Monday, November 27, 2006

Sermon - Thanksgiving 2006

Grace Ev. Lutheran Church, Racine, Wisconsin
Thanksgiving (Eve) Day- 2006
Deuteronomy 8:1-10
“Giving Thanks for Pomegranates”

A Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving to you all. Every year we observe this national holiday. The 4th Thursday of November is set aside by longstanding presidential order as a day of national thanksgiving. Your history books might tell you that the first day of thanksgiving was December 4th of 1619, when the Pilgrims in the Virginia Colony first celebrated the day. Or you might think of the Massachusetts Bay Colony marking their first thanksgiving in 1630. But the truth is, harvest festivals have a longstanding history in many nations and cultures. And we find something similar even in ancient Israel.

Here in Deuteronomy, Moses gives some words of encouragement to his people as they were just about to enter the promised land.

He warns them to be careful in following God’s commands. He reminds them of what God had already done for them. These 40 years of desert wandering had been a time of testing and preparation. But they were also a time in which God cared for his people. Throughout those years, God fed them daily bread from heaven – not just to keep them alive, but also to teach them that “man does not live by bread alone”. It was Jesus himself who quoted these words when fending off the devil during his own wilderness wandering.

Furthermore, God provided that for 40 years their clothes did not wear out. Most of us are quite used to choosing clothes from our closet full of options each day – and still sometimes they wear out (or more often, we out-grow them). But it seems the Israelites weren’t toting around extravagant wardrobes – their clothes, like their food, were simple but sufficient.

And so this time of testing and disciplining was close to its end. The Israelites stood on the threshold of their promised land – a veritable paradise. The land flowing with milk and honey. Actually, more than that. Compared to the manna they ate every day, the description of that land of plenty must have seemed like heaven:

a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

After a daily desert diet of bread, and a generation which had seen subsistence but scarcity, their destination must have been a dream come true. They had much, in those 40 years, for which to give thanks. But they would have even more in the years to come, as God’s promise is fulfilled. Plentiful water, mineral resources, bountiful harvests of rich foods – even pomegranates! Bread will keep you alive, but pomegranates! Now that’s the good life!

I don’t know why the pomegranates jumped out for me this time. We read this same passage every year on Thanksgiving. I have preached on it before. But I never recall thinking much of the pomegranates. Kind of an unusual fruit for us to eat in modern American life. But not foreign to the ancient middle east. But even better, the pomegranate is mentioned elsewhere in scripture – and it has an important symbolic value.

Exodus chapter 28:33-34 directed that images of pomegranates be woven onto the borders of Hebrew priestly robes. 1 Kings chapter 7:13-22 describes pomegranates depicted in the temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem.

Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. Many Jews continue this tradition by eating pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah.

But the pomegranate is also a Christian symbol. With its many seeds united as one, it has served as a symbol for the universal Christian church. It is also used to represent royalty, hope of a future life, and resurrection.

Was it for any of these reasons that the pomegranate was mentioned in the list of blessings the people could expect in their new homeland? No. Moses was simply describing the lush conditions they could expect.

But is it wrong of us to think of greater blessings along with the lesser ones? Shouldn’t we Christians give thanks for the mundane gifts as well as the extravagant? Shouldn’t we ponder, on this Thanksgiving and always, those blessings below as well as those above. The good things given, the daily bread, but also that we live on more than bread alone?

Give thanks for bread. Give thanks for pomegranates. And give thanks for more. For we have God’s holy law, and we have God’s precious Gospel. We have the righteousness of Christ our royal High priest, our true temple. We have a future hope in him of a resurrection to immortality. And we have been made members of his body, the church – like the many seeds of a pomegranate – we are all found in him.

Give thanks for bread, but give thanks even more for every word from the mouth of God. For it is in those words that we truly find what sustains life. There we read and hear about Jesus who died, Jesus who lives, Jesus who forgives, and Jesus who makes us alive. It is Jesus who is the life-sustaining and life-giving Word of God made flesh. If we give thanks for anything at all, it is for him and to him.

This Thanksgiving, as always, give thanks to God for his many blessings. Take some time to count those blessings. Consider the mundane blessings, the bread. Consider the greater blessings, the pomegranates. And consider the greatest blessings, which come through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Preachrboy said...

Two more notes on pomegranates I didn't mention in the sermon:

- it has been suggested by some tradition that the pomegranate is the fruit on the Tree of Life.

- Martha Stewart did a segment on pomegranates, in which she discussed how to prepare them, as well as some of the history. She had a staff member actually count the seeds in one - 593! No kidding!

Anonymous said...

She would make someone do that.