Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve Vespers

Thanksgiving 2008
Text: Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Rev. Paul L. Beisel

A child who receives discipline with thanksgiving is a child who understands its value and its need. Wise is the child who sees discipline as a gift, who takes it with all humility, who does not resist. Blessed is the son who does not grow weary when he is reproved and disciplined, seeing that it is done for his good. Surely that child will grow in wisdom, will soar to heights of virtue that others will not. Of course, I am speaking about you, for you are children of God, children of one heavenly Father, born not of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God.

As beloved children, as heirs of the promised eternal inheritance, it is natural that you are disciplined by your Father. It is a sure sign that you are loved, for God “disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Surely it is an illegitimate child who receives no discipline, but is allowed to live without reproof. A true son of God is not without discipline, not without training, not without correction. The discipline of the Lord is for your good, so that you “may share in his holiness.”

But what do I mean by discipline? What does the discipline of the Lord look like? For the Israelites in the wilderness, it came in the form of various trials and tests. They too were God’s children, called out of bondage in Egypt, baptized in the cloud and the Red Sea, and headed for the Promised Land which God their Father was giving them. During this time in the wilderness, the Lord tested them, to know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commandments or not.

He also humbled them, and let them hunger, which hunger he satisfied with manna, all for the express purpose that they might know that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” In other words, God wanted them to know full well that He was the one who provided for them, who gave to them, who fed them and who held them up.   

Needless to say, the Israelites did not always respond well to this discipline of the Lord. Instead of seeing it as a blessing, instead of receiving it humbly with thanksgiving, they often cursed God like a proud son who despises his parents. They grumbled and complained, thinking their treatment unfair, wishing rather to be back in Egypt where they at least were fed well.

But such is the sinful nature, always seeing evil in good, regarding a blessing as a curse. They did not see the goodness in what God was doing for them. They thought him rather to be a terrible God, who was only trying to make their lives miserable. They failed to see that the Lord’s discipline was a sign of love and concern for them, a sign that they were true and not illegitimate sons.

During all that time, had God even once abandoned them, or failed to provide for them? Had he once gone back on his promise? Did they have any valid reason to doubt that he would continue to do so throughout their pilgrimage? Did He not make it clear to them when he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians that He was for them and not against them?

Surely they would look back and remember that during all those years in the wilderness, forty to be exact, their clothing did not wear out and their feet did not swell. God provided for them kept them safe, fed them, clothed them and saw to it that they lacked nothing.  He had made His covenant with them, had promised to be their God and they His people, and was always faithful to that covenant, even when he had to send discipline and correction upon them.

Like the Israelites we too have been mercifully delivered from bondage to a spiritual Egypt, and to a spiritual Pharaoh. We too once lived in darkness, and slavery to sin. But now we are “light in the Lord.” We are His holy children, plucked by grace out of the hands of Satan, and brought into the kingdom of Christ. Only, like the Israelites, we are still sojourning, wandering as it were in this wilderness called life.

We are headed towards a heavenly Promised Land which our heavenly Father has laid up for us in Christ Jesus His Son. We too are put to all sorts of tests and trials by our Lord, who loves us and wants to make us holy. How do we receive this discipline? How do we respond when our Lord lays upon us this or that cross? Do we act like a spoiled child, thinking that we are being treated unfairly? Do we grumble and complain, like the Israelites? Or do we receive it as the gift that it is? Do we say: “Thank you, Lord” and praise His name in the face of this heavenly discipline? Do we see the good in it, and take it as the blessing that it is?

For all those times that you have not received your daily bread with thanksgiving, for all those times that you have regarded the discipline of the Lord as something evil and not good, for all those times that you have cursed God, or felt sorry for yourself because of what you were suffering, repent. Look to Jesus, who was crucified for you, and be healed of your sins, cleansed of your errors. Find in His cross, in His suffering, in His resurrection the absolution, the forgiveness that you so desperately need, the same forgiveness and mercy that the Israelites needed.

If ever there was one who did not despise or regard lightly the discipline of His Father, if ever there was one who saw everything that His Father did as a blessing, it was Jesus. Every trial, every test that was sent his way, even to the point of death on a cross, our Lord prevailed. He did not succumb to the temptations of the devil; He did not succumb to grumbling and complaining or protesting the will of His Father, even when facing the cross. He did not consider it unfair treatment, but did it all out of love for His Father and for us.

This Thanksgiving, in addition to giving thanks for all the blessings of body and soul that you have received, in addition to praising Christ for giving you everything you need to support this body and life, add to that the gift and blessing of discipline, whether from earthly fathers, or from your heavenly Father. Both are gifts, for both are acts of love. Both are for your good. Both are meant to humble you, to test you, to see if you will be faithful to God’s commandments, to teach you that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

To despise the discipline of the Lord or that of your earthly fathers is to say that you wish to remain in ignorance, that you do not wish to be wise, and that you would rather be an illegitimate child, one who is not loved by the Father. As you look back on all your years of life, ask yourself if your heavenly Father has ever once begrudged you, ever held back his blessings from you, ever failed to feed you or clothe you or provide for you. Has he ever not treated you like the beloved children that you are? Would you be the person that you are today had it not been for the discipline that you received in the past? Will you grow in holiness and righteousness without such discipline and training? Most certainly not.

Remember O Child of God these words of Holy Scripture: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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