Eve of the National Day of Thanksgiving
November 23, 2022
Text: 1 Timothy 2:1-4
The Second Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,” is so much more than the prohibitions. It is true, “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name.” We should not use the Holy Name of God, or the Name of our dear Savior, Jesus Christ, as an exclamation or a mindless interjection. But we should use it. Not to use God’s Name is as much a misuse as using it improperly. Behind every prohibition in the Commandments is a gift from God to be used according to His will and purpose. God’s Name is the gift behind the Second Commandment. In Holy Baptism, God gives us His Name. He places it upon us, writes it on our bodies. And not so that we can put it up on a shelf somewhere, like some sort of relic, to be marveled at, but essentially left alone. He wants us to use it. So, how should we use it? In the Small Catechism, Dr. Luther tells us, we should “call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
Our Epistle reading from St. Paul this evening is therefore an admonition to fulfill the Second Commandment. “First of all,” he says, as a matter of first importance, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” should “be made for all people” (1 Tim. 2:1; ESV). All people. No exceptions. So, what does this mean? Pray! Pray for all people and all things, everywhere, and always. Pray for your own needs. Pray for your family. Pray for your pastor, your congregation, and your Church body. Pray for those with whom you interact in your daily life, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbors, and acquaintances. Invoke God’s Name on their behalf. Speak their names before God, commending to God whatever troubles or needs you may know for which they need His help.
And this is true, also, for your enemies. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus says (Matt. 5:44). And if that is true for enemies who are out to get you, then it is certainly true for those who aren’t so much enemies, as maybe antagonists. People you find difficult to deal with. Maybe they drive you crazy. Maybe they are insensitive, or say or do mean things to you. Maybe they’ve hurt you, and your relationship with them is broken. This is, perhaps, a good tip as we enter the season of holiday office parties and family gatherings. Trust me on this, I’ve seen it myself… or better, trust God, because here He says it: Pray for them. Pray that God would bless them. Pray that God would help them. Pray that God would heal whatever it is that is broken between you and that person. You may just find that your antagonist turns, that their heart is changed toward you, that they treat you better, that they repent. And you will most assuredly find that you turn, that your heart is changed toward them, so that you love them as you should, in spite of it all, so that you repent.
But in our text, St. Paul gets specific. You are especially to pray for kings and for all who are in high positions (1 Tim. 2:2). You are to pray for the president, for the governor, for your congressmen, legislators, judges, and magistrates. You are to pray for government bureaucrats, law enforcement, your boss, and your teacher at school. Children, you should pray for your mom and dad. Grown-ups, you should pray for your mom and dad if they are still living (and especially for your in-laws!). You should pray for everyone to whom you have a Fourth Commandment responsibility, anyone in any authority over you. After all, don’t you think they need your prayers? Especially if you don’t like their policies. Then you really need to pray for them. Seriously. It’s more important even than writing letters. Frankly, it’s more important than voting. As important as those things may be, the Scriptures don’t command you to write letters or to vote, but they do command you to pray. Those in authority over you are God’s representatives on earth. Whether they know it or not. Whether they believe it or not. Whether act like it or not. So we need to pray for them, that they would execute their task faithfully, according to God’s will, and for our good.
St. Paul says that we should do this so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (v. 2). That is why God has given authority to men. To keep peace and order, so that His Christians may live godly lives, and that we may preach! Because God our Savior desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (vv. 3-4). We know that earthly authorities don’t always do a good job of maintaining peace and order, and all-too-often they are not interested in allowing us to live godly lives and preach the Gospel. So we need to pray! Ask God. Pray for their repentance. Pray for their faithful leadership. Pray that God would grant them wisdom and integrity. It does absolutely no good to sit around complaining and despising earthly authorities. I’m as guilty of that as the next guy, but we must repent. Who can move a heart? Who can change a mind? Who can lead a stubborn unbeliever to repentance and faith? God can. And He wants to! So, ask Him! Ask Him on behalf of the authorities. Ask Him on behalf of all people. That is, after all, what you do when you pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”
Have you ever thought about what unparalleled comfort this verse brings, that God our Savior wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? There is not a human being on earth, or in history, that God doesn’t want to come to faith and be His own. Now, there is this great, perplexing mystery of why, if that is true, so many do not come to faith, and are not saved. God does not reveal the answer to that mystery, and there comes a point where you need to put a finger to your lips and stop inquiring into things God has not given you to know. In particular, you have crossed that point when you begin to object to the things God has revealed because you don’t understand them, or because you don’t like the implications. Just be quiet at that point, and let God be God, and you be His trusting servant. But so also, just pause here a minute and bathe in the comfort of what God does reveal in this verse. He wants all people to be saved. That means He wants you to be saved. And your children and grandchildren. And your unbelieving neighbor. And, yes, your antagonist, and even your enemy. And, yes, the president, and all politicians, kings, and all who are in high positions. All people.
And He doesn’t just want it. He doesn’t just sit around in heaven hoping by some miracle that it will happen. No, no. He gives His Son. God incarnate. Jesus Christ. Into the death of the cross. Bearing our sin. Making atonement for our transgressions. Reconciling sinners to the Father. By His resurrection, healing what is broken. Raising us from death. Giving us eternal life. This is why our text calls Him, “God our Savior” (v. 3). By His Word and Holy Sacraments, He breathes into us His Holy Spirit. That we be brought to a knowledge of the truth. That we be brought to saving faith in Christ. It is because God wants us to be saved, that we are. He gets all the credit. He does it all. He saves us. He gives us faith. Don’t ask why some are not saved. We know God wants them to be saved, and that they are not by their own fault. But just rejoice in this. God wants you to be saved. And you are. You believe. By God’s grace. Through Jesus Christ. By the working of His Holy Spirit. And as for the rest… keep praying, and keep preaching. God hears your prayers, and He acts, even through your preaching, through your confession of faith, because you belong to Him, bought by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
And that is why on this day, and every day, we cannot help but give thanks. We should call upon God’s Name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Paul says that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for all people. Thank God for His love for you, His desire to save you, and His accomplishing it through Jesus Christ, His Son. Thank God that you are baptized into Christ, and that He has given you His Holy Spirit, to bring you to a knowledge of the truth, and sustain you by His Word and Supper in the saving Christian faith. Thank God for all the great gifts He continually pours out on you, for making you and all creatures, for giving you your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and that He still takes care of them. Thank God that He also gives you clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, family, friends, vocations, and all that you need to support this body and life, and so much more that you don’t need, but that He gives you anyway, for your blessing and enjoyment. Thank God that He defends you against all danger and guards and protects you from all evil. And thank God that He does all of this only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you. He does it for Jesus’ sake. Therefore, it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is no burden, but it is most certainly true.
And, beloved, thank God that He does this, not just for you. For all people. Thank God on behalf of all those people, some of whom don’t know to thank God themselves. It is your priestly work to thank God in their stead, in their place. And then, thank God for those people. That is part of your prayers for them. And it just might turn them. It will most certainly turn you. Thank God for all those people you love to love. Thank God for all those people who are difficult to love, and love them anyway. And call upon God for them. God has given you His Name for this very purpose. Use it. Use it well. And live in it confidently, and with great thanksgiving. So let’s do it now. Let’s trace the sign of the holy cross upon our bodies and, with great thanksgiving, invoke that Name upon ourselves, and for the sake of all people: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).