Thanksgiving Sermon based on Psalm 116:12-14
Text: What shall I return to the LORD
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
“How can I ever repay you?” These words are often spoken after someone has done something above and beyond what was necessary. Perhaps, you have spoken words like these to someone else. They came and helped you when you were in a real bind. Because of their assistance, you were able to accomplish what you needed to accomplish or get through a difficult time. You feel that you can never thank them enough for what they have done for you. How appropriate these words are for a Thanksgiving service. As we pause and look at all that God has done for us, we echo the words of the psalmist: HOW CAN I REPAY THE LORD FOR ALL HIS GOODNESS TO ME? 1. I Will Lift Up The Cup Of Salvation. 2. I Will Fulfill My Vows.
Before we talk about repaying the Lord, let us pause and talk about his goodness to us. Prior to the words of our text, the psalmist talks about how he was entangled in the cords of death. We do not know exactly who wrote this psalm. It may have been written by King David. The words of the psalm echo many of his psalms. There are many occasions in David’s life when it looked as though his life would end. We think of his fight against Goliath. We think of the years of being on the run from King Saul. David had to flee from his own son, Absalom. Yet, in spite of the fact that it looked as though his life would come to an end, God delivered him from death. We read in the verses preceding our text, “For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” (Verses 8&9) Whomever the author of this psalm was, he had been delivered from death. That is why he praises God for his goodness.
This is indeed the first place where we can see God’s goodness in our lives. The cords of death, eternal death, entangled us. The reason for this is the fact that we are, by nature, sinners. We are born enwrapped in the cords of death. We see evidence of this sinful nature that is still a part of us every single day. We sin against our God with our discontent with what he has given us. We sin against God when we complain about our situations in life, as if God doesn’t know what he is doing. We sin against him with our thoughts, words, actions and even our attitudes. If we had been left on our own, the cords of death would have wrapped themselves tighter and tighter around us. We would have been lost forever, condemned to eternal death in hell.
However, the Lord showed his goodness to us in sending Jesus to the earth to be our Savior. Jesus came on a divine rescue mission to set us free from these entangling cords of death. He did so by living a perfect life for us. This was the first part of God’s plan to set us free. Jesus had to be perfect because we are not. Jesus lived as our Substitute. Then, he also died as our Substitute. Jesus faced the death that we deserved. When he died on the cross, he stepped into our place and faced God’s anger against our sins. Every single sin that you and I have ever committed was paid for by Jesus during those hours on the cross. As Jesus rose on Easter morning, he showed us that those cords of death that threatened to entangle us for eternity were cut loose. We have been freed from them. When you and I were brought to faith, we received this freedom, both for today and for all eternity. This is the greatest evidence of God’s goodness to us.
On Thanksgiving, we are also minded to think of all of the blessings that we have been given. We think of the many spiritual blessings that are ours. We think of the forgiveness of sins that is ours. We think of God’s Word, where he reveals his love for us and his wonderful plan of salvation. We think of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, where faith is created and strengthened. We think of the assurance that, when we go to God in prayer, he will hear every one of them and he will answer our prayers in the way that is best for us. We think of the certainty that is ours of eternal life in heaven with our God. The list of our spiritual blessings goes on and on.
We also think of our physical blessings. At times, we may think that we do not have so much. However, when we are honest with ourselves, we think of the fact that we often have more than enough to eat. We have more clothing than we know what to do with. We have nice homes in which to live. We have this wonderful country, with all the freedoms that are ours. We could go on and on talking about all the wonderful ways that God has shown his goodness to us.
This is not to say, of course, that everything is perfect. We still live in a sinful world, where there will be setbacks. There still is pain and loss. Yet, we can still praise God for his goodness. He has assured us that everything that happens to us is, ultimately, for our benefit. We also have his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. Though we may not see it at the moment, we still can be confident in the Lord’s goodness to us.
