Date: November 25, 1937

Thanksgiving Gratitude

God of our Fathers:

We give thanks to Thee, almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for all the benefits with which Thou hast enriched our individual happiness and our national life. Particularly on this day our grateful thoughts soar heavenward to Thee because Thou hast once more blessed the yield of our farmlands and orchards, proving Thyself again the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Though for man, the ingatherings of the past months have not been so great as in previous years, since our sins and thanklessness have often caused Thee to restrict Thy blessings and withhold lavish benedictions, teach us nevertheless the grace of gratitude. Let our souls sing Thy praise not only for the wealth of prairie and mountain, the benefit of liberty and peace, the maintenance of commerce and industry, curtailed though this is, but especially for our religious freedom, for the privilege of hearing Thy Word and receiving Thy Sacraments, and above all for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and the atonement for our sins wrought by His death and resurrection. Through that faith enrich us with the higher wisdom, by which we give “thanks always for all things,” and as “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” can glory in the purifying and refining power of tribulation. With Christ to guide us, help us to make every day a thanksgiving for the glory of Thy name, for our growth in faith and hope. Hear us in Thy mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen.

He thanked God and took courage.Acts 28:15

MORE than one million Americans who were employed in September are without work now in November; and many millions more face a hard, cold winter of unemployment. How can they raise their hearts and voices in praise to God on this Thanksgiving Day? Almost a million of our fellow-countrymen now crowd our hospitals with broken limbs and disease-ridden bodies, wasting fevers, and consuming cancers, preparing for operations or awaiting the inevitable, since death observes no holiday. Throughout the nation multitudes count the years of their invalid helplessness by the decades. Why should they breathe a prayer of gratitude on this festival when life has dealt harshly with them and many will lie in their graves before another November? The same question, muttered from blasphemous lips, sobbed from heart-broken depths, groaned from desperate souls, has millions of voices in our country today.

Some of you who in a few moments will enjoy a lavish holiday dinner with family and friends may object: “The past year has brought bumper crops.” “My business has prospered as never before.” “I have made so much money that my only concern centers about mounting taxes.” What about the farmers—and there are ten thousands of them—who witnessing bounteous harvests on other farms have wept through another season of their own crop failure, blight, and drought? What about the Southern sharecropper who must support his family for weeks on what some of you will spend for football this afternoon? What about the lengthening lines of the homeless and destitute leading to the charitable shelter of municipal lodging-houses, where hundreds altogether have not half as much money as many will give for this evening’s entertainment? What about the masses of underpaid workers, the undernourished families, huddled in the cold and squalor of each city’s slums, the parents whose children have disgraced themselves and brought reproach upon their home? What about the frozen emptiness of those who write us that human cruelty has robbed them of friends and home and happiness? You may shrug your straight shoulders at these questions, or, touched by the holiday spirit, you may protest: “It certainly is too bad that there is so much suffering in the world. Yet most of those people have brought their troubles on themselves. Besides, what can we do about it?” And then you prepare to lose yourself in pleasanter scenes.

To the Church of Jesus Christ, however, this practical question, “What can we do about it?” becomes a challenge. I want you especially for whom the past months have brought one heart-blow after another to realize that the love of God is directed particularly toward the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the troubled, the forsaken, the helpless, the outcast; that in Jesus Christ, through faith in His atoning love, you, too, can keep today as Thanksgiving and give Him your gratitude even in grief-filled moments.

With this hope and assurance let us find

OUR THANKSGIVING RESOLUTION

in the faith and fortitude of the great apostle, of whom our text in Acts 28:15 records, “He thanked God and took courage.”

I

WE RESOLVE TO THANK GOD IN ADVERSITY

If ever a man had reason to complain and, from the human point of view, to question the necessity of giving thanks to God, it certainly was Paul, the ambassador of Jesus Christ to the pagan world. Forsaking the successful career which his brilliant endowments seemed to promise, he had left all to follow Christ. What was his reward? The first messenger of God who came to him after his conversion on the Damascus road was sent to show him “how great things he must suffer.” From that moment his life-story could have been written in tears, in blood and torture. His own countrymen tried to murder him; the Greeks plotted against his life. He was beaten and stoned, chained and imprisoned. He was fiercely beset by hunger and thirst. Repeatedly he was left naked and homeless. He was cast out of synagogues and into the sea. His audience screamed, “Away with such a fellow!” and literally sought to tear his flesh from his bones. He was banished from his homeland and sent to Rome as a prisoner in irons; yet as he approached the imperial city and met some of his fellow-Christians, he “thanked God”—thanked God that He had brought him to the city where he would be twice imprisoned and finally judged guilty,—the city where the executioner’s ax would sever his head from his body!

This was no isolated instance of his gratitude to God. Throughout his entire career for Christ he lived in perpetual praise. They might bind him in black dungeons; but even then in the dark of midnight he sang praise songs to his Savior. They might hurl jagged rocks at his body; but he could forget all that and exult repeatedly, “I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” He might become, by his own admission, “as the filth of the world”; but listen to his doxology, “Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ.” They might cite him before the tribunal of Caesar; but he barely touched Roman soil before “he thanked God.” They might imprison him; but in his bonds and in that Roman jail he writes in one of his last letters, “I thank Christ Jesus, our Lord . . . that He counted me faithful.” Even when his head dropped to the ground, surely his soul rejoiced in the faith by which he had previously exulted, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Why is it, we ask ourselves today, that Saint Paul, who suffered more than any other apostle, could use the words “thanks” and “praise” more frequently than all other New Testament writers? Was his a natural, inborn bravery that made him laugh at fear? Was he guided by a happy philosophy of life which taught him to believe that somehow his destiny would finally take a turn for the better? Was his a deep and mystic understanding of sorrow and its purifying, refining powers?

