Friday, November 25, 2011

Sermon - Thanksgiving Day - 1 Chronicles 16:34

1 Chronicles 16:34 (et al)
National Day of Thanksgiving, 2011
Giving Thanks for Hesed”

Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.”

This simple and common prayer of thanks is found numerous times in the Old Testament – from 1 Chronicles to the Psalms to Isaiah and Jeremiah. Christians often use it today as a meal prayer. You've probably heard these words many times.

Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.”

I want to focus on one word today – not so much the word “thanks”, but the word “Steadfast Love”. At least that's how it's often translated into English. But the Hebrew word behind it is “hesed”. Give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good. His “hesed” endures forever.

God's hesed, his steadfast love, is also translated as his loving-kindness, his goodness, or his mercy. God's hesed is the rationale for giving thanks in so many of these Old Testament prayers. They gave thanks because of his hesed.

God shows his hesed by what he does – saving his people from their enemies, from disaster, from famine and plague. He shows his hesed by bringing them into a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and promising it to them forever. And so they prayed,

Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.”

God's hesed is undeserved. It is pure and free gift. Think about it, we don't really thank our employers for a wage – we earned it, and it is rightfully ours. You might thank your boss for your paycheck, but you'd just be polite. It's not expected. But a gift is a different story. A gift elicits thanks. Maybe a word, maybe a hand-written note. How much more does the free gift of God merit our thanks! We don't do anything to deserve his hesed.

In fact, we do the opposite. We deserve anything but loving-kindness, or steadfast love, or mercy or goodness. Our sins deserve punishment, now and forever.

What's worse, is that we're not even all that thankful most of the time for what we do get. We take God's gifts, even his hesed, for granted. We act like we deserve them, like he owes all this to us. We are spoiled children, but the spoiling is our own fault, not his. We are ungrateful and selfish and thoughtless and, well, sinners.

But that's what makes hesed so much more amazing. Steadfast love would be a whole lot easier to give to people who deserved it. But to your enemies? To people who hate you? To people who want your job and want you dead? To love them?

For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son. For God so loved you, that he sent Jesus. Jesus who is the ultimate expression of God's hesed. Jesus, to whom the law and the prophets testify. Jesus, who brings what the Old Testament calls hesed, and the New Testament calls grace.

Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good. His grace endures forever.”

A bunch of Lutherans in 1919 thought that God's Grace was important enough to name a church after it. And ever since, we've been preaching God's grace in Jesus Christ here in this place. And like the hesed of the Old Testament, the grace of the New Testament, all rooted in and flowing from Jesus Christ, endures forever.

His hesed endures forever. Because he, Jesus, endures forever. Because his word of promise endures forever. Because his Gospel is eternal. Because his life, once given up, can never be taken again.

Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good. His hesed endures forever.”

Hesed that endures over against your sins, and mine. Hesed that doesn't count all that against you. Hesed that points you to the cross of Jesus and says, here, sinner, is your salvation. Free and clear, it is finished. You don't bring anything to the table, Jesus did it all for you. You don't deserve this free gift, but receive it in faith and be thankful.

Of course, God's hesed is so great that he doesn't just stop with salvation. He gives and gives and gives – blessings too numerous to count. All these, just as undeserved. Food. Clothing. Shelter. Friends and family. Your health. Your earthly wealth. Your reasons and all your senses. Your reputation. Good government. Peace. And those are just for starters.

But hesed always brings you back to Christ, the greatest and fullest expression of God's undeserved love for you. The basis for these and all other gifts he gives. He's been giving them since word one of creation. And he'll be giving them into the countless ages of eternity. For even after this world passes away, after the judgment day and the glorious kingdom is ushered in, God's hesed will still endure, in Jesus Christ our Lord. He'll still be giving good things. Undeserved things. Steadfastly, forever.

And for that, we give him thanks, today and always.

Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.”

In Jesus Christ, Amen.

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