Now we ask, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” The answer is, “You can’t.” You can never repay God in the sense that you can do enough to compensate him adequately for everything he has done for you. However, you can “repay” him in the sense that we honor him with love and gratitude, which is an appropriate expression of thanks for all the goodness that he has shown to you. The psalmist gives us two ways to do this.
First, he says, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.” (Verse 13) The cup of salvation originally referred to a cup of wine that was drunk at the end of a Passover meal, which was part of a thank offering that was observed in the Old Testament. It was called “the cup of salvation,” because the thank offering and the meal celebrated deliverance by the Lord. It was a celebration and a proclamation of the Lord’s deliverance. By lifting the cup, you were giving thanks to God. You also would be proclaiming to those who were there that the Lord had delivered you.
This is one way that we can show our thanks to God for his goodness. When we receive a gift, and we want to show it to someone else, we often will tell them who gave it to us. We will say, “Look at the watch my dad gave me.” “Look at the picture my daughter drew for me.” You call attention to both the gift and the giver. When we think of God’s amazing goodness to us, how can we not help but tell others about it? We can do so by telling our children and grandchildren about it. We can do so when we tell our friends and neighbors about what Jesus has done for us. We can do so when we support with our prayers and our offerings those who go around the world in our name to tell what Jesus has done for us. We lift the cup of salvation for all to see. We want other people to see the goodness that the Lord has shown to them, too. We want them to know where all of the things that they enjoy in life came from. We want them to know that God loves them, too, and that Jesus died for them, too. This is one way that we can show our love and gratitude for all that God has done for us.
Another way that the psalmist talks about “repaying” the Lord is, “I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.” (Verse 14) It was common for people of the Old Testament to take a vow to do something to thank God. We don’t often take vows today. There are some vows that we do take. For example, on the day of our confirmation, we took a vow. We vowed that each day of our lives will be a fitting response of thankfulness for the salvation that God has given us. We vowed that we would be faithful in our use of Word and Sacrament. We vowed that we would strive to live lives according to God’s Word. We vowed that, with God’s help, we would remain faithful, even to the point of death. Husbands and wives also made a vow that they would love and honor each other. They vowed that they would be there for each other in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad times.
This is another way that we can “repay” the Lord for his goodness to us. We thank God when we fulfill the vows that we have made before him. We strive to live these vows in our lives. We thank God when we live lives that glorify him. We thank God when we come and listen to his Word and read and meditate on it. We thank God when we are faithful in our use of the sacraments. We thank God when husbands and wives live according to God’s plan for marriage. We might say that our entire life is one big “Thank you” for all that God has done for us.
Unfortunately, we must admit that our thankfulness has not always been what it should be. At times, our thankfulness has been shallow, at best. We thank God when things are going well, but when they aren’t, we complain. We thank God when we think about it, but often we go on our merry way without thinking about it. We say that we thank God, but our lives often portray a different message. We pray that the Lord would forgive us for our shallow thankfulness. We pray that he would forgive us for the times when our deeds haven’t matched our words. Again, here we find our reason for thanksgiving because we know that, for the sake of Jesus, our sins have been forgiven. They have been taken away from us as far as the east is from the west. We pray that God would help us to be more thankful and that this attitude of thanksgiving would show itself in every aspect of our lives.
When we say to someone, “How can I ever repay you?” we know that we really never can. We might offer some trinket to show our appreciation. We might help them when we see that they have a need. However, truth be told, we can never truly repay them. How much more when we think of all that God has done for us. He takes care of all our needs, both physical and spiritual. He has sent his Son to rescue us from hell. He has promised eternal life to us. We know that we can never truly repay him. Yet, we certainly can thank him for all that he has done for us. In this sense, we are like a child who is drawing a picture for their parents. He knows he cannot repay them for everything that they have done for them. However, this picture is his attempt to thank them. May God fill our hearts with the attitude of gratitude, so that our lives are living expressions of our love for him. Amen.
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