Though politicians don’t often make for good theologians, and perhaps vice versa, there is something to Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863. The United States is in the middle of the Civil War. The Union is divided. In not a few instances families are torn apart as people with the same relatives shoot at one another, fighting for their side. In October 1863 it didn’t seem like there was much to be thankful for. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln called for a day of national thanksgiving. He was onto something. Consider his words: “No human council hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” Though we rightly deserve God’s wrath, He still shows us His mercy. We do not deserve anything we have, but through His fatherly, divine Goodness, God the Father still graciously provides for all our needs of body and soul.
He does this even in spite of our greed, our poor stewardship of His gifts, our lack of thanksgiving when we don’t receive what we want when we want it. Like the man who began tonight’s Gospel who simply wanted his fair share of the inheritance, we always think there’s something more we need, something that should rightly be ours. But as Jesus uses the Parable to demonstrate, possessions aren’t what life is all about.
This is a message that speaks to us all, regardless of social class. Greed and discontent know no boundaries. But think about those things we covet that aren’t things at all. We look at other people’s lives and think about how much better they have it—or seem to have it. We wonder why God seems to be handing out all the blessings to them, giving us little in return. Especially at a time when our collective focus shifts to giving thanks to God for what He has given us, it’s easy to let our eyes see God as withholding or playing unfairly. It’s easy to think that we have so little to be thankful for.
Sometimes that may be true; there may be a measurable lack of things that we need for this life. At times we all struggle to make ends meet. We struggle with poor heath. We struggle with broken families. We struggle with loneliness and depression. It seems like we are lacking while everyone else is thriving. Sometimes it seems like we just don’t have much to be thankful for, like we wish we could just pass on Thanksgiving this year and come out when things are going better.
But remember what Jesus says: “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” While it may sound like a rebuke, Jesus telling you to buck up, don’t worry about what you have or don’t have, it’s not that at all. Jesus gives to you so much more than food and clothing. Yes, those are essentials to this body and life, but Jesus gives you everything you need for the life to come. You may be poor in things, but Jesus has come to make you rich in soul, making you rich in relation to God. Jesus has, in a way, put you in God’s debt. Because Jesus has stood in your place, what was His by right is now yours by right because His righteousness has been made yours. Because you have been washed in the water and resurrected by the Word, God owes to you eternal life, a home in the new heaven and new earth, because you are His heir. You are a part of His family.
No matter how awful life may seem, no matter how much it may seem you are lacking, you have been given the one thing needful by Jesus Christ. God the Father has given Him to you, given you a Brother out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy. Because He does not want you to be without in hell for eternity, He has given His Son, your Brother, to shed His Blood for you, to restore you to your place in God’s family. Though you may feel like that Prodigal Son before coming back to His father, completely destitute, jealous of pigs who get to eat rotting scraps of trash, you are that Prodigal Son after he comes home. The Father loves you in a way that no words can describe, in a way that makes no sense to human reason. You are welcomed in, given a robe of righteousness and fed by the sacrificed Lamb of God. Though your life may seem deficient in First Article gifts, you are never deficient in Second Article gifts—forgiveness, life, and salvation given to you by Jesus Christ.
Though he wasn’t directly speaking of salvation, Lincoln’s words are apt here as well: “No human council hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.” You don’t deserve anything to be thankful for tomorrow or any day, especially your eternal dwelling, guaranteed in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, God loves to give, and He has given to you. You have not worked out your own salvation, but the hand of Jesus Christ was pierced by nails to win it for you. As wonderful as they are, First Article gifts can never hold a candle to what has been given to you in Christ. When life seems overwhelming, unfair, and like there’s nothing to be thankful for, remember that you are in Christ. Heaven is yours. He will free you from all ills in this world and the next.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.