Sermon title:  ISRAEL CELEBRATED THANKSGIVING DAYS 3 TIMES A YEAR

Leviticus 23:9-44

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, November 18, 2018

 

 

 

Before we get into the Word of God,

I’d like to talk about a bird.

 

Now, it’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day,

so you may be thinking,

“He’s going to talk about the turkey.”

 

Actually, though, I’m not.

 

The turkey has a reputation

for being a rather stupid.

 

And the bird I’m thinking of is quite intelligent.

 

He’s a little peach-faced lovebird named TohRee.

 

And TohRee has been living in our home for close to 15 years.

 

Without all the feathers, he’d be about the size of my thumb.

He spends most of his time

either on my shoulder or on Penni’s shoulder,

because that’s where he likes to be.

 

Lovebirds have an instinct to snuggle,

and because Penni and I are the only other birds he’s close to,

TohRee likes to snuggle right up against Penni’s neck

or against my neck

and take a nap.

 

If I become active and jostle him too much,

he’ll fly over to Penni

and try to nap on her neck—or vice versa.

 

Or, if one of us is doing something he finds interesting—

like opening a package with a cellophane wrapper—

he loves cellophane—

he’ll fly over to our shoulder,

walk down our arm,

to see what’s going on,

or try to get in on the action.

 

He is very social, so he prefers not to eat alone.

 

He’ll fly to his cage, pick out a large seed,

and fly back to one of us

so he can sit on our shoulder

while he cracks open the seed and eats it.

 

And he’s very intelligent.

 

He doesn’t talk,

but he understands a lot of what we say,

and he knows how to communicate his needs to us.

 

No matter where he is in the house,

if we call his name, he answers with a loud chirp.

 

And if we then say, “Would you like a scoop of seed?”

he’ll chirp excitedly, drop whatever he’s doing,

and fly over,

anxious for us to pour a scoop of fresh seed

into his feeder.

 

When he wants to take a bath,

he’ll fly over to the sink,

and chirp until we come and turn the water on.

 

So, by now I’ve made clear

that he can fly back to his cage

any time he wants to.

 

But, at his bed time,

he wants me to put him to bed.

 

He can fly back to his cage on his own any time he wants,

but at 6 o’clock every night,

he wants me to turn off the lights

put him into the cage,

and cover the cage with a blanket.

 

He can’t turn off the lights by himself, or cover the cage.

 

So, he flies over to a bannister post opposite his cage

and sits there chirping until I come.

 

I’ll ask him if he wants to go to bed,

and he’ll turn and face me, chirping much more excitedly,

like someone playing charades

when you guess correctly what they were pantomiming.

 

Yes, yes!!!  That’s right.

I want to go to bed.

 

But, if I hold out my finger for him to get on,

so I can put him into his cage,

he’ll stay put, and won’t get on.

 

He waits, instead, for me to turn off the lights.

 

Then after the lights are off,

I’ll invite him again to go to bed,

and now he’ll climb onto my finger

and let me put him in the cage.

 

And then, he’ll thank me with a tsk-tsk sound.

 

He thanks me for doing what he wanted me to do.

 

It’s a tsk-tsk that he uses to say, “Thank you.”

 

He makes that same sound to say “Thank you” on other occasions, too,

when I understand what he wants

and I do what he’s asking me to do.

 

And that’s the point of this story about the bird.

He’s not just intelligent,

but he’s also appreciative,

and uses his own little way of saying “Thank you.”

 

The Creator, who made such a cute little bird,

also taught the little creature to be thankful

and to express thanksgiving.

 

He implanted thankfulness in the bird’s mind

as an in-born instinct.

 

But we humans are much harder to teach that lesson.

 

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

weren’t content and thankful

for all the Lord’s gifts.

 

They wanted what didn’t belong to them,

and took it in disobedience to the Lord.

 

The people of Israel

were liberated from centuries of slavery in Egypt.

 

But they proved, over and over again,

to stubborn, disobedient and ungrateful.

 

So, the Lord had to teach them to be thankful,

and he had to instruct them exactly how to give thanks.

 

He did that through the Law of Moses.

 

In Exodus Chapter 23,

when the people of Israel were coming out of Egypt

and were about to form a new nation of their own,

God gave them laws

on how to worship

and how to express Thanksgiving to God.

