Sermon audio here.
Today our Lord invites you to come to Him in prayer with thanksgiving. In return, He promises you the gift of peace. In today’s epistle, St. Paul writes:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”[i]
Your heart and mind are gifts from God, but you have corrupted them with sin. They no longer work the way God intended. Now, instead of trusting the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, you doubt His Word.
Sometimes people get hung up on the miracles. Reason casts doubt on God’s ability to create by speaking. We’d rather believe we evolved from some mysterious single-celled organism than believe God made Adam from the dust in His own image.[ii]
But our doubts don’t end on the sixth day of creation. Reason doubts God’s ability to bring plagues over Egypt and part the seas; to become Incarnate in human flesh, turn water into wine, and to raise the dead. Such things, our fallen reason asserts, are impossible.
But even more impossible, it seems, are the words of St. Paul in our epistle. Do not be anxious about anything? Nothing could be more absurd. Life is full of worries. We’re about as likely to never worry as we are to walk on water.
So what’s the problem? The apostle connects not worrying to prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. If only you offered continual prayer with thanksgiving, then the peace of God would constantly guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
The reason we worry is because we don’t thank God the way we should. If only we could become living doxologies, flesh-and-blood songs of thankfulness and praise, we would have nothing but peace.
Luther once compared our prayer life to a thurible, which is the metal censer used for burning incense. He says our thanksgiving is like the coals in the censer. Without the coals of thanksgiving, our prayers will rise very sluggishly, if at all. But when there is thanksgiving, our prayers rise like fragrant incense.
The trouble is, our coals of thanksgiving are covered with ash, ash that prevents our prayers from rising as God would have them.
One type of ash that inhibits our thanksgiving is paganism. Paganism is the natural religion of man, which is why it’s so common. The very opposite of this natural religion is the Gospel, or the free forgiveness of sins on account of Christ’s suffering and death.
The reason this Gospel is so unnatural is that fallen reason knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch, that if something is too good to be true, it probably is. Because the flesh doubts this Gospel, thankfulness and praise is replaced by an evil conscience and fear.
We know what we deserve. We know if things are good now, it can’t last, and that when things are bad, it had to happen eventually. If there’s one thing we believe in, it’s justice. Lurking beneath all that false pride about being a good person, we know, deep down, what we really deserve. And when we don’t get that, it makes us nervous. We’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Repent. You cannot be thankful to angry, wrathful God Whom you dread. Worse yet, to despair of God’s mercy is to blaspheme the cross. It’s to suggest that Christ didn’t quite do enough to reconcile you with your heavenly Father. You deserve everything you fear and worse, but Christ suffered in your stead. Salvation unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor, but it was anything but free for Jesus.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
This Gospel isn’t too good to be true. There is nothing more true or certain in this life than God’s love in Christ Jesus for you. Nothing can change the fact that Jesus died for your sin, not even your doubt. Repent and believe, and the peace God, which surpasses all understanding, will be yours.
The other type of ash that inhibits our thanksgiving is the squeaky wheel syndrome. If the things God gives us are 99% good and 1% bad, guess what gets all of our attention? We fixate on that 1%. It’s all we can see.
We’re like the princess in the fable. She had 20 mattresses under her! But under the 20th mattress was one dry pea. When they asked her how she slept, she said, “Terribly.” One little pea under the 20 mattresses of God makes our whole life one sleepless night.
Could anything be more foolish? Trading in the joy of your salvation for a worthless pea? As foolish as Enoch was, at least he got a bowl of soup out of the deal. But the Old Adam is so thoroughly pagan he’d rather stay addicted to his misery than give thanks to God for all His benefits and rejoice in Christ. Repent and believe.
You have Christ. You have God’s free grace and favor. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
Let us pray:
O Spirit, who didst once restore
Thy Church that it might be again
The bringing of good news to men,
Breathe on Thy cloven Church once more,
That in these gray and latter days
There may be those whose life is praise,
Each life a high doxology
To Father, Son, and unto Thee.[iii]
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
Based on “Thanksgiving and Prayer” by Martin Franzman in Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, 86–91.
The Day of Thanksgiving, 2016
Around the Word Bible Studies
[i] Phil. 4:6–7
[ii] Contrast Genesis 1–2 with the evolutionary hypothesis of a Last Universal Common Ancestor, a small, single-celled organism. Compare also the biblical doctrine of original sin, which posits that Adam, from whom we all inherit sin, was just as much of a historical person as Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22).
[iii] “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth” (LSB, 834; st. 4)