Archive for the ‘Thanksgiving’ Category

Praise and Thanksgiving From a Prostitute?

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve-November 26, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: What do we mean by thankfulness? What did our forefathers mean?  Our forefathers were not so much thankful for something as they were thankful in something. In bounty or in want they remained thankful. In feast or in famine they were thankful. In joy or in hardship they were consistently thankful. There’s a big difference between being thankful for things and being thankful in all things.

ILLUS: Our sermon hymn, “Now thank We All Our God” gives us a closer look into what I am talking about. It was written in 1607 by a German Lutheran Pastor by the name of Martin Reinkardht. Pastor Reinkardht was the son of a poor coppersmith, but somehow, he managed to work his way through an education. Finally, in the year 1617, he was offered the post of Archdeacon in his hometown parish. A year later, what has come to be known as the Thirty-Years-War broke out. His town was caught right in the middle. In 1637, a massive plague swept across the continent of Europe and it hit the Eilenburg parish hard.  People were dying at the rate of fifty a day and the man they called upon to bury most of them was their dear Pastor Martin Reinkardt. In all, over 8,000 people died, including Martin’s own wife and children.  These were tough circumstances in which to be thankful. But he managed. And he wrote these words: Now thank we all our God…With heart and hands and voices; Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices.


Did you catch the key verse for why thanks should be offered to God: Who wondrous things hath done.”  It takes a magnificent spirit to come through such hardship and express gratitude. Here’s a great lesson; surrounded by tremendous adversity, thanksgiving is still offered up to God, with heart and hand and voices.  That is the kind of Thanksgiving we will be talking about tonight.  In our Gospel reading (Luke 7:36-50), we encounter a sinful woman, condemned by her religious community, and showing intense thanks to Jesus for the wondrous thing He did.

I.  What was this wonderous thing that the woman was so thankfu for?  It had to be something wonderous, because it seems that she had only one thing on her mind: getting to Jesus. But why? What did he do for her?  Well many of Biblical scholars have concluded that the woman was possibly a prostitute.  In all likelihood, she had heard Jesus preach and her life was changed when she received the gift of faith, which caused her to experience forgiveness of her many sins. So now, full of joyful gratitude, and determined to do something for the one who had done so much for her, she made her way directly to Jesus.
ILLUS:  There’s an old story about the Greek Marathon. Every year, conditioned athletes gathered at the starting line, inhaled deeply, and put on their “game faces,” ready to prove that they were the fastest. In the midst of it all, a young stranger took his place next to them. He had an awesome physique. He ignored the other contestants, and stared straight ahead. His mind was on the two prizes that would be given to the winner of the Marathon: a magnificent bouquet of flowers and the honor of standing beside the king. There seemed to be no question in the minds of the other runners that the stranger would most likely be the victor. It was alleged that someone offered the stranger a large sum of money not to run. Someone else attempted to bribe him with property. Refusing the offers, he toed the mark and waited for the signal to run. When the signal was given, he was the first away. At the finish line, he was easily the first to cross.  Latter, someone asked the young man if he thought the flowers were worth as much as the money and property he had refused. He replied, “I did not enter the race for the flowers. I ran so that I could stand beside my king!” And so it was with the sinful woman who “intruded” into the Pharisee’s house; apparently she had the very same thing on her mind. She wanted to be at her king’s side and offer him her gratitude.

A.    Why was this woman’s response of gratitude so extream?  Well, it’s the same reason why many “new adult Christians” today, are so joyful and exhuberant in their praise for Jesus: True thankfulness is displayed as the extream response of the hopeless because they have received the impossible… they received a wonderous thing..forgiveness!  Friends, we are not that much different from that woman.  We too have become hopelessly lost in our sins, yet for Christ’s sake alone, we’ve received the impossible gift of love and forgiveness, through no merit of our own! It’s a temptation of some to say that the woman was forgiven because of her act of love, which was shown by her kissing and anointing the feet of Jesus.  But this can’t be true, and we know this because of our Savior’s own words.  What did he say?  He did not say, I admire your love, so your sins are forgiven.  No, but what did He say?  “You are forgiven.  Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Jesus said it and she believed it!

