Now Thank We All Our God
November 25th/26th, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
“Now Thank We All Our God.” Are there more appropriate words to sing during a celebration of Thanksgiving? We do indeed have much to be thankful for. As a congregation, we have been blessed in many ways. Our school remains strong even in uncertain times. We operate many wonderful ministries here on a bare-bones budget. Through our Branching Out initiative we have been given the opportunity to invest in the future of our Church and School so that even as other Lutheran Schools in the area struggle, we can fill the need for Lutheran education for the entire southwest corner of Macomb County. Worship attendance is up – we’ve been getting close to 600 people a weekend since school started. Our music program rivals what is heard at the colleges and seminaries of our church. This congregation has much to be thankful for.
“Now Thank We All Our God.” Thanksgiving is a chance to set aside time to reflect on life and consider what we have to be thankful for. We as a congregation have much to be thankful for. I don’t know what you have to be thankful for in your personal lives. Maybe you are thankful for your family and the opportunity to gather together with them for a meal of celebration. Maybe you are thankful for your job and the fulfillment it gives you. Maybe you are thankful for your health. Maybe you are thankful for your home or for this country. Whatever it is that you’re thankful for, the words we just sang a few moments ago, “Now thank we all our God,” are appropriate. God is indeed the one to whom we owe our thanks. He indeed is the one who has blessed us with the good things of this life. As James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
The leper in today’s Gospel reading certainly had reason to thank God. After all, he was cleansed of his leprosy. Think of all that Jesus had given to this man by taking away his disease. He gave him back his family, a family he would not have been able to see while he lived in exile in the leper colony. He gave him back hope and friendship, because no matter who lived in the leper colony, it was a hopeless place, filled with people who were awaiting their own death. And Jesus gave him back his religion. Even though the man was not an Israelite, the Samaritan temples would have declared him unclean just like the Temple in Jerusalem did. He would have been prohibited from sacrifice. Yes, this man certainly had much to be thankful for. “Now Thank We All Our God.”
But what if he didn’t? What if you don’t? What if Jesus had never healed this man? Would he still cry out in thanksgiving to the God who said “no”? Would you? Maybe you aren’t feeling particularly thankful this year. Maybe your health isn’t good. Maybe you are mourning a seat at your table that will be empty for the first time. Heaven may have gained a saint, but the holiday celebrations here lost a mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, brother or sister. Maybe it’s nothing personal, but simply an overall frustration at the suffering in the world around us: refugees that no one wants, terrorist attacks around the world, Christians executed for confessing Christ, disease that strikes the youngest and oldest alike. The world is full of death and sadness; maybe you’re just not feeling particularly thankful this year.
If that’s the case for you, the words we sang just a few moments ago are even more appropriate.
Now thank we all our God, With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms Has blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love And still is ours today.
What makes these words so appropriate for times of frustration or sadness or grief is the story behind them. These beautiful words of thanksgiving were written under some of the most horrifying conditions ever. They were written in the year 1636 at the height of 30 Years War, which was one of the most devastating and bloody wars in history. In certain parts of Germany, over 70% of the male population was killed. Think about that: 70%. What if 70% of the men you know were killed? According to the last census, if 70% of American men died today you would need about 106 Million graves to bury them. To put that number in perspective, think about it like this. If you add together every single American Soldier killed in combat in any war in our Nation’s 240 years, the number is about 1.4 Million. To match the devastation of the 30 Years War, 106 Million would have to die in a single generation. Are we to be thankful even then? One historian describes the state of Germany after the war this way:
The population of Hesse had shrunk to a fourth of its former number. Augsburg was reduced from 80,000 to 18,000; Frankenthal, from 18,000 to 324; Wurtemberg, from 400,000 to 48,000. . . . In Ummerstadt, near Coburg, which before the war had a population of 800, so great was the reduction that in two years not one child was born. It is a bloody history which these facts record.
Based on those numbers alone, the population of these towns went from a combined 500,000 to a combined 66,000. The country was devastated, lying in ruins, boasting a population of corpses that outnumbered its living bodies. How could such a joyful hymn of thanksgiving be written in such a terrible time?
Because our life in the Lord is one of thanksgiving regardless of the circumstances. Our thanksgiving is a fruit of faith that pours forth from the new hearts our Lord has given us. Our life is one of thankfulness regardless of circumstances because we know that this life is fickle. We know that this world with its bountious blessings and its copious curses does not define who we are as children of Jesus. We have been reconciled to God and clothed with the righteousness of Christs. As the Prophet Isaiah says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” We are given to rejoice in the Lord because of this reconciliation, because we have been declared righteous before God. As baptized children of the Lord, we no longer regard ourselves according to what we see, as Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. . . . if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We see ourselves for who we really are: children of the heavenly Father, baptized into the name of Jesus.
It is indeed a good practice to take a step back and evaluate our lives, to see what we have to be thankful for. But as the baptized family of God, we do so not according to worldly standards of success and failure, but according to the word of forgiveness and cleansing spoken to us by our Lord. Even if Jesus had not healed that leper, the sick man would still have much cause to thank God, for Jesus was working something bigger than a cure for any earthly disease. That leper, even though he was healed by Jesus, later died from something else. So did every other person Jesus healed as he walked this earth. The temporary blessings of God in this life are worthy of thanks, but they pale in comparison to the eternal life he won for us on Calvary’s Cross.
Seeing the world through the lens of the cross opens our eyes to all we have to be thankful for. We know that we are forgiven. We have eternal life. When all hope seems lost, when we are surrounded only by despair, we cling to the hope of the Gospel and the promises of God. We cling to the eternal life that we have been given by the death of Jesus. We cling to the body and blood of our Savior given for us to eat and drink. We cling to the clear teaching of God’s Word and the promise of salvation. We rejoice in God’s gifts of life and forgiveness, and are ever thankful for them.
And so even in the midst of a terrible and bloody war, the hymnist was able to write a beautiful hymn of thanksgiving because he knew where his true citizenship lay: not in a Germany which was devastated by the ravages of war, but in the kingdom of heaven as a forgiven child of God. So we too are thankful even if we lose everything we own in this body and life. For we do not regard ourselves according to the flesh, but according to the new creation given to us in Holy Baptism.
So enjoy today. Enjoy sitting with family or friends around a good meal and a day off, either laughing or cursing as you watch the Lions be the Lions. Be thankful for the good gifts of this life. It is good to give thanks unto the Lord for all he has given us: for house and family and health. It is right and proper to thank the Lord for these things; they are blessings from him. But such blessings are temporary. They will all end one day. Yet even if we lost them all tomorrow, or if we never had them, never had a family that loved us, never had health to be thankful for, even if life this side of heaven has been one struggle after another, we still have much to be thankful for, for we know that the greatest blessing our Lord has ever given us is the forgiveness of sins won for us by his Son. He has clothed us with the garments of salvation, and has covered us with the robe of his own righteousness. He has prepared a room for each of us in the Father’s mansion. So:
All praise and thanks to God The Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reins With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God, Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, And shall be evermore.
 James 1:17
 LSB 895 st. 1
 The History of Protestantism by J. A. Wylie: http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Voice/History.Protestant.v3.b21.html#3-21-11-5
 Isaiah 61:10a
 2 Corinthians 5:16-17