SCRIPTURES – Ps. 103; Deut. 26:1-11; 1 Thess. 3:9-13; Luke 12:13-21
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Old Testament Reading Deuteronomy 26:1-11
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.” Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.
And you shall make response before the Lord your God, “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.
Epistle 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Holy Gospel Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Psalm 103
What a sad story it is that Jesus tells, regarding the rich man whose land produces abundantly and yet who ultimately loses everything, including his very soul, because of his greed. If only he had listened to Moses and followed what he said in Deuteronomy 26!
Moses in Deuteronomy 26 sounds like a mother giving instructions to her young child who has just received a gift from her father. “Ok, now go over to Daddy, give him a hug, and tell him, ‘Thank you, Daddy!’” I mean, Moses not only tells the people that they are to give thanks to God; he tells them when to do so; where to do so; how to do so; what words they are to say; and even the attitude they should have. Talk about treating them as children! But, that’s just the point: they – and we – are children: God’s children. Moses drives this point home by 10 times in 11 verses referring to God as, “the Lord your God.” The Lord of all has committed Himself to you as your eternal Father! So, then: be His child. Entrust yourself to His care by following His good teaching and rejoice in His blessings! If the man in Jesus’ story had taken this to heart and followed Moses’ instructions, his end would have been very different.
Take to heart what the Lord your God teaches today about giving thanks. He is a great and awesome God, the Creator of heaven and earth to whom belong all things and from whom has come all that you have. And, more than that: He is your life! He is your eternal Father who in His Son has purchased you for Himself. Your life does not consist of wealth and possessions, so that the more you have of them the more you have of life and the greater is the life you have. Your life consists of God. To have Him – to be His – is to have all things. One day this will be seen, as He will require of you an accounting of your life. The things of this life will be of no benefit then!
True life is the life that is in God. It is wonderful to know this! It is also a challenge to believe this. It is not readily apparent that our lives are in God, for God is often not very apparent in our lives. In fact, He can seem very distant.
Take the man in our Gospel reading who asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Perhaps the man had good reason to ask for Jesus’ help. Perhaps he was being ripped off by his brother. Maybe he wasn’t being greedy but just wanted what was fair. We don’t really know. What we do know is that Jesus refused to get involved. “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Your Lord, you see, will not always involve Himself in your life. He may let you suffer harm by being taken advantage of or being abused in some way. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that all will go well in your life. God will not necessarily take your side and step in to help. His distance at such times makes thankfulness, and even faith itself, difficult.
And then, there’s His distance and apparent lack of help at the end of life, when a person’s soul is required of him. God may require the soul of someone who recently retired and has just begun to relax, eat, drink and be merry. It doesn’t seem fair to require his soul of him then! The Lord may require the soul of a person who is young and in good health, while letting an elderly person who is weak and sickly and wants to die linger on and on. The Lord can seem very distant in death, which seems to be a very visible and final denial of the life and hope we have in Jesus. Where is God then?
Finally, there’s one place where God’s seeming distance can be especially troubling; and that’s in worship. He’s very close to us here in church, right? At least, that’s what we’re taught. Shouldn’t we feel His presence and feel very close to Him, then? But, the fact that we gather together at a routine time every week, at a routine place, to say routine words and perhaps hear a routine sermon can make worship very routine and uninspiring; and God can seem distant. When this happens to you – and it will; it is a common problem for us sinners – take the words of Psalm 103 upon your lips: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” Remember His benefits! Name them and recite them!
And notice especially the benefit Psalm 103 lists first: “He forgives all my sins.” Don’t just say the words. Think upon them. Think about how, to forgive all your sins, God committed Himself to you.
God the Father chose to send His Son into the flesh to be one with you.
God the Son came to take upon Himself all of your sins and all that goes with them – sicknesses, sufferings, sorrows, betrayals, temptations from Satan, death, and hell – that He might save you from them.
God the Holy Spirit brings all that Jesus did for you to you. He made you God’s child in Holy Baptism. He opens your heart and mind to God’s Word.
God commits Himself to you as your Father! A child cannot make anyone be his father, can he? Even less can you take the almighty and eternal Lord as your God and Father. He must choose to be your Father and give Himself to you. In Jesus He has done so! God is “the Lord your God” because He forgives all your sins. Every other blessing comes from this first blessing. And so, when you are sick and suffering you can confidently pray to Him for help, for He who forgives all your sins will heal all your diseases. It may be in this life; it may be after this life, in the resurrection. He is the Lord your God, and so you will see it!
And, when your sins trouble you – especially when the feeling that God is distant comes upon you, and you doubt God and feel weak in faith and guilty because of this – again, remember the first gift God gave to you: your forgiveness. “A wandering Aramean was my father,” Moses told his people to recite when they gave thanks to God. God did not choose Abraham because he was so much better than others and so much stronger of faith. He was an idol worshiper, a follower of false gods when the Lord of all revealed Himself to him and called him! He did not deserve God’s goodness and love. None of us do. Out of freely given forgiveness and love God called and changed Abraham; and He will change you. Entrust yourself to His care; follow Him as your good Father; and, rejoice in His blessings! This may not change your life; but it will change you. God will change you. He will fill you with His eternal life! Psalm 103 says:
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him!
God’s everlasting love makes His people everlasting. Their souls are not required of them; they are welcomed by God into heaven and received with great joy!
Rejoice, then, in the Lord your God and in all the good that the Lord your God so freely and abundantly gives to you! Bless the Lord, O you souls! Remember all His benefits and thank Him for them! They are gifts from His open hand, abundantly given in Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord. Amen.