All this fails woefully in explaining why this apostle of persecution was the apostle of thanksgiving. Instead of insight, optimism, and human courage Saint Paul had Christ and through faith in the crucified Savior the perpetual reason for making his whole life, even in its dark days, an endless doxology to Jesus. With Christ he knew, as his letters so heroically declare, that he had the full remission of all his sins and the promise of heaven. Since Christ had lived for him, died for him, and was raised again for him, no tribulation or terror could separate him from the love of God. Reconciled to his heavenly Father through Christ, he believed in unswerving faith that everything, all the shattering of human hopes, all the crashing of his ambitions, all the pain of his body and soul, would finally, by the wisdom and love of God, “work together for good.”

He had to thank God; for had he not learned to “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus”? He had to thank God; for come what may, as nights of persecution followed days of toil, he was always, sometimes on unknown paths and with unseen guidance, approaching more closely the release from sorrow and the joy-crowned entrance into the glories of heaven. Because he had the complete Christ and in Him the forgiveness for every sin, the strengthening for every weakness, the hope for every hopeless moment, the answer to every question, the lightening for every burden, the solution for every problem, the pledge of heaven itself, Saint Paul thanked God at all times and in all places.

I pray God that during the past few moments this resolution has been taking shape in your hearts: “I, too, will thank God through Christ!” If that Savior has never dwelt in your hearts before, what an appropriate day this is to cause thanksgiving even in heaven, where the angels of God rejoice over one repentant sinner! If you have asked yourself, “How can I give thanks?” then come to Christ, your Savior and King, and you will be blessed by such immeasurable riches of soul and body that, if every moment of your life were devoted to praise His holy name, you could never sufficiently thank Him for the eternal endowment of His mercy. Above all the prayers in which I would ask God to give you health and happiness, food and clothing, shelter and warmth, blessed family relations, and to supply all your earthly needs “according to the riches of His grace,” I beseech the Spirit to give you Christ, Son of the Almighty and Son of the Virgin. Stand in spirit under His cross, raise your hands in the oath of allegiance, and resolve on this Thanksgiving Day, “I will give thanks to God for Christ and through Christ!”

II

WE RESOLVE TO TAKE COURAGE THROUGH CHRIST

After Paul had raised his voice to God in gratitude outside the walls of Rome, we read that he “took courage,” strength, for the ordeal that awaited him, patience for the imprisonment, bravery for the sentence of death, courage for that terrifying execution. Declaring, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me,” he knew what true Christians have always known, namely, that in Christ we can find a perpetual source of strength. Three hundred years ago the Thirty Years’ War, with its generation of conflict, devastated Central Europe; yet through that long night of agonies the bravery of God’s children gave us some of our most beloved hymns. We think, for example, of Martin Rinckart, a Lutheran pastor of Saxony, who with heroic self-denial provided for the spiritual and physical needs both of his large congregation and of a nearby district. In 1637 an epidemic swept through his parishes, taking almost 5,000 of his members. So appalling were the ravages of the pestilence that Martin Rinckart often had to conduct three funeral services a day, each time interring ten or more bodies in a single grave. The very next year famine stalked through the land. His accounts record that bands of twenty or thirty people would attempt to capture a stray cat or dog and kill it for food. Forty famished men, according to an eyewitness, fought over a dead crow. Then destitution struck Rinckart himself. He had borrowed money to help the poor, and now his creditors took his meager possessions from him. Soldiers often robbed his entire food-supply, and he was left destitute. Nevertheless at the height of these sorrows his faith, winging its way upward to God, took courage, and he enriched the Church with the immortal legacy of his hymn:

Now thank we all our God

With hearts and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things hath done,

In whom His world rejoices;

Who from our mother’s arms

Hath blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love

And still is ours today.

Thousands of churches this morning sang the “Netherlands Hymn of Thanksgiving.” Do you know that according to the best accounts this song was born during one of the most merciless persecutions that have ever opposed Christian faith? The Duke of Alba made rivulets of martyr-blood flow through the streets of the Dutch cities, when 10,000 Protestants were brutally massacred because of their faith in Christ; yet before the bloody clouds of war were completely lifted from Holland, courage in Christ combined to give the world that hymn of confidence which expresses the one hope all of us need for the uncertain issues of the future. Voices are being raised throughout the world predicting international warfare on the greatest scale and in the most bestial manner that men have ever known, prophesying the destruction of democratic government, an age of dictatorship or Communism. In our own country economists are apprehensive of the calamities that may arise during the next years, disquieted by concern over our debts, finances, industry, commerce, and labor. We may have to face years that will try the people of this country as they have not yet been tried. Yet come what may, with this message of Christ’s love graven deeply on our souls, we can exult as our hands reach out to grasp the cross, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” With the radiance of the Savior’s love illuminating our hearts, we can penetrate the darkness and declare, “In Thy light shall we see light.” For every fear and sorrow that surrounds us as good days or evil approach us and our nation, we have divine help and courage in Jesus. As I ask your hearts to join in thankful praise on this day of national gratitude, so I plead with every one of you to cast off doubt and fear, raise thankful hearts to God for Christ and His benediction. Stand once more under the cross; and, looking up to that merciful Redeemer, resolve that, God helping you, you will take firm, immovable, victorious courage in the power of a loving God to direct and protect you in this world and to save and redeem you for the next world! May God grant this courage to every one of you, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.