+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 6:31-33
Theme: All Is Provided
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
We are still dependent on the miracle of the seed. It is the botanical equivalent of the physiological miracle of conception. Despite all our great knowledge and technical advances in agriculture and the sciences surrounding it, we depend on a more fundamental and mysterious power. Life is not self-generating or self-sustaining. Life is in God. From the awesome complexity of the human body to the simplicity of the smallest cell; life is sustained by the deeper mystery of the divine presence. Life is in God and life belongs to God. “Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills,”1, says the Lord.
Dear friends, the God who creates is not different from the God who redeems. The God who provides is not different from the God who saves. And the God who is present with us now-who sent us His Son, gives us His Spirit, and sustains us by His promises- is not different from the One we will meet on the other side of death. Heaven, and hell, life and death, time and eternity are all present and tangible realities to Him. So, any disconnect that we now have is a result of our sinful limitations and not of His grace.
Harvest Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the organic and practical nature of God’s love. In affluent societies we run the risk of ingratitude for the most basic things. Luther expresses proper gratitude in his explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my 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. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.”2
All that we have, even when we’ve worked hard for it and ‘earned it’ is still a blessing from God. We are not owners. We are stewards. We should be warned that when develop a sense of entitlement God may at any moment seek to curb it. He knows fully well the difference between what we want and what we need, something we struggle with our entire lives. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not.”3 He knows that all material blessings can be used for good or for ill and that we are no closer to Him if we have them and no further if we don’t. Efforts to keep up with the Joneses are signs of greed and discontent.
Luther continues, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”4 God is motivated by His own goodness, not by His assessment of our merit. If we received things based on merit, we would rightly be denied even the smallest measure of His grace. When we believe this, faith motivates our response accordingly. And what good is it to fret over material blessings if the mercy of God is of no value to us? Jesus covered this ground when He said today, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”5
First things first! Creature comforts may provide a certain level of contentment for the body, but the soul in want can never be at peace. It is commonly said that when people are starving or desperate they will not listen to the gospel. Undoubtedly, when the stomach is screaming out few other messages can get through. The mission of the church is always holistic. The body must be fed along with the soul. But the former cannot render unnecessary the latter. Many well-fed people are starving to death spiritually. We are not fictitious sinners and we don’t have a fictitious Saviour. His forgiveness is essential food. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”6
For the past weeks we’ve been speaking about what it means to follow God. Following is an activity of faith. It is marked by humility. It is renewed through repentance. And today we are reminded it is characterised by thankfulness. Gratitude is a movement of the heart. But it should also be a discipline of the will. We should cultivate the habit of being thankful even in times of trial. We can do that, not artificially, but in certainty that God uses our trials to draw us closer to Himself. We might not be able to see the forest for the trees, but God weaves us, warts and all, into the beautiful tapestry which is His church.
The engine room of our thankfulness is found right here in the Divine Service. God gives, and we receive. We then offer back to God what He has first given us; our time, treasures, and talents, over very existence. Sunday sets the rhythm of our week and each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection miracle. St. Paul shows in the Fifteenth Chapter of First Corinthians how our earthy, tangible existence is part of a deep mystery that will unveiled in the resurrection of the dead. “But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.”7
Harvest Thanksgiving helps to keep us grounded. Even in this marginal farming area God continues to provide. Even if we were bereft of every material comfort, the knowledge of eternity is enough to fill our hearts with joy. Still, God wishes to be generous. Dear friends, you will never outpace God’s generosity. You will not surpass His compassion. You will not match His patience. Now, for sure, it may seem to us like God is being stingy at times. We may struggle, but we are never forsaken. The Christ who endured the torment of the cross for you desires that you share in the victory of His resurrection. You are His baptized.
Imagine what magnificent variety adorned the Garden of Eden! “God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’”8 And still, after all these generations since the Fall, our merciful Lord continues to provide us with rich abundance. He provides our daily bread and gives us spiritual food to sustain our souls. The sacred meal of Holy Communion is both a benefit of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and a participation in a future reality. Received in faith, it is already an experience of the time in which faith will be obsolete. The restored Paradise, heaven, will make our harvest thanksgiving celebrations seem pretty paltry. Still, foretastes are a cause for joy. We still depend on the miracle of the seed. The seed of God’s word is planted among us and in us. It will bear a harvest. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
4 February 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Psalm 50:10 2 Luther’s Small Catechism
3 See Psalm 23:1 4 Luther’s Small Catechism
5 Matthew 6:31-33 6 Matthew 4:4
7 1 Corinthians 15:35-39 8 Genesis 1:29