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Thanksgiving Day, Cycle B (2015)

Why we should be thankful. This is a day for sermons on giving thanks (Sanctification) or focusing on God’s acts that lead to thanks (Providence, Justification by Grace, Atonement).

Psalm 126
This is prayer of deliverance from national misfortune. It is a Song of Ascents, meaning that it possesses an ascending style of poetic form or that it was a song sung by pilgrims to Jerusalem ascending a mountain to get to the temple. The Psalm begins with a reminiscence of the joy inspired by God’s favor toward his people in the past (perhaps the return of Exiles from Babylon in the last sixth century BC), the joy it brought and the testimony it made to all nations (vv. 1-3). Prayer is offered for such favor to be shown again (vv. 4-6). It is promised that those in mourning and oppressed shall experience joy/singing [rinnah] (v. 6), a kind of preferential option for the poor.

Application: A sermon on this Psalm will celebrate and extrapolate on the joy that God’s goodness inspires, how he makes good out of evil, and restores the fortunes of those who suffer (Providence and perhaps Social Ethics).

Joel 2:21-27
The book reports on the ministry of a cultic prophet who did his work in the Jerusalem Temple, probably during the period of Persian domination after the return of the Babylonian exiles (539 BD – 331 BC). (Some speculate that the concluding sections of the book [2:28ff] may be the work of an editor of the period of the Maccabees in the second century BC.) The book’s historical theme is the plague of locusts that had destructively descended on Israel (1:4). It is also characterized by apocalyptic/eschatological elements — references to the Day of the Lord (2:1-11, 28-32; 3:1-3, 9ff). There is an evolution in this concept from being a day of judgment, not one of salvation, to the suggestion that it is a theme of hope and salvation (3:1ff).

This lesson is the concluding portion of the prophet’s liturgy of national lament. Having called for repentance (2:12-17), these verses are a mixture of praise for God’s gracious response to cries for alleviating the plague of locusts and also further assurances apparently proclaimed by the Lord himself. The land is assured that it can rejoice [someach]; animals are assured that the pastures will be green (vv. 21-23). Other indications of flourishing nature are noted (vv. 23-25). The people of Israel are assured that they will eat in plenty and that Yahweh Elohim will be in the midst of them, fully confident that there is none like him (vv. 26-27). Eschatological proclamation and assurances, not included in the lesson, follow (vv. 28ff).

Application: This lesson affords opportunity to examine our physical blessings (Providence) in order to see them as undeserved divine gifts and so to stimulate our thanks (Sanctification).

1 Timothy 2:1-7
This book is one of the Pastoral Epistles, along with 2 Timothy and Titus, so named because of their concern with pastoral leadership. The author is not likely Paul; the vocabulary and style of the epistle differ in many ways from other Pauline Letters, and the theological convictions differ. The author seems to have known some of the authentic Pauline letters and the book of Acts. The letter is allegedly addressed to one of Paul’s missionary companions (Acts 16:16-19; 1 Corinthians 4:17). But the letter is less to Timothy than it is a general teaching to the congregation (probably Ephesus), with Timothy as a cipher for the ideal church leader. Its main purposes are: 1) To provide guidance on the problems of church administration; and 2) To oppose Gnostic-like false teaching of a speculative and moralistic type.

This lesson first provides worship instruction, urging prayers [proseuche] offered for everyone, including kings, so that the faithful may lead lives of good citizens (lives of quiet and peaceable lives) (vv. 1-2). The author then proceeds to speak of God our Savior, who desires everyone [pantos anthropous] to be saved/delivered [suzo] and come to the knowledge of truth (doubtless a critique of the heresies addressed by the Epistle) (vv. 3-4). He cites a liturgical fragment extolling Christ as the one mediator [mesites] between God and humanity, who as human is a ransom [antilutron] for all (vv. 5-6). The author then identifies himself as a herald and an apostle [apostolos] of the Gentiles (v. 7), an apparent attempt to identify himself with Paul.

Application: Sermons on this text might be devoted to how God gives us government as a good gift protecting us from evil (Providence and Social Ethics). Or we might focus on giving thanks for a God who wants all to be saved (Atonement, Justification by Grace).

Matthew 6:25-33
This gospel is an anonymous work based on oral traditions about Jesus (though traditionally attributed to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples [9:9]). The book may well have been written in the last third of the first century in Antioch, for its Bishop Ignatius seems to quote it as early as 110 AD. That it is written in Greek seems to rule out the disciple as its author. The polemic that this gospel carries on with the Pharisees suggests that its audience was Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 21:25; 23:39). This is also evident insofar as these Christians still practiced Sabbath observance (24:20).

In this lesson Jesus offers teachings in practical piety, in this case with special attention to undivided devotion to God and his kingdom as a way of putting off anxiety (v. 24). The only parallel text is Luke 12:22-32, but it differs in not as clearly relating the cure of anxiety to giving God undivided attention, as that lesson appears later in the Lukan account (16:13). But both Matthew and Luke have Jesus instruct his followers not to worry about life, what to eat, wear, or about the body (v. 25a). For life is more than food and the body more than clothing, he notes (v. 25b). After all, the birds, who are of less value than humans are cared for by God (v. 26). Worrying fails to add a single hour to a life span (v. 27). There’s no need to worry about clothing when one considers the lilies of the field, which grow without toil yet are marvelously clothed (vv. 28-30). Jesus concludes the discourse with questions about why worry about what we will eat, drink, or wear, for it is the Gentiles who strive for such things and God knows we need these things (vv. 31-32). He exhorts instead that we strive [zeta, literally “seek” or “desire”] first for the kingdom of God [basileia tou Theou] and his righteousness [dikaiosune] and all things will be given (v. 33). Given Matthew’s orientation to Jewish readers it seems reasonable to understand the concept of righteousness in this Hebraic manner. It is good to remind ourselves again that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral law. It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371). Matthew’s Jesus equates righteousness with Baptism (3:15).

Application: This lesson stimulates sermons proclaiming assurance that God will address the needs and problems of his people, for he is the one who provides good things (Providence and Justification by Grace) along with a construal of Sanctification that follows from these commitments (a life of thanks devoted to God’s kingdom as well as to things of the earth).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen