In Nomine Iesu
November 22, 2018
Dear Saints of Our Savior,
The text for this morning’s sermon is from Psalm 95, which we sang a few minutes ago. (It’s on p. 4 of the bulletin.) More specifically, the text for this morning’s sermon is the first word of the first verse of this first and foremost Psalm of Thanksgiving: Come! The entire Psalm is about giving thanks; but the first word is the most important word of all: Come!
Psalm 95 first became “famous” when it was sung every morning by monks in monasteries in the middle ages. That morning service has evolved over the years into what we know as the “Matins” service. Psalm 95 is still a standard part of the Matins service, made so by the monks who, of course, sang the Psalm in Latin. They didn’t sing, “Come.” They sang “Venite.” That’s why Psalm 95 in this morning’s service is titled “Venite.” It’s the first word of the first verse of the first and foremost Psalm of Thanksgiving. Come!
But whether you sing it in English or Latin, or German or Hebrew, what doesn’t change is that this first word is an imperative. It’s a command. It tells us what we must do. And if we’re going to get thanksgiving right, then the first thing we must do is “Come—Venite.” Notice it doesn’t say, “Make yourself comfortable.” Nor does it say, “Sit back and enjoy the show.” Nor does it say, “Have an attitude of gratitude.” It says, “Come—Venite.”
And come you have! Here you are! Good on you! You have left the kitchen in disarray. You have turned off the TV. You have placed one foot in front of the other, piled into in the car, and you have come to the house of the Lord. And now you are really ready to get on with the big and bold business of thanksgiving. O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving, let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise.
The thanksgiving God desires happens in public and in private. This is the public part—the part that can’t be missed—the part where you open your mouth and make a joyful noise. It’s big and bold, assertive, exuberant, and unafraid. On Thanksgiving we leave behind a world of digital, downloaded, Spotified songs for our private listening pleasure. And instead, we open our mouths with our fellow redeemed to make our own music—to unite our voices to sing the praises of our great God. If you’re keeping quiet this hour—if you’re not making a joyful noise—you’re doing Thanksgiving wrong.
That’s why there’s so much singing here in every service. It’s what we do. The guilty can’t sing worth a darn. Those ashamed find it hard to carry a tune. The fearful and the anxious—they’re just too timid to sound out their praises to God. But those who are forgiven—they can’t help but sing. Those who’ve been redeemed by Christ the Crucified—they can’t keep their mouths shut. Those who have surrendered their fear and anxiety to the God who loves them—they’re ready to make music in their hearts. Having come here into the presence of God, we sing; we sing because that’s what we’re going to be doing in God’s presence for all eternity. (This is all just the prelude to a heavenly Divine Service that will never end.)
Thanksgiving (whether in heaven or on earth) always declares what God has done. Psalm 95 gets it just right: For the Lord is a great God and a great king above all gods. The deep places of the earth are in His hand; the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His for He made it and His hand formed the dry land. Thanksgiving is third-person praise. It’s all about Him and what He has done; not about me or you. When our personal tastes and preferences become the most important thing, well, that’s not thanksgiving. That’s selfish and self-serving. Go that route and you become the center of attention, instead of the God who is the Savior of sinners.
Sinners like us need to be shrunk down to size—so the Psalmist takes us to the sea. The sea is big and it makes you feel small to stand on the shore. We get a sense of that every time we walk two blocks east of here to Lake Michigan. In the ancient world the sea was especially big and scary. Those crashing waves and roaring waters came to symbolize all the things that threaten us—all the things that scare us and seem so beyond our control. None of us will be setting sail today. But even on Thanksgiving, your worries and fears may loom large. There are things in your life that you cannot control—that you cannot fix or change or cure.
Psalm 95 gives us hope and confidence with one simple sentence: The sea is His for He made it. In other words, the waves that threaten to wash you away—the frightening things—the things that keep you up at night—the things that you can’t control—know that your great God controls them. Nothing is beyond His grasp and power. If He could make the sea and everything in it—if He could calm the wind and the waves with only a word from His mouth—then today you can shrink your fear and open your mouth and give thanks like a pro.
Psalm 95 teaches us that Thanksgiving begins when you “come” here before God’s presence. Thanksgiving continues as you open your mouth and make a joyful noise, and as you learn to trust Him with your troubles. But Psalm 95 also teaches how thanksgiving trickles down into the nooks and crannies of your day-to-day life—far removed from this fourth Thursday in November.
It turns out that Thanksgiving involves not just our minds and our voices, but our entire body from head to toe. O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. This little sentence about bowing down and kneeling isn’t just a primer on the proper posture for those in the pews. For when you bow down and when you kneel you are making yourself small. This is how thanksgiving plays out the other 364 days of the year—on Monday through Saturday as you work at the callings God has given you. Thanksgiving leads you to make yourself small—to set aside your big ego and your big appetite and your big desire to be in control over everyone else and call all the shots.
Thanksgiving shrinks you down to size—helps you to see the world in proper perspective—so that you can seek and serve the needs of others—so that you can do the little things that make all the difference. But let me show you. I can demonstrate this better than I can say it. ****The Psalm says “Let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” You know what it means to bow down. You know what it means to kneel. But the word for “worship” here (the word for Thanksgiving here) makes us even smaller. The Hebrew word literally means to prostrate yourself. That means to go down low like this . . . You can’t go lower or smaller than this. When I’m prostrate I go from six feet four inches down to about 8 inches. Thanksgiving makes us small in service to others.****
I can tell you that when you get down on your hands and knees—when you make yourself small like that—you get dirty. That’s how thanksgiving goes sometimes. Being thankful means being unafraid to get our hands dirtied in the nitty-gritty work of the vocations God has given us. When you do the hard work that you’d rather not do—when you bend down to help your neighbor—when you wash the dishes on Thanksgiving—when you work to forgive the person who has sinned against you—when you sacrifice for your spouse—that’s thanksgiving—personal, private, seen perhaps by no one except the Lord. But He delights in it. And every time you make yourself small like that, you are walking in the way of Jesus—Jesus, who made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant—who humbled Himself becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross—to save you from your sins.
He is our God, and we—we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. He is yours. And you are His. He’s the Shepherd. You’re the sheep. Psalm 95 teaches that thanksgiving begins with you coming here. But your redemption—your salvation—that began with the Son of God coming here. He came down from heaven for us and for our salvation. He made Himself small in the womb of a virgin, and on a Roman tool of torture. He came to earth as bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh—to bear your sins—and to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
My fellow sheep, as you do your grazing later today, don’t forget that we are the people of His pasture. The plenty we enjoy is the plenty He supplies. Food and drink, house and home, wife and children—they are all good gifts from our giving God. As the sheep of His hand we know that those hands of His have nail-scars in them—the deep marks of His deep love for you. And on the day of resurrection, you will hear that deep love expressed by the Lord Jesus in one simple word when He calls you from death to life: Venite! Come!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.