27 November 2008

Homily - Day of National Thanksgiving

Holy Faith, Holy Prayer, Holy Hands
1 Timothy 2:1-4

A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to all of you! Soon the tables will be set for the feasting, and the food will use its enticing aromas to lure us to the table. Soon our stomachs will be content, or a bit full, or crying out, “Ohh, why did I let you stuff me so full?” On top of all this there’s the cornucopia of TV offerings—Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or a movie marathon. But what do floats and pre-Christmas sales really have to do with Thanksgiving? No doubt the football games will glean a big harvest of watchers. But what do Lions and Titans and Seahawks have to do with Thanksgiving? The least they could do is schedule the Patriots vs. the Redskins. Now that would be a proper Thanksgiving theme. After all, isn’t that how it all started?

As Americans we have much to be thankful for. We have many luxuries, many amenities, many privileges and freedoms, even when the economy travels down a rough road, even when terrorists must be fought overseas so that they don’t bring the fight to our homeland. But today let’s set aside what someone once called “turkey theology.” That’s the kind of theology that sees the turkey and the trimmings on the table, quickly gives a formality of thanks to God for all the goodies, but only has eyes for getting to the food. Instead, let’s focus on a different aspect. We observe what’s called a “Day of National Thanksgiving.” Instead of focusing only on the giving of thanks, let’s focus on the national. And our Second Reading helps us do this. How do we Christians live in our nation and among the people around us? St. Paul’s answer is this: We live in holy faith, offering holy prayer, and using holy hands.

St. Paul starts by talking about praying for all sorts of people, especially rulers and authorities. But before we can pursue the holy prayer, we need to have the holy faith. You see, only God’s baptized children, His Christians, His people of holy faith, can offer holy prayer. Holy faith comes first, then comes holy prayer. If we don’t have holy faith, given by God, He really doesn’t hear our prayers. After all, as St. Paul says elsewhere, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23).

This holy faith comes from the God who “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That’s the holy will of holy God. He has made us all. He has lamented our fall into sin and death, and yet He still loves us and provides for us. And He has sent His only Son to save us. He wants all people to know His truth—His truth that takes the shape of both judgment and mercy. His truth tells us that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We don’t trust Him as we ought; we argue with Him in our complaints; we fight against Him to protect ourselves and our “turf” of life—which actually belongs to Him anyway, but, hey, let’s not confuse the issue with Scriptural facts. Even as baptized believers we still carry in our flesh those warring, fighting urges. Because of that Old Adam sinner that lives in us, the hostilities run deep between holy God and sinful us. So if we are to have any peace, we must have a mediator.

And here is God’s truth of mercy. As St. Paul says in the verse that follows our Second Reading, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5). The man Jesus Christ brought both sides of the war—holy God and sinful us—back together. He worked out the greatest peace accord of all time. He took the sin and sins of all people of all time upon Himself. It broke Him and killed Him, to be sure, but that’s what brokered our peace with God, that’s what gives us God’s forgiveness, that’s what shows us God’s boundless love. Our Lord Jesus, born of the Virgin, nailed to the cross, and risen from the grave, brought us back to God, to peace with God. That’s God’s saving truth.

This holy faith, then, leads to holy prayer. Since we are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we have access to God. We no longer view God as the unapproachable Judge; now we see Him as He really is, our loving Father who tenderly invites us to call upon Him. Now St. Paul’s words on prayer make perfect sense: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions….” St. Paul exhorts all Christians everywhere to pray. It’s the best thing we can do for our neighbor.

But for what do we pray? Too often we are tempted to pray only for ourselves, our individual wants and needs. We are tempted to look out only for our own interests, our own comfort. But notice how St. Paul directs our attention away from ourselves and to our neighbors—all people and the governing authorities. On this “Day of National Thanksgiving,” it is good, right, and salutary to pray for our nation, especially for our leaders.

Our nation and our leaders have been the center of attention lately, with the election, the wars, and the economic downturn and all. So they are perfect targets for our prayers. Multi-billion dollar bailouts of banks and other areas of our economy. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A new president assembling his administration to face great challenges; an outgoing president trying to avert economic disaster. It really doesn’t matter what our various political views are; our holy prayer is needed for our nation’s leaders. In fact, when St. Paul encouraged prayers for kings and leaders, he lived at a time when the Roman emperor was most likely insane and most certainly hostile to Christians. No matter who the personalities are or what the politics are the governing leaders are God’s servants. God Himself gives them to us. That’s why we pray for them. We pray for God’s wisdom and guidance for our leaders. We most certainly pray for them to come to repentance and have a change of heart for supporting things such as lax justice or abortion or embryonic stem cell research or policies that make “Joe the Taxpayer” bear the brunt of their greed. Most of all, we pray that God would use our governing leaders to carry out His will of ensuring our “daily bread.”

Now we move from holy prayer to holy hands. You see, in holy prayer, we practice our trust in God our Father to shower His gifts upon us. We trust Him to provide for our basic needs of forgiveness from Him and a peaceful life on earth. Listen again to the reason St. Paul gives for praying for all people, especially our president and leaders: “…that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Then the apostle talks about lifting holy hands, a gesture of prayer that’s not contaminated with anger or disputing.

As Christians we live in holy faith, trusting God’s love and forgiveness through Christ Jesus our Mediator. As Christians we offer holy prayers, our sacrifices that are most pleasing to God because we are exercising our holy faith. And as Christians we also live with holy hands. We live life right here where God has placed us in this world, and what we do is holy, because Christ makes us holy. We rely on His Gospel and Sacraments for life and peace with God—that’s how He makes us holy. He washes us with His holy water of Baptism. He comforts us with His holy words of Absolution. And He nourishes and enlivens us with His holy meal of Body and Blood. These things make us holy, devout, and please to God.

So we live with holy hands in all we do. As Christians, by God’s grace, we are sweet smelling sacrifices to God. God uses us and our hands to bring peace and quiet into this world, peace and quiet into the life of our neighbor—the grocer by providing food; the teacher by giving instruction; the parent by raising children well. The list could go on. The governing authorities have a similar job. God gives them to keep chaos and wickedness from running amok. That way we can live peaceful, quiet lives. And when we live peaceful, quiet lives—confident of God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus—we bring peace and quiet into the life of our neighbor.

So, on this “Day of National Thanksgiving,” it is good, right, and salutary to appreciate the material blessings. But there’s so much more for which to thank God. He has given us the governing leaders to ensure that we may lead peaceful, quiet lives with holy hands. So our holy prayer is indispensable, and that holy prayer flows out of our holy faith in Jesus Christ who achieved the best kind of peace and quiet we can have—peace between our loving God and us. Now there’s something to be thankful for. Amen.

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