If your heart was bad, would it be ok with you if your doctor put in an appearance but didn’t complete the surgery to fix it because it would take too long and would make him miss his tennis match? Would it be ok with you if he left you with a bad valve, or a vein that was 90% blocked?
Thanksgiving that comes from a whole heart is what God wants and deserves. He expects no less.
This presents a problem. For, our Lord Jesus says that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These defile a person.” (Matt. 15:19-20) Our hearts are diseased, sick with sin and defiled. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment,” Isaiah laments. We cannot really offer the thanksgiving God deserves. So, why bother trying? See if your mother would accept this as an excuse for not thanking her for your Thanksgiving dinner!
Yes, our sins make thanksgiving a problem. They corrupt everything we do! So, we must look to God for mercy and grace. We must hope that His heart will be turned to us so that He will accept our thanksgiving and help us freely. And, you can be sure that He will! For, Psalm 111 tells us, “The Lord is gracious and merciful.” This is His nature. Etch these words deeply in your mind and heart and remember them! “The Lord is gracious and merciful.” God gives you His gifts – including His acceptance of yours – because He is good and He loves you, even though you don’t deserve them!
This is certainly true with the greatest of His gifts: His forgiveness of your sins and eternal salvation. Jesus gained these for you by His own death for you on the cross, which took place long before you even existed. And, Jesus and His salvation are received by you through faith alone, and not because of anything you do. “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame,” Scripture says. And, when that faith seems like something for which you can take credit – “We have found the Messiah!” Andrew tells his brother – remember that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17) Andrew found Jesus because John the Baptist pointed Him out to him. God has graciously sent you His message about Jesus. Be thankful for it! Listen to it and believe it! “Give thanks to the Lord with your whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” This is what pleases God, just as those who work hard to prepare a Thanksgiving feast are pleased when you come to eat it and enjoy it. This, ultimately, is the expression of thanks that God desires.
But, what is this “company of the upright, the congregation” that the Psalm mentions? It is the people sitting here with you and giving thanks to God with you. Don’t just join them in giving thanks. Give thanks to God for them!
God says that you are sitting in the midst of the “company of the upright.” What is meant by “upright”? Is it good? Straightlaced? Holier-than-thou? Perhaps you sometimes come across this way, especially when you don’t go along with, and at times even speak out against, some of the ways people act and think. Such things will happen, for, even though we live in this world, we are not of this world. “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter,” we confess with Isaiah. Our lives belong to God and are His to direct and shape in His ways; and they are good ways, designed and planned for our good and the good of others. If following them means being called a holier-than-thou, so be it.
But, we’re not here because we’re holier-than-thou. We’re not! In fact, in and of ourselves we are not holy at all! You know what we say week after week: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) This is the honest truth. We confess it forthrightly and together, because “God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God receives sinners! And, this is the place where you can be a sinner without fear. Here God takes our sins away and declares us to be upright, forgiven and even holy in Jesus. Thanks be to God for this message and those who confess it with you!
For, we need one another, just as we need the Lord’s message. We need the support and encouragement we give to one another, and God needs us to be His mouths and hands to speak of and point to Jesus. John the Baptist was this to his disciples. Andrew was this to his brother, Peter. You are God’s hands and mouth to your brothers and sisters here, as well as to people who are not here. We don’t point to ourselves and talk about ourselves and what we can offer. We talk about and point to our God, and what He offers us here in Christ.
“The Lord bestows His riches on all who call on Him,” Paul tells us in Romans 10. These riches are gained for us by Christ; freely given us by His Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament; and are received by all who believe, whether young or old, rich or poor in the things of this world. We are all rich, forever and infinitely rich, in Jesus! and so, this day, which begins a new year in the Church, we set the tone for the whole year and say:
“Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.”