I stand before you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Please God fill this sermon and this congregation with your grace. Amen.

I didn’t know where to go with this sermon. I could speak about the pandemic, Thanksgiving, blame, sheep, scapegoats, God’s sacrificial love or even the second coming of Christ. Or all the above. Let’s go with the latter.

Yom Kippur is considered the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. Two goats play an important part of the sacrifices. One goat is selected by lot to be the blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people. The other goat called the “scapegoat” was sent out into the wilderness bearing the blame for the peoples transgressions.

Who likes taking blame? Not me. A scapegoat takes all the blame. Did you know you could rent a scapegoat?

There was an ad for just this service. The ad read: In today’s society finding a solution to a problem is much less important than finding someone to blame. If you find yourself being blamed for something you did not do, or even if you did do it, that’s where we come in. For a nominal fee, one of our trained experts will come to your place of work and take all the blame for whatever happened. Our courteous professionals will gladly admit to just about anything. And accept whatever punishments were coming your way, up to and including getting fired.

30 years ago marks the anniversary of the Milli Vanilli lip-synching scandal. In 1989, while “supposedly” singing a concert in Connecticut the two German models/dancers ran off the stage when the background track began to repeat yet the lead singing track was still running after they left. Things went downhill fast for them and by December of 1990 they were fired, they confessed, their grammy was revoked and they were involved in multiple lawsuits. Ironically, one of the hit songs was titled “Blame it on the rain.” A song about lying to oneself about your own responsibility and faults in a broken relationship. 

In the movie Forrest Gump, the main character Forrest saves his platoon commander (Lt. Dan) while serving in the  Vietnam War. Lt. Dan ends up losing his legs. Lt. Dan blames Gump for cheating him out of his family destiny of dying for his country and blames him for his new life of disability. 

After the war, Forrest becomes a shrimp boat captain with Lt. Dan, both due to a promise. One day after surviving a powerful hurricane there is a beautiful scene with Lt. Dan. 

He looks to Forrest and says, “I never thanked you for saving my life.” He smiles and throws himself into the river.

The scene was done wonderfully. Before Dan goes into the river you can see land on both sides and a clear blue sky. Lt. Dan throws himself overboard, Forrest goes to see Lt. Dan in the water and the scene completely changes. We see him through the eyes of Forrest Gump in a vast ocean that extends as far as the eye can see under a multi-colored sky with the suns ray’s breaking through the dark clouds lighting the way for him. Symbolic of Dan making his peace with God. And God welcoming him. And it even looks as if his legs are back. All blame has been wiped away and Lt. Dan is thankful for his new life.

I used to work at Home Depot and one day I was called into the store managers office. He told me I was being fired for implication of theft. According to gossip, I was stealing from the company. I was stunned. I was crushed. And I had to go home to my wife with that news. 

I also had to go to court to fight for my unemployment pay. It was just me against the company lawyer, a handful of managers, the loss prevention supervisors and a handful of “supposed” witnesses. I was blamed for everything in the book. The problem was that none of their stories added up and they even conflicted with each other. The judge ruled in my favor and things eventually worked out for me. But I did not like being blamed for all these things that I didn’t do. 

I wish I found that rent a scapegoat ad back then. It was one of many rough patches in my life that Thanks to God is easy to talk about and share now.

Back to Yom Kippur, there are a lot of sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. What does this tell us? God wants us cleansed from sin so that we could be with Him. 

God provided the ultimate scapegoat in the form of the Lamb of God. Jesus took all our blame for our sins and suffered death on the cross. Long before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah declared, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

The core message of our Gospel is that God’s people will love their neighbors. The good works of His people will be the result of His grace and our relationship with the Good Shepherd. True followers of Christ will serve others with kindness as if they were serving Jesus Himself. Good works in honor, service, praise and thanks to God.

This brings me to Thanksgiving. There’s a popular meme going around saying that only 6 people are allowed together at Thanksgiving but 30 are allowed at a funeral. I will be holding a funeral for my pet turkey on November 26th. Refreshments will be provided.

