Day of Thanksgiving: Luke 12:13-21
“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” Notice who is being generous in this sentence, and who is getting the thanksgiving. The Corinthians are the ones encouraged to be generous, but it will be God who gets the thanksgiving.
You might not realize what a revolution that sentence is. We read through this bit of Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, and we may notice all the references to God’s various gifts, even that he seems to be behind every gift, and we notice the various expressions of human gratitude in return, even for things that seem to be worked by other humans. God is to be thanked, even for the beneficence the Corinthians, which makes pretty good sense to us.
And this is not just in one sentence. In fact, there is nowhere in the New Testament (that I could find) where St. Paul thanks anyone except God. He never thanks Timothy for his faithfulness, or the Corinthians for their hard work, or Titus or anyone else. Ever. He only ever thanks God.
This is more surprising than it may seem. In the ancient world, gratitude, and displaying gratitude was what made the social world go ‘round. Thanksgiving for the ancients was not mere etiquette—it was a formal and public and political structure of reciprocity. You scratch my back and I scratch yours. If I give, then I expect to receive in kind. It kept families at peace with one another (through mutual gift-giving); it maintained important social bonds; it built a web of expected reciprocity that bound society together.
Then came Jesus Christ, and the New Testament, and the Apostle Paul. And when the Apostle writes as he does in our reading today (thanking God instead of the Corinthians), he is taking a wrecking ball to that entire ancient structure. One of the effects of the Gospel of Jesus for Paul is that no one owes anything anymore to anyone. Of course we must render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but for the things that are truly important, in the final calculation, before the final court—and the only Judge that matters—you are free. You are not bound by your past debts or someone else’s expectations. Simply thank God: You are free.
This business of thanking God for all good things—is a revolution. Every time you thank God for something (even if it was done for you by a friend—or by a Corinthian, perhaps), you are rebelling against the strings-attached world in which we live. You are stepping outside the structure of a world where everything has a price tag, and stepping into the kingdom of God.
You are confessing the final truth: that God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins or debts against them. On the cross with his blood, Jesus pays every debt; he saves us without cost or expectation. And he also frees us to live in that freedom: freedom from score-keeping and entitlement, and from living under the crushing weight of indebtedness.
Now this doesn’t mean you can take this sermon to the bank with you on Monday to see about cutting down your mortgage. Jesus’ parable in the gospel isn’t wealth-bashing or saying money doesn’t matter. He’s just saying there is something that matters much much more: namely, your soul. And what to give in exchange for your soul?
We have two stories before us in the texts for today. St. Luke tells us of a wealthy fool; and in Deuteronomy Moses tells another story, about a faithful and wise man. The simple difference between the two is knowing who to thank. One man knows who to thank; one does not.
Each of these men tells a story. The rich fool begins thus: “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” He is the author, the protagonist, and the audience of his story. He doesn’t know who to thank, and worse, he doesn’t know the value of his own soul.
But blessed are you today. And in two ways: First, you know who to thank. Just like the man from Deuteronomy we have a creed to pray about all the works of God in Christ: his Christmas and his cross, his Easter and Ascension (and his Holy Communion he shares with us even now). And second, just like the man from Deuteronomy, you have an offering.
Jesus warns us today, just in time for Black Friday, about our stuff. This is why our offerings, our tithes and first fruits gifts, are a blessing to us. A tithe is a constant reminder that your soul matters much much more than your stuff.
Which is fantastic news, because your soul—and not your stuff—is what Jesus has covered. It is what he has redeemed without cost. And it is for this that we give him all thanks and praise.
In this way, whenever we pray—before a meal, before bed, before church, or in moments of intense need, when all we can do is pray—with each word we utter to God we are stepping deeper into the mystery of the kingdom of God. Prayer, just like tithing, is not just something to do to be good Christians; prayer is cutting our ties with this world.
When we thank God for the good things we have, we are turning our back on the ways of this world—the ways of keeping score, and holding grudges, and climbing ladders, and remembering wrongs. And we are becoming more what God made us to be: free—free from our debts, from our stuff and even from ourselves—free to live as his redeemed children, in perpetual thanksgiving now and forever.