Dr. Lance W. Haverkamp – Nov. 22, 2015
The Americans & the Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving. Just a few other countries do, and they were all introduced to the idea through us. A couple of years back, an online group was having a discussion; I mentioned that it was Thanksgiving day in the USA, and I said “thanks to all of you, who’s wit & wisdom I appreciate most every day.” One of the foreign members of this group wrote back: “Congratulations on not starving to death, I guess.” That’s pretty much the international understanding of the North American Thanksgiving tradition. They don’t understand, particularly the American, mix of religion and politics.
I think the confusion comes from the fact that Thanksgiving is uniquely Christian. There would be no Thanksgiving apart from Christianity. It’s not another secular harvest festival, there are lots of those. It’s also not a specific remembrance; all countries & religions have those, to remember one event or another.
Of all the things we are thankful for, as Christians, it all boils-down to God’s love for us, and we can find evidence of that all day long. Had it not been for God, we wouldn’t be here. A section of Psalm 33 says:
“The Lord merely spoke,
and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries
and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the Lord,
and let everyone stand in awe of him.
For when he spoke, the world began!
It appeared at his command.”
…we are thankful for God’s creation.
But, God didn’t merely turn us loose after creation: The Old Testament is almost an unending back and forth between God helping His people, and His people growing weary of God’s ways. We read about thousands of years of that rocky relationship, with God always willing to take His people back.
I see that Old Testament time, with the law, existing to teach humanity that we can’t make-it without His grace. There is simply no way for us to be good-enough without God paving a way for our salvation. Not some first attempt, that didn’t work-out; but rather the necessary educational process we, as a species, had to go through in order to realize that we can’t do it on our own.
…we thank God for His continued willingness to accept us back into the fold.
The sending of Christ was the only way to fix our relationship with God. Nothing we could do could restore a proper relationship. Despite everything God did up to that point, we continued to fail.
…we thank God for His sacrifice which restored us to a proper relationship with Him…a topic we’ll remember in greater detail next week when Advent begins.
While Christ was with us, he often taught in parable. An unusual trio of parables is recorded in Luke 15. Those three parables are: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (or prodigal son). In these stories taken from daily life, Jesus talks about being thankful for finding that which was lost.
The late, great stand-up philosopher George Carlin did a comedy routine about “lost things.” He imagined that when something is missing it relocates to another dimension of lost stuff. When we find it, it has suddenly returned. In his view, “heaven is where we get all the stuff we lost back. That’s why it’s heaven.”
The coin mentioned by Luke was a Greek drachma, It was a silver coin, the common wage for a day’s labor. Some scholars have suggested that the coin may have been especially valuable to the woman if it was traditional jewelry; it was customary for Jewish women to save up ten coins and string them together for a necklace or hairdress. Other scholars wonder if it was one of 10 coins that was part of a marriage dowry, we don’t know—it’s not important to the story. The fact that there were 10 coins, in her story, and 100 sheep, in the other story, is important to the story. Throughout the middle east numbers carry meaning, and that meaning is often more important than the numbers themselves. Any multiple of ten, and particularly powers of ten; like 100, or 1,000 imply a completeness, a wholeness, an entirety of something. The woman’s coins were incomplete without the tenth, and the flock incomplete without the hundredth.
When she lost one of her 10 coins she searched high and low, not stopping until she found the one missing coin, so none would be missing from her set.
Likewise in the story of the lost sheep, the shepherd would not rest until the one missing sheep was found, and returned to the fold with the other ninty-nine.
There was a reformation era theologian, most of you have heard of, by the name of John Calvin. He taught that some people are predestined for Heaven, while others are predestined for Hell. I don’t know how Calvin could read these parables from Christ, and think that God was going to tolerate even one person being lost.
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them the parable of the Lost Son:
A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now, before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. This would be a horrible thing to ask of his father, as he would obviously be living-off those assets. This is a metaphor for God’s desire for us to have freedom of choice in our life—even though He knows we will make some bad choices.
A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve.
He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and was sent into the fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the vegetable rinds he was feeding the pigs looked good to him, but no one gave him any. Any Jew of Jesus’ day would have considered going hungry, while feeding unclean pigs as some kind of personal Hell.
When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ Did you catch that? The father was looking for his son to return! He was not surprised! Elated, yes, but not surprised.
The father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. Think about that: He was family, he rejected his father, was punished by his failure, but was accepted-back without reservation! How’s that for metaphor?
Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fatted calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this prodigal son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf?’
I have to wonder if that jealousy, or misplaced rage is what brought Calvin to his beliefs of Hell.
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead, and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
…we are Thankful for God, who expects to find every lost soul.
This is the Gospel we have, to be Thankful for. This is the love of God for His Children. Thanks be to God.