 

And in Exodus Chapter 23, beginning with Verse 14,

he gave them 3 annual Thanksgiving Days—

each with a different name.

 

God told them:

 

14 "Three times a year

you are to celebrate a festival to me.

 

15 "Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread;

for seven days eat bread made without yeast,

as I commanded you.

 

Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt.

"No one is to appear before me empty-handed.

 

So, the first of the three Thanksgiving Days

God assigned to the nation of Israel

was the Feast of Unleavened Bread,

beginning with the “Passover.”

 

He told them to celebrate this feast

in the middle of the month of Abib on their lunar calendar,

which falls in March or April of our calendar,

depending on the phases of the moon.

 

It was an 8-day festival,

and during it the first fruits of the barley harvest

were presented to God in Thanksgiving.

 

Then God went on to assign them

their 2nd Thanksgiving Day,

 

16 "Celebrate the Feast of Harvest

with the firstfruits

of the crops you sow in your field.

 

This 2nd Thanksgiving Day came 50 days after Passover,

so it was also called Pentecost,

or the Festival of Weeks,

because they had to count 7 weeks

after Passover.

 

It would be in May or June on our calendar,

depending on when the Passover New Moon had appeared.

 

God told the Jews then

to give thanks for the first fruits of the wheat harvest.

 

And then he went on to tell them to observe a 3rd Thanksgiving:

 

"Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering

at the end of the year,

when you gather in your crops from the field.

 

This would occur in the 7th month of the Jewish lunar calendar,

so in our September or October.

 

That 7th month was actually filled with Thanksgiving celebrations.

 

On the 1st day of the month

there was the Festival of Trumpets.

 

Then on the 10th of the month the Day of Atonement,

or Yom Kippur.

 

And then on the 15th of the month

an 8-day festival began

that was called this Feast of Ingathering

or Feast of Tabernacles,

or Festival of Booths.

 

It came at the very end of their agricultural year.

 

By then the Jews had harvested all their crops:

their barley,

their wheat,

and all the figs and grapes and other crops.

 

So, God told them to give thanks

for the productivity of the land.

 

And they were to give thanks with rejoicing,

eating and drinking together

from the fruits of their labor.

 

God summed it up by saying,

 

17 "Three times a year

all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.

 

So, in the same way as we teach children to be thankful,

God commanded the Israelites to be thankful,

and showed them how to do it.

 

Those instructions in Exodus

were amplified in more detail

in the later books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

 

And in Deuteronomy Chapter 16,

the Lord made it very plain

that he wanted people to have a good time

on these Thanksgiving Days.

 

In Deuteronomy Chapter 16,

beginning at Verse 11,

He told them to rejoice

and to have everyone share in that rejoicing—

even servants and orphans

and poor widows and aliens living in the land.

 

11 And rejoice before the Lord your God

at the place he will choose

as a dwelling for his Name—

you, your sons and daughters,

your menservants and maidservants,

the Levites in your towns, and the aliens,

the fatherless and the widows living among you.

 

12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt,

and follow carefully these decrees.

 

13 Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce

of your threshing floor and your winepress.

 

14 Be joyful at your Feast—

you, your sons and daughters,

your menservants and maidservants,

and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless

and the widows who live in your towns.

 

15 For seven days celebrate the Feast

to the Lord your God

at the place the Lord will choose.

 

For the Lord your God will bless you

in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

 

16 Three times a year all your men

must appear before the Lord your God

at the place he will choose:

 

at the Feast of Unleavened Bread,

the Feast of Weeks

and the Feast of Tabernacles.

 

No man should appear before the Lord empty-handed:

17 Each of you must bring a gift

in proportion to the way

the Lord your God has blessed you.

 

So, he told them not to come “empty handed.”

 

What did that mean?

 

It meant they should bring a gift--

a gift of thanksgiving to return to the Lord

a part of what he had given them.

 

The Lord told the Israelites to give thanks

and to return a gift to him,

in much the same way that a father today

might teach a little child,

“Tomorrow is your mother’s birthday.

Make a card for her, and give her a gift,

and tell her how thankful you are for her.”

 

Our Father God treats us humans as his children,

and he patiently teaches us

how we ought to think, and how we ought to behave.

 

One way that he does this

is through the Old Testament

and the Law of Moses.

