Sermon, Thanksgiving Sunday (C)
Sunday April 3, 2016, St Petri http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/20160403_message.mp3
Philippians 4:4-9 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
It has been a good summer in terms of vintage and harvest, I hear. Maybe this year it is easier to “rejoice” everyday, as Paul suggests. Maybe we all feel a little more calm and “gentle” so that it shows every day. It may be that those on the land at least are more able to “resist anxiety” about things, “talk with the Lord about everything”, ask him for what we need and do it all with a general thankfulness.
It does sound good! In better times it is a little easier. But if only it was more attainable for everyone and in every season! It is hard to be thankful all the time.
Can you really be thankful for a loss at the football, or a very challenging diagnosis, soggy sandwiches at lunch time, news of another terrible violent attack on innocent people – Muslim or Christian or whoever?
I heard a story some time ago about a man who was a pastor in the city of Eilenburg, Germany, during the first decades of the seventeenth century. This was the time of the long and devastating Thirty Years’ War. The story helped me see thankfulness in all situations as a gift of God. His name was Martin Rinkart.
Eilenburg, as a walled city, was often overcrowded with refugees as a result of people losing everything in war. This often led to famine and disease in the city. Conditions were so horrible in Eilenburg that thousands of people died, and, for a season, Rinkart was the only minister in town.
During this period of time he performed up to fifty funerals in a single day. Over his lifetime he officiated at over 4,000 funerals. We can only imagine the horrific suffering Rinkart experienced.
In the midst of this intense death ordeal, he wrote several songs. One caught on among the locals. In translation, it caught on among English speaking people as well. It begins:
Now thank we all our God With heart and hands and voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom this world rejoices; Who, from our mothers’ arms, Has blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.
Why is this guy thankful in such extreme darkness, surrounded by corpses and grieving people in despair and sorrow?
Paul says that thankfulness is possible in all situations, not because of our ability to feel thankful, or understand why things are happening, or even demonstrate our thankfulness, but thankfulness in any situation is only possible because Jesus’ death, his resurrection and his rule over us now and for all the future.
Because of our place at the Suffering Servant’s banquet table which he has achieved for us, it is possible to remain thankful when our emotions tell us we can’t be, or when other people say we shouldn’t be.
I sit with a grieving daughter at the bedside as Mum struggles for life but there is thankfulness to God for what has been and what will be. I sit with a couple, one of whom is facing certain death and faith in Jesus’ future is unshakable – and it is very impressive; very encouraging – it is that ‘gentleness’ of which St Paul speaks. I sit with a woman who has everything going wrong and has had this for some time and yet can glow with a loving trust in her Saviour to be with her in this and after this, whatever happens. I am humbled by “the gentleness evident o me” and ‘lack of anxiety. It is unswerving trust in the Saviour.
I realise that being thankful is much more than some emotion. It is a trust that is intellectual in the mind, emotional in the psyche and a ‘doing’ thing – a verb, not merely an emotional adjective.
So when it is hard to be thankful, the bible says be thankful anyway – not necessarily feel thankful, but say, do, act, think thankful.
Why is this even possible? Paul says it. Thinking, doing, feeling, deciding, and choosing a thankful approach in every situation is only possible because of one thing: Because “the Lord is near”.
Because the “Lord is near”, she can still speak with her loving Lord and seek his help. Because he knows the Lord is near he can endure his suffering with dignity and even joy. Because the Lord is near, he can still see Jesus when he has lost his partner in life and has to live alone. Because the Lord is near, she can be quite resilient in the peer group criticism. Because the Lord is near, she can resist the pull to be a fashion junkie trying to win their approval. Because the Lord is near he can navigate his way through complex debt, programs, new technology, prices plunging and rain refusing to fall. Because the Lord is near, she can keep trying to reach him, keep caring. Like Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, she hears him speak her name again and joy wins the day – he is near.
Thankfulness can be done in a variety of ways, regardless of how we feel at any given time. And it all comes from the furious longing of our God to be in our lives for us and with us in all ways, always.
Paul says it so well,
“Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4:8).
Moses talks about financial giving as a doing of thankfulness to the Lord
“… take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. (Deut 26:2)
Speaking thankful: Speaking the Faith/Sharing the story of God
Moses also talks about sharing and/or passing on the faith to people and especially children as an act of thankfulness to God.
“you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous” (Deut 26:5). Worshiping thankful
Of course, worship is in part a doing of our thankfulness toward the Lord.
You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. 26:11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
If we want the faith and the gentleness and the calm in any storm, we need to actually do our thankfulness.
Focus the head and heart on the Word of God
Deliberately give back to the Lord a portion of your time, talent and treasure – changing those nappies, that not always rewarding serving of another, the first part of your pay, pegging out that washing, helping that mate, befriending that person everyone says you don’t need to befriend.
Tell the story of you. The story of how God has been good to you and in this you will infect others with a thankfulness or challenge them to seek God’s goodness for themselves.
Worship all the time. Listen, pray, speak, receive the gifts of the Lord with your friends, your faith family in the Gathering, and at home. Let his gifts come; and the gifts of less worry, more peace, more gentleness, more prayerfulness in your lives.
As we do our acts and words of thankfulness to God in these ways we will not always be “working for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you”, says Jesus. (John 6:27).
Thankfulness brings joy into our lives and helps us experience the closeness of the Lord and the hope we need to be his people in mission in our everyday life.
The Lord is near here.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Reflect on or share three things you are thankful for at the moment?
Listen to the Philippians text taking note of the interesting words like “gentleness, “rejoice” and the like….. Share any questions the text brings to mind or any reflections it causes.
I suggested that all of Paul’s admonitions are only possible because on one thing – “The Lord is near”. Without him near we can’t be at peace (not anxious), gentle with others, full of joy and etc…. How do you see this and what is your experience of thankfulness and where it comes from in your life?
I made the point that being thankful is not just a mental thing or an emotional thing but an active practical thing that is called for in the Scriptures. I reflected on the directions given in that Deuteronomy text. It speak of how we actually “do our thankfulness”.
Read that Deuteronomy 26 passage and see if you agree with how I describe what Moses says about living out our thankfulness to the Lord. Share your thoughts.
I liked the story about the man who wrote that great song we sometimes sing, “Now thank we all our God”. Have you experienced this kind of thankfulness in very hard times? What was it like for you?
Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mother’s arms
Has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us.
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven:
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heaven adore,
For so it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.
Nun danket alle Gott, Martin Rinckart (1586-1649)
Tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1858, alt.