This article by G. Birkmann, pastor emeritus, was written in German for the 25 November 1937 edition of the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt. It was translated by Ray Martens.
On this day, we think about the many blessings from God which we have enjoyed with our entire country. Paul Gerhardt brings together the blessings of God in this way in his song which was written for the end of the week:
At the end of the week, I praise your fatherly hands.
They have carried me, clothed me, and fed me.
They placed guardian angels around me to secure my constant protection and help
[The translator has available to him a major collection of the hymns and spiritual songs of Paul Gerhardt translated into English, but he could not locate this particular stanza. Thus, the translation provided is altogether without the poetic character of the German original.]
We wish to praise, glorify, and thank God for all of that with heart, mouth, and hands. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of light,” as the Apostle [sic] James teaches us. But we also do not wish to overlook the fact that God does almost everything, not directly, but through human agents, and this is the gratitude about which I wish to present something here.
Thus, we remember today and always what our dear Lord God does for us through the three authorities which he established, first through the authority of government, also called the authority of protection. Here in our entire land we now are living a quiet and peaceable life. We have freedom of religion and of conscience. Our government protects us with respect to our life, our property, and the free exercise of our worship. The government also strives for abundance, and, perhaps, more than its own abundance, to promote the benefit of its citizens. Certainly, we also find want and shortfalls—not all officials are faithful and conscientious in their roles, and not all subjects follow the laws and ordinances of the country. Under these circumstances, there is much complaining about the government, and the blame is assigned to it. Yet, what must be considered is that in our country the officials are elected by the people themselves and that, for that reason, it is necessary at election time to study carefully with which candidate you agree.
On the whole, we need to be thankful indeed that God until now has protected and preserved us through our government. We want to show our thanks to God by doing what he tells us in his Word about how we are to behave toward those who are set over us. That is included in the words of the Table of Duties in our Lutheran Catechism [where Romans 13:1-4 is quoted].
The second authority is that of teaching, that is, the Christian church with its teachers and preachers. For what are we to thank these people, in addition to thanking God? All the great gifts which have been shared with us through the Word of God and the Sacraments and the things of which we are allowed to partake on and on: the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Through these, we have Jesus Christ, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our salvation. This is the one thing needful, and we have it in the preaching of the Word of God and in Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper—the things that we have in our churches and schools.
And we have great reason to give thanks for those who hold on to the Word and Sacraments and confess the Christian faith with us, that is, our fellow Christians, who are our brothers and sisters in Christ, because we are strengthened by their friendly encouragement and fellowship in the faith and are comforted in times of affliction. Therefore, let us take to heart what Luther says in the Table of Duties, namely, that Christians should offer thanks to their teachers and preachers, where already the first passage reads, “The laborer is worthy of his hire,” and in the one following, “The Lord has ordained that those who proclaim the Gospel should also be supported by the Gospel.”
The Holy Scriptures also say to Christians how they should conduct themselves with one another, “Love you brothers,” and “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” [Romans 10:10-11] What has just been said is to be noted especially on this
Thanksgiving Day. One often celebrates the day only in the sense that he eats and drinks well and plentifully, not even thinking of anything worthwhile beyond that. One pushes aside doing anything and giving thanks to God. We want to celebrate in such a way that, before all else, we honor God and serve and thank Him alone, and also use his [ ? ] gifts to us with gratitude. That we are happy to be eating and drinking belongs to that, but so does that we remember also the poor and forsaken, visit them, and make them happy with our gifts. That then is worship which is pure and undefiled. “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” [Hebrews 13:16]
The third authority is the one of nurture. Coming into consideration here are husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves, employers and workers. All of these also are being thankful toward God if they take to heart correctly the words which God addresses to them and act in accord with them as they are contained in Luther’s Table of Duties.
To husbands, that they live with their wives with consideration and treat them with respect due them as the weaker partner, and do not be bitter against them. And to wives it is said that they should be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master, and that they do what is right and not give way to fear, which means that, just as Sarah was not shy but told her husband what was right, all wives should act in that way.
Parents should bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, not provoking them to anger through unjust treatment. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise, so that it goes well with you and you love long on the earth.
Servants and maids and all workers should serve their masters not for shameful gain, not serving only because their eye is on you, but faithfully and conscientiously as to Christ, and knowing that the Lord will reward everyone for what good he does, whether he is bond or free. (These last words, “or free,” show that all workers are meant here, and not only slaves, which were everywhere at the time of the Apostles.)
Just so the employers do what is good, to their benefit, if they reward their employees will and treat them right, in the same way that the latter do what is good for their masters through faithful service.
And when parents do what is good toward their children to an unusual degree as they support them and care for them and bring them up correctly, then the parents also will enjoy great blessing and happiness from well-brought-up children, who then also will take care of the parents in their old age and always show them love. God has arranged things in such a way that in this world we should always serve one another, and, if that is to happen, it will be because we fear God and do His will, and then God will look upon that and graciously reward it as though we were serving Him. “What you have done for one of these, the least of my brothers, that you have done for me,” the Lord Christ will say on that great day to those who are standing to his right.