales thanks. Everyone who inhales peace from God in Jesus' name, exhales thanks be to God in Jesus' name.
A thankful heart is a healthy heart, and "a thankful heart is a continual feast." That seems to be a 1935 paraphrase of Proverbs 15:15 which says "a cheerful heart has a continual feast." Of all the translations I checked none say a "thankful heart." One says "a merry heart;" some say "a glad heart." I'm still going with "a thankful heart" for a thankful heart is certainly merry, cheerful, and glad, and it is always feasting on the good gifts it receives.
It is literally true when thankless people say, "I have nothing to be thankful for." If you sit by a fire, thankless for the fire, it's just as if you had no fire. The person who is not thankful for his life, his wife, his family, his job, his country, his food and drink really has none of these. Nothing is really possessed except in appreciation. When someone doesn't appreciate something we've given or done, we know it's as if they never got it. A thankful heart has a continual feast, but a thankful heart can't come from things. If it could Cain's thank offering would've been as acceptable as Abel's.
Both men brought thank offering to the Lord based on what the Lord had first given them, but only Abel's was acceptable because he offered his in faith says Hebrews 11. Apart from having faith that for Jesus' sake God is not angry at you for your sins, apart from having faith that God in Jesus' name only wants to give you good things, you can only offer to God thanksgiving as a work, an obligation. This is not a thankful heart this is a worried one that has yet to receive the greatest gifts God gives: forgiveness, peace with Him, and salvation in Jesus' name.
But that is not you, is it? When you were a child you were baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost thereby receiving His gift of salvation. As you grew, you were taught not what you could do for God but what He had done for you through Jesus. You came to God's house bringing first and foremost your sins. That's what we first offer to God in the Divine Service our poor, miserable sinfulness. And through the mouth of a man, Jesus distributes the forgiveness He won on the cross. No one coming here confessing their sins ever goes away without forgiveness in Jesus' name ringing in their ears.
As you grew in the grace and knowledge of your Lord and Savior, you were brought to the culmination of all worship, all Divine Service. The Sacrament of the Altar which from the days of St. Paul has been called the Eucharist, which is Greek for the Thanksgiving. We express our thanks for all that our God gives us, particularly for forgiveness of sins and life everlasting, by opening our mouths wide and eating and drinking the very same Body and Blood God the Son gave and shed on the cross.
Get that? The highest expression of thanks for the Christian is to receive the highest gifts of God: the Body and Blood of His Son. Among God's people it has always been that they expressed their thanks by eating and drinking God's good gifts. The idea of eating to show thanks go back to the Old Testament Church's thank offering. The person bringing the thank offering ate the flesh of the animal sacrificed (Leviticus 7:15). And in Psalm 116 we read, "How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord."
For most, Thanksgiving has been reduced to outward eating and drinking apart from calling on the name of the Lord. In the Church all our eating and drinking is preceded by calling on the name of the Lord. So whether it be our daily bread or this Bread of life, we call on God to bless it for Jesus' sake, and that He does. The blest gifts of God are physically and spiritually healthful to us, so having gone into our mouths they bring out of them thanksgiving, an inner health is once more made audible. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thanksgiving Eve (20131127)