Where did Thanksgiving originate? Some may say with Abraham Lincoln when he declared it a Federal Holiday. Some may argue back when George Washington called for a day of thanks and celebration in 1789. Some may even argue it started with the first harvest of 1621 in the ‘New World’ which became an annual Pilgrim tradition. I’d like to argue that it started with God. Let’s talk about God.

God took His own special species and then dwelt in that of another species. God dwelt as one of our species. Of all the species, God chose man. Why would God choose man? 

It was because God truly loves us. He wants to be with us. To dwell with us. God’s sole desire is an eternal resting place for God and man together. In the Old Testament, He dwelt with His people. When the grace-filled children of Israel before God were humble and thankful, God dwelt among them, and the temple was filled with God’s presence and God’s glory. Grace to thanksgiving then the Glory of God.

God not only wants to dwell among us but He always wants us to learn and understand Him. We can’t comprehend Him on our own but since He dwelt among us then we have the greatest example to learn from. The entire human timeline of Jesus on earth was an example just for us. God truly dwelling with us as one of us. The Word became flesh. God became a Jewish man.

Jews throughout the world celebrate Passover (when the Isrealites were passed over by destruction) They celebrate it with an important symbolic meal that goes by 4 different names.

Pesach – with 4 different translations 1. To save, 2. To calm, 3. To commemorate, and 4. To separate. 

Seder means order, there’s an order to the service. 

Miqra translates to a rehearsal, a rehearsal for a future event. 

Mo’ed is an appointed time, a fixed time in the future.

After approximately 1,500 years of Passover celebrations, the appointed time had come. No more rehearsals! The Passover had become reality! The night known as The Last Supper was different and saw Jesus and His disciples celebrate the “true” Thanksgiving dinner. 

Jesus gives us the perfect example of Thanksgiving. He gathered with loved ones. He served those He loved. He declared His love. He said “I Love You.” He asked them to take time to remember. He made everything about God. God was the central focus of the celebration. He emphasized God’s sacrificial love. And the very next day, upon the cross Jesus became the Passover Lamb, the ultimate scapegoat and the perfect symbol of God’s sacrificial love. 

My wife and I foster kittens. Because 4 children, 2 dogs and 4 cats just wasn’t enough, it didn’t quite cut it. We care for them as if they were our own. They make huge messes despite their small size. My wife and I clean up their messes and even often clean the kittens themselves. Kittens are like sheep, they’re dumb. They know not what they do. But when my wife and I enter the room these little creatures talk to us. They know that we provide their food. They understand that we pet them and hold them and love them. They always try to get close to us. They even respond lovingly to us as if we were their parents with purring and cooing. I guess my wife and I are good kitten shepherds.

The problem we all have is that we forget to be humble and give thanks. We need to accept that we cannot do anything without Jesus. We are nothing without God. 

This holiday, we may be separated from loved ones due to this pandemic but we must remain humble and faithful. Give praise and thanks for His love because 2020 shall eventually pass over.

When Jesus returns He will separate His true followers from those who rejected Him. The sheep are weaker and dumber than the goats. We must realize that we are the ones in need. We are the hungry without His body. We are the thirsty without His blood. We are the stranger when we dwell without Him. We are the sick without His healing. We are the prisoners to sin without His sacrificial love. We know not what we do. We make huge messes.

Jesus loves us. His grace fosters us. He took the blame for our messes. He suffered, died and was buried for our sins. He cleaned us up. His example shows that God is to be placed at the center of every celebration. Without God, there is nothing to celebrate. 

The Lamb’s blood on the doors and frames was a foreshadowing of the crucifixion. God always provides for our exodus from our slavery to sin. A freedom we couldn’t win for ourselves. His grace gives us that freedom to dwell with Him and find perfect peace and love. God always hears us and is always with us. We should be purring and cooing – Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Lord! Repeat after me. Thank You, Lord!