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Thanksgiving Day, Cycle C (2016)

Why we should be thankful. The focus on thankfulness can be developed with reference to the doctrines of Creation, Providence, Justification, and Sanctification.

Psalm 100
This is a Psalm of thanksgiving, probably a doxology for a collection. We are exhorted to make a joyful noise [rua, shout] to the Lord and to worship with gladness [simchah] and singing [birnanah] (vv. 1-2). Reminders are given that Yahweh is God who made us and that we are his people (v. 3). Exhortation is then given to enter his presence with thanksgiving [todah] and praise [tehillah] (v. 4). We confess that Yahweh is good, and his steadfast love [emunah, truth] and faithfulness [hasdaw, covenant loyalty] endure forever (v. 5).

Application: Sermons on this text will offer thanksgiving and praise to God for his love and faithfulness to his covenant. Justification by Grace and Sanctification are the main themes.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
The First Lesson is taken from a book that is primarily the work of one of the four oral traditions comprising the Pentateuch — D, a strand rooted in the sweeping religious reform under King Josiah in the seventh century BC. This literary strand also influenced the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, as well as 1 and 2 Kings. This book purports to be Moses’ Farewell Addresses to the people. It is really Three Addresses. This lesson is drawn from the concluding liturgies and exhortation of Moses’ Address. It seems to have been a liturgy for the presentation of first fruits in the temple sanctuary on the occasion of the harvest pilgrimage festival, the Feast of Weeks (16:9-12).

Israel is first directed when they have entered the promised land to gather some of the first fruits [peri] of the harvest and place them before a dwelling place chosen by the Lord God (vv. 1-2). Giving this offering to the priest, a litany of confession is prescribed, regarding a confession of Abrahamic origins and liberation from Egypt to the land of milk and honey (vv. 3-10). Instruction is given for all in the land to celebrate the bounty the Lord gives the people (v. 11).

Application: This is a lesson for celebrating how a thankful appreciation we might offer is a gift of God. Providence, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification are the key themes.

Philippians 4:4-9
This letter was written by Paul while a prisoner to Christians in a province of Macedonia. There is some debate about whether the epistle in its present form might be a combination of three separate letters (for an early theologian of the church named Polycarp spoke of several of Paul’s letters written to Philippi [Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 33]). Its immediate occasion was to thank the Philippians for their gifts, by way of the return of Paul’s co-worker Epaphroditus to Philippi (2:25-30), the church member who had brought these gifts to Paul. The main purpose of the apostle is to urge persistence in faith in face of opposition. This lesson is part of the author’s final appeals.

The recipients of the epistle are urged to rejoice [chairo] (v. 4). They are also exhorted to be gentle to all, for the Lord is near [engus] (v. 5). If is noted that there is no need to worry [merimante, be anxious] about anything. The faithful are to let their requests be known to God with thanksgiving, by supplication and prayer (v. 6). The benediction, the peace [eirene] of God which surpasses all understanding, that guards the people’s hearts, is uttered (v. 7). Paul urges readers to reflect on whatever is worthy of praise, and then to keep on doing what they have seen, and the God of peace will be with them (vv. 8-9).

Application: With the lesson sermons can be developed which proclaim the joy and peace of a life of thankfulness rotted in the eschatological vision which diminishes the importance of striving for the things of the world. Justification by Grace, Sanctification, and Eschatology receive attention.

John 6:25-35
We return to the last of the four gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. It is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels. In fact it is likely based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John.

Recently, though, some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s gospel. Appealing to the writings of a late-first/early-second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, especially pp. 423ff; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155). Regardless, of its origins, though, most scholars agree that the book’s main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

This lesson, unique to the Fourth Gospel, is a continuation of Jesus’ discourse on his relation to God; this is the beginning of his discourse on the bread of life. Crowds seeking Jesus after his feeding of the 5,000 cannot find him and then proceed to cross the Sea of Galilee to try to find him in Capernaum (vv. 23-24). Finding Jesus, he is addressed as rabbi [rabbi]. The Lord rebukes them on grounds that they have sought him merely because they wished to eat the food he had provided at the previous miracle. He rebukes them for seeking the food that perishes, not the food that endures for eternal life [zoe aionios]. God the Father is said to have set his seal [sphragizo] on Jesus the son of man [huios tou anthropou] (vv. 25-27). Although this title may be a way of asserting the typical character of Jesus as a human being, it seems more likely in this case to refer to the prophesied figure in Daniel 7:13-14 who was popularly regarded as the coming Messiah. The Johannine author makes clear the son of man descends, but his destiny is to be lifted up (1:51; 3:14; 8:28; cf. Archibald Hunter, Introducing New Testament Theology, p. 149). The crowd asks Jesus how to perform the works of God. Jesus first answers that faith in him who sent Jesus is the work of God (vv. 28-29). The crowd in turn requests a sign [semeion]. They refer to how the Jewish ancestors ate manna in the wilderness (vv. 30-31). Jesus responds by noting it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven, but his Father. The bread of God gives life (vv. 32-33). They ask for the bread, and Jesus responds he is the bread and that whoever comes to him will never hunger or thirst (vv. 35-36).

Application: This is a text for sermons proclaiming the good news that Jesus the bread of life condemns our self-seeking after worldly goods (Sin) and gives instead an intimacy and healing that removes fear and leads to spontaneous good works and a life of thanksgiving (Justification by Grace, Sanctification).

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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