Thanksgiving Sermon based on Genesis 8:20-22
Text: Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
What picture comes to your mind when you think of the beginning of Thanksgiving Day? Perhaps, you think of the pilgrims. They held a day of thanksgiving in 1621 to celebrate their first harvest in the New World. If you are a historian, you might note that the first official proclamation of a day of thanksgiving was issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, where he said, “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving.” Obviously, there were other celebrations of thanking God for his many blessings over the centuries. Today, as we study this account from the book of Genesis, we come together and mark A TIME OF THANKSGIVING 1. For Past Deliverance, 2. For Present Blessings, and 3. For Future Promises.
Our text follows the great flood. We remember that God destroyed the world through the waters of a flood. God caused rain to fall for forty days and nights. Only Noah and his family had been spared in the ark that floated on the surface of the water. What we often forget is the fact that Noah was in that ark for over a year. Finally, the ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat. God told Noah to leave the ark. Now, put yourselves in Noah’s shoes. What would have been your priority at that moment? Would it have been to start building some sort of shelter for you and your family? Perhaps you might be minded building some sort of pen for the livestock? You might think that you really need to start plowing the ground so that you would have food. Those would be very understandable thoughts.
What was the first thing Noah did? “Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.” (Verse 20) As Noah looked to the east and west and north and south and saw this new world, he must have thought, “We never would have made it without God.” For that reason, he stops what he was doing, built an altar, and gave thanks to God.
As we look back on this year that is rapidly drawing to its close, would you say that everything went smoothly, that there were no setbacks, that there were no concerns? If so, may God be praised that he blessed you in this way! However, I believe it would be safe to say that was not the case for all of us. Yet here we are today. We can say, “I never would have made it without God.!” We can pause and thank our God for the deliverance that he has given us in the past.
Of course, the greatest deliverance in our past happened over 2,000 years ago, and that was the deliverance from sin. As scary as any situation that we have faced up to this point in our lives, as scary as it must have been for Noah as he sat in the ark and heard the rain fall and the was in that ark for over a year, that’s nothing compared to the situation that all of us were born into. We were born sinful. We see evidence of that every day. For example, think about our thankfulness to God. Are we always thankful for everything that God gives us? How often don’t we find ourselves complaining about what we have? How often don’t we compare what we have to what others have, and think that it’s just not fair? How often don’t we get something from God and, rather than being thankful, we are right on to the next thing that we want? This is just a small slice of the times that we sin. For this, we deserve something far worse than a universal flood. We deserve to be eternally destroyed in hell.
However, in his love, God came to our rescue. He sent his Son to be our Savior. Jesus came to the earth and lived a perfect life in our place. We can see this perfection typified by the many times that we read in the gospels that Jesus gave thanks to his Father. This was even true when there didn’t seem to be much, such as when he fed the 5,000. He started with five loaves of bread and two small fish, yet that was enough for him to be thankful to his Father for providing that. In the greatest act of rescue, Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sins. Our debt to God has been paid in full. His resurrection assures us that we have been forgiven. The Holy Spirit has entered our hearts and created the faith that makes the blessings of what Jesus has done our own. This greatest of deliverances is ample reason enough to pause today and give thanks.
We also note the fact that Noah sacrificed some of the animals that he had brought with him on the ark. Remember that these were the only living animals on the earth. It could have been very tempting to hold back on them. However, in thanksgiving, he offered what he had. He knew that he had been blessed with them and he thanked God with them.
This is also a good reminder for us, on this Thanksgiving, to think about all that God has given to us. It can be so easy, as we said before, to focus on what we don’t have. Yet, if we are being honest, we would have to say that we have been truly blessed. Just think for a moment of all the blessings that we enjoy. We have plenty of food to eat. We’ll probably experience that later. We have nice places to live. We have our vehicles. We often have more clothes than we know what to do with. We have the blessing of living in this country. Perhaps we can appreciate these blessings even more when we think of all the people in the world who don’t even come close to the standard of living that we enjoy. We truly have been blessed with many physical blessings.
On top of that, we have so many spiritual blessings that we enjoy, because we are the children of God. We have peace. We have peace with God because our sins have been forgiven. We have the privilege of coming to God in prayer, knowing that he hears every one of them and will answer in the way that is best for us. God has blessed us with giving us full access to his Word. There, we can go and be reminded again and again of his amazing love for us. He has given us the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, by which even the littlest ones are brought into his kingdom. We have the privilege of receiving the Lord’s Supper. What a blessing that is! As we come forward and receive that bread and wine, we know that we are also receiving the Lord’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. Each one of these blessings is more than enough for us to spend our lives in giving thanks to God. We give thanks to God for the blessings we are currently enjoying.
When God smelled the fragrance of Noah’s offering, he said, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Verse 22) What made the sacrifice so pleasing wasn’t because of what they were, but because of the faith in Noah’s heart. As a result, God makes a promise. He said that he would never again destroy the earth by means of a flood. It wasn’t because mankind had been fundamentally changed. God points out, “Even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” Noah and all his descendants would still sin. All are born with a sinful nature and would continue to act on it. Rather, God is showing his grace. He chose, in love, to place himself under this obligation.
Then God made another promise, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Verse 23) During the time of the flood, the normal succession of times and season was interrupted. Now God promised that would never happen again. As long as the earth exists, we can depend on the regular rotation of the seasons that are essential for our existence and well-being. This promise of God fills us with confidence as we face our future here on this earth.
This reminds us of all the promises that God has made to us about our future. We must all admit that we have no idea of what the future holds for any of us. That idea could be very unsettling, if we didn’t have the many promises that God makes when he says that he will care for us. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-32, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” When we start to feel concerned about our physical blessings, God tenderly reminds us that he will provide everything that we need. What about when we face a situation in our lives that is frightening? Perhaps it is a health issue, a work situation, or a financial problem. Listen to your Savior’s comforting promise in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Our God has made many promises about our future. How can we know that he will keep them? First, he is God and does not lie to us. Second, he is the almighty God and there is nothing that he cannot do. Third, he loves us. He showed that so clearly when he sent his Son to be our Savior. If he took care of our greatest need, surely, he will take care of all our other needs, as well.
We, also, have his greatest promise about our future. He promises that, when we leave this earth, we will spend our eternity with him in the glories of heaven. Jesus said in John 14:2-3, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Just think about that for a moment. Jesus has gone to heaven and even now is preparing our places. We are going to be in a place where there will never be anything that will hurt us or cause us concern. We will only have peace and joy for all eternity. Jesus has promised it and he will do it. We give thanks for the promises that God makes about our future.
It is so appropriate that we take this day to pause and give thanks to God. This is really what this day is all about. Of course, we would be remiss if we only stopped to give thanks to God this one day. As we have been reminded, we have every reason to give thanks to God every day of our lives. Let us spend our lives giving thanks to God for our past deliverance, our present blessings, and his promises about our future. Amen.
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