B.  But for some, it seems hard to just hear and believe.  It’s hard to walk in the simplicity of faith, when everything arround us seems to be telling us the very opposite.  This is a world who’s mantra is, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Or, “you can’t get something for nothing.”  Many Christians will further confuse you by saying things like, “God wants to forgive you” rather than “God HAS forgiven you for the sake of Jesus.” They will place conditions upon your relationship with God by saying, “God is waiting to bless you if only you will let Him,” rather than announcing to you, “God has already blessed you ‘with every spiritual blessing in Christ'” (Ephesians 1:3). But we must not let any conditions stand between our sin and Jesus.  We must boldly approach Him by faith and ignore the opinions of others, because Jesus is doing a wondrous thing!  I am sure that the woman knew that her actions would be considered strange by Simon and his other guests, but that didn’t interfere at all with her acts of thanksgiving.  Friends, when you are ridiculed for your “simple” faith, don’t shrink away but pull closer towards the source of your faith; and like the woman, be content to kneel at Jesus feet and cling to his promise, which says “your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

II. Now maybe some of you here tonight are still struggling with the simplicity of these Words; Simon the Pharisee was. But why?  Because his pride refused to admit his need for absoloute dependency on God.  And those who will not completely depend on God can not expereice His great forgiveness.  Simon the Pharisee had been trapped by one of Satan’s deepest and most ancient temptations inflicted upon man; he felt that he must first do something in order to qualify for God’s forgiveness in Christ. Maybe for us, the temptation may be to say, “I need to first first show God that I want to make amends for the things I have done.” Don’t believe it; this is a lie of the devil which causes us to follow “me” centered thinking and not “Christ centered” thinking.  It’s right to say “Jesus earned forgiveness for me by His death on the cross,” but it is wrong to add, “All I have to do is prepare myself for it, make room for it, and accept it.”  Those five little words-“all I have to do” -are the devil’s greatest weapon which he skillfully uses to crush your faith, destroy your confidence in forgiveness and prevent you from walking with Jesus in a spirit of thankfulness. Friends, remember this, if we must do anything at all in order to walk with God in peace, then St. Paul’s judgment found in Galatians comes true: “Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). 

III.  But if we are so inclined to naturally reject the simplicity of God’s grace, then what are we to do?  Friends, God knows full well the weakness of our faith and the many obsticles that the devil creates to derail it.  That’s why he has provided the means to experience a radical faith.  He does this through His real presence.  Let’s look at the sequence of events in today’s Gospel: The woman first heard the good news, which was the certainty of God’s forgiveness and love, which was hers in Christ Jesus; this preached Word created faith within her; and finally, her God-given faith led her to go to Simon’s house, with gratitude demonstrated in the washing, kissing and anointing of Jesus’ feet.  The woman came to Jesus because she believed that His presence in her life gave her the gift of forgiveness, so her act of gratitude and love was her heart’s (natural) response to His wondrous gift.  Friends, we also come to Jesus because we believe that His real presence in Word and Sacrament provides and ensures us of our complete forgiveness, and like the woman, we too will naturally respond with our own demonstrations of gratitude and love through service to God, to our families and to our community right outside the doors of this church! 

St. John writes in his first letter: “This is love, not that we loved God, but THAT HE LOVED US and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Do you hear how natural these words enter our ears?  But in case we have missed the simplicity of the words, St. John makes it even easier: “We love [God] because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Oh dear friends, think about the joy and blessing that this Gospel proclaims to you! You have the rich blessing of Jesus’ forgiveness, and His forgiveness does not depend on your prior love for Him or your expressions of loyalty or even on your feelings of worthiness; if it did, what would be so wondrous about that gift? No dear friends, we have the rich blessing of Jesus’ forgiveness just because God loves us, and this forgiveness comes to us from the very heart and mouth of Jesus Himself, unprompted, unearned, and even undeserved. 

CONCLUSION: Our forefathers who came to this country so long ago, and Pastor Reinkhardt who wrote our sermon hymn, all knew this one central truth: We are all exactly like the woman who came to Jesus ashamed and trapped in sin.  And like that woman, they knew that because of Jesus, they would never be the same again… they would no longer be helplessly lost in their sin.  Their reaction to this certainty and our own natural response will always be demonstrated in our ability to give thanks in all things, with hearts and hands and voices for the wondrous things He has done. 

As we enter into Advent, let us enter with a heart of love and gratitude to God for the wondrous things He has done.  May God work continue to work this wonder in each of our hearts, for Jesus sake….AMEN!