Normally, I would not post someone else’s sermon but I believe this is a unique message that shares God’s love for all of us. The preacher is Rev. Kenneth Klaus and this was last Sunday’s sermon (Nov. 22) for The Lutheran Hour. I pray it speaks to you as it did me.
Text: Ephesians 5:18b-21
” … But be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! The great miracle of Jesus’ resurrection is God’s assurance that He loves those who once were unlovable. By the Holy Spirit’s power may the lost come to faith and believe. May all of us this Thanksgiving send up a heart-song of thanks to the Lord. Amen.
Every once in a while a person reads Scripture and sees something which he had missed. What he sees has always been there, but this time he has discovered something different, something special. That was what happened to me as I prepared for this Thanksgiving week’s message. In the fifth chapter of Ephesians it says, “be filled with the Spirit…making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always.” What a beautiful thought: we should make a ‘heart-song of thanks to our Lord.’
But then I started to wonder, “Exactly what is a heart-song of thanks?” I wondered, “Have I ever seen such a thing?” Thinking back, the answer was, “Yes.” The incident in my memory happened, goodness 40 years ago at the Lord’s church I was serving in Lakefield, Minnesota. There I married a couple. She was 21 years old, a beautiful woman and a most striking bride. He? Well, he was 23, a level-headed, third-generation farmer who had movie-star good looks when he dumped his flannel shirt and work jeans and put on his starched and nicely fitting, rented tuxedo.
Both sets of parents approved of the union, but what was amazing is even the town gossips couldn’t seem to find too much wrong with this church-going couple. Yes, they were church going and they were thankful for their Savior and the love they had for each other. Even so, their prayers were not heart-song prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord. The weeks up to the wedding were marked by everyone grinning at this hand-holding, kissy-kissy, cuddly-wuddly couple. The wedding promised to be the social event of the summer season and sad were those who were not invited to the church. The service went well and nobody tripped, fainted, or messed up their vows. Husband and wife soon began to settle in to the rhythms of married life; but they never stopped doing little things for each other. He opened the door for her and when they stood side-by-side, she would always put her hand in his. They continued to give thanks to the Lord but there was not yet a heart-song of thanks.
The third year into the marriage they had a baby girl. She had her mother’s beautiful blonde hair and her father’s laugh. Two years later a boy joined the troop. He had just enough twinkle in his eye and enough “old nick” in his heart for everybody to know he was all boy… and in his case, being “all boy” was a good thing. The children grew strong and life was good. For their children prayers were offered up, but they did not give a heart-song of thanks.
The couple was conservative in their spending and, even in difficult times, their small farm turned a profit. Even when prices were low for corn and beans the Lord sent enough rain and sun to provide the couple with outstanding harvests. Understand our couple was never rich… they were just well off. It was a condition for which they were grateful to the Lord. They were grateful, but no heart-song of thanks was offered.
If you listen to the news at all, you would recognize that this was the kind of family which sociologists say no longer exists. A husband, a wife, two children all of whom treasured each other very much. I would love to tell you that things continued on that way and they all lived happily ever after. I would love to say that, but I can’t. About nine years into the marriage the wife began to notice she had some problems. Nothing major, really, just a tendency to get headaches and blurred vision after she had put in a difficult day. Sometimes extra rest helped, most of the time it didn’t. Then she began to notice she was dizzy, she dropped things, she became nauseous. To her concerned husband she said, “It’s nothing. Don’t worry.” But he knew it was something and he did worry. Eventually he made an appointment for her with the doctor. Took her to the appointment and provided honest answers to the doctor’s questions.
In short order the couple found themselves at one of the big hospitals in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The wife was poked, prodded, pinched, x-rayed, and MRI-ed. The “nothing” she had was a slow-growing brain tumor. Left untreated, it would eventually kill her. It would take time, but it would kill her. Surgery was scheduled and the couple prayed as they had never prayed before. There were requests and petitions but no heart-song of thanks.
The day before the surgery they sat down with their physician and he explained to them what would happen. He assured them that these kinds of surgeries usually went very well. They didn’t like that wordusually, and asked him to elaborate. The doctor explained, “After this surgery most people go home and live their lives without complication. But… as careful as your medical team tries to be, things can go wrong. Blindness, loss of memory, partial or total paralysis can occur. It doesn’t happen often,” he said, “but it does happen.”
I was with the couple the day of the surgery and had a prayer with both before the anesthesiologist arrived. There was a second prayer with the husband while his wife was in the five-hour surgery; and a third prayer when we were told the operation was over. When the surgeon stopped by, he reported, “All went well. There were no complications and the tumor is gone.” The husband asked, “Doctor, are there any side effects, you know, like the kind you mentioned?” The doctor honestly had to say, “I don’t know. We won’t be able to tell until the anesthetic has worn off and all of her senses come back on line.” We had a final prayer, but that prayer, while intensely sincere, was not a heart-song of thanks.
The wife awoke the next morning. She could see her sun-lit room and was relieved there was no blindness. That had been her greatest worry. She took inventory. Hands and arms moving? Check, they worked. Feet, ankles, knees, hips? Four more checks. Then the wife did something the doctor probably wouldn’t have liked. She reached over to her nightstand and took out her small purse and rummaged around until she found her mirror.
She held it up and was shocked by the giant white bandages which swathed her head. She knew she would be partially bald and was prepared for some bandages but this, this was overwhelming. That was when she noticed it, “It” was the lid of her right eye. It didn’t quite match up with the other. It looked like she was ready to give a wink… a wink which never came.
When the surgeon arrived, she asked, “Is this temporary?” His reply was a straightforward “Possibly, but probably not. We tried to be careful, but a small nerve may have been nicked. Still,” he said, “in the scheme of things it’s not so bad, is it?” Well, to her it was. This was something new, something unexpected. How would her husband react; what would he think? Would this eyelid thing be the only thing he could see when he looked at her face? She cried.
The husband got to the hospital about the same time as the doctor left the patient’s room. A nurse caught the husband in the hallway before he went in and told him of his wife’s distress. She heard her husband’s footsteps as he approached her room. She was watching his face just as intensely as he looked at hers. “Yes,” she thought to herself, “I was afraid it would be this way. He noticed my eyelid right away.”
You know, people have occasionally asked me if ever I have seen an angel. Yes, I have. That day, in a hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I saw an angel who looked like a big, sun-tanned farmer. You see, what that husband did next was almost angelic. He came to his wife’s bedside, leaned over, and kissed her lightly on the lips. Then once on each eye. Only then did he say, “It looks kind of mysterious. Like you’ve got a secret. Honey, I like it.”
It was at that moment that I saw a heart-song of thanks fly toward heaven. It came from the heart of a wife who knew her husband would always love her… that he would love her when she felt most unlovable. Now this Thanksgiving week you may be grateful for and pray about many things. Parents may say a prayer of thanks for a military son or daughter who has returned safely from overseas. You may look at your sleeping child and thank the Lord for the life which He has entrusted to you for a short time. Is there an illness which has abated? That is cause for thanks. But these are not the great heart-songs of thanksgiving to the Triune God. Have you seen the Lord’s sunset when the sky is brilliant with ever-changing hues of pinks, purples, reds, and blues? Have you seen Alaska’s crackling lightshow called the Aurora Borealis? Have you been through a storm and seen the glory of a double rainbow? Has a tornado missed your home; a flood left your property untouched? Have you felt very small as you looked into the heavens on a crisp, clear, moonless night and seen the Milky Way flowing across the heavens? Those are all reasons for thanks, but they are not the powerful heart-song of thanksgiving.
Has a medical test come back benign rather than malignant? Did you avoid an auto accident by the smallest of inches and the shortest of moments? Have you given thanks because a child has mastered a skill which seemed to be beyond their ability? Have you seen the coming of death release a loved one who had been in pain; have you stood by the grave of a friend or family member and been comforted by the knowledge that death was not the end and there would someday be a great and never-ending reunion in heaven? The causes for thanks are almost limitless. But, in my estimation, these are not the great heart-songs of thanks which we ought to offer up to the Lord. That heart-song comes at that moment when we realize that God loves us even though we are, because of our many sins, completely and thoroughly unlovable.
If you doubt me, look to Scriptures. See Moses, the shepherd of the Sinai. He had once been a powerful prince of Egypt, but now he was an exile, a criminal condemned to watch the sheep of his father-in-law in the most remote of locations. Ask Moses about the fear he felt, the change which was his when the Lord spoke to him out of a burning bush and called him to free the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. That day a heart-song of thanks would have been sung as Moses realized God loved and had a purpose for unworthy him.
Go to the palace of King David. Ask him about the events of his life. He would admit to being flattered when God’s prophet informed him he was to be king. But David would also confess that his greatest joy came when the Lord, looking at his sins of adultery and murder, still loved him and reclaimed him. That day there would have been a heart-song of thanks. You can hear his words in Psalm 51. David wrote: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit…. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Scripture shares the heart-songs of thanks from other people. Peter and Paul were different men in many ways. Peter was the rough Galilean fisherman used to working with his strong back and powerful arms. Paul was a Roman citizen who had been trained by the greatest Jewish teachers. Yet they share some things in common: they both denied their Savior and both were called to repentance and forgiveness. Paul could easily have been speaking for both these forgiven men when he wrote his heart-song of thanks to young Timothy, (1 Timothy 1:15). He said, “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. ”
Do you wish to hear Scripture’s heart-songs of praise? Look to the lepers who came to Jesus and prayed for mercy and healing. What must have their heart-songs sounded like after the Lord healed them and allowed them to go home healthy and well? About one of them, a Samaritan, this is said, (Luke 17:15-16) “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” Of course there is the publican, diminutive Zacchaeus. He was so touched by the love of Jesus he made his heart-song of thanks public. Hear the repentant tax collector as he promises: (Luke 19:8-10) “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” To that Jesus replied, “Today salvation has come to this house… For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Heart-songs of praise come from those who realize the Lord loves the unlovable and saves those who considered themselves unsavable. This Thanksgiving your heart-song of praise should not be based on what you have or own. It is not directly dependent upon the tonnage of your turkey, the quarts of cranberries, the piles of potatoes, or the plethora of pies which cause your Thanksgiving table to groan. Your heart-song of thanksgiving comes when you realize that God, perfect God, holy God, sin-hating God has looked down from heaven and loves you. In His all-knowing mind, He hears the worst of your thoughts and He loves you. He sees the worst things you have done and He loves you. He knows how you really feel about life, your job, your spouse, and He loves you. When nobody could love you, He does. When you are at your worst, your baddest, your meanest, your cruelest, even then He has continued to love you.
The heart-song of thanksgiving comes from knowing that there are no sins you have committed that His love will not forgive. True thanks comes in the knowledge that God sent His Son to this hospital ward which we call the world and allowed Him to take our place. Go to the Bethlehem manger and see the Baby, God’s Son and our Savior. Look into that manger and realize this perfect Child, this innocent, sinless Child grew up and died for your redemption. Travel with Him through His ministry, listen to Him as He says He has come to heal the sick; to feed the hungry, to forgive the guilty. Listen to His words of love; hear His calls to repentance and see how He was hated for being living proof of God’s grace.
Stand with Him at His trials and listen to the lies which were told about Him. See the abuse He suffers; listen to the sound of a hammer upon nails as He was crucified and died so repentant, believing hearts might be forgiven, freed from sin’s condemnation, and granted a place in heaven. Enter and look around His empty grave and be convinced that because Jesus lives, we shall live also.
See these things and know all this was endured for lost and sinful you. See these things and believe: (John 3:16-17) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” See these things and then, this Thanksgiving week, may the Holy Spirit allow you to send up a heart-song of thanks to your loving Lord. Amen.