 

Notice too that in this morning’s responsive reading

Leviticus 23:22 instructed the Israelites,

besides returning a gift to the Lord at his temple,

they were also to provide materially for the poor.

 

In among all the other instructions

on how to hold these 3 annual celebrations of Thanksgiving,

and how to go about returning thanks to the Lord,

God also stuck in there at Leviticus 23:22

these additional instructions:

 

22 "'When you reap the harvest of your land,

do not reap to the very edges of your field

or gather the gleanings of your harvest.

 

Leave them for the poor and the alien.

I am the Lord your God.'"

 

What did that mean?

 

It meant that God was instructing the Jews

to care for the poor people among them

and even to care for the alien, the foreigner.

 

The alien living among them

had no land of his own to harvest,

and neither did the poor.

 

God made provision for them

by instructing the Israelites who did have land to farm

to leave some of the produce for them.

 

They were forbidden to reap the edges of their field

or to go back and pick up the gleanings—

things that he harvesters dropped or missed.

 

All of that grain or other food

was to be left for the poor and the alien.

 

Of course, this required the poor and the alien to do some work.

 

The Jews were not told to harvest the edge

and hand it to the poor.

 

The poor had to work to gather that food themselves.

 

Notice, too, that the Lord didn’t say how wide an edge to leave.

 

He allowed each landowner to show what was in his heart.

 

They were commanded to leave “the very edges” of their field

unharvested—

to leave that grain behind for the poor.

 

But the Lord didn’t specify

the exact width to leave

all around the edge of your field.

 

A stingy man might harvest his field

right up to 3 inches from the edge,

leaving just 3 inches of crop for the poor.

 

Another man might leave behind a 3-foot-wide strip

of unharvested grain, olives and grapes.

 

A more generous man might leave 3 yards or 10 yards or more.

 

It was up to each one to decide

how much to leave along the edges of the field for the poor.

-----------------------------------------

 

Now, we today are not under the Law of Moses.

 

These laws were given only to the nation of Israel.

 

But Galatians Chapter 3 tells us[  OPEN  ]

that the Law helped prepare people for the Christian arrangement

that Christ would institute to replace the Law.

 

The Mosaic law was like a teacher,

showing us how to give Thanks to God,

as well as teaching us many other things.

 

Galatians 3 says, beginning at Verse 24,

24 So the law was put in charge

to lead us to Christ

that we might be justified by faith.

 

25 Now that faith has come,

we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

 

Where the NIV says “the law was put in charge

to lead us to Christ

other translations that follow the Greek more literally say,

“the law was our guardian”

“the law was our trainer”

“the law was our tutor”

“the law was our schoolmaster”

 

The thought in the original Greek

uses the illustration of children

under the authority of a tutor, guardian or schoolmaster

while they are still children,

and then going on their own as they grow older.

 

So, the Law of Moses—with its feasts of thanksgiving

commanded by God,

with specific instructions—

that Law was meant to teach us,

until Christ came,

and now we are guided by faith, not by the Law.

 

You could compare that with

teaching a child to say, “Thank you”

and teaching a child to give generously to others.

 

As adults we no longer need to be told to say, “Thank you.”

 

Now it comes naturally from our training.

 

And, as the Apostle Paul wrote at Colossians 3:15,

which is printed in our bulletin insert,

that’s especially true

if our training has included

so much study of the Old and New Testaments

that we have their message in our hearts.

Paul wrote,

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,

to which indeed you were called in one body;

and be thankful.

 

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you,

with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another

with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

singing with thankfulness

in your hearts to God.

 

Whatever you do in word or deed,

do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,

giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

 

The Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth in 1620

were great Bible readers,

so they were familiar with the Old Testament feasts.

 

They must have had these in mind when, in 1621,

they harvested their first crop in the New World

and they celebrated their first Thanksgiving Day feast.

 

The founders of our new nation in the 1700’s

were also great Bible readers.

 

So, in 1782, a few years before George Washington became President, the Continental Congress called for

“the observation of Thursday

the twenty-eighth day of November next

as a day of solemn Thanksgiving to God.”

 

So, our Thanksgiving Day tradition

goes back a long way.

 

And it’s a good tradition,

in harmony with Paul’s admonition at 1 Thessalonians 5:18

where he wrote,

"In everything give thanks.

For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."